We can love art above all else and still manage to forget how it constantly deceives us. Those who create it also fill us with false ideas, especially when speaking about the creative process. We often believe that the creative process is simply a matter of inspiration or luck. Films tend to represent inspiration as a revelation brought on by a moment of chance. We see that and think we need to wait for our own moment before we can even start creating beauty. But that’s not exactly the case.
Instead of waiting for a lighting stroke of genius to hit us, there’s plenty of hard work to be done. They say that to learn how to write you need to write. Because while a great idea might surge in the middle of nowhere, working on the craft will help turn an idea into a winning concept. Discipline can keep the creative process on track instead of remaining in the brainstorm stage. Photography is no different, which is why when acclaimed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about the “right moment,” he was probably stretching the truth.
Cartier-Bresson referred to the instant when the one behind the camera senses the need to capture the perfect image. Most were mesmerized trying to decipher this quasi-magical thought of a photographic sixth sense. But we should remember that images back then could not be seen until after they’d been developed. So the idea was that the artist should be aware of capturing the perfect picture.
When we see Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets, we can immediately see he would take several images before finding the one that had the right angle, perspective, etc. A lot of effort went into selecting the pictures that would best fit his vision. Not unlike a writer needs to do rewrites, edits, and restructuring, visual artists can’t confirm that one snap was the perfect one until they compare it to several others.
Like the great photographers of the past, some contemporary ones use 35mm and contact sheets. Much can be learned from observing these, especially when we gaze at the work of others. We can understand the process by which they ended up picking a particular one, how they set the scene, when they chose a particular perspective, as well as what they avoided.
In his article “Debunking the Myth of the Decisive Moment,” Erik Kim shows how even when we accept there’s no perfect moment, we can take cues from Bresson and other great artists to create a situation where the “right moment” can be achievable.
Don’t take just one picture and hope for the best
Perhaps the most important rule every photographer needs to follow is humility. If we want a good image, we should not believe ourselves to be so talented that we only need the one shot and then move on. Even when we trust our instincts, it’s never a waste of time to search for other possibilities. It’s in the unexpected where we can be surprised by the incredible. If our medium of choice is digital, we should avoid making rash decisions and wait before selecting our final picks.
Take the time to analyze possibilities
To set the scene, we need to be patient in order to discover all the opportunities available to us. It’s a matter of making time to weigh the options that best transmit the feeling or purpose we wish to present. The photographer must learn to interact with the scene in order to create that sensation. The quest must go on until satisfaction is achieved.
Spinning, walking in circles around the subject, as well as snapping images from horizontal, vertical, and diagonal perspectives can help us find what we desire. Our feet should keep in motion, unless we want several takes from the same perspective. We should strive to acquire several frameworks, switching up the shadows, exposure, or contrast.
Attention to detail
It’s vital to know when to shoot, because if we’re too quick, we’ll need to wait to reload and lose an opportunity. We need to let the scene breathe, take a breath ourselves, as well as be aware of our surroundings and subject, and discover if there’s an element that can provide something else.
Kim perfectly details what Cartier-Bresson clearly knew, and what all photographers must keep in mind. We’re so used to instantaneousness that we forget how important and complex the photography process is. Taking the time to shoot and select the correct image is where the art of photography lies. Discipline reminds us that if we’re distracted or restless, we can lose an unimaginable moment.
Translated by María Suárez