Assignment three – ‘The decisive moment’ – The Beginning

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment three – ‘The decisive moment’ – The Beginning

The decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one: the result is not a story but a picture. (Swarkowski, 2007, p.5)

You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.  (Eddie in Stranger Than Paradise, Dir.Jim Jarmusch, 1984)

Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme the ‘decisive moment’.  

Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be.  Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day.  a building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.

You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept.  Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.

Format of my Blog response:
As with previous Assignments, where text from my official response to my tutor has been included I will highlight this to enable you (the reader) to distinguish between what is just ‘chat’ i.e. my ‘thoughts’, and what has been ‘submitted’.  This will help contextualise my tutor’s response/critique and any rework that is/has been requested.

Initial Thoughts:
I thought for a while about the subject of this assignment and knew I wanted to do some action photography, in particular the ‘frozen moment‘, so this is the direction I took myself (and my camera) in.

For this assignment the requirement was to set the camera to shutter priority mode and to submit a collection of 6-8 high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’.  I have chosen to submit 7 images for this assignment (printed on gloss paper, with a 1.5cm white border and a 2pt black stroke) with the linking theme of skateboarding.

I chose skateboarding as I had seen some skateboarding photographs online and knew it would be very different to my normal subject choice and potentially challenging. I felt this subject would;

⦁ provide me with the opportunity to try something different, out of my comfort zone;
⦁ have scope to cover not only this assignment but also potentially future projects;
⦁ give me a platform for technical experimentation i.e. it would benefit me to familiarise myself with the location, the skateboarders and the activity.

To add to this I have a skateboard park close to where I work so the subject was also accessible, important if you might be going back several times to experiment or do any re-work.

Part three of the course is heavily focused on the decisive moment and exploring what that means in terms of photography. In Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’ he observed “that a photograph can be the object of three practices (or of three emotions, or of three intentions) : to do, to undergo, to look” [Barthes, 2006, p9] in other words you have the photographer taking the image (the “operator”), you have the subject of the image (the “target”) and you have the people who view the image (the “spectators”).

The reason I reference this is because I struggled with what the ‘decisive moment’ was and to whom it related. The word ‘decisive’ means “Determining or having the power to determine an outcome” [Wordweb]. I had already ruled out spectators as they do not have any impact on image capture. This left the operator and the target. I concluded that it was the photographer as the operator who determined the outcome as they are in full control of when the shutter button is pressed and what image is captured.

Technical Approach and Techniques:
For this Assignment I used my current favourite lens, which I had used many times before so felt comfortable that it would give me the performance I wanted for this exercise/assignment.

From a technical perspective I used a Canon 70D with a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. This lens gave me the most flexibility out of the lenses that I own, as I could vary the focal lengths according to the required proximity to the “target”, although at times I found 50mm did not get me close enough to the action.

As you can see from my contact sheets and shooting data, I used a few different shutter speeds depending on the speed required to capture the relevant ‘frozen’ moment. Initially my shutter speed was too low and I was getting motion blur, so had to increase this.

The sun was bright and low the day I took the images and formed lots of shadows which provided high contrast conditions. This meant at times it was difficult for the camera to expose correctly whilst maintaining a large enough depth of field to enable enough of the target to be in focus at the speeds they were travelling. Focusing on a moving target was a little more difficult than I had anticipated. As a result I increased the ISO slightly to allow for a higher depth of field. I took the images over an hour or so around early evening so shot partly during the golden hour which gave me some issues around colour consistency.

On the subject of focusing, I wanted both the background and target to be frozen in motion, so I did not want to adopt a panning style approach as this may have caused motion blur. Instead I used a focus point where I knew the skateboarder would be at a given point in his trick/jump (after studying positioning and routes taken through the skate park) and that’s where I focused. I then waited until the skateboarder was in my peripheral vision and used the shutter, in burst mode, to give a better chance of capturing the action frozen and in focus.

Please follow this link for the next section: Assignment three – ‘The decisive moment’ – The Middle


Roland Barthes, 2006. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New Ed Edition. Vintage Books.

WordWeb: English dictionary, thesaurus, and word finder software. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2016].

YouTube. 2016. Henri Cartier-Bresson Part2 – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 August 2016].


One thought on “Assignment three – ‘The decisive moment’ – The Beginning

  1. Pingback: Assignment three – ‘The decisive moment’ – The Middle | BA (Hons) Photography : A Different Perspective

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