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Wednesday, 05 April 2017


It just boils down to [icking which decisive moment is the best!


One small correction - 6K Photo is actually using a weird 2:1 aspect ratio (6000x3000), vs. 4K Photo's typical 4:3 8MP mode.

Then there are indecisive moments (or indeed decisive moments of another kind) when you don't take the picture. This may be for perfectly good reasons, of course. I tend to remember these quite vividly. In fact I have a mental 'contact sheet' of images not taken, but that's another story, and one that 6K Photo won't have any bearing on I suspect ...

It might signal "the end of still photography," in that you would spend so much time dumpster-diving through 200+ shots of the same scene (in search of that "perfect" shot) that there wouldn't be any time to actually shoot anything new.

Re 6k photo, I agree with you , it is an extension of the concept of High speed Continuous which currently ranges between 4 and 14 FPS..
I'm sure there will be a couple of applications where 30 FPS will be helpful, so it's a new tool.
There are some situations where High speed continuous drive really helps, But it can easily turn into "Spray & Pray"
Part of the Joy of Photography for me is the timing, the making of a frame at just the right time. So 99% of the time I'm in single shot mode. My finger can press the release a few times a second if necessary, but I rarely do that.
Some folks / subjects do require HSC but most of my subjects don't. Generally speaking the most subjects don't change much in sub1/4 sec intervals.

The RED camera has been used for this purpose, resulting in a few fashion magazine covers. At the consumer level,focus has been a problem when attempting to capture usable still frames from moving (even a 30 fps) "video". It has been said that Garry Winogrand used to walk down Hollywood Boulevard randomly shooting the sidewalk tourists, until he ran out of film...

Well said, Mike.

Wasn't there a mode on some early digital cameras where the camera would continuously capture and discard frames until the photographer, presumably realizing that the "decisive moment" had been captured, pressed the shutter button, at which point the camera would save all the frames that were still in the buffer?

I'd much prefer that to having to go through afterwards and delete gobs of unwanted 18MP images. Not that I'd use it 99.9% of the time, anyway, for fear of depending on it so much that I'd miss something, similar to the way zoom lenses can make me lazy about moving around.

I run into this misconception all the time. Presumably, the event or “moment” in question happens very quickly and somewhat unpredictably. (Otherwise, what’s the problem?) So assuming there’s some tiny interval of interest within a larger window of time, the thought seems to be that setting a high frame rate and resorting to the “spray and pray” philosophy is the way to go.

But you, Mike, are correct, and another way of stating your lottery-ticket conclusion—“It doesn't change anything fundamentally. The odds are still against you…”—is to look at the math. Suppose I choose 1/1000th of a second for my shutter speed to freeze the moment, and suppose I anticipate pretty well that the moment is about to occur. So I press the shutter release button, and hold it down for, say, 2 seconds. At 30fps, I’ve just captured 60 frames. The “good” one must be somewhere in the sequence, right?

Well actually, you just captured 60 frames, at 1/1000th of a second, out of a total of 2 seconds (or 2000/1000th of a second). So you captured 60/1000th of the action, while missing the other 1940/1000th of the action. In other words, during that 2-second interval, your shutter was closed 97% of the time! Even if you slow your shutter speed by a factor of 4, down to 1/250th of a second, your shutter would still be close 88% of the time for the example above (i.e., 30fps for 2 seconds).

The high frames rates do help with motion-analysis studies, or capturing more images of some fairly predictable sequence, but it provides little help at all with capturing that “decisive moment!”

My daughters are amateur dancers and i enjoy taking pictures of their shows. I am aware that using the 'motor' of my digital camera I could have more chances of a good shot, however I feel that they would miss the 'reaction' to the scene mentioned by Mike.

When ya can't take a good picture- take lots (or make 'em bigger)!

Can you imagine burning through a 36 exposure roll in 1.2 seconds? Just saying :+)

So what exactly is a 6K Photo? Is it just an 18MP file? Does that mean a 36MP file is a 12K Photo?

I recall an article in (I think) Popular Photography in the early 80s, when motor drives were becoming common. The gist was that, when shooting at 5 fps or so, how did you know that the "right" time to trip the shutter wasn't in the interval between frames. If the camera's microprocessor is making the decision, is it still the "decisive moment"?

Mike, your article seems to overlook what was probably the pertinent point of the question: the fact that 6K Photo on GH5 has a setting that allows you to capture the moments before and leading up to the moment when you push the shutter. e.g. you want a bird the moment it starts to take off from a twig. You are too slow to react and press the shutter if you wait until you see it move. If you try holding down burst while waiting for it to move, it just sits there like it's watching Oprah.

