Category: ASSIGNMENT 3

Assignment three – The Decisive Moment – Assignment notes and final set

As previous posts show, I have tried a number of different approaches to the decisive moment.  Not all of them have been successful and I have not found it possible to put together a coherent set of half a dozen images from just one shoot that meets the criteria of the brief.  There have been a few images from each shoot that do say something to me about the concept and which I do like. Mostly though I do not feel they hang together as a set.  I have though settled on six images from across the shoots that do have something in common and that I feel do work as a set.

f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 100

f/6.3, 1/50s, ISO 100

f/4, 1/50s, ISO 100

f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO 100


f/16, 1/125s, ISO 400

f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 100

Each of these images was, at one level, taken “on the fly”, which is consistent with HCB’s original idea of “images a la sauvette”.  Of perhaps one of his most iconic images, ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’, HCB said “it’s always luck.”  On the basis of my own experience with this assignment I would tend to agree, at least in part.  Each of the pictures in this final set are the result of chance; the chance coming together of the various elements of the composition to create something with visual interest.  That said, despite the element of chance – I could not control the coming together of those elements – they are all the result of a decision to shoot in a particular place, in a particular manner, with the hope that something of the sort would be the outcome.  They are all the result of looking, seeing potential in a given location, and seeing the potential offered by the fleeting conjunction of a number of elements to create a picture.  With the possible exception of the last of the final six, each picture was taken with a deliberate choice of framing by a building or buildings around the chosen scene.  In that last picture the subject is also framed by the structure in the background but that was more by luck than judgment.  In the cases though of the two men ascending the steps in the rain I could see there was the potential for something interesting although I was not at all sure what it might be until I caught the image that I have chosen.  In the case of the man in front of the narrow gap between two buildings I was actively hoping to capture something like this being aware of the potential of the site and influenced, as I have mentioned previously, by the work of Matt Black.

Although I do not fully buy into HCB’s ideas about the golden section, a sense of geometry or of arrangement of the elements of the subject are what appeal to me in these images.  Although taken across the three shoots at different times and locations what these final pictures have in common is an element of framing of the subject by the built environment and a certain symmetry, or otherwise to some extent a geometrical arrangement of the subject(s).  It is this arrangement of the elements that relates these pictures to the concept as explained by HCB.

I have commented briefly on each of these photos in the earlier posts on this Assignment, with the exception of the third one above.  What appealed here was the fact that for a fraction of a second all four subjects were in line and the man on the left who had until then been looking out into the street, looked back through the archway towards me, contesting with he other figures whose faces cannot be seen.

I have, I must admit, added to a sense of coherence by choosing to print all of this set in black and white.  There are a number of reasons for this choice that are relevant.  One is, simply, that it does help with a sense of coherence.  Another is that in none of the chosen photos is colour really that important.  Colour does not add anything of substance to the composition of any of these pictures.  It does in some of the pictures I took – I would dearly have liked to put together a set based the “colourful dining” image I posted in Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 1 which remains one of my favourite individual images – but I am not happy that there are enough  photos that would have the right sense of coherence.

It has perhaps become a cliche but nevertheless I also feel that black and white is the appropriate medium for ‘street photography’ and the decisive moment.  HCB’s own work was monochrome and eschewing colour feels like an appropriate homage to him.  I am also influenced in this choice by a number of other photographers that I particularly admire who also happened to shoot almost exclusively in monochrome and whose work might be regarded as having something to say about the decisive moment, without necessarily being explicitly linked in any way to HCB’S work.  To name just a few I would cite Walker Evans and some of the pictures in the first half of American Photographs, Robert Frank in The Americans, Lee Friedlander’s street photography, and much of Vivian Maier.  Just about everything by Robert Capa! Josef Koudelka  during the invasion of Prague. Photos do not necessarily have to be monochrome in order to say something of the decisive moment as William Eggleston’s work amply demonstrates but, such is the strength and power of the cliche that black and white just feels right.

It is purely coincidental that a number of these American photographers are mentioned in the article by Zouhair Ghazzal referred to in the course material and which I have only just now revisited having written the paragraph above.   Their work perhaps goes some way to reinforce the view, expressed in my earlier post on where I stand on the concept, Part 3 The decisive moment – where do I stand?  that it has perhaps been stretched too far beyond being a description of the particular way that HCB worked.  I have to confess I do not find Ghazzal’s essay very useful or enlightening.

Evans, W, (2016).  American Photographs.  New York:  The Museum of Modern Art

Frank, R, (2016).  The Americans,  Göttingen: Steidl.

