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).




Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

  • This assignment drew on my visual awareness which I think is quite strong, but even so I was aware during the assignment how much further my observational skills deepened.
  • I used my instinctive compositional skills but learnt much at a mental level about what it is that completes a composition.
  • I used a lens that I had not used before which I had inherited (17-85mm) and broadened my tool kit in the future, I can be over reliant on my telephoto (16-300mm) and wide angle lens as I am so familiar with them.
  • I found it challenging on shutter speed where I predominantly use aperture priority; this maybe why I moved away from closer shots of people as I would have wanted to use depth of field to isolate subjects and moments. I did however learn how to use shutter speed to freeze at the optimum level in the assignment and to blur in the exercises.
  • I only used post production to clean up one image (because of shadows) I did reshoot on a different day to avoid this however I felt that the original image was the most decisive so used that one.

Quality of outcome:

  • I was much more confident during the editing process; I did set myself criteria to work against when choosing images, but alongside this I used my instinct about what was effective/interesting and found that my link for the series evolved spontaneously rather than being forced and that this was more satisfying.
  • I am sure the printing could be improved on, I used a professional laboratory and I will trial other printers in the future to compare.
  • I am aware that I have one portrait shot amongst 6 landscape shots, but the images were chosen for their individual strengths and the order that I have presented them in would be their “hanging” sequence.
  • I hope that I have presented and communicated my ideas effectively in my learning log and essay.

Demonstration of creativity:

  • During the exercise I was experimentally creative, especially in project 2 A durational space. I used my imagination alongside observation when I was shooting. I believe that it was my imagination and sideways thinking that led me to bringing environments and people together to create decisive moments.
  • I look forward to being more technically experimental in future assignments.


  • It was different for me to have a context which evolved during the shooting, this took me out of my comfort zone and was challenging but ultimately enjoyable.
  • I needed to do a lot of reflection to get myself into “the decisive moment” but particularly to discover what it meant to me.
  • I learnt  that a decisive moment can be spontaneously captured or patiently hunted, however I also learnt that the first shot, the first angle, the first idea is usually the best one – to be instinctive.
  • I applied my learning from the reading and exercises of Part three.
  • I realise the importance of continuing to research and visit exhibitions to broaden my knowledge, as I know I am at the tip of the iceberg and how useful knowledge is.


Assignment Three

1st thoughts: To me “The decisive moment” instantly screamed street photography, however having used this predominantly for my Crowds assignment I tried at first to think outside of the box. I toyed and tested the idea of sports photography; I then tested freezing and blurring waves and weather moments. I captured some good images but though some were beautiful, they seemed one dimensional and were not images that lingered in my mind later. Ultimately I felt that I needed to work with human subjects as a part of a composition and therefore returned to street photography.

Preparations: This mind map outlines my initial thoughts about using street photography as a medium for this assignment:

planning mind map

I decided that presenting the work in monochrome would fit in with the spirit of the Cartier Bresson “Decisive moment” and give me a noticeable difference and separation from the colourful street photography and a new challenge.

The first shoot: I set out on my first serious shoot with a variety of ideas, but with the intent to be spontaneous and instinctive to see what developed. I headed to various locations in London as from my “test” shoots locally I knew that I would need a higher footfall to increase my chances of capturing something interesting. I found as the day wore on my “looking” improved. I pursued two ideas initially; firstly composing a partially geometrically pleasing shot and waiting for a subject enter to complete it, secondly watching for interesting gestures or behaviours (especially people looking lost). Reviewing the images, few of my earliest attempts of the first group were particularly pleasing, though I had caught some interesting gesture images. However shooting instinctively as the day wore on I the images that had the most impact had interesting backgrounds (street art, graffiti, signage, pattern and colour) with a human subject that added to this in a significant way. Some of these were caught quickly and spontaneously (smoking), while for some I had to wait patientlyto combine all the necessary elements together (never grow up).

The second shoot: Having reviewed the previous shoot I was focused on what I needed to complete the series: interesting backgrounds with people to complete/enhance the composition. Although I had almost enough images already for the assignment. I needed to be certain that I had got the best that I could, by revisiting some of the locations could I improve on them? I resolved to remain alert for good “gesture” shots and any interesting accidental catches, keeping my options open just in case I changed track again.

Reflections post shooting: I was able to capture a few more good images, but the 1st shoot had been by far the best.

Post shoot mind map.JPG

This mind map shows my editing criteria:

Editing mind map

After the 1st shoot I eliminated my concept of “lost people” which were not effective and thought that I would eliminate gestures also, although I had a few good images:

_MG_1495 discard                                     _MG_1561 discard.jpg

I chose the locations that had brought the best compositions and then concentrated on choosing the best image for each. My options were converse to other assignments, as this time I had a narrow number of locations but a wider number of images at each location to choose from. This enable me to reduce my possible images to eight locations. These are the last 4 images that I dismissed:

_MG_2063 almost.jpg      _MG_2353 Almost.jpg

_MG_2144 Almost.jpg   _MG_2440 almost.jpg

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.