I've often wondered if users of motor drives and manual focus cameras would tend to make their first exposure of, say, an approaching race car (when they've prefocused) very slightly early, on the basis that if the first shot doesn't quite nail the focus, the second one will. You might even get two shots in focus.

The motor drive on my Minolta X700 was compact but very useful. Like other drives and winders, it meant that the photographer can concentrate on keeping the framing, letting the machinery do the winding on.

The only problem I found with it is that in portrait format, the little knob on the camera's rewind lever would go up my nose. Quite a surprise the first time it happened... :-]

Hi Mike;

This kind of image capture is fairly common now.

RedCam is used for this work much of the time.


I hereby stake the claim on the phrase temporal cropping in this context.

For me the killer app for 6K video would have to be portraiture. The only drawbacks are the rolling shutter phenomenon and the fact that existing studio strobes won't work with 30fps.

I have worked on shoots where we rented 30fps strobes , that's what they use for those tv ads with bouncing vegetables for hamburger chains and they were big water cooled monsters with two operators. There is probably a business opportunity there now.

The big difference between motion picture photography and high speed still photography is that for motion picture photography you want motion blur but in still photography generally people like the images to be sharp.

On the other hand , bursts of high resolution images allow lots of possibilities for computational reconstruction of the scene.

So, short version, the decisive moment is dead, but it was always a kind of lie anyway. Now it joins cropping and exposure as part of the editing process.

Oh one other thing
"On its own it's like buying a hundred Lotto tickets instead of ten. It doesn't change anything fundamentally. "

I'd say it's more like somone giving you a hundred Lotto tickets instead of ten.

A teacher once told me that you could expect about one good picture for every 80 square inches of film exposed whether it was 35mm or 4x5. Of course my immediate reaction was to try a 11x14 camera.

I think the 'decisive moment' refers to that elusive instant in which all the elements inside the viewfinder's lines fall into place and form a significant photographic composition. In the words of the master himself, “[Photography] is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
But there are abusive extrapolations. Some actually think they need burst mode to get that 'decisive moment', which only means they have no idea of what Cartier-Bresson meant and what the 'decisive moment' is.
Anyway, the concept is now so mitigated nobody cares about what it means. It became a blanket expression that can mean anything you want it to. Nothing's sacred.
Re. the 6K issue, I believe Mr Nugent got it all mixed up and was referring to stills (how I hate that word!) taken from hi-res video clips, which some see as the future of photography. I don't think that will be the end of photography as we know it, but I reckon it will please those who don't have the skills to freeze moving subjects.

Even when I used a Canon DSLR, I eventually set it to single shot mode and plopped on an old Zeiss-Jena manual lens; I just liked the process. And most importantly, I’m a hobbyist…my food and shelter do not depend on “getting the shot." I can live or die on one exposure—-to be sure, far more often dying, but such is life.

Now I use a film rangefinder, so there’s not much choice in the matter, and that’s fine. Even with static objects, I seldom take more than one photograph. In “setup” shots, in which I’m waiting for a person to enter the scene, I might take up to four shots, but all of these would be of different folks…no burst mode needed.

I’m simply not interested in video; I suppose it’s sort of akin to my youthful skateboarding days, whereby I had no interest in rollerskating despite certain commonalities. And the concept of blasting away 30 rounds for effectively ‘one shot’ isn’t appealing to me, and I stress this is highly subjective of course.

For one thing, as there are other intangible factors, I’m probably too compulsive to deal with the requisite heavy editing—-which of these 20 shots in this grouping is the best, with 60 more batches of 20-shot groupings to go through. I discovered this ‘issue’ relatively early on when I found that the near infinite possibility of zooms could distract from actual action. Feet-propelled and zone focusing work much better for me.

Certainly, a great photograph is a great photograph irrespective of how it was achieved. And the possibility and utility of high resolution video stills have been discussed for some years, and we’re now beginning to see its realization. It will serve many well, but I’ll be happy sticking to my rangefinder.

Wasn't the expression 'the decisive moment' coined for the English speaking market? Didn't Hank describe himself as a fisher of images?

When Panasonic introduce a digital fishing rod I might be interested.

The Decisive Moment!
Which brings to mind Visualize and "pre" visualize.
Ansel Adams said he would visualize his finished print as he thought about what he was photographing. Not sure why some felt the need to add "pre" to visualize. It does not make sense.

