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Wednesday, 16 January 2019


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So, think Cartier Bresson, while waiting around "fixed" the scene while waiting for the right person to move into it? Something like running more water into the street to make the puddle before the man hopped into it?
Somewhat like Michael Fatali using fire logs to make the light right for his Delicate Arch photos?

[No, not like that. I mean he found a setting he liked and then waited for something to happen within it. --Mike]

Just settings ? You're obviously not looking at enough selfies !

David duChemin's classes on travel photography talk about this. Just sit for an hour in a location and wait.

This brings up a problem on the opposite end of the spectrum as well. I get frustrated sometimes when I see a photographer find an incredible and unique background, one that on its own would hold up as a wonderful photograph with nothing else at all, and then they 'complete' the scene with a random passerby walking into the image.

Any person walking in an image is not a punctum. Often they can do just as much harm as good, and I think the more wonderful the background the more wonderful the punctum has to be to stand up to it.

I just don't want people to feel that a background needs a punctum to be a great image. Often yes, but I think just as much no.

A very keen observation here Mike. Thank you!

For me, I'm always looking for "irony", if there is any to be found in the setting. For others, it may be something else. But there must be "something" :)

HCB of course did not like being photographed, but we are fortunate to have some short films of him in action with his camera, dancing bird-like through the crowd.

Eg here,
or in the first few minutes of this longer feature about him:

Remarkable. This isn't exactly the behaviour of a regular passerby, and yet, magically, he manages to remain invisible.

I spend a lot of my time waiting for things to happen in front of me. I'll see some really cool light, or a great background, and stand there looking vaguely creepy until someone walks, bicycles, or otherwise wanders through the scene. Then I double down on the creepiness by chasing them down to get their name :-) Here's one recent shot that I like:


I have several shots of this with no people and it's deadly boring and dull.

This is a very beautiful point, Mike. As for its applicability to travel photography, I hear that single men can do that but what would be your advice for the happily married part of your audience, apart from using our better half as a model to enliven the setting?

A wonderful piece.
It is also true, in my experience.
Many of us had the good fortune to learn photography with film.
I say good fortune not because I believe it was inherently superior ( though I love many things about it) but because it came with the constraint of cost per exposure — or in the case of sheet film, time per exposure as well.
Neither of those constraints is ‘good’ in and of itself, but were beneficial in that they enforced a certain thought process before you pressed the button.

It has stayed with me. If I “ compare camera clicks with my daughter who is also a professional photographer it is about 10 to 1 .
She is probably a better photographer than I am but I still have my moments and my keeper ratio is far higher.
This is not at all to say that I don’t take my share of “settings” that will never be more than that, I certainly do. Nor is it to say I am somehow ‘better’, I’m not. But it is more satisfying. I enjoy the thought process, and I think it helps make my pictures better than they would otherwise be.

This piece hit home for me because one of my photographic interests is when does a setting become a picture . Often, in my experience it happen when a setting becomes a picture of interesting light. I very often do exactly what you describe - find a location with potential and Wait.
Sometimes I come home without having pressed the button once . Other times I might get a dozen with potential.
I own lots of lenses, most acquired for jobs, I also love lenses— but on any given day, I rarely carry more than two and most often use only one.
I tend to compose without the camera , and bring it up at the last moment.
I don’t know if these are good things, quirks, or a signifiers that I’m a dinosaur with a camera. But it works for me.
Your piece appealed to me greatly , but I wonder if “our” way of practicing photography will be rediscovered if ‘digital euphoria ‘ settles down, or move quietly into history?
Photography has become a new language, and is more easily enjoyed by lots more people, which is great, but people who attach lots of thinking to pictures are becoming ( at least relatively) a smaller and smaller group.

Pretty soon we’ll have continuous 4K and just pluck the occasional frame for the mantle piece.
Thanks Again

I've learned to observe patterns and flows of people moving. Then wait and see a person on the periphery entering the scene. Being ready with both exposure and focus pre-set, snap when the subject is in view. But don't stop, your previous observance of flow and patterns will tell when the next person or persons will move through the scene. And anticipate when they will be in a sunlit area, or in a dark shadowy sillouette. Humans and nature have a tendency for ebb and flow activity.

First time posting here but I have followed you from the days of the Sunday Photographer on Luminous Landscape.