Koudelka, J (2008).  Invasion Prague 68.  London: Thames & Hudson

Whelan, R & Capa, C (eds) (1985).  Robert Capa: Photographs. London: Faber & Faber


Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 3

As the third projected shoot at the Northumberland County Show did not work out, as mentioned in the previous post on this assignment (Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 2), I decided to try another approach the following day.  This was the day that I had chosen to go to Sunderland to see the Taylor Wessing prize exhibition (Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016, Sunderland – Exhibition).  The easiest way to get there is by train from my village straight through to Sunderland where the station is just a couple of minutes walk from the museum – much easier than driving and trying to find somewhere to park.  What I therefore decided to do was to take shots of people on the platform as we stopped at each station, and also try a few more pictures in Sunderland in similar vein to those I had initially taken in Newcastle, taken from within the station looking out.

The biggest challenge presented by shooting from the train was trying to get a decent focus on subjects through the glass windows and while the train was still moving.  Needless to say not many worked out well.  All of the on-board train shots were taken with a 50mm lens, shutter priority at 1/125s, ISO 400.

From a compositional point of view I like this one, with the progression of the subject and the next two posters, and the fact the subject’s face is obscured by an internal reflection on the window.  It does though suffer from not being more focused.

This one is better from the point of view of focus.  I like the juxtaposition of the subject and the police on the poster.

Perhaps the most successful of the these is though perhaps this one:  good focus, framing of the subject, and the almost abstract patterning of the right half of the picture:

Of the street shots there is only one at the moment that really catches my eye:

Still shutter priority, 1/125s, f/9, but ISO 100.

I feel this works from a geometrical point of view.  Each of the five standing characters is in front of a poster of some description.  That behind the main subject in the white top, which is almost like a halo, helps mark him out as the main subject and provides contrast for his head against what would others be a dark background, in which his own dark hair would become lost.  I also like the symmetrical, diagonal placement into the field of view of the two litter bins.  This was all pure chance and, as with some of HCB’s own work, only becomes apparent after the event once the photo is analysed.

Ultimately I do not feel there is a great deal here that works, and certainly not enough alone to make up a coherent final set, which will be the subject of the next post – the last one for now as I do not feel much purpose would be served by just taking more pictures in this vein.

Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 2

Taking a lead from HCB’s comments about the role of chance and luck in the Decisive Moment and inspired to an extent by Paul Graham’s work “The Present” referred to in the course material I next want to try taking a series of images from fixed sites over a period of time, regardless of what might be happening in front of the camera, to see what crops up.  This is also a way of exploring the question that I posed in my earlier post on what I think of the idea of the decisive moment (Part 3 The decisive moment – where do I stand?) about what happens before and after that moment.

I shot the first attempt at this at one end of the main shopping street in Hexham.  I did not unfortunately have the opportunity this time to repeat the exercise at other locations as the weather started to change for the worse.  I will though try some other places later as opportunity permits.

I tried two approaches to this: first shooting with a 50mm lens; then using a longer lens, set at 135mm to isolate just part of the scene deeper in.  In both cases the camera was on a tripod, in the same position for both, and the shutter was operated automatically using an interval timer so that what was captured was not chosen consciously by me.  The pictures were taken at 20 second intervals and it is striking how much each scene changed within such a relatively short time.

50mm, all at f/8, shutter varying from 1/60 to 1/80s

135mm, all at f/8, shutter varying from 1/25 to 1/30s

In addition, on the way back to the car, I took a few more shots (all at 50mm with varying shutter speeds and apertures) in a similar vein to those taken in Newcastle as discussed in the previous post.

As with the sequences  shot earlier in Newcastle I think the results of this shot are a little uneven.  Nevertheless there are a few I find interesting.

The sequence shot at 50mm was somewhat marred by the Big Issue seller who features too much and too large (I could hardly ask him to move!).  Nevertheless there is one shot that interests me from a compositional point of view, both from the point of view of HCB’s ideas about geometry and chance:

f/8, 1/80s

The seller forms a strong anchor on the left (his head is cut off because I set the tripod at quite a low level, deliberately to shoot under the gaze of anyone passing close).  All of the figures are then concentrated in a narrow band across the middle of the scene, pretty much in line with the sign boards, telephone box, bike racks and waste bin.  The change in the road surface, from flags to cobbles, forms a strong leading line into the scene, and the flags themselves are unaccountably unoccupied creating an area of stillness in contrast to the visual busyness of the upper left half of the photo.  None were deliberate, just pure chance.

Just for comparison I also had a look at this shot in black and white but feel it needs the colour, in particular the red jacket, for impact.

With regard to the Paul Graham idea, I think on reflection the interval between shots was perhaps  a little too long but there is nevertheless at least some evident continuity between pictures.  There one particular sequence of three that strikes me most.

f/8, 1/25s                                                                  f/8, 1/30s

f/8, 1/30s

The lady in purple with the dog can be seen receding  (or at least in the second shot her dog is just visible) but I like the way that suddenly in the second shot, the only one where this happened, the entire view is otherwise blocked out by people crossing the street.

