Photography that’s Anchored in a Moment

This is a quieter moment, the light in the frame gives the image more weight and allows for more interesting composition and mood.

I was walking through Chinatown in New York City this weekend, making photographs of dumpling stalls, and I started thinking about moments, and what a moment really is in a photograph. I’m always telling people about moments and how important they are and how they can elevate an image, but what do I really mean when I say that?

A moment is what gives a photograph its life and breadth, and has the ability to elicit a response in the viewer. They pause for a second, notice the image, relate to it, maybe they even feel something.  A moment can be just about anything: it is the instant of peak action in a frame, like the surprised look right before someone laughs, the light hitting the outline of a person’s body as they cross the street, or when all the different layers in a composition come together perfectly.

This approach to photography is my favorite; the ability to capture an image that’s anchored in a moment. When I’m shooting, these are the scenes that help me understand the world a little better, or maybe remember it, hold it steady for just a split second longer and if I am lucky, everything in the frame starts to come together with interesting layers, light and composition, and then the image says something new and different. It takes on meaning, has a weight to it and can hold the viewer’s eye a little longer.

I pulled a few images from some of my favorite New York City restaurant counters in order to help illustrate a moment; how sometimes they can be quiet and just about light, and sometimes they are all about timing and composition.

In this image the motion and movement give the frame tension and create a moment of interest.


This is a quieter moment, the light in the frame gives the image more weight and allows for more interesting composition and mood.




Filed under Inspiration, iphoneography, photography

7 Responses to Photography that’s Anchored in a Moment

  1. Lovely images, as usual, Penny!

    Was just at an event at Todd & Diane’s yesterday and they played a video of you savoring tacos in TX and searching for a close replacement to your mom’s tacos. Bikes, tacos, fun times…it was great seeing you!

  2. Averie-Thank you for this comment. I love that iphone video series, hope to do more of them for sure.

  3. Your timing and composition are what make you so great! Great way to illustrate the feeling you can get from a photo.

  4. This is so true, and difficult to achieve. As a food blogger, I think when you’re out and about to do food photography, you sometimes need to let go and just let moments ‘happen.’ Observe, and capture. I fall intro the trap of clicking so often that I forget to notice an interesting moment and refocus on it instead of the plate before me.

    Thanks for sharing this mini lesson Penny.

  5. ChristopherD

    I found your photography through food photog blogs and Saveur, but I have to say- I have been absolutely digging this series of b&w life-moment shots. Beyond just liking your way of seeing and composing in the moment, I think it’s fascinating that really, while the clothes, cars and gadgets have changed, the life moments look remarkably similar to those taken in past decades.

  6. JP

    What’s funny is that when I first looked at the opening photo in the post (woman outside diner), it didn’t really catch my attention. Street photography often feels snapshot-y to me by its very nature and can be just as fleeting a moment for the viewer as it is for the photographer: a fraction of a second for both the exposure and the looking at the photo.

    So, my eye went around this photo–highlight in the woman’s hair, back of a stop sign, some big black junk in the left side of the frame, empty Formica table, and that’s all she wrote. Throw-away moment. Next.

    Reading the post, though, made me go back and really look at the picture. What now started to emerge for me was the composition. The lady is aligned with the line formed by the two Formica tables and her line of sight parallels the direction of the sunlight, forming a sort of slanted ‘X’ and creating a strong dynamic.

    Furthermore, the rectangle of the window creates another frame which removes her from the scene inside. It’s as if she’s on a TV screen, the street another reality that’s detached from the diner. But the more I look at the photo, the more startled I am by her: it’s like my looking out the window has been confronted and challenged by the woman outside. Busted, right?

    Anyway, now there’s a story, or at least questions which are the beginnings of a story. Who is she? Why is she outside looking in? Does she mind if we look at her? What is that black crap on the left?

    So, the observation I’m trying to make in a long-winded way is that sometimes the ‘moment’ is something that is captured in a split-second but opens up when given time–more time, proper time–to be looked at.

  7. this is very interesting and useful! thank you