The moment it clicks

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 “The instant can be the end product of a long experience as well of that of immediate surprise.”
–Henri Cartier-Bresson

Mika Ariel with her new camera bag in Hawaii

This past week I was at the Museum covering the Founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy’s, 90th birthday.  While there I saw some of the exhibit of Henri Cartier-Bresson

I think every photojournalist knows about his work and probably more about his philosophy of the Decisive Moment. This is when the photographer is thinking, “I need a figure in that space, but just any figure won’t do.  It must no merely fill the space but also give the space a meaning that is as yet incomplete.  The figure will need to have a credible reason for being there, will have to relate to the space in a significant way, and, above all, add something to it.  His or hers appearance in that space must be considerable to make the resulting picture a clear expression of what I want to say.”
This is when the timing is just right for the photographer when they click the shutter and capture the subject in a context that helps tell a story in a very compelling way. 


I have a series of photos and this was the one where the water smashed against the rocks to help communicate the power of the ocean.

I think there are five steps that a photographer will go through to capture this decisive moment. There becomes a two-way relationship with the subject and it often goes like this.
1.     Genuine interest in the subject
2.     Effort is made to understand and know the subject
3.     Due to this new knowledge you have deductions about it
4.     You now feel moved to say something about it
5.     You say something when the subject is ready to participate with you
I have been on those class or camera club assignments.  You are just looking for something that fits the subject matter assigned.  This will not get you a “Decisive Moment.”  You need to have an interest that leads to enthusiasm and a desire to know it better.  This real interest is the first step.
You must know a subject intimately before you can attribute a certain value to it through composition and timing.  This intimacy helps you to convey the purpose of the subject to his or her environment. 

Barbara, the head cook at North of NOLA in Roswell, Georgia is enjoying the moment during the busy Mardi Gras celebration

How can you know the right moment to take a picture unless you have a good idea of what the subject means and what you are after?  When you are interested in a subject you get to know more about it.  You go below the surface stuff to the meat of the matter.

You must first know yourself before you will be able to know others.  You are in touch with your feelings and therefore can have empathy for the subject.

You will have some reference points in your life that help you connect to humanity.  This will help you connect your subject with others as well.

As a result of our understanding of the subject, we have a reaction, and opinion or feeling about it.  Based on this we make photos.


The understanding you gained now helps you to know what the hook is that will engage the audience and help to communicate the knowledge you now have to the audience in a compelling way.  At this point you are no longer using “rules of composition” to guide you, rather you move the subject around the frame and find a placement that communicates your heart about the subject.  This is not just the emotions and affects, but also the intellect and will.  
Some photographers may zoom in and out and others may just move the subject all around in the frame until they feel the composition of the elements around the subject are helping capture much of the essence of the person.
You can do everything up to here and never move to this step, because this is where the subject must allow you the moment. They may relax in your presence and you are just the fly on the wall able to be present with the person.  They may give you a look, which is personable and intimate.  I believe underlying the first steps is a willingness of you to be transparent with the subject.  The more you are open and honest then the subject will respond in kind.  The more you are closed off, the less the chance of a moment.

My wife and daughter enjoying a moment together that will be remembered forever by them and me.
If you do the above steps regularly as you photograph subjects over time you will develop a keen sense to moments.  You will take nothing for granted and be ready for the smallest change.  You are a master of your camera and can quickly make adjustments to capture any moment.  You have done this long enough that your vision is translated into the camera like a muscle memory.  You don’t have time to think but just instinctively react, because you have practiced and disciplined your routine of getting to know subjects so as to recognize the moments if they reveal themselves early in the process.
The prize
For me the prize is the relationship I have developed with a subject and the photograph is just icing on the cake, because I get to share this person with the rest of the world.

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