Saturday, June 11, 2022

How to: Editing a Decisive Moment Photo

Was asked for a basic walk thru on the steps I use to edit a photo. 
Let's use the photo of Alex sneaking away with his diploma, shown in the previous post. 

First, to give you an idea of how far away I was from the stage.

Using my SONY RX10 III camera with a telephoto lens, captured this color image at 105mm focal length; typical snapshots are shot at 35mm focal length. If I had used 35mm, we would not be able to pick out Alex at the distance. This is where a good telephoto lens comes in handy.

The long lens gave us a raw image with potential to work with.

Okay, we have a raw image, now what?

First step: we want to eliminate artifacts that do not add to the story: the body on the left, the little boy in the lower left, the bleachers, tops of heads. Need to cut away anything that distracts from the image. The cutting is done by cropping the image. If I cannot crop it out, I'll try erasing it.

I probably crop 100% of the photos I take. My preference is to shoot a larger field than I think I'll need as it gives me more leeway when it comes to trimming away the non-essential. 

Here is the crop I applied to this image.  Cutting it down to include the essential parts of the story in a scene. That head in the lower left cannot be cut out without taking away from the action. Maybe we can do something about it as we continue working.

Next I converted the color image to black and white. Why? 

In the color shot above, the teacher's blouse and the aides white pants are both brighter than Alex's blue shirt. That green background is a hot spot. Our eyes will always go to the brightest point. This story is about Alex, so we need draw attention away from those brighter areas. Converting to B&W will help us do that.

In many photos I have used color to focus a viewer's attention. Today we'll use light and dark (levels of luminance) to do the job since color is not pertinent to the story.

With Alex's shirt a more equal tone in the image, we can continue massaging.

Next step is adding a vignette (that's the darkening of the edges) to keep the viewer's eyes 
from wandering off the page. The vignette darkened the green background, and blended the head shape into a shadow making it less noticeable. The vignette also changed the scene from three actors to two main characters with a supporting figure.

See the teacher's arm pointing off the stage. That strong line wants to lead the viewer's eye away from Alex.  That we'll fix in the final step.

First though a bit of sharpening...  a nudge of structure. 
Like grandma's recipes, a pinch of this, a dap of that is how its done.
Every photo editing software app has sliders to affect changes to the scene. A common mistake is in pushing the sliders too far. What is nice is you can always move the slider back if you go too far.

The final step was an ever so slight change. Can you spot it?

When everything in an image is a similar tone, it will look flat, lacking depth.

A smidgen of brightening was added on Alex's face and shirt to make him move forward, away from the teacher. Light moves an object forward. Darkening makes it recede. Adding or taking away light creates depth.

Most dramatic change is in comparing Alex in the final image with the teacher's aide on the right. In the color photo the aide was a prominent feature. Now we have three distinct layers: Alex in front moving forward, the teacher in the middle ground and the aide playing third fiddle backup. 

If the last two photos look exactly the same to you, look again at the tonality change in Alex's shirt sleeve against the teacher's arm in the two photos. The shirt is now slightly brighter giving a sharper edge/contrast, separating the distance between the two persons. 

Those were the adjustments made to arrive at the final image.


Henri Cartier Bresson the French photographer coined the term decisive moment. In reviewing images of the top ten black and white photographers, you will see their most memorable images were all decisive moments. Each one was in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.  Decisive moment images can not be created in a studio or planned, they just happen... everyday. They are happening all around us, everywhere. Those fleeting moments are the hardest to capture as they are gone in an instant. Success is being prepared for when the opportunity presents itself. 


Thanks for following along, hope this gives you an insight into my editing thought process.  Yours will be different are we each see the world differently. That's okay, we need variety in life.

Ride safe my friends,



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Richard, I often forget to include information on how an image was massaged. There is no secret recipe for it, every photographer has access to the same editing tools. It's all in applying your vision to the image.
      In the very near future photo editing will be one click. AI software will analyze the photo, crop it, make the corrections it thinks it needs and bam, you photo is done. But then every photo will look the same, no vision applied except for the algorithm's vision.

  2. Nice! I have the same camera. It's busy gathering dust. Never really learned how to use it. Certainly never learned how to edit.

    BTW, the comment function on your blog appears broken. I'm logged in to my Google account but it won't allow me to comment in any way other than anonymous. Function's broken or... I don't know what I'm doing. Always a possibility.

    Carry on, amigo!

    1. Anonymous, you are not alone to quite accurately tell me the comments is broken. Am trying to figure out what has happened.
      I do appreciate your comments. Thank you


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