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There is probably no other term as often cited as “The Decisive Moment” in Street Photography. Yet there is no real agreement what a decisive moment defines.
The street is normally a very chaotic place. People are walking in every direction and there isn’t much “sense” when putting everything together. The decisive moment is different. Suddenly every single detail that is captured in the photograph has a meaning. Subjects that are normally not connected are in a relation to each other, they don’t know it, but the picture clearly shows it.
Creating such images is not an easy task in a candid genre. While some state luck as the most important factor, I believe that you can work towards the Decisive Moment and capture it more regularly. Here are seven tips to help you.
The street is not a place where you can slack off and take all the time you want to take a shot. There is no second chance to catch candid moments. A decisive moment can last for a few seconds and be gone forever. If you don’t catch it in time, you lose it for eternity.
Photographing is a 2-step process. First, You have to be familiar with your gear. After spotting a beautiful scene, there is no time for adjusting the camera or learning how your equipment actually works. Take your time to experiment with different settings beforehand so you know what works and what doesn’t. Use the technique of zone-focusing and you will be a lot faster capturing interesting subjects too.
The second step is spotting potential scenes in time and developing an instinct even before something interesting happens.
To spot interesting scenes instinctively, you need the right mindset for street photography. Just going out with your thoughts somewhere else, won’t land you the money shot very often. Concentration is needed to absorb the chaotic environment and scan it for potential decisive moments.
There are a lot of distractions in the modern world. Smartphones and your camera are two of the main distractions that can keep your mind away from the street. Before going out on the street, make sure to not have anything important scheduled for the time being and for the best results, turn off your smartphone.
Also, don’t get too distracted by your camera. It is just a tool that helps you to display your vision. You don’t need to have a look at every image that you have taken at the very moment. If possible, try out an analog camera and see how pure minimalism can help you to get in the zone.
Spotting a scene is only the first step to capture the decisive moment. Afterwards, you have to translate your vision into the form of a photograph. When you still have fear to get close or take an image, it will limit your creative freedom.
There is no need to be afraid of the street and strangers. After years of experience, I can assure you that with a minimum of common sense nothing truly bad will happen to you. In reality, the worst that can happen is that someone asks you to delete the picture, but that’s pretty much it.
The fear on the street is mostly irrational and your mind is playing tricks on you. Part of it is socialization and I will admit, that every social being feels this way, when starting in street photography. Not invading the “private space” of others has been beneficial for forming social groups, historically speaking. But it doesn’t make much sense in our modern world and is only a hindrance for street photography.
To overcome your fear, you could try to get rejected purposely by asking for posed portraits pictures. It will show you that most people are actually very relaxed and even if you do get rejected, it isn’t the end of the world.
There are a lot of situations happening on the street that you aren’t able to display to their full potential. This is heavily dependent on the way you frame the image and display it.
Lots of images are destroyed because the composition is simply off. I know that street photography is often seen as a genre of freedom. But when it comes to aesthetics, there are natural formulas that are more pleasant than others.
The rule of thirds is not a myth, but a fact. To embrace this in your photography will make your images visually more profound than ignoring your natural instincts.
Additionally to the rule of thirds, I would also focus on leading lines, not pointing away from the main subject. For an even more interesting picture try to fill every layer from the foreground to the background with interesting details.
The right mood can also influence you in finding a potential scene that can lead to an outstanding image. Inspiration can stem not only from other photographers that you admire but from any creative source.
Listen to music, watch your favorite movie or read a good book. Anything that helps you to open your mind for creating something outstanding, is suitable to bring you closer to the decisive moment.
Street Photography is not a discipline where you can expect quick results after following a simple guide. It takes years or even decades of dedication to street photography to be able to create the decisive moment, seemingly out of nowhere.
Developing a photographer’s eye takes a lot of training. Therefore, I would recommend forming a group of other photographers who have the same goals in mind. Walking the street with multiple photographers can also open your eyes to their vision. They are able to point out scenes that wouldn’t even cross your mind on your own.
Whatever you do, don’t lose interest in your environment and mankind in general. Curiosity can lead you to interesting scenes that otherwise would seem as if they had no potential. Embrace the tourist in your town.
Do you remember the last time you were on vacation and took some holiday pictures? Suddenly even the most mundane places can become interesting when you are in a foreign location. The little ice parlor might be totally boring to the residents, but for you, it was worth a picture.
Follow the same instincts in your own neighborhood. Rather take an image too much, than missing out on the decisive moment. But most importantly, keep the fun. Don’t force yourself too much.
The process of doing street photography should always be fulfilling even when the results might not satisfy you. Get out on the street, be mindful, have fun, and over time the results will follow.