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The Elements of Effective Photographs

Capturing the decisive moment


From:

The Elements of Effective Photographs

with Natalie Fobes

Video: Capturing the decisive moment

In the last movie we talked about peak action in sports and wildlife photography. Photojournalism has an equivalent. It's called the decisive moment, and I often refer to this as moments of life. Like peak action the decisive moment is the single image that captures the action or essence of what you're photographing. This photograph sums up the story and can stand alone without supporting images or words, but there's a difference between peak action and decisive moment.

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The Elements of Effective Photographs
1h 36m Beginner Aug 30, 2011

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In this course, Pulitzer-nominated photographer Natalie Fobes takes viewers into the studio and on location to explore the many elements that combine to make an effective photo.

The course explores compositional elements that guide a viewer's eye, including the rule of thirds; leading lines, patterns, and curves; and depth of field. Natalie then details the roles of color and light in a photo. She shows how to work with the natural light in a room or outdoor location, and how to enhance it using reflectors, newspapers, a T-shirt, or whatever might be handy. She also shows some simple indoor lighting setups that can replicate the look of natural light.

The course continues with a look at movement and how a photographer can convey a sense of motion by blurring part of the image or freezing a fast-moving subject. Next, Natalie explores the concepts of peak action and the decisive moment—those split seconds that capture the essence or emotion of a subject or scene. The course wraps up with a discussion of the roles of planning and research in creating effective photos.

Subjects:
Photography Photography Foundations
Author:
Natalie Fobes

Capturing the decisive moment

In the last movie we talked about peak action in sports and wildlife photography. Photojournalism has an equivalent. It's called the decisive moment, and I often refer to this as moments of life. Like peak action the decisive moment is the single image that captures the action or essence of what you're photographing. This photograph sums up the story and can stand alone without supporting images or words, but there's a difference between peak action and decisive moment.

With peak action the photograph can be judged by sharp focus, stopped action, or whether the ball is in the frame. With the decisive moment the standard of success is more emotional and subtle, and sometimes it depends on the viewer's reaction to the photograph. You might not know for sure what the decisive moment is until after you've had a chance to look at the images. Here is an example. I wanted to photograph the excitement of horses when they were first let out to run.

I started shooting as their handler released them. The horses immediately raced to the far end of the corral and never came back. I was disappointed at the time, but when I looked at the photographs from the shoot I realized the decisive moment was one of the first shots I took. You can almost feel the intensity of the horses as the handler scrambled out of the way. It sums up the excitement and danger that none of the other photographs captured.

A reporter takes notes with a notepad. I take notes with my camera. When I'm in a situation with potential I really work it until I'm confident I've got it covered. One day during the Exxon Valdez oil spill I photographed workers cleaning up a beach, and then went back with them on their boat. Some sat, some stood; all were physically exhausted from the 12-hour day. I tried several different angles and watched for different expressions.

Out of the 10 shots I did before we docked, this is the decisive moment. It's subtle, but the downcast eyes on this man and his coworker's slumping shoulder really communicate their emotions. My editor thought so too. The magazine ran this photograph across two pages. And you know if I had stopped taking pictures after the first couple shots I'd never have gotten an image with such power.

The bottom line is this, moments happen all around you all the time. The trick is to be looking for them, be ready for them, and then capture them by taking lots of notes with your camera.

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