A week ago, responding to the post about the Panasonic GH5 event, Dick Nugent commented, "Be interested in your take on whether 6K Photo foreshadows the end of still photography. And/or makes the 'decisive moment' concept obsolete."
The upcoming GH5
First, what is "6K Photo"? As I understand it, 6K Photo on the GH5 is a burst mode for photo only, capturing 18-MP images in 4:3 ratio at 30 frames per second (FPS). It's not the same as 6K video, which the GH5 doesn't offer.
Now on to the tasty part of the question. ;-)
To begin with, I'm not actually sure "the decisive moment" refers to a real thing.
(As Jeremy Clarkson would say, "...and on that bombshell...!")
Don't get me wrong. The phrase is a beautiful, pithy formulation of an important philosophical concept, namely the art of plucking a bounded two-dimensional still image that has some sort of grace, coherence, appeal, or meaning out of the constantly shifting, moving and changing kaleidoscope of objects, actions, light, and perspective that is the visual world. Despite the notably reiterative aesthetic of photographs (that is, there being a great many pictures which, even upon first viewing, you feel you have seen "a million times" before), there's still an essential mystery surrounding why one picture "works" and another very similar picture doesn't.
But there are a huge number of moments in the flow of the visual world (an infinite number, realistically), and all sorts of strategies to "capture" them. I suppose the classic model of "the decisive moment" is that the photographer is in complete control of his or her concept, knows exactly what he wants to achieve, adroitly "manages" all of the dozens or hundreds or thousands of factors influencing the visual aspects of whatever creates the picture, and then decisively chooses just the right moment—out of a possible total of one—to make a single exposure, manually, while looking through the viewfinder.
Of course that's never how it works. Or very, very seldom how it does. Setting aside all the mechanical and remote ways of making exposures, consider that you can "work" a scene or "work" a subject you think has promise and interest, trying different things, moving around, watching, reacting; or you can find a "setting" you like and hunker down and wait for something to happen within it; or you can stage the action to any of a variety of degrees, or try to influence the subject, even if it's only to say "hold still" or "smile" or "tilt your head a little." You can take advantage of people who are reacting to your presence, or try to shoot them unawares; or you can go somewhere to find whatever you might find, take a whole bunch of pictures of whatever you can think of in whatever way you can think to do it, then come back and look at them all and see if any of them in your opinion made a picture. (As I've mentioned before, I've had the privilege of looking through some of Henri Cartier-Bresson's own contact books, thanks to the late Erich Hartmann, and I can testify that they contain many, many thousands of non-decisive moments!)
This is of course a very partial list. There are many more ways to get a shot.
"Motor drives" have been around for years. In my salad days I used a "motor winder," which were slower but more compact than a given company's flagship motor drive. The one I had then was a little faster than 2 FPS, which meant that it could cock the shutter and advance the film a little faster than I could do manually, which meant I was ready for the next shot a little sooner.
Like many other aspects of digital camera tech, a 30-FPS mode is just better. Better, faster, and more convenient than what we used to have. It stands to reason that in the right hands, it will solve a few problems more easily and it will make a few things possible that weren't possible before. Then again, it's not that much better for most things than the 8 FPS CH (continuous high) mode of my current camera. To use a lately fashionable locution, 6K Photo ups the game, it doesn't change it. On its own it's like buying a hundred Lotto tickets instead of ten. It doesn't change anything fundamentally. The odds are still against you and there's still an awful lot left to the photographer to do.
There are still vastly more ways to miss a moment than there are to not miss it, in other words.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Michael McKee: "I can see where this might be useful, and 30 frames a second at 1/250 covers just 12% of action time. At 1/1000 its just 3%. That leaves a lot of potential 'decisive moment' time uncovered.
"I know two people who were shooting in New Orleans and tried for the same photo. One used a D4s, which I think has 11 FPS, on machine gun mode. The other used an Olympus OM-1 taking single shots. The single shot photographer came up with a brilliant photo. The machine gunner had several nice shots, but not the great one. I think we are not yet at the point where a fast frame rate will do better than a skilled photographer who has good camera skills."
Larry Gebhardt: "On the RX100V you can use the high speed drive mode at 24 frames per second with full resolution. It's impressive. It's not a nice way to shoot. Culling the crap is now mandatory, and there are now a lot of bad shots to go through. It doesn't fit my desired workflow. I still keep the camera in single shot mode 95% of the time. But the 24-FPS mode is nice to have in a pinch."