I have traveled extensively throughout Europe, Canada and New Zealand, some in the U.S.A Most of my photography is travel related either landscapes or city/architectural. I try to go out on early morning shoots when there are no pedestrians around I know it adds perspective to the photograph but I want clean details of the building. I will sometimes wait until all pedestrians have moved out of the frame I want to shoot. I don't do this exclusively have many shot with people in them but sometimes I have removed them while processing before printing.


Respectfully disagree. I would write a long rebuttal, but I honestly can't think of where to start.

Anyone care to consider the work of Atget (or Shore) with respect to this idea?

So very true and well-written. I use this technique all the time. Ha ha ha, makes it hard to travel with someone.
I don't know if I would call it "the biggest flaw", but it sure is an element that separates the "very good" from the "okay" photographs. More elements are required to get to "great".

Mike I agree with your assessment that such pictures need a punctum; but I am concerned about the future. With the concerns of privacy, changes of laws relative to street photography in the EU, etc. I think you are going to see fewer people in the pictures and they will be of backs, etc. so as to be non identifiable.
I have this problem where I live, just a little south of you in Hanover, PA. On the streets people don't want their pictures taken and I have been confronted and asked to not take pictures of their houses, etc. In addition, I live in and take pictures for the Homewood at Plum Creek CCRC where they don't want me showing identifiable pictures on my blog.

And...that is exactly why, after decades, I have become bored with landscape photography. A pretty, sometimes spectacular, setting and nothing more. No “punctum,” as you say.

While I am on the subject of landscapes, have you seen the landscapes that mostly populate the Internet these days? I’m not sure on which planet these landscapes exist, but they certainly don’t look like anything I’ve seen on earth!

Yes and no. I've read lengthy debates that began with the opinion that photos need people in them to be interesting. This sounds similar. (But hey, I don't want to start a lengthy debate here!)

Huh, I see it the other way. Too many photos only have the "punctum" and lack the context.

Last year I came up with a strategy to address this that I shared with my students, which is -- take an interest in the context first, then find the subject.

Isn't the whole genre of landscape photography about photographing "settings"?

Well, I would say this about that: this is only true of certain types of photography, and is heavily favoring street photography and its cousins. It is one approach, and I'd say a rather obvious and easy one. Also, the image given as an example doesn't do much justice to images that deal with "settings" effectively, w/o the "human interest" hook. It seems pretty dismissive of all landscape and architectural photography, and a fair amount of serious art photography (here meaning photography that has aims other than photography, such that the medium is somewhat incidental to the art).

[No, you're way over-generalizing. Most landscape and architectural photography, even some that's not not so good, is not part of what I'm talking about. And although my example with my imagined details might have been plausibly an example of street photography, the point I'm making is neither specific to street photography nor would be remedied by making it into street photography, necessarily. --Mike]

Just a related note: this reminded me of one of the reasons I decided not to become a photojournalist: the endless waiting for something to transpire. The irony is that now I photograph birds as a hobby and I sometimes spend endless hours waiting without even getting paid for it. As you say: oh, well.

I tend to think of these photos as documentary photos. Like - this is what the corner of this building (church I'm guessing) looks like. The next step is to find that thing that gives it some emotional impact. Needless to say, that's the hard part.

I believe the notion of "studium" and "punctum" applies only to a small subset of photography (if at all; maybe it applies only to pictures of Barthes' mother). It is very easy to think of counterexamples - for instance, the New Topographics. Robert Adams or the Bechers, did they photograph "only settings"?

Best, Thomas

VERY good. Youhave made explicit something that I have been gradually and maybe even subconciously learning.

...which kind of assumes that the point of the picture needs to be something happening, instead of finding something static that is already there. Instead of sitting waiting for something to happen (which means you're presumably taking pictures of people) perhaps you could be walking around looking for something that is already there (which might be some arrangement of inanimate objects). I agree that a good picture needs to have a point to it but it doesn't have to be based on what people are doing.

[No, it doesn't. It could be almost anything. In some cases it could be a peculiar object among other objects, or the way something has aged, or even a certain slant of light. Or any of a myriad other things. --Mike]

I watched an interview by Hugh Brownstone with Agnez Sire, curator of the Henri-Cartier Bresson exhibit that was at the International Center of Photography.

