Photography has been evolving constantly from its birth in 1839. There have been many different kinds of photographs and processes through the years, including the daguerreotype, calotype, ambrotype, tintype, prints from sheet film, prints from roll film, and now images from digital capture. Each process had its advantages and disadvantages but most of us would agree that generally advances in technology have made life easier and better. But in this “Instantaneous, quantity over quality, throw-away world,” have we also lost the ability to think?
I have been involved in photography for over 30 years with much of that time spent in journalistic photography. I have also taught photography for the past 16 years at a community college.
Recently I sent a student out with a digital SLR camera to cover the school’s show choir during a class break for the student newspaper. The performance was short but packed with high-energy dance numbers. The student came back with some 300 images on the memory card. After plowing though hundreds of images of awkward-looking steps, backs of people’s heads and poor expressions, I realized the student had not come close to capturing “the decisive moment”.
“The decisive moment” is a term attributed to the famous French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who defined it as the "creative fraction of a second", when the photographer “ recognizes – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second– both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning." (www.henricartierbresson.org)
The student did not have one single image that gave the essence of that performance, or what would be called, “the decisive moment.” However, there were tons of worthless imaging leading up to and beyond that moment.
The advantage of shooting with film was that the photographer had to wait and choose the image carefully, ever mindful of wasting precious film that might be needed later. In digital photography a single memory card can capture many times over what a single roll of film could hold, so no such visual editing is needed, or is it?
A digital SLR camera should not be used as a video camera, blindly pointing and shooting as the event unfolds, hoping with all those images you should have something useable. Instead always shoot with the mindset that you have only one shot. The first is the one that counts, the second is simply for insurance and if there is a third shot, surely by that time the “decisive moment” has come and gone.