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The Decisive Moment in Landscape Photography

The name Henri Cartier-Bresson does not immediately remind most people of landscape photography. It shouldn’t; he wasn’t a landscape photographer! Instead, of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a street photographer — arguably the founding father of the genre. However, although he rarely took photos of nature, his intimate approach to street photography still has value to people who prefer the company of grand landscapes. One technique is especially worth learning, no matter what genre of photography you do: the decisive moment.

1) What is the Decisive Moment?

Sometimes, a photograph is taken at such a perfect moment that it feels as though no other point in time could express the essence of the event so perfectly. Henri Cartier-Bresson defined that as the decisive moment.

How does this work in practice? Every time that someone moves — or does anything, really — there is some point along the way which perfectly encapsulates the moment. If someone jumps, it is the moment that they are in the air. If someone catches a baseball, it is the moment their glove touches the ball. Henri Cartier-Bresson aimed to capture this exact moment in his street photos.

In street photography, one good way to capture the decisive moment is to stand in front of an interesting background and wait for something to happen. The goal is to be prepared. For example, if you point your lens at a billboard advertising cat food, it is inevitable that someone will walk their dog past the location. If you are ready to take a quick photo, you could capture an interesting and ironic image.

This is, admittedly, a simple example from someone who rarely takes street photos. Instead, I tend to photograph nature and landscapes. So, why is the decisive moment relative to such a different type of work? Quite simply, everything moves. Even landscapes, which tend to be relatively static, move and change dramatically as the day goes by. This means that you can apply the concept of the decisive moment just as easily.

2) Landscape Photography

On the recent Photography Life visit to Grand Teton National Park, our first goal was to find a good location to take sunset and sunrise photographs. I assume that this is the case for many landscape photographers — you go out in the middle of the day, search for locations, and find somewhere interesting to set up for sunset.

This process is also known as scouting, and it is one of the hallmarks of landscape photography. Every time that you visit an interesting location, even if the conditions aren’t right for taking photos, you can still lay the groundwork for a successful photograph in the future. For example, take a look at the image below:

Spencer-Cox Grand Tetons

NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/8.0

I took this photograph at an overlook in the Grand Tetons. A lot of things are wrong with this shot. First, the light is relatively uninteresting. There aren’t any beautiful colors or unusual cloud patterns, and the entire image just feels a bit like a snapshot.

At the same time, there are some good qualities to this photograph. The mountains are beautiful, of course, and so is the river in the foreground. It’s not a bad location or a poor composition; the main problem is the light.

So, it was time to wait for better light. This sunset didn’t turn out to be very exciting — there still were no clouds in the sky — but the next day’s was very beautiful. The photograph below is the final result:

Spencer-Cox Grand Tetons Sunset

NIKON D800E + 35mm f/1.8 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 3/10, f/5.6

How does this relate back to the decisive moment? Although there are a few differences, the path that I followed is very similar to what Henri Cartier-Bresson described. I found a subject (my landscape) and waited for the defining moment (a good sunset). In some sense, every landscape photo is a combination of these two components.

3) The Subject and the Moment

In landscape photography, the “decisive moment” is all about light. How has the sun changed? Where is it in the sky? How do the colors look in your scene?

Landscape photography is as much about the decisive moment as is street photography. You can take a good photograph if you have an interesting subject, and you can take a good photograph if you capture the right moment. However, to take a great photograph, you need to capture an interesting subject at the right moment.

How does this look in landscape photography? Consider the photograph below:

Spencer-Cox Great Sand Dunes

NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/50, f/11.0

This image was taken at a wonderful location, with dramatic lines in the foreground and interesting mountains in the distance. However, there is a crucial problem with it: the moment is completely wrong. For one, there are no clouds in the sky, but that isn’t the main issue. Instead, what bothers me about this photograph is the position of the sun: it is too high in the sky.

If I had taken the image a couple minutes earlier, there would have been a few differences. First, I could have captured the sun while it barely peaked over the distant mountains, not while it was above them. This would have shrunken the size of the sunburst in the frame, which is a big deal — currently, it just takes up too much space. Also, if the sunburst were smaller, there wouldn’t be the unusual colors around the sun, caused by a slight amount of flare. In short, the image would be much more interesting.

So, that was an example with an interesting subject taken at the wrong moment. What about the reverse? The photograph below is a good example:

Spencer-Cox Storm Clouds

NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 3/10, f/16.0

Here, the light is absolutely incredible. I am a big fan of deep, dark shadows, along with dramatic clouds, so the weather here is exactly what I wanted. In other words, the moment is right — in fact, this is some of the best light that I have ever seen. So, why isn’t the final photograph one of my personal favorites?