Angez Sire said original title of his seminal book in French was Images à la Sauvette" (Images on the Run)", and Cartier-Bresson only used the term "the decisive moment" when quoting Cardinal Durets (sic?) in the opening of the book. The American publisher, Simon & Shuster, used this little quote as the title for the book for "better advertisting". The fact Cartier-Bresson became labeled as the photographer of ""the decisive moment", acc. to Agnez Sire, "he was not happy AT ALL". Specifically, HC-B felt that term was entirely too limiting...

[Don't agree with this entirely, but read my first paragraph again...the way I worded it doesn't contradict anything you've noted. --Mike]

Pretty sure that statistically more stuff happened on the steeet back when HCB was around. People moving things, wearing different levels of clothing, not looking at their phones, generally living their lives in public.

Hard one to double check but I walk around quite a bit and in general don’t see a lot of people (in a city)

In simpler terms, I'd tell my students to avoid photographing just the "stage set", but to seek an "actor" within it.

I would say that a photograph is interesting when it tells a story. A masterpiece tells many stories; you come back multiple times and a different stiry comes to you.

The content in this article is why I read this blog. It really made me think and it struck me as profound. It brings to mind your classic Eschew Cliche https://luminous-landscape.com/eschew-cliche/

you might enjoy this first hand account of a shooting trip with HCB - he visited Romania in 1975 and Andrei Pandele (great Romanian photographer) accompanied him. there's some insight into HCB's work process
here's a video about the visit https://petapixel.com/2012/07/26/a-photographer-shares-his-experience-meeting-henri-cartier-bresson/
and Pandele's photos taken during the trip, some of them with HCB and hiw wife as subjects http://www.ap-arte.ro/en/blog/inspired-by-henry-cartier-bresson-may-1975/album/with-h-c-bresson/170/7147.html

My first impression of this column was along the lines of the comments already posted - in that your thesis seemed most appropriate for street photography. And while I appreciate street photography, it didn't make it into my top 25 categories last week.

"Landscape" did make it into my top 5. For my own work, I have extended the concept of the Decisive Moment to be "Right Spot at the Right Time" and that did make it into my Top 5 as well. It is a category that echos your recommendation to wait - because the light will change and something might happen !

A big takeaway from this posting - I am going to use "Setting" as a category and make sure that it is never in my top 25, let alone my Top 5! I am looking forward to vigorous comment by your readers on this whole topic. And I'll see if I can make it through Barthes again!

Not too sure about this "finding a spot and waiting for something to happen" - especially related to street / candid photography. It suggests that you have preconceived ideas about your desired outcome and are playing to a staged composition.

I usually manage to quote Jane Bown somewhere on my occasional posts, so no apologies for " the best photographs arrive uninvited". (paraphrasing I think).

Wandering around likely locations / situations that you know has been more productive for me

Perhaps this picture would be more satisfying if it were part of a series of images. More and more I am of a mind that there are two types of serious photographs.
One type is a photo that stands on its own, the other being photographs that need to be seen in groups to make sense.
I think both are valid but different.
I would also be interested to know your thoughts on Atget in the context of settings.

I agree with the premise of this post wholeheartedly. My rather basic word for this is that an image needs a "hook." What is the THING about a particular image that makes it a good photograph? There must be something unique or special. Is it the expression? Gesture? Color? Geometry? There has to be something that one can point to and say, "that, that is why this is a great photograph!".


What some call "camera pointing", I would call "digital machine gunning".

That's because in film photography, when every shot costs $, one would be more deliberate and wait (and drink maybe some coffee) like HCB for that decisive moment.

Yes but:
On the other hand Bernd and Hilla Becher went to great lengths* to remove the "punctum". Paradoxically it is noticed by its absence, so it's not unimportant it's just missing. See naked vs. nude or fashion vs style.

Some of Walker Evans' work like "Corrugated Tin Facade, Moundville Alabama" tries to remove the "punctum" and my current favorite photographer Joel Sternfeld elevates what might be the punctum to the level of the studium.

I think that the ICP "The New Topographics" show of 1975 really kicked off the movement to the uncanny in Freud's sense.

* like in the famous song Verichrome, where it's always an overcast day, how did they get the light to always look the same?

One of my best photos from one of Peter Turnley's workshops came from me seeing an interesting corner, sitting my tuccus down on the curb and waiting for something to happen. Lots of people came in and out of my frame, but one was a keeper.

It's as legit as any technique.

