Exercise 4.2

In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. It doesn’t matter if the day is overcast or clear but you need a good spread of times from early morning to dusk. You might decide to fix your viewpoint or you might prefer to ‘work into’ your subject, but the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. Add the sequence to your learning log together with a timestamp from the time/date info in the metadata. In your own words, briefly describe the quality of light in each image.

I took colour photographs of the same location, hourly from 8am to 7pm (unfortunately I didn’t make sunrise). It was a spring morning and the weather was fair throughout the day. I used a tripod to maintain the same viewpoint and shot in manual mode with auto white balance. I initially shot this on a cloudy day but found it hard to observe changes in the lighting so reshot on a relatively sunny day.

_MG_2881 8.00 am 8am: Sun,still rising. Temperature, cool. Colour, light blue. Light appearance, soft diffused Shadows: soft and long.

_MG_2885 9.00 am.jpg 9am: Sun, brightening. Temperature, warming.  Colour, whitish. Light appearance, still soft. Shadows, thinning.

_MG_2888 10.00.jpg 10am: Sun, strengthening. Temperature,warming. Colour, White/grey. Light appearance, more clarity. Shadows, beginning to harden increasing in contrast.

_MG_2888 10.00 11am: Sun, still not directly overhead. Temperature, warm. Colour, blue/white. Light appearance, clear. Shadows, filled out but still soft.

_MG_2892 12.00.jpg 12am: Sun, overhead quite harsh. Temperature, warm. Colour, blue. Light appearance, very clear. Shadows: minimal. Reflections in the pond are detailed and accurate.

_MG_2894 13.00 1pm: Sun, already decreasing. Temperature, warm. Colour, blue but yellowing. Light appearance, clear.  Shadows, more minimal. Reflection in the pond has already darkened and lost detail.

_MG_2896 14.00 pm.jpg 2pm: Sun, behind cloud.Temperature, cool. Colour, White/grey. Light appearance, dull. Shadows, not evident. Reflection in the pond is all dark.

_MG_2897 15.00 pm.jpg 3pm: Sun, behind cloud. Temperature, cool. Colour, grey/white. Light appearance, dimming already. Shadows, soft and light.

_MG_3652 4pm.jpg 4pm: Sun, returning but low. Temperature, cool. Colour, White/blue. Light appearance: slightly brighter. Shadows, soft.

_MG_3654 5pm.jpg 5pm: Sun, dimming. Temperature, cooler. Colour, White/grey. Light appearance: dimming. Shadows and reflections beginning to look crisper.

_MG_3657 6pm.jpg 6pm: Sun, Low and weak. Temperature, very cool. Colour, Blue/grey. Light appearance, poor. Shadows: crisp.

_MG_3660 7.00pm.jpg 7pm: Sun, almost down. Temperature, cold. Colour, White with blue colour cast. Light appearance, very soft. Shadows: still evident.

My learning:

  • It was noticeable when reviewing the images how the temperature of the colour changed throughout the day and as the sunlight varied. I’m not sure if I will be able to observe this first hand so easily.
  • How  the clarity of the light varies as conditions change.
  • That there are far more variations in light than dim to bright.
  • That the daylight conditions affect the edges as well as the length of the shadows.
  • That the daylight conditions have a noticeable effect upon reflections.
  • Shooting in manual ensures I am more conscious of lighting conditions and how quickly they change ( even in split seconds).
  • To continue to observe different qualities of light in different conditions,locations and seasons and to think how to best use it.





Exercise 4.1

1. Set your camera to any of the auto or semi-auto modes. Photograph a dark tone (such as a black jacket), a mid-tone (the inside of a cereal packet traditionally makes a useful ‘grey card’) and a light tone (such as a sheet of white paper), making sure that the tone fills the viewfinder frame (it’s not necessary to focus). Add the shots to your learning log with quick sketches of the histograms and your observations.

I shot in program mode in daylight white then black then grey card:

_MG_2603.JPG   IMG_1643 white histogram.JPG

_MG_2604.JPG   IMG_1645 black histogram.JPG

_MG_2605.JPG   IMG_1647 grey histogram.JPG

Yes I was surprised that the resulting images were very similar as are the histograms. However I understand that by default as the camera assumes that the desired brightness of an image should be medium grey (18% grey) and therefore adjusts other setting to achieve this.

2. Set your camera to manual mode. Now you can see your light meter! The mid-tone exposure is indicated by the ‘0’ on the meter scale with darker or lighter exposures as – or + on either side. Repeat the exercise in manual mode, this time adjusting either your aperture or shutter to place the dark, mid and light tones at their correct positions on the histogram. The light and dark tones shouldn’t fall off either the left or right side of the graph. Add the shots to your learning log with sketches of their histograms and your observations.