Lastly I quite like this shot for the apparent incongruity of the man who seems disproportionately large – even allowing for perspective he towers over the other people in view.  The colours are also quite striking, being strong and different from anything else in view.

The final sequence, again looking through archways is also a bit of a mixed bag.  My first impression though is that I think the image has some merit.

I like there way it  fits nicely in the rule of thirds (more by luck than judgment perhaps!)- there are three distinct area, top to bottom – and I like the way the strong vertical of the man is continued by the market square cross, and that the two of them link to top, dark section within the arch, to the flags in the lower half.  The man also fits in a neat line of strong verticals from the edge of the notice board on the left to the lamppost and edge of the arch on the right.  I also think this one works better in black and white – there is not a great deal of colour in the original but again I fear it does little more than act as a distraction.  Monochrome gives a much stronger focus on the compositional elements.

I want to have one more shoot, in a few days’ time at the Northumberland County Show, to see what else I can do, and perhaps revisit some other sites in Hexham.  Before I make a final selection and reflect on the assignment as a whole – and perhaps look again at my thoughts n the idea of the decisive moment – there will therefore be at least a third post on this assignment.


Unfortunately the shoot at the county show did not go well!  The weather was not great which did not help – I saw couple of people using plastic bags to protect their cameras but I did not have one with me.  I also did not fully anticipate how excited my wee dog (a BT) would get when confronted with the largest group of Border Terriers he has encountered until now when we went to watch the judging of the terrier classes.  Fourteen month old terrier and camera, in the rain, are not an ideal combination!  I therefore had to scrub this idea – but had another one for the following day, to be reported on anon.


Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 1

I am going to deal with this assignment in a short series of posts, rather than in just one.  This is so that I can explore separately a number of different ideas and to accommodate the fact that shooting is going to have to take place over a number of days.

The first opportunity that I have had to take pictures for this assignment was presented by a recent trip that I needed to make into the centre of Newcastle.  My village does not present that many opportunities for ‘street photography’!  What I wanted to explore first was a straightforward to street photography, in a way a bit like HCB did with his “images a la sauvette”.  I was though also keen to include the idea of geometry, but in a fairly simple way by using elements of the cityscape to provide a frame for the subject of the images.  As it happened the day in question was wet and shooting in the rain presents obvious challenges.  What I therefore settled on was taking photographs from shelter into the street.  In fact I ended up shooting out through the entrances to Newcastle’s covered Grainger Market (where I had an errand anyway) and through the archway that leads to the Side Gallery, where I visited the Coal Coast exhibition.  I did though manage a couple of shots outside when the rain eased off a little but I was still intent on using buildings to frame the subject.

I also played around a little with reflections.  By chance there were windows within the entrances to the market that created some interesting extra elements.  On a previous course I did an assignment specifically themed around reflections which created some interesting effects and images, some of which would have fitted quite nicely within the scope of the current assignment.

These are the contact sheets  from this first foray.

First impressions

The first thing that strikes me is that unlike HCB I am a little trigger happy.  Rather than spending more time observing and then catching just the right shot I have probably taken too many pictures of certain views with the result that the outcomes are undistinguished.  It is though also clear that a sometimes you just do not get a proper sense of what you are seeing through the viewfinder until you have taken the shot and can then analyse more closely.  Although in my previous post in the idea if the Decisive Moment I might have sounded a little dismissive of the “ex post facto rationalisation” and analysis of the geometry of the composition I think there is something to be said for this approach.  Only once the picture is out of the camera is it sometimes possible to see clearly and appreciate fully what is before you.

Of these pictures there are a few that I particularly like and I feel have been reasonably successful.

f/6.3, 1/80s

I have cropped this down to lose most of the doorway that framed the original shot.  Otherwise I have not done any post production work on it.  I particularly like the way I was able to catch the woman in the middle of the poster and the character on the right who acts as an almost monochrome punctuation to the otherwise colourful central strip.  Unlike the three pictures that follow, the subject matter here demands that the photo be in colour.

f/6.3, 1/50s                                  f/6.3, 1/100s                                                          f/2.8, 1/60s

These three have all been converted to black and white as I feel they have more impact in that form.  In the middle picture in particular I felt that the colour was something of a distraction. What I like about the first is the way the figure has become featureless and looks more like a man shaped hole in the scene.  In the second I was happy to catch the moment when the two mens’ reflections on the wet steps almost completely mirror their bodies.  The third was a shot I was hoping to get: knowing this location very well I was looking for just such an image of someone slightly out of focus in the foreground crossing in front if this narrow alleyway between two buildings.  It was specifically inspired by a photo by Matt Black (of which I own a print) – Downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from the series Geography of Poverty.

I shall want to play around with some of the other pictures more before making any final choices but for now I feel these are some of the strongest images and with which I am most happy.