Street Corner With Che and Hugo, Havana, February 13, 2017

Peter also suggested this corner, but I don't think it was as successful:

Chè Corner, Havana, February 13, 2017

Of course, just keeping you eyes peeled is key, too. I was running to meet back up with the group when I saw these kids playing futbol, and snapped two frames:

Fùtbol , Havana, February 12, 2017

The editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant always had a small penguin in his drawing - technically called a dingbat - offering some kind of witticism or caustic takedown of the characters/situation in the cartoon; I always thought it a wonderful device and perhaps it functioned as an all-purpose punctum. It always added considerable heft to the rest of the drawing.

This idea — studium and punctum— is interesting and a bit challenging to me as a photographer whose focus (sorry about that) is usually classifiable as 'landscape' … and I include a lot of my close-up photography in that category.

I wonder if the 'punctum' might sometimes be provided by transient and dramatic light? My favourite photograph from those I shot on a three-week walking tour of the Lake District is all about a brief moment of evening light that slashed through a rent in the cloud to illuminate hillside and dale. Make no mistake: I stalked that light and waited for it with my finger on the shutter button — I could see it coming. (You need a trap-shooter's reflexes for some landscape photography.)

Others have enthused over that photograph, but I remain uncertain: part of its grip on me stems knowing the scene existed for only the briefest of moments, but it that communicated to viewers who were not there at that particular instant? It is obvious that Cartier-Bresson's man will jump over (or into) the puddle; does anyone but me know that the light is shifting across Wasdale Head at break-neck speed? And if they did, would they care?

'Punctum'? 'Decisive moment'? Or 'yawn'?

I’m sure you’re right about HCB. Indeed the black and white film of him darting across the street on tip toes was probably staged and very likely stagey. There are pictures of him just hanging around. Even in a Magnum group he seems to be off to one side. Jay Maisel in a fine and admirably short video online recounts looking at someone’s street portfolio and telling them that they clearly moved too quickly along that path, and that they should have slowed down and allowed things to happen.

I think that this is a lot of words (not that there is anything wrong with that) trying to get at the idea that a "good" photograph, whatever that means, has to have a particular and obvious center of interest. It can't just be an otherwise relatively mundane collection of elements.

Exactly how you achieve this is up to you... put people in, put in some action, put in interesting light, an unexpected splash of color. Do whatever you want, but if you leave it out there is nothing to look at.

I think a guy like Galen Rowell was one of the best at this, and he never did "street" or traditionally journalistic photography at all. His photographs always had a sense of *dynamics* ... the sense that you are witnessing the motion of the Earth and Nature rather than looking at the landscape as an eternal and static thing.

I think this element is missing in a lot of the photographs I take partly because I'm not always trying for it and partly because I have not spent the time and the practice required to achieve the kind of connection with my subject that is needed to get there. This is probably why a lot of pictures on the Internet are also missing this.

Oh look, lots of words from me too. 😃

I wonder how similar the idea of a "punctum" in a photograph is to "gesture" as described by Jay Maisel as a component of a strong photograph. Initially, the word "gesture" was something I only associated with a human action and It took me some time to fully understand what the "gesture" was in meaningful (to me) images that did not include people (and that some images that include people do not seem to have a strong gesture).

I have done that many times, and I have also spoken to photographers who do it. I also have a second-hand account (from someone I knew, who had accompanied HCB extensively during the latter's travels in India in the 1960s). I was told that HCB would 'walk a man to death' -- he was apparently relentless in pursuing on foot his 'accidental subjects', with little plan for waiting for something to happen. Surely he did the latter too. HCB himself described this strategy in several places, and there are a few photos of HCB actually waiting by the wayside. However, as I gathered, most often HCB simply walked. So does Alex Webb, who apparently just saunters around during the good light hours, perhaps not taking any photo at all, but just walking around. As to my own strategy, being intrinsically lazy I used to prefer waiting for a 'punctum' around a 'stadium', but I found that to be rarely successful. At best it produces for me a well-lit, crafty, geometrical shape or a significant cultural context, but rarely more than a mere cliche. I find myself more productive by simply walking and moving, and hoping a confluence of 'stadium' and 'punctum' to occur by chance and spontaneously. If one assumes that the compositional aspect of 'stadium' is more dependent on a photographer's ingenuity for perspective, then it is trivial to prove that moving increases the probability of a confluence with 'punctum'.

Hmmm, sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, my Leica on the table beside me, sipping a glass of Pernod - sounds like a great way to wait for that decisive moment....