Jim Richardson: "Like you, I find the concept of the Decisive Moment more mystical than practical. My own photographic practice seems to depend less on the Decisive Moment than on Decisive Editing, Decisive Mulling, Decisive Dithering, and the all important, ego-battering Decisive Self-Recrimination."
Bill Pearce: "What a wonderful way of saying something I've been saying for years. I have always said that 'The Decisive Moment is a brilliant example of what now is called branding, decades ahead of its time.' I usually follow that statement with the comment, 'There is no such thing.' That's when I usually lose my audience."
MM: "For me, it helps to think of the word 'decisive' to refer to the action being depicted, not to the photographer's mindset. For example, there will be a 'decisive moment' when a car teetering on the edge of a cliff will transition from staying to falling—and that decisive moment will be there regardless of whether anyone is there to photograph it. That perspective means one can legitimately identify the 'decisive moment' from a series of photos after they were taken (as even the greatest photographers have often done) rather than only identifying that moment before the photo is taken (which, as you note, has always been extremely rare)."
Thomas Rink: "I would rather consider the 'decisive moment' as something that happens inside the photographer—it is the instant in which we recognize something as a 'picture,' a potential photograph."
Moose: "I generally agree with your philosophical thoughts about decisive moments. On the other hand, '6K Photo on the GH5 is a burst mode for photo only, capturing 18-MP images in 4:3 ratio at 30 frames per second (FPS)' isn't even class-leading. The Olympus E-M1 II is bigger/faster, 20-MP images @ 60 FPS fixed focus, 18 FPS continuous focus. GH5 continuous focus is 9 FPS, again half the Oly rate. Oly also has full mechanical rates of 15 and 10 FPS. I don't know what the Panny capability there is. And the E-M1 II has the ability to maintain a cache of images before the shutter is pressed fully. So when one misses that elusive 'decisive moment,' it's possible to go back and recover it. DPR's review has a good summary of the details, including limitations, with a shot of a dog catching a tennis ball you will like. Seems to me that the GH5, especially with the announced future firmware improvements, is the Micro 4/3 video camera and the E-M1 II is the still camera, at present."
Manuel (partial comment): "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."
MikeR (partial comment): "I think we make too much of the 'decisive moment.' 'Lucky moment' may be a more fitting descriptor."
Mike Plews: "Standby for a direct experience alert. When we got HD digital cameras a few years back our browser allowed easy frame grabs. I figured one still masterpiece after another would flow from this source. In fact much of the time it produces one frame just before the ideal shot and one just after and that is blasting away at 60 frames per. Sometimes they are very close but don't count on it happening all the time. No free lunch folks, just move on and hone your shooting reflexes."
Adrian Malloch: "The argument 'high frame rates make decisive-moment photography obsolete,' pops up every time a faster stills camera is announced. I remember years ago reading about Sports Illustrated photography legend John Zimmerman's quest to photograph the impact of a boot with a football at the moment of contact. He did the first attempt with a standard 4 FPS motor-driven Nikon of the day, holding the shutter down as the the footballer kicked. Over and over, but no frames were even close. He started experimenting—it was in the 1960s, with specialist motor-driven Hulcher cameras which increasingly got faster with each generation. Whenever Zimmerman got his hands on a new Hulcher he would go out and attempt the same shot, but without success. Years passed, the frame-rates were now in the hundreds on 250-exposure rolls of film, yet the shot still eluded him. Then a colleague suggested he lose the motor drive and just time the shot. On one 36-exposure film, using his honed instincts of anticipation and timing, Zimmerman achieved several examples of the photograph he had been failing to get for years from the high frame-rate camera approach.
"Lesson: The photographer makes the photograph, not the camera."
David W. Scott: "In my years of making and editing films, the one thing I dreaded most was pulling a 'usable' still image from a motion picture stream. Inevitably, the frame you really want is the one you imagine exists between frame X and frame Y. Motion pictures look amazing in part because our brains extrapolate an infinite number of frames from the slices in time that are actually photographed and shown to us. When the pictures are moving, our perception is of an unbroken image, and we imagine being able to stop at an arbitrary place and have that as a still image. In practise, each of the 30 frames per second are punctuated by blackness, 30 times per second. Ironically, it was the frustrating experience of trying to pull usable stills from a motion stream that convinced me of the wisdom of 'the decisive moment' in still photography. An attentive eye, and a deft hand, of a photographer who knows her particular camera/shutter, can absolutely capture 'the' moment."