Cup of tea and Henri-Cartier Bresson

Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.

Any photographer’s supreme ambition is to capturing the precise millisecond that tells the whole story. A picture is the freezing of time. There are no fancy mechanisms available to the photographer to fill in the viewer with the crucial backstory. There is no way to rewind the narrative in a photograph. That single frame is it; the one infinitesimal instant in the ever flowing stream of time must stand on its own and captivate its audience. It must not only tell of how that moment came to be, but must also illicit a desire to know what will be.

Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact.

A photographer’s challenge (should he/she choose to accept it) then, is not only to recognize that something is happening (or about to happen), but to capture it in such a way that its significance is instantly obvious and intriguing. Should be simple enough with a camera capable of 14 frames per second, right? I mean you are bound to get at least one frame that captures the magic instant.

Have you had a look at all the different reasons your photos may get rejected at any given agency? I should know, I must have collected all of them by now. But it comforts me to believe that even Henri-Cartier Bresson would collect a few if he were to submit to microstock agencies, though perhaps not as much as me. Not that I am comparing myself in any way to such a master as him.

Depicting the “decisive moment” as espoused by M. Bresson is not simply pressing down hard on the button and hearing a fast series of clicks. Certainly the man leaping across a puddle will be forever captured on your film or sensor, but does everything else in the frame provide significance to that leap?

The test is not only to anticipate, comprehend and technically capture an instant but to compose it so that everything in the tiny extract provides the flashback to what happened before, the context in which it is occurring now and the enticement of what the unrevealed future holds. Anything not related to the plot is a meaningless distraction and simply spoils the narrative.

In the instant that the film is exposed or the sensor is tripped, the photographer must perfectly recount the story by controlling the exposure, depth of field and the composition of his snapshot. Seriously, can I really do all that in a nanosecond? Ummmm… ok moving on then.

The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a question of millimeters – small, small difference...

Composition, composition, composition. And composition yet again.

Think of movies. The special effects and stunt work may be breathtaking, but if the story isn’t gripping, the movie will tank and some Hollywood executive’s head will roll (woo hoo).

All the technical niceties in a photograph are mostly lost on the average viewer, what really grips him or her, is the story being told. Whether it is a firefighter battling against flames, a little girl crying for her mother, the steaming apple pie coming out of the oven it really is the narrative that wrests the attention of the average Joe. Blown highlights, inky dark shadows, noise are secondary. What reaches out and seizes a wandering gaze will almost inevitably be the story that is unveiled.

And later once attention has been gripped the critical eye will discern the technical flaws of execution. But without the arresting plot, it is unlikely that a technically perfect photograph is going to be noticed. (Obviously none of this applies to soulless microstock agencies who have no time to read the book but want to see eye-popping explosions instead. Just kidding).

Photography is nothing--it's life that interests me.

You just have to live and life will give you pictures.

Amen to that.

It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.

Indeed. I just recently so a whole series of videos on the internet where professionally renowned photographers were handed really crappy cameras (including an old Nokia phone, an iPhone 2G, but the most impressive of all was a Lego camera). It was just simply amazing how each one of the photographers just worked around the technical limitations of the material to produce really interesting and captivating pictures. No possibility to set aperture values or shutter speed? No problem, we’ll just work around it. Hmmm, the flash is weak… ok let’s do some light painting. It was an education just watching these guys, I think I learnt more about photography watching this than I have any other way in a long, long time.

Having the latest and greatest equipment with a chockfull of megapixels and high speed focusing is nice to have, but it ain’t going to make you into a great photographer in any way mate (there’s also a video with a complete novice given a brilliant Nikon DSLR, hilarious). If you don’t have the head to work out a composition or idea, or the eye to see a point of interest or the heart to feature it in a story a Canon 1D Mk IV is not going to change you into a Bresson or Ansel Adams. Don’t waste your money on a piddling camera, go buy a big powerful Ferrari and see if that will turn you into a Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso. Yeah, good luck with that.

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.

Some words of encouragement from the master! Oh well, at least that explains all the rejections, ha ha. But seriously… practice, practice, practice. One day it might make perfect.

If you enjoyed this please like my page Shadow69 Photography on Facebook. Many thanks.

Photo credits: Abdul Sami Haqqani.

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Photo is the best friend of human being since it won't lie and always tell the truth. It's an mirror which reflect truth and reality.

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Iv seen the Lego camera video on youtube its Chase Jarvis - its funny but it doesn't work out too well


Great blog! Thanks for sharing!


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