Assignment 3: The decisive moment

Assignment 3: The decisive moment

When we click the shutter of our camera we freeze a moment in time sliced out of an event[1]. What makes this a decisive moment? According to Cartier-Bresson it is when we capture “the whole essence of some situation that was unrolling itself before (our) eyes[2] or it could be a picture with imbued meaning[3] In The Decisive Moment Cartier-Bresson says that Sometimes there is one unique picture whose composition possesses such vigor and richness, and whose content so radiates outward from it, that this single picture is a whole story in itself[4]

With these definitions in my head and the images of Tany Kelly[5] in my mind’s eye I felt totally daunted by this project. I felt that a lifetime, and a chance of being in the right place at the right time, not to mention the talent and ability to compose the perfect shot, was required to achieve any valuable material for this assignment.

The decision of where to go, or what genre to use, to try to capture this Decisive Moment was the first challenge. I thought about wandering around the street to see if I could capture interesting scenes in the Cartier-Bresson style. Tany Kely’s style was even more challenging where each image captures an extraordinary event with much emotion. Nature images were a possibility but decisive moments tend to come at very precise seasons. A certain level of preparedness and anticipation, recommended by Jeff Meyer[6] could be applied to the task but a great deal of time would be required to capture a caterpillar changing to a butterfly or frog spawn turning into tadpoles. I am determined to do this at some stage slowly over time. Or in the Alfred Eisenstadt[7] style I could try to “find and catch the storytelling moment”. In the end I went with Ruth Cutler’s[8] definition of the decisive moment as “that instant during an unstaged event when the elements in the scene form a composition that conveys the significance of the event, and consider the resulting photograph to  have twin aspects: ‘eventlike’ and ‘picturelike’”.

I had two opportunities coming up, the first was a gig, by a pop group whose members are friends, in an Irish pub in Marseille on St Patrick’s night. The second was my trip from Provence to Ireland by train and plane. I decided to do both and make my decision of which to submit for assignment, when I got my images. I would post the set not used on my learning log.

A music gig is an event. How could I make images of the group Big Trouble that were an event within this event? Could I make the images tell a story of what went on before and after the click of the shutter. Would they evoke emotion in the viewer? On a technical level would I be able to photograph in the weird lighting conditions. When I arrived at the pub the crowd was already spilling out the door so the use of a tripod was ruled out immediately. I was lucky to make my way to the front just before Bruno and the boys turned up. I was close enough to hold a conversation with them but not far enough away to take decent photos. The lighting was superb for the audience but a nightmare to photograph. I had to use an ISO of 500 – 800 as I was hand holding the camera. I will put the resultant images on my blog and print a couple for my physical log.

So this left my second choice of my trip home to Ireland by several modes of transport. I have entitled this set of images “Travellers”. I took a total of about 100 images and weaned this down to 24 from which the final six were selected. I decided on colour as I felt this fitted the images better. I tried to make the final selection based on Oliver Duong’s criteria 9

decisive-momentThe Decisive moment, or Inspired Moment as I like to call it is when the photographer’s eye, heart and mind are in alignment and are all present in one photograph. Basically it’s when the whole universe plots a moment where everything is aligned: Composition, Emotion & Thought. It’s like everything comes down to a tiny moment where the world slows down so that you can make a photograph[9].

I hand held the camera for all the images. Five of the six were made within buildings, the sixth, Image 3: The Passenger, was taken from outside into the station. I decided to use only horizontal images to make the set coalesce although some of the vertical images would have been great. I feel the set fulfill the brief according to some of the definitions especially that of Duong.

[1] Cutler, R. (2012) Photography and time: decoding the decisive moment [online]. Available from:

[Accessed 16/03/2015].

 [2] Cartier‐Bresson, H. (1952) The Decisive Moment. Simon and Schuster, New York. P. 2

[3] Cutler, R. (2012) Op. cit., p. 3

[4] Cartier‐Bresson, 1953) Op. cit ., p. 3.

[5] Tany-Kely’s Photo Blog (2015). Available from:


[Accessed 29/03/2015]

[6] Jeff Meyer (2013) Decisive Moment: how nature photographers can make the most of it. Available from: [Accessed 29/03/2015]

[7] Alfred Eigenstadt (1898 – 1995) Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available from: [Accessed 30/03/2015]

[8] Cutler, R. (2012) Op. cit., p.7 [Accessed 16/03/2015].