This post is quite wonderful. I’ve been searching for a way to express the “pray and spray” approach that too many “photographers” consider technique / style these days. Camera-pointing ... how wonderful, how powerfully descriptive! I lead image review sessions for a local camera club. I have my new mantra!

Punctum... love it when I learn a new word! If you’ve not seen “Being English” by Patrick Ward, you owe it to yourself to have a look. Puntumus Maximus. :-) This book sits right next to my volume of poetry by Ogden Nash.


I absolutely agree Mike. Even a landscape might have a puncum of the moon positioned just so, or a tiny white building in the distance etc. My 25 categories in your recent little exercise were topped by "conceptual juxtapositions" and then "humorous or quirky details" as my favourite types of photography and both really need a punctum to even exist. That doesn't mean to say that you always have to wait though. Much of the time it's just being an astute observer and then framing the "scene". Definitely my all time favourite photographs, both mine and other people's, have a punctum, otherwise I find that I lose interest quickly.

Studium? Punctum? Bunkum! That photograph is the Internet Brick Wall Lens Distortion Test, done with the sophistication and elan that the faithful readers of this site have come to expect from our humble editor. Bravo.

Sam Abell reports that his father taught him that very photography principle, put this way: "Compose and wait."

One of the beauties of the Fuji X100 series is their slowness of operation. Reading this has made me think. I now have the X100F and although I loved the original X100 its extreme sloness of focusing occasionally drives me bonkers ..... but maybe it is just perfect here ..... “slow down ..... you move too fast .... got to make the moment last “.

I will try this idea more I think

Dear Mike,

a) I am bemused that you take Barthes seriously;

b) I suspect an echt-poststructuralist like Barthes would dismiss out of hand your highly structured/geometric/tectonic "absolutist" image -- with or without punctum;

c) I question whether or not a punctum you spend hours waiting for counts as punctum.

I use a metaphor similar to punctum/setting in workshops that I sometimes host, from the days I dabbled in amateur theatre: 'You took a wonderful picture of a stage, the set designer has really outdone herself and the lighting technician deserves glowing reviews. But now we're waiting for the actors to arrive.' And indeed, the actor could be anything, animate or inanimate. May I kindly suggest, Tex Andrews, that the idea is particularly valid for landscape and architecture photography? May I link to a picture in my flickr-account: https://flic.kr/p/21tmhoG
It's a beautiful railway bridge in the Black Forest, Germany. But the obvious choice was to wait for a train to come along. That took 20 minutes. Or this one: https://flic.kr/p/dPbCF6 I'd passed that patch of production forest next to a motorway many times, until one day I noticed that they'd set loose a couple of Highlander cows there. That's when I snuck in and waited for one of them to appear in just the right spot.

By the way, are you sure the kid in the Foster-pic is climbing out the window? I'd say he's climbing in, stepping up from the fence. If I imagine myself climbing out from the inside, standing on a chair or toilet seat or whatever's there, I'd climb out head first. When you Google images for 'climbing out the window' you'll see that that would be the common denominator - head first.

Andrew is right about the Barthes thing; we do read similar forums...

Street photography as genre is based, usually or at least traditionally, on the work of those guys operating out of Paris in the WW2 and earlier years. They had left-wing beliefs - some were committed communists - and their work was often commissioned by leftist magazines. It's doubtful that without that press requirement many would have bothered snapping all those depressed people living in depressing circumstances (what would have been the point?) - but that was the gig, even if some of the folks didn't always look that down.

So, that setting up of your imaginary stool in front of some selected scenario wasn't a rare idea, and still works today. And yes, of course, you have to wait for that something to arrive. If digital shooters do, as you suggest, get it wrong more often than right, that's probably because it doesn't cost anything but battery power to click. Film alters the fiscal dynamic and shooting rate.

Worse than street photography, I think, is landscape where almost everything is a setting waiting for a model; I gave up trying landscape because I knew that was exactly the problem I, too, faced every time. The difference might have been that I understood what was missing.

Brooks Jensen said in one of his books that a good picture needs three things. One or two is not enough. For example, you need good light, good background and something else, the 'subject' in decisive moment. A good landscape needs some foreground interest, the nice landscape behind it and light that brings it all to life.

Bingo, Mike! Whenever I see a pretty “landscape” scene I want to put something interesting in front of it.

Your image, above, already sets a rather mysterious tone. How about something in the foreground? A beer can? A child’s doll? Someone’s leg just exiting the frame? A newspaper reading “Dewey’s The Man!”?

