Assignment 3 – The decisive moment

“Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’. 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.”

The Decisive Moment

As the concept of the decisive moment concerns timing – the exact moment when the camera captures a fleeting scene – I chose to focus my attention on movement. Thanks to my nephew Alex, and my niece Zoe, I had the opportunity to try my hand at capturing them at speed as they moved through the park.

There are far more of Zoe because Alex was busy playing football!  On entering the park, he made friends with a lad almost instantly and they had a great time together. As you will see he joined us later.

This is my first attempt at capturing action, and it was certainly challenging. I knew I had a very limited time frame to take pictures at all, as they were only visiting for a few days and won’t be back in Devon till later in the summer. This heightened my determination at capturing this particular afternoon, as we couldn’t return the next day.

Its always brilliant to see them. Choosing this subject was part of my joy at spending time with them, and how precious these times are. Its not an original or edgy subject, but it has great emotional importance for me. As always, this is heightened for me as I can’t leave the house everyday and normal activities are always a treat! I very much hope to stay with my nephew and niece at their house for the first time this year, health permitting. It is strange to think my brother left home about 25 years ago and all these years I have never seen where he’s lived since.

It is of course a cliche, but nothing reminds you that time is fleeting like children growing up.  Zoe is on the brink of secondary school, and I wonder how long she’ll let her hair down like this? I was really struck by their confidence in front of the camera. You can see from the images they are very relaxed and more then happy to take the limelight! I was the opposite at that age, I always felt extremely self conscious and pulled very weird faces in an effort not to smile as I felt ugly.

Clearly the kids are posing, and I’m sure some photographers would much prefer to capture candid moments when a subject is unaware of the lens. I don’t feel frustrated in this respect as I was enjoying spending time with them, and the pictures were part of us having fun together. The exception to this, is when the kids were off running about with my partner Steve, and not thinking about the camera at all. I couldn’t keep up with the action as they moved faster than I can, and the lack of a zoom lens meant they are some way off!

Naturally none of the photos are pre-planned. I didn’t scout the location beforehand, or request they wore certain colours. The  choice of movements and equipment is all theirs. The zip wire was the hardest, as I had to be very quick to capture the moment of leaping aboard and the subsequent movement. I’m sitting for all the shots which isn’t ideal, as I felt it would help to be able to move around the action and run if necessary to get in position. Naturally this isn’t an excuse for my use of cropping – I did rely on it quite heavily to get a satisfying composition, and I also used photoshop in a few images to lighten faces that had lost detail in shadow.


Zoe’s enthusiastic cart wheels and hand stands remind me of Cartier-Bresson’s Greek boy in this photo and his wonderful ability to capture childhood.




While looking for these images, I stumbled across a photographer by the name of John Free, and this excellently timed picture


I also found this beautifully written piece by the same photographer, entitled ‘Wondering’, which I found very thought provoking.  In it, he ponders the thought process that goes into photography – why this moment? why this person? why this scene? – and what are you really communicating to the viewer? At the end of the piece he hints that the process of wondering never stops, as he recalls the ten minutes he spent photographing a young runaway about to leave on a train, and is wondering where she is 40 years on.

‘Wondering is a form of calculating, a conversation with yourself.’ – John Free

Contact Sheets

I started with a shutter speed that caused some blur to her feet at 1/200 sec.  Its interesting how some images capture movement, others don’t, regardless of the actual speed – for example on the slide.


I upped my shutter speed for the later pictures, like the zip wire at 1/640 sec

I like my sister-in-law’s facial expression!


This is my brother peeking into frame!




Selection and Printing

At this point, I had a look at some of the other student blogs, to see how they had narrowed down their choice of images. One fellow student had used street photography to capture people cycling past on an assortment of bikes. It struck me that quite a lot of images they had discounted were actually really interesting and quite quirky. I can’t say any of my images are as well shot, I’m very aware my skill level is low! But hopefully I can learn from this, and ponder my selection with other people.

I asked my helpful crew Zoe, Alex, and Steve to help me make a short list of the images. Steve helped me discount for example all the images on the slide as being less effective. When we had decided on the final set, I borrowed my Mum’s printer (as mine is currently in storage till we move house). It was a massive pain wrestling with unfamiliar equipment. Mum and I both got throughly frustrated! As a result, these could be improved, and I may have tried re-printing these images if I’d been using my own printer. Interestingly the final set are printed on Lidls photo paper – rather than Kodak. Yes, so much for high quality !!! At the time, we compared the two and I thought the Lidls paper showed darker richer colour, but this may have been a mistake. What I can see about the images, and my photographer friend Rach confirmed, is that some of the images are too contrast-y (her word). Some of the darks are very dark….I’m not sure if I should have shot the images differently or fiddled with photoshop, or of course if in fact I messed up with the choice of paper. I look forward to my tutors advice on this.

1/200 sec;   f/6.3;   ISO 100


1/640 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 400 I cropped a small boy out of the picture to the left


1/200 sec;   f/6.3;   ISO 100


1/640 sec;   f/10;   ISO 400.  I lightened her face in photoshop and cropped a bit to better focus on her


1/640 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 400 Not sure if I actually selected the best group shot but its a fun one. Cropped to draw us into the action.


1/640 sec;   f/9;   ISO 400.  My best image, even though its the only one in portrait. I didn’t photoshop out the arm, but I was tempted!


1/640 sec;   f/4.8;   ISO 400


1/640 sec;   f/7.1;   ISO 400.  His face is lightened a little in photoshop and this picture is cropped


I will be posting the printed images soon

Tutor Report

View PDF of tutor report here

A theme is emerging with my feedback which is really about lacking narrative. Arggggh. Its hard to be told to be more original – but my response is, I simply don’t know how! I do feel a bit of frustration that this is my first ever attempt at action shots, and although to the viewer, being in a park with family you love is very ordinary, its not to me (with or without a camera)! I realise I should understand better what is ordinary, maybe you need the chance to practise repetition before creativity develops. I don’t know – my feedback for previous courses (illustration and graphics) wasn’t ‘its a bit boring’. So I can only conclude as yet, I don’t know how to make whats in front of me interesting?!

Again, I have not yet grasped exposure, or how to ‘read’ a histogram, but this should develop I hope!