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The Decisive Moment

September 7, 2011

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative”. Henri Cartier-Bresson

People on the street reading 500th issue of "24 hours" magazine

"News Junkies"

The decisive moment happens when the action reaches an apex.

Competition in rhythmic gymnastics in Belgrade, Serbia

"Rhythmic gymnastics"

When a subject portrays the perfect expression.

Capturing magic moments in portraiture

"Baby Sara"

When the light becomes its most dramatic.

Dramatic light in photography

"The sprayman's crime"

Waiting for this perfect moment to happen may take time. Sometimes it happens in 5 minutes, sometimes you have 50 of them during the same photo shoot. It may also never happen and you’ll finish the shoot a little bit (or a lot) disappointed with just “ok” photographs.

Women competition


This photograph is just one more example of  a “decisive moment”. I was photographing a child’s birthday. I made lots of “ok” photographs, but I was hoping that something “crazy” and interesting was going to happen. Suddenly, a girl in red coat appeared. It was so obvious that she is “popular girl”, natural leader. By her attitude I could tell something interesting is going to happen once she entered the room where is the “birthday girl”. Honestly, I didn’t have idea “decisive moment” that was ready to happen is going to be so dramatic:-)
But, that’s life! Decisive moment can be: comic, happy, sad, dramatic.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said “Life is once. Forever”. What he also said is “the moment” is only one, if you have to correct it, it’s a next picture.

Scene from the wedding I was photographing

"Mother and son"

A scene from a wedding I was photographing last month

What I figured out from my own experience is that you have to be in something like “ninja style” which means: fast, sharp, clear mind and very intuitive. Part of being able to capture the decisive moment is practice. It is no accident that great photographers tend to photograph all the time, developing a kind of intuitive muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. After a while, you develop a kind of vision and you become hyper-aware of your surroundings.

Spontaneous moments in photography

"Because life is beautiful"

Once you “learn to see”, your photographs begin to tell the story and make people react. People start asking: “did you stage the photos?”

"Big Brother is watching you"

My answer is yes, and no. Staging photographs is a subject for itself, but the truth is that you can “stage” in many different ways. If you feel something is going to happen and if you prepare to shoot like a hunter and wait for the moment…yes, it’s kind of staging. Sometimes, I feel that scene or subject I’m photographing has potential, so sometimes I do kind of action because reaction is what I want to capture.

Old lady staring

"The Watcher"

"Cosmopolitan high heel race"










For the end, here are some tips for successful hunting for decisive moments:

1. Be patient.
2. When you photograph people, try all your best to make them feel relaxed. Once people are relaxed in front of you, they will open and show a pure, honest part of themselves. Trust me, there is pure magic in that. Capture it.

Portrait of man


3. Be fast, don’t miss a chance. Some moments you simply cannot repeat.

"Chasing for the white one"

4. Travel, travel, travel. Cities like Paris literally can change your state of mind.

"3 Ways" Paris

5. Go to NYC at least once in your life. Just go and you’ll see why.

"I listens to your problem for $2"

6. Go to concerts as much as possible. The energy of live music and charisma of performers will make you happy, filled, relaxed and you’ll simply see more clear.

"Parov Stelar Band", Belgrade, Serbia

7. Dance like no one is watching.  Be open to new experiences, miracles tend to happen in places we least expect.

" Right me here me me"

8. Being a cynic is okay, sometimes. It’s kind of balance to “happy for no reason”.

Ortodox, Muslim and Jewish priest out of the duty

"Chit chat with God"

9. Pay attention to details. Simple gestures can sometimes say so much more.

"Someone somewhere in summer time"

10. Stay cool and keep a young spirit, no matter how old are you. If you’re old inside, how you can expect to cherish life and see little miracles?

Nightlife in Chicago, club Joynt

"I wear my sunglasses at night"

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2011 3:53 pm

    Very well seen, things to remember. Not only for photographers.. 😉

    Great stuff!


  2. Milica Tepavac Photography permalink
    September 8, 2011 3:55 pm

    Thanks Alexandre!

  3. September 8, 2011 4:57 pm

    Tako je lepo videti i sebe među ovakvim snimcima. Hvala!

    • Milica Tepavac Photography permalink
      September 8, 2011 5:24 pm


  4. September 9, 2011 12:00 am

    Damn.. 10 commandments of a decisive moment 🙂
    I could’t agree more on every one of them! Happened to me recently, maybe the first time in my photography career, that I truly had an opportunity to wait for a decisive moment. I saw it long before, which is not seldom seen when you’re shooting on the streets, and the anticipation of a moment to suddenly “draw” a camera from behind and capture it… huh.. it made me sweat.

    • Milica Tepavac Photography permalink
      September 9, 2011 2:40 pm

      show us that photo:-)

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