In manual mode (which disconnects the aperture, shutter and ISO as they’re no longer linked, you can make adjustments to any one of them without affecting the others), I set the exposure correctly for the grey card and then altered the shutter speed whilst shooting the black and the white cards to maintain the marker on the light metre in the middle as it was for the grey:

_MG_2611   grey 3

_MG_2612      black 3.jpg

_MG_2613   white 3

The grey histogram peaked in the middle, and the black and white histograms spread a little more respectively to the left and the right. So it is possible to maintain a correct exposure by adjusting the shutter speed or aperture and maintaining the central light metre marker in the centre.

Next I repeated the exercise but shooting in manual mode adjusting the exposure correctly for the grey card so that the histogram would peak in the middle. Shooting the black then white I kept the camera exposure settings in manual mode the same:

_MG_2605   Grey 2

_MG_2607      Black 2.jpg

_MG_2608   White 2

This resulted in a correct recording of the black and white images and the histograms to appear as you would expect, the white peaking towards the right and the black peaking towards the left. This is because if the grey card is a true 18% grey then this should be the average and ensure that the black is true black and the white true white. Although my grey card wasn’t a true 18% grey it did give a fair average exposure setting and resulted in more realistic images and histograms.

The results would have been different if I had used an external light meter as it would measure the incident light rather than reflected light, so the colour tones would be exact.


Niki South   Student number: 514516


No smoking_MG_1668 crop print lighten 20 1500Exposure 1/400 sec, Aperture f/ 5.6, ISO 640, Focal length 82mm

Metal man_MG_1260 print.jpgExposure 1/400 sec, Aperture f/ 5.0, ISO 800, Focal length 44mm

Never grow up!_MG_1712 exp crop print lightened 1500Exposure 1/250 sec, Aperture f/ 6.3, ISO 400, Focal length 28mm

Ambush_MG_1803.jpgExposure 1/400 sec, Aperture f/ 5.6, ISO 800, Focal length 63mm

Convergence_MG_1690 used.jpgExposure 1/400 sec, Aperture f/ 5, ISO 400, Focal length 44mm

The eye_MG_1277 Print lighten 1500Exposure 1/640 sec, Aperture f/ 4, ISO 500, Focal length 28mm

Think safety_MG_1626 used.jpgExposure 1/250 sec, Aperture f/8, ISO 400, Focal length 39mm



Niki South Student number: 514516


Brief: Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.

You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.

Assignment notes: Submit assignment notes of between 500 and 1,000 words with your series. Introduce your subject and describe your ‘process’ – your way of working. Then briefly state how you think each image relates to the concept of the decisive moment. This will be a personal response as there are no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course. 


The decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one: the result is not a story but a picture.                                  (Swarkowski, 2007, p.5)

As I had used street photography in with my previous assignment I tested other ideas initially; I wanted a different challenge. I experimented with capturing sea spray and waves, but found that though beautiful pictures, overall they lacked interest. I resolved then to return to street photography for this assignment, but try to find “my difference”.

I  reconsidered the meaning of the decisive moment. Cartier Bresson defines the decisive moment as, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (Cartier Bresson, 1952). Others are decisive in different ways; Erwitt for instance instinctively pursuing absurdities (Golden 2003, p74), Diosneau waiting patiently (Lichfield, 2010), or Meyrowitz seeking astonishment, (O’Hagen, 2012), juxtaposition or constructing relationships.

Link to research page:

I agree the decisive moment is “that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture”. (Zouhaighazzi, 2004); however to discover what this meant in reality I headed onto the streets to capture images.


I learnt much about the practical aspects of street photography during my previous assignment, so I set out this time concentrating on really looking, observing and to capture some shots planned with strong geometrical composition and some spontaneous “moments”; I had starting ideas for subject matter and intended to present in monochrome to present a difference to my India street photography.

See planning mind map:

Whilst capturing I found that my style of looking was evolving. Often I composed a shot, even took it, then looked deeper and noticed something else adjacent or within more visually interesting. I quickly learnt to look deeper at the outset. From the first shoot I found some of my best images were those where there was a visually pleasing background or graphics where a person added substantially to the image. I began to pursue this theme. On my second shoot I returned to some locations to see if I could improve on any images and search for more; however my first shoot was the best and often the first shot in a series was the most effective. I generally found that if I waited too long for the completion of the composition, then the image appeared contrived. Converse to my plan, I realised that colour was important and enhanced my visual messages.

When editing I strove for “beauty in a fragment of time”, a fleeting precise organisation of form, as well as images that linger, engage the viewer or poses questions. I additionally looked for:

  • Images with ambiguity or open to interpretation by the viewer.
  • Juxtaposition.
  • A graphic and/or visual message.
  • Contrast
  • A synergistic relationship between an environment and a person.

