Welcome to my photography blog.
I've been shooting pictures since 1978 (I was 14) and spent most of my life in the dark printing them. I've learned a few things during this time which I will share with anyone who's interested.
I hope to update this about once a month. Even if you're not really interested in what I write, feel free to look at the pictures and skip the text, for I will always try to post photographs worth looking at.
The Decisive Moment, Part I
Henri Cartier-Brasson was a French photographer and a pioneer of modern photography. One of his contributions to the art form is the term, the "decisive moment." This is the instant when all the right elements that make a good photograph come together and the photographer is lucky enough to take the picture. (Luck is indeed a factor in this equation.)
This sounds a lot easier than it is. When I first started photography as a teenager, I learned about this term from my photography teacher at Josepeh Szabo. I have clear memories of shooting a subject and while looking through the viewfinder, my brain shouting to me "NOW!" but my finger on the shutter release was a beat too slow and I'd take the picture long after the decisive moment was over.
When I say, "long after," it could be as little as a half a second. Life moves at an enormous speed and often the decisive moment is available to a photographer for a mere 10th of a second. It wasn't until my second or third year of college that I was able to get my finger to press the shutter at the same time my brain told it to.
While honing this skill I discovered that if I held my camera down by my waist, and I saw the moment playing out in front of me, the time it took to raise the camera to my eye was too long and I'd miss the moment. I began holding the camera just under my chin, thereby cutting the travel time to my eye in half or less.
Another important lesson Mr. Szabo taught me was a factor in a successful picture is the emotion of the subject must be real and at its peak. We all have emotions but they rise then peak, then subside and then they can start all over again. We just don't go through the entire day with our emotions at their peaks. So part of the decisive moment is to release the shutter when the subject's emotion is at its peak. And if there's more than one person in the picture, then you really have to get lucky to shoot them when and if they all peak at the same time. (They keyword here is "if.")
I've posted a contact sheet from when I shot backstage at the Malverne High School annual musical in, I think, 1982. (Back then I wasn't so good at labeling things. I was 18.) That year the cast included students from the younger grades, not just the high school.
I came across a group of girls and I knew one of them fairly well. Her name was Sarah Brescia and I knew her, her parents and her sister. If you look carefully at the contact sheet, you'll see as I started photographing them, Sarah (the brunette with the big, white bow in her hair) began to emerge as the life of the party. Whatever story or jokes she was telling were very entertaining to the others.
In my mind the picture I wanted to achieve was Sarah being the center of this circle. It had to be clear whatever she was saying had the group going.
I know it may be difficult to see the subtle differences from one frame to another, but if you look closely, the decisive moment was nearly there in frame 20 (second row, column five). I've posted a work print of that frame as well. (By "work print" I mean a picture that's not ready for presentation or publication. Faces may be a bit too dark and, as in this case, white dresses are far too light. A finished product ready for presentation or publication will have these problems fixed.)
Sarah continued to entertain the others and I kept shooting. It wasn't until the end that the moment kept getting closer. I marked two frames in the last strip. I've posted a work print of the first one and ultimately I went with the second one. Notice the one I went with was the next to last picture I took.
I've posted the finished product. Here's why I chose that frame: This one is clearly the decisive moment. Sarah facing the opposite direction of the others shows she's the dominant one in the group. The emotions of just about everyone in the picture is at their peaks. The mouth of the girl in the middle can't get any wider. The grin on the girl to her left can't get any toothier. The eyes of the one in the background can't get any bigger.
So what can we deduce from this? Sometimes you have to shoot a lot. You may get extremely lucky and shoot one picture and the decisive moment is there for your taking (which has happened to me on occasions) but most of the time it takes a lot of pictures before the decisive moment passes through your lens. And of course, sometimes it eludes you completely (which has happened to me as well).
In my next blog I will explain why capturing the decisive moment is all but impossible with a consumer digital camera; that only a professional digital camera will allow you to do it.
Thank you for reading this and you can view other pictures I took on my web site, www.DavidPaone.com. I welcome comments (nice ones) and questions about this blog.