Henri Cartier Bresson talked about the notion of the inevitability of a decisive moment in photography. That moment where everything comes together. As photographers we strive for that decisive moment. Around the same time on the west coast of North America, Ansel Adams was quoted as saying, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. This is often interpreted to mean that the real work happens in the darkroom/post-processing.
Most of my photography has been about making photographs, not trying to capture the ideal moment. I have no issue with removing distracting elements, changing the lighting, etc to create an image that matches the creative image I have in my head.
I Create My Photos
Lately I’ve been shooting more street photography and am finding that capturing that decisive moment can be very difficult. I often have in my minds eye the image I want to capture, but the people on the street don’t always cooperate. Sometimes, I’m just not quick enough, which brings me to the photo at the top of this post.
I was in Rome and leaving my hotel for a day of photography. Straight across the street was the scooter in the image above, out of the corner of my eye I saw the lady in the red hat walking up the street. I knew right away the image I wanted to capture. However I was ill prepared, my camera was still in my camera bag slung across my back. I quickly dropped the bag, unzipped it, yanked out my camera, turned it on and took the photo below.
A quick aside, one of the lessons I learned years ago was to always leave my camera in a ready to shoot state, so before I put my camera in the bag I always make sure it has a new flash memory card, ISO is set to 200 (or auto-ISO for my Olympus), Aperture priority, aperture at f/8.0, that was the only reason I got a shot at all.
I missed the decisive moment I was hoping for, she was a little too close to the scooter. I was bummed but I learned a lesson, and for the rest of the trip had my camera ready whenever I left the hotel room.
Making the Photo
Fast-forward two weeks. I get back home and start to go through my images, this one with the scooter I had been thinking about every day since the day I missed it. Yes, I had missed the decisive moment with the capture, but I thought I could still make the image that I had in my head. So one of the first photos I edited was this image. It took about 10 minutes of Photoshop work to move the girl to the location I had imagined. I made a better image as a result.
The Decisive Moment?
By manipulating the image I was able to show the decisive moment, would it have been better to capture it in camera? Perhaps, but for me there is no real difference, the image shows the moment I wanted to show. Is this any different than using burst mode on the camera to capture a series of images and then picking the decisive moment during the culling process?
I recently shot an event with a friend of mine, during part of the event he shot 4K video and then later extracted images from the video that showed the decisive moment he wanted to show. I had tried with burst mode on my camera and missed it. Which is better, to have the shot, or to have nothing? Many are saying that shooting 4K video is the future of photography.
Some people look at my modification of the image or extracting from 4K video as something almost blasphemous, saying it’s not real photography. They can believe that if they wish, but I disagree. I’m not trying to record the world as it is, I am trying to convey to others the visions in my head. It is my art, my vision, so I’m free to express it anyway I wish.
What do you think? I would love to hear your comments below.