The theme for the series emerged: Images where the relationship between the environment and person create a decisive moment.

See link to editing mind map:

Technically I set the shutter speed to freeze the moment. I used my 16-300mm telephoto lens for the first shoot and after discovering that my images were all shot under 85mm I used my 17-85mm lens for the second shoot.

  • To give homogeny to the series I used eye level viewpoint throughout and composed full frame, where I have cropped I maintain the original 3:2 ratio.
  • I have presented in colour as in most images it accents an important visual component or creates a contrast in an otherwise urban coloured scene.
  • The compositions were instinctive rather than fulfilling any rules. Framing mainly focuses attention into the images, separating the contents from their context. Focus is balanced between the environment and the person. Some images are more depictive than mental (Convergence and Metal man), whilst some function on a depictive and mental level (for instance, Smoking, Ambush, the Eye (Shore 2007, p 97).


  1. No smoking: As I rounded the corner I saw simultaneously the graphics of the man with the cigar and the man smoking beside it; the addition of the no smoking sign and the cigarette butts on the floor was a bonus. Realising the significance of this combination I shot quickly to capture it.
  2. Metal Man: This image is a picture not a story, created by waiting for a decisive moment. I was attracted to the metal shutter, stairs and rails but I needed something to create a picture. In my several attempts lying in wait, this “grey, sharp” man appeared with his unknowing face and metal briefcase; He created the visual climax of a “precise organisation of forms” (Cartier Bresson,1952).
  3. Never grow up: The graffiti clearly needed a human touch to create a picture. I knew if I waited the right person could turn this from a potential picture to a strong story. These subjects were a perfect enactment of the graphics and their exact location on the pavement was critical to the composition.
  4. Ambush: The idea behind this shot was at first accidental. I was focusing on gestures of a man and then noticed his backdrop. I moved in to create a possibility for an interesting composition, taking a number of shots experimenting with passer-by’s looking for juxtaposition, ambiguity, contrast or relationships. I choose this moment to shoot as the people and the positioning created a mini drama.
  5. Convergence: I found this building and graphics on a quiet street and knew that to complete the visual picture I should capture people exactly the correct position  in the frame (converging) and against the graphics to complete the geometry of the composition and to emphasise the graphic message.
  6. The eye: I was firstly attracted to the line of bicycles and waited for a cyclist to appear to complete the composition. The eye was part of the pattern of image, however it wasn’t until I reviewed the images on site that I was really aware of the importance of the eye visually. I shot more but ultimately chose this first subject, as they seem to be looking at the eye looking at them; which creates tension and empathy. So my first impulse had been the decisive moment.
  7. Think safety: I was attracted by the graffiti background as a pattern and the text of the notices. I framed some pleasing compositions and hoped additionally for something interesting or even “unsafe” to occur, it didn’t. However I seized the moment when this man in the safety jacket appeared giving emphasis to the textual messages and completing a pleasing composition.


What worked well:            

  • I feel that all of the images are decisive moments, they were the perfect moment to press the button.
  • My observational skills deepened enormously during the shooting and editing.
  • Flexibility with the assignment. Unlike my previous assignments I was fluid in my thoughts and preparation and much more instinctive when shooting.
  • Working with colour in a different way, as an accent rather than as a main component.
  • I was more decisive and instinctive when editing and forming the series.

 What didn’t work so well and how the series might be improved in the future:

  • Now I am in a more decisive mode and have learnt that often the first shot is the best, I will try to take less images to catch the image that I want.
  • Technically I would like to move to from shutter priority to manual.


Cartier Bresson, H. (1952). The Decisive Moment, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Golden, R (2003). Masters of Photography. 3rd Ed. London. Goodman.

Lichfield, J (2010. Robert Doisneau: A window into the soul of Paris, Independent Sunday 5 December 2010. (accessed 30.1.16).

O’ Hagen, S. (2012). Joel Meyerowitz: ‘brilliant mistakes … amazing accidents’. Guardian. (accessed 30.1.16).

Shore, S (2007).The nature of photographs. 2nd edition. London. Phaidon.

Szarkowski, J (2007). The Photographer’s Eye. New York: MoMA.

Zouhairghazzal (2004). The indecisiveness of the decisive moment. (accessed 28.2.2015).


Niki South Student number: 514516


My Tutors feedback has given me much encouragement.

