Photo Tips: Catching the Moment


Great photos don’t just happen, they’re planned. A pro tells you how

WRITTEN BY BOB KRIST

What is it that keeps the still photograph vital in the age of YouTube? Critic Susan Sontag speculated that “photographs may be more memorable than moving images because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow.” The trick for us photographers is to capture a slice of time that’s compelling enough to stand out from the flow of the everyday. 

Whatever you call this—the “decisive moment” or “privileged moment”—many of the best photographs have it. (Think of Joe Rosenthal’s shot of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.) But decisive moments aren’t only big historic events. They can be the small, funny, subtle or outrageous slices of life that we observe in our travels. With practice, you can train yourself to recognize these moments and to capture them with your camera. 

Projecting the present 
To capture a moment, you have to see it coming. One way to recognize situations that may develop into moments is through some serious people watching. See the mother cooing to her baby in the carriage? At one point, she’ll pick up the kid for a hug and snap, you’ve got your moment. That dog chasing the Frisbee®? Eventually, it’ll sail into the air for a dramatic catch, and if you’ve been following the action through your viewfinder, bingo, you’ve got it. Occasionally you might wait for something that never happens, but you’ll soon get better at spotting situations with “moment” potential. 

Choose a backdrop 
Anticipating a moment can start with a picturesque background: a mural, a row of trees in fall colors, a curve in a mountain trail. By themselves, such scenes may not make great pictures, but once a game of pickup basketball starts in front of the mural, or two joggers run down the line of trees, or a hiker appears on the trail—suddenly, you’ve got a moment. In cases like these, persistence pays off; you might have to return a few times to catch your perfect photo. 

So fair a foul day 
Don’t put away the camera when the weather turns ugly. Whenever the rain starts pelting down, I’m out with my camera—I know that these conditions can transform the mundane into the magical. A rainbow soaring, a shaft of sunlight penetrating the clouds, or a bolt of lightning streaking across the frame can make my day. 

I am a camera 
Portraits and people pictures can also have a sense of moment—usually thanks to a gesture. By “gesture” I don’t necessarily mean a hand movement, but an action—a facial expression, a certain posture—that gives insight into the subject’s mood or character. Try interacting with your subjects so they have something to react to, such as posing instructions or a wisecrack. As you do it, keep your camera up to your eye to capture their unguarded response. (You’ll need a good working knowledge of your camera, so you don’t lose that fleeting expression by having to fiddle with the controls.) Talking with a camera glued to your eye may seem awkward, but you and your subject will soon get used to it. 

Frames per moment 
Once you start capturing moments with the camera, you’ll find yourself taking tons of pictures—and probably getting more misses than hits. But you won’t regret shooting a few more frames when you see the results.

 

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