Capturing the Moment
“Life is all memory, except for the present moment that goes by you so quickly that you hardly catch it going.” – TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
Just one thing sets photography apart from every other activity or art. It saves one single moment from a stream of real-life action and fixes it forever (or at least until you decide to throw it away). Some of us argue that capturing moments is what photography does best, and that this is the skill to hone and perfect. As a skill, it certainly responds to being worked on, for the evident reason that some moments are simply more arresting to look at than others. Really good moments make compelling, memorable photographs, and it’s easy to see that well-liked and famous images are the way they are because the photographer caught something that in turn caught the public imagination. Marilyn Monroe’s skirt flying up on the set of The Seven Year Itch, Robert Capa’s falling soldier, Ansel Adams’ Moonrise, Hernandez, and Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square, are all about moment.
It’s all too easy to get philosophical about this, but I prefer to get practical. We all use cameras now (even though many of them accept incoming calls as well), so photography these days is less about quietly appreciating other people’s images and more about shooting our own. We can start by demystifying the writings about moment, most of which feed off the endlessly quoted Decisive Moment of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He meant that when it all comes together in the viewfinder, you know it’s the right time to shoot. He wrote, “Inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.” He did not mean that there is only one such moment per situation, because different people see things in different ways. But if you are aware as a photographer, there will likely be one moment that’s right for you.
Put in the simplest way possible, moments are about choosing when to shoot, about realizing that the way things come together in the frame right now may be better, or worse, than in the next few seconds. Or minutes. The time frame varies hugely, from hours to a fraction of a second, but what remains constant is that one point will deliver you a more satisfying image than the others. But none of this means much unless it is useful in helping us all capture more interesting moments. And there are skills and techniques—many of them— that we can use to achieve this, which is why I’m going to limit the navel-gazing and concentrate on the practicalities of capture. This is all the more important now with the huge numbers of photographs being taken. One estimate for this year is around one trillion, though I hesitate to mention even this ludicrously large figure for fear of it quickly going out of date. The reason for this greater importance is simply that the more images accumulate, the less memorable and interesting they become. Standing on the shore of an ocean of imagery, you have to work harder to make one that stands out. It really isn’t enough to just point and shoot. The camera can do that for itself. If we want to be able to claim a moment in time visually as our own, we need to develop the skills to find it and capture it.
Above is an excerpt from the second book in Michael Freeman’s new Capturing series:
The Heart of Photography
For a list of all of Michael Freeman’s books visit: www.focalpress.com/michaelfreeman
Excerpted from Capturing The Moment by Michael Freeman © 2015 Taylor and Francis LLC, All Rights Reserved