Shooting the Decisive Moment – Ultimate Tips & Examples

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“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” – Henri Cartier Bresson.

It becomes absolutely mandatory for me to bring a quote from this master, for this article is all about shooting the decisive moment. What you put inside your frame almost determines what your picture is all about. The decisive moment is the one which cannot be brought back, it cant even be dramatized or staged, once it is passed. If the current generation of photographers, think shooting the decisive moment is all about fps, then i am sorry. A great range of fps might help you at times, but the wings you get when shooting a moment calculating the rhythm, going by your instinct, expecting a drama which you always wanted to shoot is priceless. Preassuming and meditating, analyzing the scene in every corners, It simply takes you to the next level.

In this article, I have tried to explain some fundamentals for shooting the Decisive Moment, the way just the masters did.

All photos are linked and lead to the sources from which they were taken. Please feel free to explore further works of these photographers on their collections or their personal sites.

Shooting the Decisive Moment - Henri Cartier Bresson
Photograph By: Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Finding the Rhythm

Just like a simple pattern of music, the things happening around us do has a definite pattern in them. It takes an order to accomplish certain things, knowing them and deeply following the rhythm will do a great deed of goodness to the photographer. The repetitiveness is what has to be expected. This is the initial step, and one has to be more observant. Rhythm happens all around everywhere, choosing the most interesting one will definitely lead you to an interesting photograph.

The stage remains the same - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Mohammad Moniruzzaman

Stand-Off - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Craig Buchan

The stage remains the same - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Donato Buccella

The Instinct

The Question is always about when to press the shutter, how do we know when to press it? The moment you make your mind to press the shutter, there passes a strong command line from your brain to the right index finger, and then you press it. But by the time you do it, the moment may have just finished and it will not happen again. So, just how? Enter the zone of silence, where only you the photographer and the subjects in the scene exists. Vanish everything which comes your way. Watch closely, believe me you will be able to guess the move of your subjects up to 2 seconds in future. So when you can shoot at 1/250 of a second, there are more than 8 decisive moments to be shot within this span. Instinct is the Key.

The Instinct - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Sohrab Hura

Sarah Moon - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Jessie Quast

Bubbles - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Ruffeloo

Expect a Drama

Keep expecting, it could be unrelenting to the scene, there may not be any possibility for it to happen. But do not lose hope, expect something unique, your instinct has to be more powerful. The Drama will slowly unfold before you, and one has to know when to press the shutter. That is your creative call. But all one need is a drama to make the frame more interesting.

En attendant le facteur - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Alain Laboile

Agosto in città - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Pierodemarchis

The childhood - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Saud A Faisal


Luck is an important ingredient in Photography. Shooting the decisive moment is fairly and arguably all about luck. It may favor you, but one needs to be alert enough to press the shutter when luck smiles at you. To know this is the moment you were waiting for, the one which can make a great photograph, which hasn’t been witnessed before you got to be in a state of trance. Meditating on a street might sound weird, but ask the masters they have did it, you would do it may be unknowingly. It is the self potential, asking for more, making your reflexes more powerful and the ability to act swiftly. There has to be a silence amid-st all the chaos surrounding you. When the silence provokes you, believe me you are meditating. And there is that decisive moment just around the corner.

Holy Feet - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Poras Chaudhary

Sneak Preview of Lomography - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Mio Cade

The Lincoln Memorial - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Matt Hansen

Calculate & Analyze

To stay ahead from the rest of the pack will always be a difficult one and it has been right from the stone age. We assume that the right side of our brain takes the creative calls and the left side of the brain is more about application. How about a mix of these two, a peck of creative sugar with a pinch of application salt, that’s what becomes necessary to trap a decisive moment.

Legnano, parco - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Luca Napoli

Jumping - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Sergio

Jump in the Water - The Decisive Moment in Photography
Photo Credit : Emmanuel Smague

Don’t miss to check our previous Photography Tutorials:

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  1. Roger says:

    This is awesome!! should try once on streets!

  2. Divyesh says:

    Great material for all!

  3. vidyut says:

    Excellent tips with great pictures! loved the 3rd one

  4. priya says:

    Super pictures!

  5. Chris says:

    cool stuff!

  6. Pui Serillo says:

    Love your tutorials!

  7. Ken says:

    Excellent article. I agree with everything, but …
    ‘What you put inside your frame almost determines what your picture is all about.’
    The decisive moment is time rather than space, so I feel you can crop – presuming you have included the minimum in your image. While I know CB was against cropping, my sensor captures more than my viewfinder; maybe there is a lot going on and you don’t want to miss anything; you don’t have a TS lens and ‘cheat with a wide-angle; so cropping can come in handy.
    Watching and waiting is the key. You have to observe and foresee. Above all ‘Instinct is the Key’.

  8. Theresa says:

    great shots

  9. Best article on photography I’ve read in a long time. Well stated, indeed.

  10. Key.2.Esc says:

    Thank you thank you thank you!! I only finished photography level2 course and I was sooo cross when students use to came with them photographs created on photoshop… it was “too perfect”too colourful too sweet…for me. Live is like a shutter speed in your hands…when is something wrong is 1/15sec and slowing down…when is comming on the wright truck…is 1/250…and you don’t want to stop. I don’t know how to show my art work to people I’m a ..I feel like a photography eremite..outcast but I love you for bringing back the memory of old..classic and clear soul of art.

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