Skip to main content

The expressive moment in street photography

She suddenly realised.


Out on the streets with my camera I find that I am often hunting for something which I call "the expressive moment".

The expressive moment is not the same as HCB's decisive moment. I also do not use it in the context of the writings about the expressionists. To me it is simply the moment captured through the lens when there is a clear expression of mood, emotion and feeling which can be easily read by the viewer looking at the image.

In contrast the decisive moment can be an image which captures something which is simply visually in perfect balance and harmony but does not have a powerful inherent emotion.

I see a lot of street photography which to me looks haphazard and I can't help wondering why the shot was taken as there's nothing special about it.

The two images above capture the expressive moment for me. The emotion, feeling and mood are clear. To use another phrase: the images speak to the viewer. And that is what I value most, and seek in my photography.



Andreas said…
Well said and certainly a goal to set. I'm not a people's photographer, and in my images, when there are people, they are there as part of the geometry, no more prominent than some graffiti or the lines of tramway rails. On the other hand, photographing people is somewhere on my agenda, so are there any techniques and tricks you want to share?

I mean, these two images are certainly good, even very good, but basically what you say boils down to "Make good images!", and that alone is not overly helpful, isn't it? What do you do? Simply have the camera ready and wait for the "expressive moment" as others wait for the decisive one? What is the story behind these images? Did you "catch" them? Arrange them?

Anonymous said…
I can see why you would have had the second photo framed in the viewfinder, though the first seems one that is a spur of the moment capture.

I'm just getting into street photography so I'm curious as to why you had the first shot framed ready to shoot? Was there a sign that this woman was about to look, for example, a call made to her or something similar? The image is fantastic and very strong in composition, though I honestly can't figure out how you would have predicted the "decisive moment.

I hope I've made my query clear enough! I found it difficult to express the questions regarding the intentions, so I hope they're understandable. I certainly agree with you about some shots lacking a specific compositional element, so I'd really appreciates some insight as to how best achieve it.
Anonymous said…
These are very nice street images, Paul. Not only do they capture the expressive moment, but the second one in particular is magical in the way you have captured the light.

As you draw the distinction between your "expressive moment" and Cartier Bresson's "decisive moment", I am reminded of the image in your recent post concerning "Design in Photography". You suggest that in Bresson's street shots these design elements prevail.

I love it that you place such a high priority on capturing these expressions of human emotion. It makes your pictures come alive.

Thanks for sharing these wonderful images.

Bill Gatesman
In reply to your question advman, I took all of these shots spontaneously. The joy of street photography is to capture these expressive moments without intervention.

Popular posts from this blog

The art of writing a caption

A caption in its simplest form is the the title of an image but usually we mean a bit more. A full caption takes the form of descriptive text, usually a few sentences.

A good caption informs us about the things we cannot see and encourages us to look at an image more closely. There is a relationship of mutual benefit and dependence between a well written caption and an image. The caption can bring an image to life by providing context and meaning. It is also the link between the article/story/text and the image.

Magda Indigo has written a good description of a caption here. I agree with her dislike of "untitled". It does show a certain lack of imagination and is not particularly helpful to the viewer. Creating an image is all about trying to communicate something and the caption is vital to help the audience understand an image. It can hugely enhance the viewers experience.

A good caption is a piece of writing that should be concise, accurate, informative and as carefully craft…

How do you make a good photographic portrait?

How do you make a good photographic portrait? The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. The simple essence will probably surprise you.

If I had to write a book about it then I'd cover all the usual topics. Lighting, composition, choosing the right lens, using depth of field and thinking about the background and how you use colour and tone. All have a role to play.

We could also discuss the softer side. How you build rapport with your subject. And how to collaborate.

The truth is none of the above things really matter when it comes down to the essence of what makes a good portrait. Don't get me wrong. They all contribute as stepping stones. They add finesse and enhance. They improve the aesthetics and make it easier to take a good photograph. Other photographers may admire your technique. But good technique does not make a good portrait. Certainly not in the eyes of of the wider public.

So, what does make a good portrait. Simple. The expression on the face, in the…

Is professional photography still a viable career?

I am not against amateurs and semi-professionals selling their photography. It's a great way to earn some extra cash. However I am concerned about the level of high quality published work and the standards that clients and the public accept these days.

It seems that just about everyone is a photographer. The line between amateur enthusiast and professional is fuzzy to say the least.

Photography enthusiasts are selling their images through stock libraries and microstock websites, directly to magazines or through their own and third party sites. They're accepting commissions to shoot weddings, being hired to shoot for magazines and selling fine art prints from their websites. They're teaching photography on the weekend and guiding photographic holidays and safaris.

Photography became accessible to the masses with the first non-expert cameras and the famous Kodak slogan"You press the button, we do the rest." The digital camera age has taken the whole thing to a new …