Is the “decisive moment” still alive today?

Is the “decisive moment” still alive today?

henri-cartier-bresson.jpgI’ve been a fan of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson since I was 14 years-old. Even at that young age, I realized that there was this “special something” going on in every one of his pictures, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. When I got to college, I learned that it actually had a name – “The Decisive Moment.

I love street photography that contains “decisive moments.” Those subtle moments in time that could only happen at that very instant, and the photographer – in the role of quiet observer – was able to see the moment approaching, and trip the shutter at the exact right time to record it.

But is the decisive moment dead in modern-day photography?

I decided to look for evidence that it still lives and breathes today, and I’m happy to report that I found it living alive and well all over the world through the eyes and in the hands of many photographers who, no doubt, must love Cartier-Bresson as much as I do.

Here (below) are 9 that I really like – all found within the PhotoShelter community.


Handshake by Max Pasion.

Paris Street Photography by Carl-Johan Westergren.

Tel Aviv by Gregor Schlatte.

Snoozing skater by Paul Treacy.

Italy. Milan. June 2006. by Oliver O’Hanlon.

Woman in New York Subway from Matt Slaby.

Anti-Flirt by Garrett Cheen.

Documentary Images from Stortelling from an Independent Traveler by Crystal Street.

If you’ve spotted (or shot) any cool street photography images, please share them by posting a link below!

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PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

There are 37 comments for this article
  1. Max Pasion at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for featuring one of my NY images. Back in the day when a photo editor (of a big Manila newspaper which could potentially hire me) asked who my photography teacher was, I mentioned HCB. At first he was startled with my claim that I studied directly under the man — I’m self-taught, btw — but quickly realized that what I really meant was that I pored over HCB’s pictures over and over again so that the decisive moment principle seeped to my marrow and out to my left eye and right index finger. You’d evidence of this in the rest of my portfolio, especially the one from my home country, the Philippines. Max

  2. Mike Wilson at 5:16 pm

    Good article! I think the reason people think that the Decisive Moment is dead (or dying) has more to do with the sheer propensity of images out there. Back in Bresson’s day taking a photo took a lot more effort and cost, so photographers (both pro and amateur) took a lot more care when composing their images and looking for that decisive moment. Today that practice is still there, but there are a LOT of photographers who just click the shutter and sort it out later, or are just out there taking snapshots for fun. So you have to sort through SO many more photos to find ones that exhibit THE moment. Thanks for finding some great examples to inspire us!

  3. Matthew Oldfield at 9:12 pm

    I am very proud of an image taken during a trip to Tanzania earlier this year. For me, this sums up life for the Hadzabe in a single, decisive moment – the vagaries of hunting and the harsh environment in which they spend their lives. I saw the boy preparing to shoot at the stork, but am happy to admit that it was pure luck getting the arrow in mid-flight in the frame… http://matthewoldfield.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Hadzabe-Africas-last-hunter-gatherers/G0000lN9LsUbHLqk/I0000eHttqCzEU0k

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