Although I was able to find an interesting foreground, it wasn’t a stellar foreground. It was just… good. The mountains in the background are interesting, and the farm buildings aren’t bad, but they don’t have the same drama as other places I have photographed. This is what happens when the moment is right, but the subject is wrong.

It is worth noting something: the two images in this section aren’t terrible. The first one is close to being a great photo, but the sun is a bit too high. I still display the second one on my website, and it has even won a travel photography award as part of a set, so it isn’t a bad shot either. However, neither of them are world-class images by themselves.

Imagine, though, the landscape in the first photo underneath the light of the second photo. That would be an amazing shot! That’s the power of the decisive moment — good light and good landscapes work well on their own, but your goal is to combine the two in a single photo.

Finally, before moving on to the next section, it is worth mentioning that these are just my personal evaluations of the two shots, and you may feel different about their quality, either positively or negatively. The point, though, is the same — a world-class photo needs to be a combination of the right subject and the right light. In other words, it needs to capture the decisive moment.

4) Differences

The decisive moment in landscape photography is different from the decisive moment of street shots. When you are photographing people, everything moves much more quickly. It is harder to predict exactly what will happen, and it is harder still to capture it at the perfect moment.

In landscape photography, though, everything tends to change slowly. Sure, you may end up photographing a rainbow as it fades, but even then you often have a few seconds before it’s gone. Street photography, though, is impossibly quick. To capture his famous “jumping man” photo, Henri Cartier-Bresson had to be within a few milliseconds of the perfect moment. I understand that this is sometimes true in landscape photography, too. If you are photographing ocean waves or explosions of lava, you may have a fraction of a second to take the right shot. However, these are outliers for most people, not the norm.

Similarly, landscape photography has more predictable changes than does street photography. We all know when the sun will rise and set. I even have an app on my phone to calculate it, as I am sure many readers also do. Street photography isn’t random, but it is much more difficult to predict how a scene will look several minutes or hours in the future.

Finally, as I have mentioned a bit so far, landscape photography’s decisive moment typically involves a change in light. While street photographers often wait for objects in their scene to move into place, landscape photographers wait for the right light. It is a subtle difference, but it means that landscape photographers have the ability to return to the same spot — even several years in the future — and capture exactly the image they want.

Despite all these differences, though, the decisive moment is just as important in landscape photography as in street photography. You may not have to capture the exact fraction of a second that someone jumps in the air, but you will need to plan how to spend your time photographing good light before it changes.

Spencer-Cox Decisive Moment

NIKON D7000 + 24mm f/1.4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/10.0

5) Conclusion

Perhaps it will help to think of your landscape photography as capturing the decisive moment, much in the same way as street photographers do. Ultimately, the goal is to maximize the amount of time that you spend in amazing locations under the right conditions. This may sound intuitive, but it is the real secret to successful landscape photography.

The post The Decisive Moment in Landscape Photography appeared first on Photography Life.

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Still Missing “Big Daddy”

Until my good buddy, Cindy Smith, posted something on Facebook this morning, I had forgotten that twelve years ago today we lost Don Blair. While there’s rarely a day that goes by that something doesn’t trigger a memory, the last thing he’d want anybody feeling after all these years is sad. He never stopped celebrating life and along with it photography.

I remember him telling me about shooting his first wedding. He wasn’t old enough to drive and had to take the bus, carrying an 8×10 camera, a tripod and the rest of his gear. That was where it all started, and here we are so many years later and he’s still an inspiration.

Last week I shared the challenge of shooting a portrait with a tall woman and shorter man. The two images above came from our first program when we launched our book, Don Blair’s Guide to Posing and Lighting Body Parts. We were doing the segment about tall grooms with short brides. He was a 6′ 6″ Algerian boxer from Las Vegas and she under five feet tall! But, check out how beautiful the pose becomes when you sit them down!

Most of you never met “Big Daddy,” but that doesn’t mean you haven’t been influenced by something he taught somebody in your network. I found the short teaser clip below from a Photovision promo. I’m not sure which is more fun to watch, Don teaching or Ed Pierce’s haircut from way back when!

So, as a tribute to the legacy left to us by “Big Daddy” – I’ll close this with one of his greatest messages. You never stop learning. Your education and ability to raise the bar on the quality of your images and your skill set NEVER slow down.  

Don was once asked, “What’s the best photograph you’ve ever made?”

His answer, “I don’t know. I haven’t made it yet!”