What has most strongy distinguished skilled photographers from the casual crowd has been their ability to find or construct a frame that “works” through gesture, placement, proportional form, irony, rhyme, etc. Rather than study rules of composition (which were all formulated for painters and draftsmen) photographers would be better served studying daily images in top news publications such as the NYT. Failing that, at the very least, “landscapers” should tirelessly recite “foreground, mid ground, background” to themselves whenever they site a scene.

From my perspective, I certainly see punctum in your picture: the wiring & junction box running along the building. Care was taken to pick unobtrusive lighting against the historic building, and yet standard white trunking & fittings used for the installation. Stands out, and suggests a story of interaction between those responsible for the building and the contractors installing.
But then, as an engineer, I might see that different than an artist might.

Cartier-Breslin in action here:

Constantly moving

Waiting for a picture to happen is like jobhunting by waiting for the phone to ring.

I find it interesting that you say that Tex is over-generalizing. To say that all photographs must have a punctum would be dismissing, for example, the entire Dusseldorf school of art. I love the works of Candida Hofer and Andreas Gurski. The stadium is the message.

[I never said all photographs must have a punctum. I said photographs that fail because of the flaw of being only a setting might need a punctum. The Dusseldorf School isn't even in this conversation.... --Mike]

I always like to include a figure or figures in my images, though not always as the subject. More for scale and to make a place feel more human.

For instance, this... or this...

I thought knowing where and when to point the camera was the most important part of photography!

I once surreptitiously followed HC-B around London for a few hours. Never once did he wait more than a brief time (certainly never as much as a minute) before the Leica would fly to his eye and then disappear from view (perhaps 3-4 seconds, tops). He was truly "the invisible man," and I never saw any indication that his subjects were aware that they had been observed, much less photographed.

I think static scenes can have a whatchamacallit, that Barthes thing, if it's creative enough. Take, for example, Walker Evans shot of some movie billboards...or perhaps Carole Lombard's black eye qualifies as that p-word which my spell checker insists on changing to "puncture."

I don't know how you do photos, but it's the second photo down here:


After posting, another thought occurred to me -- maybe it's the relationship between Lombard's black eye and the two oval windows on the houses above that create the "punctum?" (Great: the spell checker doesn't automatically change words in quotes.)

Action and inaction in a photo-

Looks like this photo might actually have its punctum: the electricity cable. Everything ion the image says 'old' and 'religious building', and then out of the blue (or out of the wall, to be more precise), 'science'. Not sure if it makes the photo dramatically more interesting to look at, but still, it's a detail that matters.

Gary Winogrand: "A photograph must be more interesting than the thing photographed."
Posted this on my PC 3 years ago. Haven't taken many interesting photos since. Should we have everyone post this on their PC to reduce "uninteresting" photos?

I waited about an hour for this exact moment. Still not a great shot but I was consciously trying to avoid a simple setting shot. Although at the time I would have used a different phrase.

What would Cartier-Bresson make of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson? Simple staging of photos gone wild!

In the "Fall Foliage" class offered by John Paul Caponigro that I attended one year, JP offered the following lesson (paraphrased), which I think falls near your studium / punctum point, Mike: "Take a picture of the pond... OK. Now throw a leaf on the water and take another picture of the pond. Think about the difference between the two photos and the approach you took to each of the two photos."

We are talking here about the je ne sais quoi of a photograph that makes it good -- without which it is just a picture.

I was tempted to write "I Feel Ya , Mike"......... But then I looked at it and thought......nah ! So I didn't write it.
One of the things that interests me about TOP, is which posts set off an avalanche of comments, or which put the most noses 'out of joint'.....
....even though you often 'pre-qualify' your remarks by reminding that you are not judging, or telling anyone what they Should do.

This one caught me by surprise. The way I read it, you used a lot more words to say good pictures usually have something interesting in them. And, that while settings can be interesting, they are not usually interesting ENOUGH to carry a picture. You went on to describe a practice that many photographers use which is recognizing a good setting, and waiting a while to see if something might happen to "complete" the picture.
I thought it was a really nice piece.

One of your commenters referenced a Sam Abel video in which he speaks of HIS process. I watched it and it is really excellent--- It says a lot of what you said, but with lots of examples of his work.

Neither of you said it was the Right way or the only way--just A way that many good photographers find useful.