"Spray and pray" is no way to develop the skill that's needed to recognize a potential picture and bring the camera to your eye in time to make it. It's even more useless in cultivating the reflexive motor response to a rapidly changing situation or composition that releases the shutter after that camera is brought to your eye. I'm a firm believer in the unconscious component of picture making. There are many times when a shot is missed because the formation of a conscious thought between sight and shutter release is just too long.

I think that with practice, years of practice, a dedicated photographer who's cultivated that skill will bring home more keepers via single, well timed exposures than a photographer who relies on a 30 fps motor drive to bracket the action.

Let the camera determine exposure and focus. These are only mechanical, technical issues, and these days they have little more to do with photography than changing your oil has to do with driving. The skill, the vision, and the challenge is in the recognition and execution of the picture.

I think we make too much of the "decisive moment." "Lucky moment" may be a more fitting descriptor. Of course, luck can be improved and enhanced by preparation and practice, knowing the tools, developing an eye for what might look good as a print. Had HCB used an early digital camera, shutter lag would have spoiled one of his most iconic photographs. I'm glad that the digital tools have improved.

The concept of finding and selecting the decisive moment lives in the edit at least as much as it does in the capture.

there are a huge number of moments in the flow of the visual world (an infinite number, realistically)

Reminded me of Dan Winters writing, "Countless potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed." in his Road to Seeing

"The odds are still against you and there's still an awful lot left to the photographer to do..." Well said! In a nutshell, this is what makes photography exciting, frustrating and ultimately, deeply rewarding.

When I first saw the Lytro I thought "this idea, with decent resolution and a 30 frame per second burst will make action photos available to anyone"

But to make it really work the moment you press the shutter should capture the preceding and following 15 frames, not just the following.

So every press of the button will take up a few gigs of cards space, but that will be cheap pretty soon.

"Did I get the shot?" That is increasingly an endangered question in photography.

File size, camera size, noise and now frames per second are no longer limitations to overcome in our equipment. These sleek new cameras will go above and beyond to make photographs perfectly, as long as they are pointed in the right direction.

The most important question in photography is increasingly, "what am I trying to say?" Because, of course, you will get the shot.

I suppose 6K video might put an end to still photography, or render the decisive moment obsolete - if every photo you ever want to take will look good at a shutter speed of 1/30 second...

Interesting ... I've always thought of the decisive moment as a mindset. As most street photographers know you can walk around for days and not see anything, then wham! - something catches your eye and you react.

I suppose in theory if you continually recorded everything you might find that image (after hours in front of the computer) but that doesn't sound like much fun. But even then you might not see it, because I think with a lot of street, it's a "you had to be there" moment. It's perhaps as much about what you were thinking, feeling at the time as what you actually saw.

Of course 6K (and soon ehough 8k) will be a boon for "documentary" work ... eg. covering a sport event where it will be easy for you (or your editor) to select the critical moment - but that's, I think, slightly different - it is detached from the photographer.

A while back a certain well-known blogger (not you, Mike) decided he was going to "overturn" what he felt was the "myth" of the decisive moment, as he imagined that it didn't mean that a single photograph that captures the essence of a scene, but rather (incredibly) that the photographer only took that single exposure of the scene. Neither I nor anyone I know was laboring under that assumption, of course. We all just assumed that, although that one exposure counted as a decisive moment, the photographer might very well have taken many other shots that didn't work as well.

But I really don't think this metric benefits photographers, particularly street photographers, as much as some assume it will...think about the amount of time people are going to have to spend on clicking through tens of thousands of shots on their already overburdened computers, in search for an interesting one. Who has time for that? At 60 frames a second for each scene you felt worth recording, you wouldn't have any time left for eating and sleeping, much less actually shooting. I'd rather take a few, or, dare I say, even one shot, and move on, and get to bed at a reasonable hour ;)

As you say, it's just another tool.
Used in an unconsidered manner, it just means more dross to sort through for the occasional fleck of gold.

"Motor Drive," another word for electric thumb.

Anybody who has attempted to do 'decisive moment' photography knows it isn't only about when you press the shutter.

It is also about anticipating action and composition at an almost subliminal level, and a high degree of awareness of framing and composition, and of what is going on in a scene outside the frame.

6K photography eliminates the need to learn only one of these skills, namely, knowing when to press the shutter. And in a world of 12 fps motor drives, that capability is nothing new.