[9] Duong, O. (2013) How to Understand the Decisive Moment. Inspired Eye Photography Magazine. Available from: [Accessed 30/03/2015]


Image 1: Waiting

 This is a decisive moment in the traveller’s life because the man with the case has been waiting for his train and he will continue to wait until the train arrives. The shutter clicked at the moment he sat back to back with a fellow traveller, reading and waiting. We know they are travellers because he has a case. The juxtaposition of the staircase poses the questions “Will they ascend the stairs or is the arrow over their heads indicating the direction they will need to go to board their train”


Image 2: Snapping it

While going down the escalator in CDG Airport lugging my backpack and camera gear I spotted this Asian girl raising her iPad to take a photo of the publicity panel. For me this is a real decisive moment. For whatever reason she wanted to record and retain the information on display and for a split second she was oblivious of the rest of the world. I raised my camera, held it in one hand and pressed the shutter.


Image 3: The passenger: This image will be replaced for the final assessment

While waiting for the bus, to take me to the hotel in CDG, I was above the TGV train station. Once the train disgorges its’ passengers the station is usually deserted until about twenty minutes before the arrival of the next train. For some reason this man decided to wait on the platform. He has his story which we will never know but we are free to invent one for him.


Image 4: The couple

In Aix railway station while waiting for my TGV to Paris I spotted this couple checking their ticket to find their railway carriage. The TGV only stops for two minutes at any station so your ticket has your carriage number and an equivalent letter on the platform to facilitate fast boarding of the train. I loved the way the woman is the one holding the ticket and the man, while leaning towards her, has a slightly cynical attitude – his partner is fussing as usual.. This couple looking at these trains on this day is a decisive moment.


Image 5: Connected

Almost everyone today moves around connected to some mobile device. Just as this man emerged through the exit door of the Paris metro his mobile phone rang. The man was already connected to his mobile by a mouthpiece and he just began talking into thin air. I felt this was a very modern decisive moment. I clicked the shutter open and in that fraction of a second he was frozen in time


Image 6: The Bus Stop

Along the corridor leading to the NEC, in Birmingham, there are frosted glass windows with phrases etched out on them. I thought to take a photo of what they said but as I raised the camera I spotted the man standing at the bus stop below on the road. I focused through the plain glass leaving the rest of the image ‘frosted’. My major criticism of the image is the man turned away just as I opened the shutter. I waited to see if he would turn back but he did not. I still feel it is a good decisive moment as much for the fact that I spotted the instant as for the result.


Open College of the Arts

Tutor report


Student name Nuala Mahon Student number 513668
Course/Module Photography 1: Decisive Moment Assignment number Three


Overall Comments

There’s good analysis and preparatory work on your blog. There is clear evidence of a number of organized and relevant activities from discussion of others work to undertaking photographic project work. Exploration of the subject and theme recognized that interpretation of the topic can be varied and open to question.

Assessment potential (after Assignment 3)

You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.” 

Feedback on assignment Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Good to see some contact sheets, these look like they were cut and placed in digital software, great but try and see what happens if you cut out ‘real’ prints to shift about with and stick on paper, this allows for a type of flexibility that a computer screen cannot facilitate.

Posted print work shows ability to produce a coherent set of prints. Clear and concise descriptive text on reverse. The set has some good observations; perhaps image 3 is visually strong but might not really fit in the parameters and terms of the assignment. The topic of the project does have some kinds and type of conflicts. These become apparent dependent upon the discourse taking place when looking, reading and talking about photography. So for example a ‘sports photographer’ would have very specific skills sets such as anticipation etc. which they would bring to work which is more commercial in nature, whereas an art or contemporary photographer my be more interested in particular nuances not obvious to some. Various art and contemporary photographers may embrace various philosophical arguments with which to talk about and ‘read’ photographs.

Such as:

Ideas about how humans are not confined in the present, but always projecting towards the future might be part of a wider discourse. See link above or research Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Your various slide shows clearly show searching for the ‘moment’ and you have taken control of elements of camera functions etc.

