The Moment

Capturing The Moment

To me, photography is all about capturing “the moment”, an endless search for what some call the “decisive moment”.

I admire the effort put into taking beautiful landscapes, appreciate the imagination of the creator of a still life and admire the skill with which a fashion photo is created for publication.

However, to me, the pinnacle of photography is documentary photography. The most interesting subjects are people in their environment. In that kind of environment, the photographer does not wish to interfere in the scene and a split second can make a difference.

I find most satisfaction in taking photographs of people in their environment. Due to the subject matter, I realise that unconsciously I am always searching to capture that “moment” – that elusive fleeting second of time that presents the subject in a powerful way.

In the past, at the beginning of my interest in photography, I needed to learn the rules. Rule of composition, rules of exposure and so on. Then I realised that I was restrained or slowed down by these things. Well, not exactly, but my consciously dwelling on these things made me miss many of these shots. In addition, it was recently that I realised that zooms may sometimes hinder instead of help me.

What is important is that fleeting second that I am looking for. When I understood that, I started to trust my feeling. This feeling that tells you that you are looking at “that moment”.

You will know it when you see that moment. If you have been searching for it, you will know when you see it.

You will see it at your family gatherings.

You will see it at your regular church service.

You will see it at your local eating place.

You will see it at a crowded market.

You will even see it in your own home.

I have learned to react immediately when it appears. There is no second chance. That moment will never come again. What you just captured has just became the past and it can never be re-created. We do not take photos for the here and now, we take photos because we want to grasp the wind that is time.

The Leica / RF Myth?

Leica likes to promote itself as the camera that will allow one to capture that decisive moment. I wonder though. I don’t have a Leica and use a Epson R-D1 rangefinder. I have been shooting with it and the D200 back and forth and I realise that the manual focusing has caused me quite a few shots. The operation of the R-D1 is just not fast enough.

I noticed that as long as I have access, the D200 with its AF helped me to capture shots like these more successfully. It is just fast. I am also not too convince about the hype that the rangefinder window will allow us to see action outside the frame lines and anticipate the action. When I am shooting with the D200, I will open my other eye periodically and see that is happening around. As for opening both eyes to shoot with the R-D1, I find it difficult to achieve accurate focus and have stopped doing it. Using this method forces me to concentrate even harder and thereby slowing me down even further.

The M9 with its exposure compensation dial (the rear wheel used for this function) will definitely be faster than the R-D1’s “look up, press the lock button, twist the exposure compensation dial and shoot” routine, but the manual focus will slow down the operation.

The D200 does not have the mystic of a M9. It is produced in quantities and its current used price probably couldn’t buy a nice M9 half case. However, when it comes to catching the moment in documentary photography, a dusty, out of date D200 will stand a better chance at giving us “the” shot.

Is the M9 hopeless at catching the decisive moment? History says no. If I use the R-D1, I have to prepare before hand. I can still capture nice shots with the Epson, but it is more difficult. I would need to be happy at missing maybe 5, 6 nice shots for each shot I managed to catch.


3 thoughts on “The Moment

  1. Old post, but thought I’d chime in as a fellow R-D1 owner (As well as other rangefinders, and a Nikon DSLR).

    The focus mechanism of the R-D1 or any other rangefinder should never cause you to miss a shot. If you’re missing shots because the rangefinder is too slow, there are two problems: 1) You are not familiar enough with your camera to focus quickly enough and 2) You are not using zone focusing which is absolutely essential to people doing street photography.

    The whole benefit of a rangefinder is being able to choose where you want to focus at will. You never miss focus because you can see exactly where you want to put the focus plane. Even on pitch black nights looking at objects with very little contrast you can still focus a rangefinder when a DSLR’s autofocus system would struggle.

    But in those situations where you think some action might develop but you have no time to adjust focus, you need to zone focus. Set your aperture to F8 or F11, and either set the lens to the hyperfocal distance or set your focus to the distance you think action may unfold. A high ISO setting will let you keep the shutter speed high, even on auto-exposure. With the R-D1 you can use quite a high ISO without too much ugly noise or color inaccuracy because the sensor’s photosites are quite large.

    Using zone focusing you’ll be able to catch moments simply by pointing the camera where the action is and taking the shot.

    I used to have a D2X and 80-200 F2.8 lens and while it was extremely fast to autofocus, I am capable of the same speed in most situations now. For moving subjects a DSLR is probably a better idea, but by using a narrower aperture or by “leading” the focus then letting the subject walk into the focus plane you can still use a rangefinder for moving subjects.

    Just my thoughts..! The R-D1 is a fantastic camera!

    1. Thanks for your comments. Yes I think those are good suggestions to try with the R-D1. With any camera users need to know its limitations and work around them. Zone focusing is useful with good light but under low light, big apertures and low shutter speeds will lower its usefulness. DSLRs are just faster in every way and takes away a lot of effort out of getting a shot. Sometimes it is just not possible to anticipate a shot and good AF sure helps me to catch it.

      The whole point of the R-D1 for me isthat it is some thing entirely different from a DSLR. The small fast lenses that it takes gives me portability, low light ability without the bulk and weight of a DSLR. It also functions differently and the photos I take turn out differently from a DSLR.

      BTW are you using any lenses giving you 28-35mm FOV on the R-D1? I am thinking of adding another lens. Any recommendations or observations to share?

      1. Hey there.

        I agree that sometimes a DSLR is the best solution but I:m not sure that at night time that’s the case.

        For example, what if you have an F1.2 or F1.4 on a Nikon D700 or similar camera and are trying to autofocus on someone’s face in a dimly lit cafe or restaurant sitting across the table or a few tables away. And imagine the person isn’t sitting still. A DSLR will not get good focus in this kind of situation. It will hunt and hunt or it will just focus on the bridge of their nose and their eyes will be out of the focus plane, making the shot soft.

        Even if you switch to manual focus it’s almost impossible to see the difference between in focus and out of focus at F1.2-F1.4 in a DSLR viewfinder, if your particular camera even lets the aperture go that wide in your viewfinder. Most DSLR’s hold the lens aperture at F1.8-F2.8 until the shutter is fired, so even with a super fast lens you don’t actually see the benefit of F1.2 in the viewfinder, only the final image.

        With the Epson (Or something like a Contax II/III/Kiev 4 with huge RF base) you can carefully align the two images which never change in brightness as you’re just looking through the camera’s window, not the lens, and wait for the subject to move into your focus plane. Easy to do because the split image becomes one. I think it’s just a matter of practicing in challenging situations to be able to get predictable, acceptable results.

        As far as lenses, I personally don’t have any wides on my Epson R-D1 – I use a Ricoh GRD III for my wide shots, and I have the 21mm lens for it as well. With those super wide angles I prefer the extreme DOF the Ricoh’s small sensor offers.

        The Voigtlander 21mm F4 skopar seems to be a popular cheap lens for wide angle RF shooting. The corner sharpness/build quality is not as good as the obvious competition i.e. Zeiss. but the price is much much lower (Around 30,000-40,000 yen used) so it’s a fair tradeoff. You’ll need an external viewfinder with it for accurate framing. There is also the popular Voigtlander 15mm lens/viewfinder set – also cheap, fairly popular lens, but slow. It is cheap as well though.

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