How to Capture the Moment

Reader Question: I’ve heard photographers talk about capturing the moment. What does that mean?

My Answer: Almost every good shot captures a unique moment in time.

Sometimes the moment happens right away, and sometimes you have to wait a while. It can be as simple as a woman glancing up or as complex as having many disparate elements align within a perfect composed frame.

How do you make an interesting picture that includes a moment?

First 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 you have created.

Great photographers spend a lot of time looking through the camera waiting for just the right extra element to appear. It can make all the difference in the world.

I first had the idea for making the photo you see above when I was riding a ski lift at Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado and saw these perfectly shaped pine trees placed just so on the slope.

When I got off the lift, I rode my snowboard down to the spot I thought would give me the most picturesque scene, then waited for a snowboarder to weave between the trees.

I managed to capture the boarder as he was making his turn, putting a little tension in his body language. It’s this minor change in the scene that gives the shot that little extra something.

Dan Westergren is director of photography for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @dwestergren and on Instagram @danwestergren.

How do you capture the moment? Share your tips with the Intelligent Travel community by leaving a comment!


  1. Franz
    August 10, 2013, 3:25 pm

    The tips are good, but without meaning to be rude, I don’t think this image is a good example. If I had seen it in any other context I would have passed straight over it (and so, I think, would HCB, who knew a thing or two about moments!).

  2. Leslie @ Travel Better Podcasts
    New Jersey
    July 29, 2013, 11:00 pm

    I have a tendency to shoot a few extra shots of a subject when I travel. One to capture the moment and another to capture the moment after. The reason I do this is because one of my mentors (when I was learning child portrait photography) said that it is often the moment after the one you’ve chosen to capture that has a lot of magic in it, too.

  3. shahid
    cape town (south africa)
    July 24, 2013, 5:47 am

    Hi Dan, mst say its a beautiful picture but I don’t much like the frame. The moment the u captured is brilliant n very difficult task m sure u had to wait long to get tht rite. U shldve waited lil more to get a better frame. I completely agree with Basia too u gta have the eye n to visualise it before u take that pic u gta be soo passionate that every pic u take u just wanna make that moment the best moment n that picture your best picture.

  4. @spacewalkmusic
    July 18, 2013, 10:06 am

    Due to that “capture the moment” factor, the best camera is the one that’s with you all the time.

  5. Simran
    July 18, 2013, 9:17 am

    I totally agree with what you said Dan and I believe that many times when the moment is right and you have completely surrendered to the moment with patience, everything just falls into place.. :) there are times when we tend to just try too hard even when the moment is right thus we tend to lose track of the main thing which is capturing the moment.. :)

  6. Tim
    Bentley, Alberta
    July 18, 2013, 9:12 am

    And to capture that moment, plenty of photos were taken to get the ‘right’ one. I’ve probably deleted more than I’ve kept.

  7. Insurance Hunter
    July 17, 2013, 11:54 am

    Capturing the moment is not as easy as it sounds. But, it is something that travelers try and do while on vacation. However, it is important not to get too caught up in capturing the moment or you could have an impact on your vacation.

  8. Basia Meder
    July 16, 2013, 4:54 pm

    Dan, this is great to capture created unique moment and yes, the patience is very important to have a perfect composed frame like yours. However, in travel, very offten also is important a spontanity, a specially with pictures of people. Wating time could be that I may miss great capture of unique moment, facial reaction, visual permision to take photo. In such moment I can say – just do it!

  9. Pete @
    July 16, 2013, 11:26 am

    Some great tips Dan. Patience definitely helps, so many people don’t wait for the right moment. It can truly make a good photograph, an amazing photo.

  10. xiuxiuy
    July 16, 2013, 1:29 am


  11. Nikhil Chandra
    July 15, 2013, 4:36 am

    Some really good tips. I agree completely when you say “Great photographers spend a lot of time looking through the camera waiting for just the right extra element to appear.”