Strengths highlighted:

  • Scouting, planning and patience whilst shooting.
  • Editing from lots of images post shooting, as well as reviewing and reshooting whilst on location- This I was especially pleased about because I felt after my last assignment that this was an area that I needed to develop, and had lost confidence in; this time I had more of a “feel for it”, I was instinctive about which were the images to choose.
  • Forming a cohesive project – I struggled with this more the previous assignment, I believe I overthought it at first; however this time I found that the idea for the series for emerged almost by itself as I was editing, and I went with the flow.
  • The use of humour – This was a relief as was nervous about how that would be perceived.
  • My visual and conceptual viewpoints.
  • Creativity – I was particularly pleased about the positive comments about this as I had set out on the streets to “find my difference “and thought that one had emerged. This happened in part as I took my tutors advice from the previous assignment on not over planning, and being flexible whilst working through the assignment.
  • My self-reflection.

Areas for development:

  • Study the images to see whether they need any post processing (a couple would benefit from lifting the shadows).
  • Consider slower shutter speeds if needing to increase depth of field (for the future).
  • Trying a “pop of flash” when shooting on the streets (for the future).

My own Learning points:

  • To trust my instinct, remain flexible throughout an assignment and have more confidence in my photography.
  • That recognising the decisive moment, and acting instantaneously is essential to successful photography.
  • To move to using manual settings as a default.

Link to work submitted to tutor:

Link to learning log:The Decisive Moment:

However these mind maps summarise the narrative of my preparations, post-shooting thoughts and editing notes contained in the learning log.

Preparations notes:

planning mind map

 Post shooting notes:

Post shoot mind map

 Editing notes:

Editing mind map


Niki South   Student number: 514516


Where I stand Part 1 (pre shooting)

I am comfortable at this stage with most of Cartier Bresson’s concepts and assertions, however there are many who are more critical. O’ Hagen (2014) questions why although “The Decisive Moment” (Cartier Bresson, 1952) changed photography forever, it has been republished and asserts that it cements out of date ideas. Certainly Cartier Bresson stressed the importance of composition, and liked to instinctively fix a geometric pattern into which to fix a subject. O’Hagen suggests that “The idea that he lay in wait for someone to walk into a precomposed frame may explain his extraordinary hit rate” (2014). He weighs this against the photographical methods of Garry Winogrand or Joel Meyerowitz, who he suggests pounded the streets in search of the right convergence of light, action and expression rather than patterns and geometry and others like Frank and Eggleston signalled the future, and considers that the book is now a historical artefact:

“It cements an idea of photography that is no longer current but continues to exist as an unquestioned yardstick in the public eye: black and white, acutely observational, meticulously composed, charming. Colour and conceptualism may as well not have happened, so enduring is this model of photography outside the world of contemporary photography itself.” (O’Hagen, 2014)

In an essay in the London Review of Books (2013), Gaby Wood wrote, “The reason his photographs often feel numbly impersonal now is not just that they are familiar. It’s that they’re so coolly composed, so infernally correct that there’s nothing raw about them, and you find yourself thinking: would it not be more interesting if his moments were a little less decisive?”

Having immersed myself in the work, methods and thinking of Henri Cartier Bresson during these exercises and research I feel that I need to step back and see how the experience of shooting the assignment affects my stance on these things. I intend to enter into the spirit of Henri Cartier for the assignment:

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” (Cartier Bresson, 1999).

Where I stand Part 2 (post assignment):

Having scouted and shot on the streets I now feel better placed to give my view on the decisive moment. I set out with a plan to shoot geometric patterns with a subject completing them. Initially looking for compositions like Cartier Bresson’s there was something lacking, however as I worked my way into the shooting, outcomes seemed to improve. Probably my “looking” improved so that I was able to capture more interesting moments; I whole heartedly agree that successful photography is “a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever attentive eye which captures the moment and its eternity(Cartier-Bresson, 1952).

What I did find was that whilst some of my shoots were fairly coolly composed, my most effective shoots were more spontaneous and decisive. Certainly my experience taught me that most often my first shot was the best, even after spending time trying to improve on an image and that observation and fast reactions are vital to capture decisive moments as “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again” (Cartier Bresson, 1952). I’m not sure as Gaby Wood (O’Hagan, 2014) suggests, that Cartier Bresson did “coolly compose” them, but most likely that he just had a good eye and instinct.

Some may now see his images as overly correct, not raw enough or passé, but however you view his images there is no doubt in my mind that he was a master of the decisive moment which is a combination of observation, readiness, instinctive composition and technical skill. In no way do I believe that the decisive moment belongs to another photographic time, but that it is essential to successful photography today. It may be that everyone’s decisive moment is different, depending on what they are looking for, but “ that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated” (Zouhairghazzi, 2004) is critical to effective images.


Cartier Bresson, H (1952). The Decisive Moment. New York. Simon and Schuster.

Cartier Bresson, H (1999). The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers.  New York. Aperture.

O’Hagan, S (2014). Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed. The Guardian. : (accessed 25.2.16).

Zouhairghazzi (2004). The indecisiveness of the decisive moment. (accessed 26.2.16).