In his final post of the Learning Moments blog series, National Geographic Contributing Photographer, Rubén Salgado shares some of his tips for capturing an engaging moment. Once you’ve read the post, be sure to share some of your photos with us by participating in the Learning Moments Showcase.

We’ve gone over finding light and creating a beautiful composition, but they wouldn’t be special if there wasn’t a moment to capture. Photography is all about that, freezing a single millisecond and immortalizing it. Such a moment can tell an entire story, and if successful make you feel something. That’s ultimately my goal when I make an image. This is what makes photography so magical, and completely different from any other medium.

A great photo usually captures a decisive moment in time. One that will never come back and can never be repeated. Like this next shot for example.

On Christmas Day last year, I was on a beach in Jalisco, Mexico with my wife enjoying a day off and celebrating together. While sitting there I looked off down the beach and saw a family coming towards the water. Something about it captured me and I decided to go take a better look at what was happening. The grandfather wasn’t able to walk in the sand so his grandchildren brought him a chair and placed him gently on it so that he could get his feet wet. His wife sat next to him, held on to his chair and sat still, watching the day pass as the waves brushed against them. As the water moved in and out, I saw a beautiful scene and waited until the perfect time when the water came up to take my shot. If I had started shooting away I might have missed this beautiful moment between these two. So, capturing a moment requires a good eye but most of all it requires patience.

How do you make a dynamic picture that includes an interesting moment? Firstly, you need to find an engaging scene or background for your picture. Then you need to wait for someone — or something — to move into the composition that you’ve already created in your head. In the above image, I saw that man running towards the train from quite far away. I waited for the moment where he would have to jump and then pressed the shutter.

It’s almost always worth it to wait and try to anticipate the action before it happens. A great moment, however, doesn’t have to be full of action. An engaging moment occurs when an event happens which transmits an emotion within you. It can be as simple as someone glancing at you in a certain way, like this young girl I met in Costa Rica.

It can be a quiet and touching moment or a simple interaction.

Below we see a vet and a sick horse in a stable in rural South Africa. The real challenge is to transmit emotion within a flat, two-dimensional image. It’s very difficult to do, but that’s what differentiates a decent picture from a great one.

Since my first In Focus Blog post this has been a lot to take in, right? Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve gone over. Take a moment to think about the three main ideas that I’ve been discussing.

Painting with Light

How strong it is and where is it coming from? Try to play with it and the forms and textures you can create, like silhouettes for example.

Composing an Image

Looking for natural lines, where our focus is on the image and playing with the rule of thirds.

And finally today’s post: Capturing an Engaging Moment.

Be patient and wait for something interesting to happen, anticipate the action! The photo below is a great example of using all three: the young woman is beautifully lit with natural light, the composition is made up of interesting lines and textures, and I waited until just the right moment that she smiled and a breeze came through the window.

At the end of the day the photos that speak to me the most aren’t technically perfect ones necessarily, but those which make me feel something. Photography is a practice, and although theory is important, the only way to fully understand the things I’ve discussed here is for you to go and take pictures. I can’t emphasize this enough!

The thing that is going to make you a better photographer is to get out there and shoot, shoot and shoot some more. I’m not necessarily saying that you should go outside during a hurricane, however, as you may have guessed by now, I probably would!

Most importantly, have fun while you learn and explore all of these techniques. Play around by seeing things in front of you through your camera, and maybe looking at them a bit differently. You’ll be surprised by how different the world looks through a lens. I’m looking forward to seeing some of your results and hope you’ll enjoy shooting as much as I do!

Author: Rubén Salgado

Rubén Salgado Escudero was born in Madrid, Spain. He lived in the United States throughout his teenage years, graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design and later lived 10 years in Berlin, Germany. In 2014 he began an on-going project ‘Solar Portraits’ which has gained support and has been published by National Geographic Magazine, Time, El Pais, Spiegel, and the United Nations. Rubén’s works have been exhibited and sold in more than over 20 cities across the world including New York, London, Tokyo and at the “Rencontres D’arles” festival in France. He is a member of ‘The Photo Society’, a community of National Geographic Magazine photographers. Rubén has taught in educational workshops internationally including New York, Tokio, and Yangon. He has participated in portfolio reviews at various photography festivals including Les Rencontres d’Arles and the Angkor Photo Festival. As an experienced lecturer, Rubén has given a TedX Talk in Beijing, various talks worldwide for National Geographic Learning, as well as having given talks in many other venues such as Temple University Tokyo and the Sony Gallery in New York City.

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