The Decisive Moment

How to Capture the Decisive Moment in Portrait Photography

We’ve heard about Henri Cartier-Bresson and the decisive moment, right? But the question is, how do we capture that moment when photographing people?

The key word is patience. As photographers, we need to have patience. Watch and wait and be ready to take (make) the shot.

Braking AIDS Ride 2018 closing ceremony. Photos by Alina Oswald.
Braking AIDS Ride 2018 closing ceremony. Photos by Alina Oswald.

When photographing people, for magazine articles, for example, don’t just pose the subject(s), but rather try to engage in brief conversations with them, to get a (certain) reaction from them. Also, consider body language, capture gesture.

Here are a few examples:

Let the subject tell their story. Maybe engage the subject in brief conversations in order to get a reaction, facial expression, and also to connect with the subject. Watch as they show, don’t tell, and be ready to capture the decisive moment:

Daniel Szymczyk Founder/CEO of The HIV League photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine.
Daniel Szymczyk, Founder/CEO of The HIV League, photographed exclusively for A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine.
PrEP pioneer Damon L. Jacobs Damon demonstrates how he takes his PrEP (without actually taking the pill). He often does just that during his PrEP presentations and workshops. Photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
PrEP pioneer Damon L. Jacobs Damon demonstrates how he takes his PrEP (without actually taking the pill). He often does just that during his PrEP presentations and workshops. Photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Or, if photographing a speech or performance, watch (and listen to) the subject(s) as they perform, perhaps capture them as they look or point right at the camera, or capture key moments in their gestures, facial expressions, (pose) that express the mood and feeling you’re after, and that tell the story.

William Harrell NYC, actor and activist, photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
William Harrell, NYC actor and activist, photographed by Alina Oswald for A&U Magazine

Or, sometimes maybe capture a tender, funny or maybe even adventurous moment:

Getting ready for the party. Photo by Alina Oswald.

The idea is to be ready to capture the decisive moment. And part of that is…patience.

As always, thank you for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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