Creating the Decisive Moment: Leading Lines in Street Photography

The decisive moment is one in street photography that is often spoken about being captured, but it can also be created. In many cases though, it can be a combination of the two options. Bresson often spoke of looking at a scene and seeing geometry; but not everyone can do that and capture what’s going on in a split second. Even as you get very advanced, the chances of you being able to do this in the same way can vary. So instead of capturing it, creating the moment can work out even better. That doesn’t always mean using photoshop, but instead using the methods that photographers have been using for years: cropping, dodging and burning.

The Photo Wait

While some photographers pride the idea of the photo walk, other photographers really enjoy the idea of a photo wait. This is the idea of standing in a specific area and waiting for something picture-worthy to happen. Street photographers have been doing it for years if they find something interesting in the scene. So what could be interesting?

  • The light: lighting can cast interesting shadows or can sometimes provide a sliver of lighting in a scene that otherwise is fairly dull. Think of it as a spotlight like when you’re watching a play at the theatre.
  • Lines: In cities where street photography is usually done, the lines in a scene can lead a person’s eyes around the frame
  • Interesting things in general: think of the world as your canvas. Your scene is a backdrop and the people moving in and out are your subjects. If you’re a portrait photographer then this is really crucial.

Photo waiting can be done at any time of the day, but when it comes to black and white photography the best time could be during the middle of the day when the lighting can be harshest. That harshness creates a contrast that allows photos to get some of that extra pop to them. Essentially, it means that you need to be vulnerable to your environment and look at everything moving in and out as elements; then just snap the photo at the right moment–which you’re bound to be able to see.

Photographers such as Jonathan Higbee tend to use this tactic often and it works. Like it or not, it’s a perfectly valid way of shooting photos. The photo wait is a way to create/capture a scene using leading lines that send the viewer’s eyes all around the frame because you often start out looking for the lines to begin with. People and subjects moving through can also act as lines themselves. If that sounds crazy, think about the many silhouetted street photography images there are out there. Those people are nothing more than darkness amongst a ton of light. Are they specifically important? Probably not, but their shape is.


Unfortunately, not enough photographers crop. Instead they simply just shoot with some sort of overlay for the rule of thirds and then they worry about the rest later. But cropping is perhaps the most important tool that you can use when doing street photography and making the leading lines in the scene more effective. A part of this comes from the fact that different crops such as a square or a 16:9 crop can make people focus on exactly what’s important and nothing else.