The decisive moment is a concept popularized by the famed French street photographer and photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson. Throughout the 20th century, as smaller, more mobile cameras became available to photographers, the possibility of capturing real, unstaged, and genuinely honest pieces of life lead Henri Cartier-Bresson to build on the concept of the decisive moment.
I would first recommend that photographers pay close attention to the timing of a scene and practice their anticipation skills. If you see the decisive moment and you are not ready, it will be gone by the time you have adjusted yourself and pointed the camera.
Get to know your subjects, their movements, and their behaviours to anticipate and predict when a decisive moment is coming. The more you practice this, the better your anticipation skills will become.
Obviously, timing and anticipation alone are not enough. You have to have found the right composition in your environment and background. The scene has to have the correct light exposure, which is reliant on the time of day. Other elements in your scene are going to need to provide a focus towards the specific moment, movement, and general expression that is going to create the decisive moment.
At the core of any photograph, the meaning separates an amazing (but meaningless) image from a truly decisive moment. Making sure that there is a meaningful element in your frame, one that makes a statement or inspires and expresses a core emotion, is the crux of the decisive moment.
Because decisive moments are found in movement and action, I find that playing around with the portrayal of motion in images to be an amazing way of capturing the energy and pace of the subject. You can do this by using fast or slow shutter speeds.
So far, we have looked at the decisive moment, mainly in street photography, but it has its place in landscape photography as well. You will need to find the right composition in the environment, such as the time of day and lighting, cloud patterns, weather, etc. Your subject is the environment, so finding when in the day/week/month/year it looks its best serves as the timing and anticipation part.
In 1952, Cartier-Bresson published his book Images à la sauvette, whose English-language edition was titled The Decisive Moment, although the French language title actually translates as "images on the sly" or "hastily taken images", Images à la sauvette included a portfolio of 126 of his photos from the East and the West. The book's cover was drawn by Henri Matisse. For his 4,500-word philosophical preface, Cartier-Bresson took his keynote text from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz, "Il n'y a rien dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif" ("There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment"). Cartier-Bresson applied this to his photographic style. He said: "Photographier: c'est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l'organisation rigoureuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait" ("To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.").
The photo Rue Mouffetard, Paris, taken in 1954, has since become a classic example of Cartier-Bresson's ability to capture a decisive moment. He held his first exhibition in France at the Pavillon de Marsan in 1955. 2b1af7f3a8