The “decisive moment”, according to Henri Cartier-Bresson, “it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.” A “decisive moment” is what elevates a photograph to a higher level. One of Bresson’s most iconic images, the man leaping over a large puddle and touching it with his heel, showed the “decisive moment” turn an otherwise ordinary image into a master piece.
It is fairly straight forward with photojournalism and wild life photography to capture the moment. In landscape photography, I feel that the “decisive moment” is what gives a photograph its soul. A major problem with landscape photography is that an image is reproducible. Once an image becomes reproducible, it loses some of its value and visual impact, no matter how hard one tries with composition. What is a decisive moment in landscape photography? It could be a special moment in light situation, weather condition, season or movement.
During my recent trip to Oregon, my first stop was Cannon Beach. This is a beautiful place by any standard. However, Cannon Beach and its famous sea stack have been shot to death. I don’t know how many millions of photos have that rock in the frames. My chance of capture anything unique is fairly low. Then, one night, I was wondering on the beach at sunset. The sunset was not spectacular, but I did not leave. 15 minutes after the sunset, the sky at west became more interesting and I noticed orange reflection on the wet sand. As the wave retreated, it left behind wet sand as smooth as a mirror. At an angle towards the west, the reflection was the most visible. With each wave, the reflection left behind was different. I quickly setup my tripod and started to compose the image. I chose a position where the distant light house was in between two rocks that were closer, and more importantly, to avoid that famous sea stack on the beach. I tried several times to time my exposure at the right moment when waves advanced on the beach. Finally, I captured one moment where reflection was at the exact position as I wanted. 15 minutes later, the light started to fade away and the show was over.