Decisive Moment: how nature photographers can make the most of it

Decisive Moment: what it means for nature photographers (and how to make the most of it)

Henri Cartier-Bresson famously coined the term ‘decisive moment’, but anticipating and capturing decisive moments doesn’t only apply to street photography. In this tutorial we’ll show you how you can make the most of decisive moments as they appear in nature to create landscape or wildlife images with more impact for the viewer.

Decisive Moment: what it means for nature photographers (and how to make the most of it)

Images by Mark Hamblin

Really great images that stand out from the crowd all have one thing in common – they capture a unique moment in time when everything has come together to create the perfect picture.

These images rarely happen by chance, however. Instead, they are a combination of good planning, persistence, anticipation, fast reactions, technical ability and sometimes a small slice of luck.

It’s these skills that will help you improve as a photographer and raise your images from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Unfortunately, many photographers fall into the trap of thinking that if they take hundreds of images then they are sure to capture a few great ones.

And while this might be the case in some situations, it usually simply means that you have lots of mediocre images to wade through but none that really stand out.

Instead, you need to think in terms of quality rather than quantity and set out to produce a small number of images that capture decisive moments to make your pictures special.

These are the moments when the subject reveals something extra. It may be something quite subtle like a catchlight in the eye or the slight turn of the head, or conversely it could be explosive action, unusual behaviour or exquisite lighting.

It’s very unusual to just stumble upon decisive moments to photograph. Forethought and planning are crucial and will increase your chances of being in the right place at the right time.

And the more time you spend out in the field the ‘luckier’ you will become.

When photographing landscapes it often comes down to going the extra mile or taking a chance. This might mean pulling yourself out of bed at 4am to get to a location for a dawn shoot or hiking for a couple of hours in the dark.

Sometimes it’ll pay off, sometimes it won’t, but you can’t catch a glorious sunrise if you’re asleep in bed. To capture these unique moments you have to be in position, set up and ready to go.

Capturing the decisive moment with wildlife relies as much on patience as anything else. There can be long periods of inactivity during which you may have to stay still for hours but remain ready to react very quickly to an event that might only last a few seconds.

PAGE 1: What is the decisive moment in nature?
PAGE 2: Reacting quickly to the decisive moment
PAGE 3: 7 top tips for capturing the decisive moment in nature
PAGE 4: Decisive moments – photographing birds in flight

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