If I were of a different generation, I'd be tempted to say...
"I Feel Ya, Mike" but I'm not, so I won't. (and I didn't)

PS As for calling all professional photographers Hipsters to weasel out of mis-classifying Think Tank..... You are on your own there....sorry, but it's going on your Permanent Record........
...It's out of my hands (s your vice Principal used to say)

But it DID get lots of traffic......;- )

The "decisive moment" is often misinterpreted as the instant something happens before the camera and must be shot immediately, or will be lost forever. While this take is true to some extent, it's a rather superficial one.
As Cartier-Bresson himself explained in at least one interview I read, the decisive moment is when everything inside the viewfinder lines falls into place, thus creating a meaningful and interesting composition.
You hit bull's eye when you mentioned the bicycle picture: it was when the rider moved across that particular point - between the handrails, which drive the eye to the bicycle - that the scene became a meaningful photographic composition; that was the decisive moment. Also when the peasant by the sea poured the wine into the glass, or when the Indian woman raised her arms towards the sky. Those were the moments that brought meaning to the pictures. Those were, in other words, the decisive moments.
We often hear people trying to justify using continuous shooting as a means to get that "decisive moment", but as I said in the beginning, this's a rather hollow interpretation of HC-B's concept. It's not all about seizing or missing the chance, although that can be a factor.
As for standing at a chosen location and waiting for something to happen, I do that a lot. I believe It's a valid way of making street photography. I was inspired by a concept formulated by Robert Doisneau: the "little theatre". The chosen location will be a stage where a play - a scene from everyday life - will take place. All I have to do is wait for the actors to enter the stage and perform, but the "decisive moment" isn't absent from this way of photographing. It's up to the photographer to identify what will make the photograph work and when all the elements within the frame will come together and form a significant composition.
Now the "punctum". It's probably an oversimplification, but one can safely say the "studium" is the objective aspect of the photograph, and the "punctum" the subjective one. The "punctum" is the element of the picture that makes a personal impression - it can be the child's rotten tooth in William Klein's photograph, a shoe, or anything in the picture that moves the viewer. It differs from person to person, hence its subjectivity: something that caused an enduring impression on you may fail to impress me at all (and vice-versa). It could have been expressed more simply, but Barthes, like most French intellectuals, had a penchant for arcane concepts. And rightly so: why make it simple when you can complicate it to the point of being almost unintelligible?

It takes courage to post this topic. Brave man.

"an airplane in the sky in the extreme upper-left-hand corner of the frame; something obtruding from a window"

An airplane in this position would probably also be protruding from the window and would make this photo very interesting indeed. It would likely also make it the last photo the photographer ever took!

I've always said a strong photo is often a good foreground and a good background and nothing else.

What you've described and posted as a photo is a background. Add a foreground interest, and you have a photograph.

Totally agree.

This post was actually quite nicely timed and fitted nicely into the line of discussions I wa sinvolved in on another's forum. I pointed the other participants here and they did appreciate your thoughts and comments.

@ Hans Muus: Your lovely anecdote and its accompanying proof image reminded me of an early image by Joel Meyerowitz (seen as the title image of this article).

[A]n airplane in the sky in the extreme upper-left-hand corner of the frame...

You mean like this?

[Yeah. --Mike]

In May 2009 I attended a workshop in Ohio given by Sam Abell, following which he gave a very similar talk at the Acron Art Museum to the NatGeo lecture mentioned by Joseph Brunjes in an earlier post. It is indeed well worth watching, and brought back many memories. He is truly an exceptional teacher and a wonderful person.

There’s a terrific article in The NY Times on a current exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

One could certainly argue there is and has been an overexposure of Adams’ landscape work. His domination in that genre is undeniable.

However, the “Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park,” to me, speaks volumes to the value of the patience needed, waiting, for that HCB ‘bicycle’ moment, that we photographers need many times in photography. The counterpart in Adams’ own work to the Yosemite photograph might be “Moonrise Over Hernandez,” which happened over just a few moments. In this one photographer’s lifetime, the full spectrum of waiting and spontaneous is clearly evident.

Recognizing the value of both methods, patience and spontaneity, and valuing both, has to be a given in our art. The ‘decisive moment’ is both that 1/500 of a second in the moment, the NOW, and all the seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/seasons it takes to be in that place at that moment when all is revealed.


Like this.


I recognize what Mike is saying.

You have backdrops and you have picrures.

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