Jeremy Clarkson's "on that bombshell" is actually a lazy co-opting of the phrase from 1994's disaster-prone spoof chat show series Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. That's where the real wit resides!

Imagine the number of decisive moments you are going to miss while you're sitting in front of your computer, sorting through that bazillion images you just took and deciding which of those frames, that are almost identical, *really* captured that decisive moment.

Your article made me check out continuous shooting on my X Pro 2, as a pro photographer I have never used this spray and prey method, It does sound cool though.

Here's the thing: Regardless of whether you pluck the image you're looking for in real-time (life as it's happening now) or later, after you've shot two dozen frames of the same scene, you have to make a choice. Which one is "The One?" This, if nothing else, is the "decisive moment." Most viewers will not care less how you made your choice; they will only care how well you did it. I personally find it more enjoyable and efficient to make my choice before I release the shutter. If someone else wants to sort through dozens of nearly identical images to find The One, more power to them.

Re. lightning speed camera's, ditto photographers and decisive moments, a short story: Last sunday I noticed an ingredient for the evening meal was missing. Fortunately, there's a supermarket just outside our court. I told my girlfriend I'd be back in a jiffy. Outside, but still inside the court, I looked up a tree, where a screaching crow with a half moon just behind it attracted my attention. I went back in, said 'sorry hon, this is only goin' to take a few extra minutes, you know' (she does...), grabbed my camera, put on the telezoom, and went back out again, realising that returning for a bird on a branch was clearly the silliest case of rising to the decisive occasion in my photographic life so far. Hand held and in single shot mode I made three exposures. These are the last two. (I printed them together as an oblong dyptich, as in that way the movement keeps going from left to right, but for the space here on TOP I arranged them vertically). Slow food, slow photography!

[Hans, the link you provided doesn't work—the content needs to be on the Web for a URL to work. --Mike]

Don't forget one still needs to look at a computer screen and select a picture, and too much choice takes too much of our most valuable resource — time.

Regarding contact sheets, the expanded edition of the book Looking In, Rbbert Frank's The Americans (done in conjunction with a museum exhibit), contains reproductions of his entire set of contact sheets for the iconic book. It's a tremendous learning experience to better understand both how he photographed and how he edited.

Even at 30fps, assuming an 1/100s exposure, that's still 70% of the second not covered. Which comes back to your (later) post on anticipation.

I'm a little late on this, but I've been grinning to myself ever since I read, "I've had the privilege of looking through some of Henri Cartier-Bresson's own contact books...and I can testify that they contain many, many thousands of non-decisive moments!" As someone who has been known to genuflect at the shrine of St. Henri, it made be laugh out loud. Thanks for the light moment in the midst of today's 6K18meg30fps4:3 technobabble. Another reason why TOP is a daily must-read for me.

"Decisive moment?"
Really hard with my latest 'fooling around with photography' camera, a 5x7 plywood pinhole camera. The "best two minutes" is about as close as I can get.

it is in the edit when the moment is recognized

@Daniel: "Not sure why some felt the need to add "pre" to visualize. It does not make sense."

It does if you compare it to how photographers today think. In these days of Photoshop (etc.), many photographers have the mindset of "I'll fix it in post." To me, this means that many of us have abandoned the thinking before we take the shot, in favour of what I call 'post-visualization,' i.e., not thinking about the image until we see it on the computer screen and then deciding how we want to manipulate it.

IMHO, we have lost something crucial in our craft by not 'pre-visualizing.' Good photographers think about the images they make, before they start. Now, it seems too much like painting by numbers.

For those of us who don’t have access to any of Henri Cartier-Bresson's contact books, the book “The Magnum Contact Sheets” by Kristen Lubben contains a section on Cartier-Bresson and shows that he didn’t wait for that one moment but worked a scene just like any other photographer.
According to some of the anecdotes told by other photographers included in the book C-B’s obsessive focus on the geometry of composition was for him as much a part of choosing decisive moments as was his temporal cropping.
C-B was not fond of the title given to his book “Images a la Sauvette” by his American publisher but the name stuck and clearly has an influence that continues. I wonder what might have happened if they had simply gone with a direct translation “Images on the Run”.

Folks who've not shot high-frame rate stills cameras for peak action may not realize or fully appreciate the reasons for the feature. The shutter need not be held down for the diration of an event to randomly capture what moments it might; rather, the rewind rate and concomitant small blackout time between frames makes the camera ready for the next shot sooner, which in practice means fewer lost decisive moments. Another thing faster cameras tend to have is a bigger buffer, same rationale.

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