A topic I cover in the Creativity and Composition photography workshop that I do for Africa Photographic Services, is the the art of taking the photograph at just the right moment. As the French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson puts it, photographing the decisive moment. The best way to explain the Decisive moment, is to understand that with in a scene or sighting there will be one moment that best represents the whole in its entirety.
As Henri Cartier-Bresson put it in a 1957 interview with the Washington Post, he stated:
“Photography is not like painting. 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… Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”
As wildlife photographers we have these moments all the time and its about reckoning them and photographing these moments in a manner that best represents the scene we saw. With many photographers preferring to rattle off a series of images at high frame rates and then look for the “decisive moment” after the fact. I feel you are missing the moment completely, I hear many photographers speaking about putting the camera down so they can experience the scene, because they don’t want to look at it through a view finder. Well I believe you can do both, its about looking for the moment when its happening and capturing it then, with a single image and not in a flutter of photographs.
So how does one recognize these moments, well in reality its not that difficult and we have been trying to photograph them for year. I recently had to look for a photograph that an international magazine want to see if it works as a cover. While I was scratching around in my hard-drive I came across this scene from my early guiding day at Sabi Sabi private game reserve in the Sabi sands. A destination that Africa Photographic Services often go to and provide wildlife photography workshops.
It was a scene that developed quickly and the moment with in the scene was fleeting. We had been trying to get a view of a very young elephant calf that was being very well hidden by its mother and aunts. So i decided the best plan was to get in-front of the small herd and sit quietly and hopefully the adult cows will let there guard down for us to meet there young calf. It was at this quiet moment we were greeted by a young white Rhino that was busy moving towards the water hole that the elephants were coming from. Looking at the movements of both sightings they we going to come together exactly were we had positioned our selves. I though it was best to back off and bit, but still with the plan of sitting tight and let things develop in-front of us. What did develop of one of the most memorable moments in my guiding career.
I was expecting the herd to move past quickly as they entered the an open grassy patch, which is quite typical, they bunch together and move quickly across open area’s. This herd came walking straight towards us, with their focus on the Rhino which by this time was quietly feeding on a few meters in front of us.
They walked up to the Rhino very slowly, who was also starting to get curious of the situation. Then an adult elephant cow pushed this young calf forward through the herd towards the rhino, once the little one was standing a few feet from the rhino calm descended on the scene. Until that moment there was an air on tension, the two great grey beasts stood there looking at each other. This was the decisive moment, moments later the rhino moved off. The only explanation I could muster up for my guests was that these elephants were moving through the Sabi sands and introducing this little elephant to all the animals, meeting of the neighbours.