Assignment 3: The Decisive Moment


Send a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’ to your tutor. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.
You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.

Photos and Contact Sheets



FL 50mm, ISO 100, f7.1 @ 1/60th



FL 50mm, ISO 100, f4.5 @ 1/60th


FL 50mm, ISO 100, f5 @ 1/40th



FL 55mm, ISO 400, f11 @ 1/60th



FL 55mm, ISO 400, f6.3 @ 1/60th



FL 50mm, ISO 100, f8 @ 1/60th



FL 55mm, ISO 100, f18 @ 1/2 sec



FL 55mm, ISO 100, f5.6 @ 1/30th


Assignment 3-1Assignment 3-2Assignment 3-3Assignment 3-4assignment-3-5.jpg

Introduction & Thoughts

Firstly I would have to decide what a ‘decisive moment’ meant to me, I was more inclined to lean towards street photography after reading a paper ‘The Psychology of the “Decisive Moment”‘ by John Suler. Most photographers believe the decisive moment photo can only be captured through candid, one off street photography but my understanding is that anything can be a decisive moment as long as the photo doesn’t looked staged or purposely setup. After a bit a research about street photography I went ahead and took to the streets of Cardiff maybe not on the best days as the Christmas Winter Markets and also Wales vs New Zealand playing rugby were in town, but I was soon pleased to notice the more people around me the more they took no notice of a man pointing a camera at them.
I have the last couple of weeks I have spent wandering and photographing in Cardiff trying to get to grips with street photography, having spent time in the past photographing in the streets of my local town I found going to the city was a lot easier as I soon came to realise no one really cares I am aiming a camera at them and the feeling of being anonymous helped me take the images I was after, ie more candid and natural. I was looking to try and capture images of decisions, the moment a person or people decide to do something and the possibility the decision led onto another thought or action. Taking the photos was not all about timing but being more aware of your surroundings, learning the movement of people and anticipating their next moves. The images needed to move or give the notion of movement and this led to the photos I have settled on below.
As suggested by another tutor on the OCA Discussions forum I removed the titles to allow the viewer to create their own narrative, which was also one of Garry Winogrand’s theories that a photo shows the viewer what something looks like but not what is happening.
Whilst taking the photos something I kept in my head that my tutor wrote in my previous assignment feedback and that was closer detail, I am not sure why I seem to stand back and take photos at a distance, lack of confidence, experience?



Suler breakdown the rules behind a perfect decisive moment photo, incorporating comments from Henri Cartier-Bresson and Gestalt psychology. The rules are as follows:

  1. A sophisticated composition in which the visual coalescence of the photographed scene capitalizes on the principles of Gestalt psychology to create a “prägnanz” atmosphere of balance, harmony, simplicity, and unity.
  2. A sophisticated background to the subject that interacts both visually and psychologically with the subject in a synergistically meaningful figure/ground relationship.
  3. The visual as well as psychological anticipation of completion and closure, which often surfaces as a visual gap, interval, or suspension of some kind.
  4. An element of ambiguity, uncertainty, and even contradiction that rouses the viewer’s curiosity about the meaning or outcome of the scene depicted.
  5. The capture of a unique, fleeting, and meaningful moment, ideally one involving movement and action.
  6. A precisely timed, unrepeatable, one-chance shot.
  7. An unobtrusive, candid, photorealistic image of people in real life situations.
  8. A dynamic interplay of objective fact with subjective interpretation that arouses meaning and emotion about the human condition.
  9. The overarching context of a productive photography session – or “good hour” – that starts with tension, then culminates in a personal and artistic realisation that is the DM image.
  10. The DM photo as a product of a unique set of technical, cognitive, and emotional skills developed from extensive training and experience in photography, as well as from a psychological knowledge of people.

Whether or not all these rules can be followed at any one time I very much doubt it and also this is one persons interpretation of decisive moment photography. If you look at Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century it is believed all the rules have been followed. The idea to me even though a good idea leaves me feeling the this theory is rather egotistical and as previously mentioned no more than a cliche.
Cartier-Bresson compares his camera a form of sketch book, where the image is only captured once and if it is wrong and another photo is taken that becomes a separate sketch in its own right. He describes himself as a surealist artist but refused to be labelled a surealist as he did not want his audience to think this is all he produced and therefore being constricting his work to this one form, so he continued to class himself as a photojournalist which leaves the possibility of a larger scope of achievable work.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hyeres, France

Another street photography even though he hated the term and would rather just be called a photographer was Garry Winogrand. Known to be a prolific photographer and would take many more photos than he could ever go through or even see, he would take 4 or 5 photos of the same frame just in case something changed in those few seconds. I loved his answer when asked about missing photo opportunities when changing film rolls, where he simply said “there are no pictures when I reload.”
Garry worked the opposite to Cartier-Bresson as he shot with a 28mm lens which meant having to get in close and not become invisible, he would constantly nod and smile at his subjects whilst walking the streets taking their pictures as if his camera was secondary and his main purpose was to communicate through a quick personal contact. Garry loved the action and fast moving pace of the streets and believes that any photo ever taken has no narrative ability, the image could describe a piece of time and space but nothing more.

Garry Winogrand
Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1964

Technical Approach

Photos were taken using a Nikon D5600, 18-55mm kit lens and 50mm prime lens. The 15-55mm lens has built in vibration reduction stability allowing me to reduce the shutter speed another 3 stops from 1/60th without the need for a tripod, otherwise there were enough objects available to prop myself against. All images were taken in shutter priority mode and minor post process adjustments via lightroom.

Self Assessment

At first I was a bit concerned about how I would approach this assignment but as usual taking the time to research different peoples thoughts and theories slowly got me in the right frame of mind to achieve the goal I set out to accomplish. Do I think I managed to capture the idea of a Decisive Moment? Yes I do, they may not be the most spectacular Decisive Moment photographs but the do portray the ambiguity I was looking for. I would have liked to spend a bit more time setting the correct shutter speed for some photos but as I learned that is not always possible whilst taking images of people in motion, so I think I should have spent less time with the settings and more time at what I was looking at. My personal opinion I got myself so wrapped up in the idea of street photography I was blinkered to other forms of artistic interpretations.

Bullet Point Quote: Suller, J (Date unknown) [Accessed 27/11/2017]

Illustration: Cartier-Bresson, H 1932 Hyeres, France [Accessed 16/11/2017]

Illustration: Winogrand, G 1964 Los Angeles [Accessed 07/12/2017]

Tutor’s Feedback

Please feel free to see my tutor’s feedback through the link below

Link to Tutor’s Feedback

Assignment 3 Rework

After receiving feedback from my tutor I have made a number of changes. The original photos are listed below and new or cropped photos are now in the body of work above.



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