SkipCohenUniversity – SCU Blog

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Bar Crammed W. Patrons At Sammy’s Bowery Paper Framed Print 1 5/8″ Natural Espresso Wood Grain 26×22 Photo On Paper

Bar Crammed W. Patrons At Sammy’s Bowery Paper Framed Print 1 5/8″ Natural Espresso Wood Grain 26×22 Photo On Paper


Bar crammed w. patrons at Sammy’s Bowery” is an art print by Alfred Eisenstaedt from The Life Picture Collection. Get photo prints of “Bar crammed w. patrons at Sammy’s Bowery” in a variety of frames, styles, and materials. Photographer Bio Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995), or Eisie to those who knew him, received his first camera as a gift from his uncle at 14, a few years after moving to Berlin from Poland with his family. At 17, he was drafted to the German army. His interest in photography blossomed while recovering from a shrapnel wound. He became a regular at museums, studying light and composition. By 31, he was a full-time photographer. In 1933 he was sent to Italy where he shot the first meeting between Hitler and Mussolini. Two years later, when Hitler came to power, Eisie immigrated to America. Soon after arriving in New York, he was hired along with three other photographers-Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole-by Time Inc. founder Henry Luce for a secret start-up venture known as “Project X.” Six months later, Life magazine premiered on November 23, 1936. The first issue sold for 10 cents and featured five pages of Eisie’s pictures. His most famous photo was the kiss in Times Square on V-J day, about which he said, “I was running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference. None of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then, suddenly in a flash I saw something white being grabbed. I turned and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse.” Over his career, Eisie shot a total of nearly 100 covers for Life magazine and some 10,000 prints. The Life Picture Collection From one of the most iconic magazines ever to hit the shelves comes The Life Collection – an archive of some of the most recognizable imagery of the 20th Century. Documenting events in politics, culture, celebrity, the arts and the American experience, these compelling and provocative photographs include the works of some of the greatest photographers capturing some of the greatest moments in history.

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Jennifer Denton Shares Her Experience with NILMDTS

Picture

by Skip Cohen

As September comes to a close, so does Recruitment Month at Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. That doesn’t mean you can’t get involved at any other time of the year, just that this month’s focus is on helping new photographers become a part of this amazing group of volunteers.

Every NILMDTS photographer I’ve every spoken with has talked about being involved from two different perspectives. First, they all share the story of their first session. They talk about their fear of being able to maintain composure, and be “professional.” Without exception they talk about how they learned they didn’t have to be composed, just supportive of the family’s grief, sadness and pain.

Second, and it never varies, is the way they describe each NILMDTS assignment as being life-changing. There’s a redefined sense of purpose to being a photographic artist. Jennifer Denton in the video above does a terrific job of explaining what NILMDTS means to her and how it’s helped change her perspective on life and her career.

                    “There’s nothing else I’ve ever done that provides me this kind of fulfillment and satisfaction…”

I’ve shared a number of posts over the last few years from NILMDTS photographers. I hope you’ll watch Jennifer’s video, and if you’d like another artist’s perspective check out this post from co-founder, Cheryl Haggard as she talks about capturing love. Just click on the image below to read her story.

Coming up tomorrow, September 28 is a FREE NILMDTS webinar. Here’s your chance to find out more about being a volunteer and being a part of this very special group. Registration for the information webinar is just a click away.


SkipCohenUniversity – SCU Blog

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Dulce Wohner;frances Rainer;karel Williams Canvas Traditional 1 5/8″ Natural Espresso Wood Grain 24×29 Photo On Canvas

Dulce Wohner;frances Rainer;karel Williams Canvas Traditional 1 5/8″ Natural Espresso Wood Grain 24×29 Photo On Canvas


Dulce Wohner;Frances Rainer;Karel Williams” is an art print by Gjon Mili from The Life Picture Collection. Get photo prints of “Dulce Wohner;Frances Rainer;Karel Williams” in a variety of frames, styles, and materials. Photographer Bio Emigrating to the United States from Albania in 1923, Gjon Mili is regarded as the first photographer to use electronic flash and stroboscopic light to create photographs outside of a scientific context. A true pioneer of the artform, Mili’s photographs of dancers, athletes, and pictures or performances have shaped our understanding of how movement too rapid or too complex for the eye to discern is captured in the still image. Mili’s career as a photographer for Life Magazine spanned four decades and saw the publication of thousands of his photographs, taking him around the world; from collaborations with Pablo Picasso, to the incarceration of Adolph Eichmann, to original photos from Broadway plays. The Life Picture Collection From one of the most iconic magazines ever to hit the shelves comes The Life Collection – an archive of some of the most recognizable imagery of the 20th Century. Documenting events in politics, culture, celebrity, the arts and the American experience, these compelling and provocative photographs include the works of some of the greatest photographers capturing some of the greatest moments in history.

Price: $
Sold by Photos.com by Getty Images

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