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Capturing the Moment

There’s the thing that happens, and then there’s what we see happening, and it’s the second that makes a photograph.

Flame tree, Magwe Division, Myanmar
Flame tree, Magwe Division, Myanmar

Here’s an example of a bad moment. You’re on one side of a street photographing something—let’s say a couple about to kiss—on the opposite side. As you shoot, a passerby inconveniently walks in front of you, and you end up with a blurred shape hiding the very moment you intended to capture. Tough luck, but that bad moment happened only to you and your camera, not for anyone else. The couple still kissed, and then walked on, oblivious. But you missed it.
Or, you’re driving along a winding country road, and as you round one bend, you see ahead the most glorious tree in bloom, full of startlingly red flowers at their peak. In fact, three trees all together, nicely spaced. There’s a landscape shot here, at least. But then you also see a woman in front, walking away from you, about to pass these trees and their flower-heavy branches dripping to the ground. This is obviously more than just a landscape; it’s a moment, if you get it right and catch the figure of the woman in one of the empty spaces between the masses of flowers. But only from where you are looking. From anywhere else the moment doesn’t exist. It happened only in the camera, not in the wider world.
The trajectory The situation at the start, with the woman’s likely route—which turned out as expected.
The trajectory
The situation at the start, with the woman’s likely route—which turned out as expected.

This example fits into the category that Michael Freeman refers to to as ‘slotting in place’. It boils down in the final seconds to having a setting that he likes and a smallish subject that he wants to fit into it, like completing a jigsaw. This is all entirely in the mind and in the camera’s viewfinder. It doesn’t exist outside that very limited frame of reference, and that means that if you get it right, it becomes purely your image. That’s the general ambition, anyway.
One of photography’s true greats, Henri Cartier-Bresson, nailed photography perfectly when he coined the phrase ‘the decisive moment’. No one has come up with a better description, but how do you capture it? This book beautiful new book, Capturing the Moment by Michael Freeman, presented in the style of the acclaimed Capturing Light, deals with the unique power of photography – and the specifically techniques required – to analyse a slice of life and capture it as the perfect still.
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