Tech Note:        Set you camera to Adobe RGB, don’t use Srgb – Srgb has a smaller Colour Gamut (range). Your physical prints have a ‘pinkish’ colour cast. There maybe many and numerous reasons for this such as:

  • The system you edited images with
  • Printer settings
  • Viewing space when you corrected images?
  • Were you inside, did you look at them in daylight etc.?
  • Paper type

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays Context

Your ‘Research for Part 3: Traces of Time’ is good and picks out some good artists and shows that your able to independently find and make judgments about the qualities of each artists work based on sound principles. You hint at other cultures thinking about time. Of course once one starts the discussion then it can spiral out of control – thinking about histories, futures, science and measurement of units of time and space. Perhaps this is something that you can develop further in future modules.

Suggested reading/viewing Context

Take a look at this,

Its an older film but still relevant

Pointers for the next assignment

Part three Language of Light

These projects explore various aspects of light and have a varied series of tasks. It’s complex and should not be rushed. In terms of art based photographers take a look at these

Uta Barth

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

From a technical point of view there are very many tools online and tutorials about light and specifically colour values and recording this with film or with CCD’s.

Take a look at this for an inspired artist where light is the key element. 

Tutor name: Andy Hughes
Date Saturday , May 9, 2015
Next assignment due 4 June 2015

Assignment 4 Languages of Light

Reflection, on Assignment 3: The Decisive Moment, after Tutor Feedback

My  first reflection was a technical one. I immediately checked that my camera was on Adobe RGB.

My second reflection was that I was not satisfied that these images fulfilled the decisive moment definition. I will continue to try to find and photograph more pertinent decisive moments.

My tutor acknowledged that the topic had “some kinds and type of conflict”. I assume this was because of my indecision about what was required in this assignment and how I could achieve it in a reasonable amount of time. The tutor advised that I read Simon Critchley’s article on Martin Heidegger about the meaning of Time. This was incredibly interesting in the context of this assignment. According to Heidegger time is not just the past, present and future but rather the ‘now’ is composed of all our past and human beings are continually striving towards the future so the ‘now’ will also be influenced by this striving. Hence the decisive moment can mean different things to different photographers depending on their genre, their past experiences and their future aspirations as well as what is happening in front of the camera at that precise decisive moment. I had never thought of it in this way.

I am proposing to replace some of these images if I can obtain better decisive moment images before assessment. I will also re-print the images attempting to get a truer representation of the colours on screen. Or I may even decide to change to mono like most decisive moment images I have seen. This whole area of colour management occupies great tranches of my time. I watched the video suggested by my tutor and will see if I can work this into my future images.

During my by wanderings around Chile during October and November (2015) I was continually on the look out for that, up to now, elusive decisive moment. I had watched Joel Meyerowitz’s interview where he describes watching Robert Frank at work and how he saw how Frank clicked the shutter at the precise moment when one of his subjects made a subtle movement. I spent many hours in buses in Chile so I was continually watching what was happening just outside my window. I was more satisfied with many of these images than with the set I had submit to my tutor. Hence I have replaced the following images

As suggested I looked at Robert Buelteman’s amazing images taken without camera or computer manipulation apparently. These images have to be made using very precise timing – a very decisive moment and a completely different interpretation of what the decisive means.

I am now sorting for assessment and I have decided to convert to black and white. I will replace the following images: 1 Waiting, 2 Snapping it, 3 The passenger and 6 The Bus Stop  with images I took in Chile which I feel fit the definition of Decisive Moments a lot better than my original images. Since these images were made while I was traveling in a bus I feel they still fit the collective description “Travelers”. I am acutely aware that there are deficiencies in some of the images e.g 2. Sharing The young woman’s complete body is not included but I loved the image nonetheless as the couple had been shouting just before she offered him the clementine…, the mans feet are missing in 1. Are you looking at me but I felt it was a real decisive moment.

In some of these ‘new’ images the clarity is compromised because they were taken through the window of a bus. Since my Chilean visit I have begun to see many more decisive moments. I am not always able to react quickly enough yet but I am hoping this will come with time.

The submitted set for final assessment

dog in van background_sm

1. Are you looking at me



2. Sharing

2. Sharing

3. The Goodbye Kiss

3. The Goodbye Kiss

4. The Couple

4. The Couple

5. Connected

5. Connected

6. Mobile Granny

6. Mobile Granny


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