What can you see in a split second?

Our Redline Challenge 2022 asks photographers to tell a ‘A Split Second Story’. But what could possibly be so fleeting yet also say so much?
The silhouette of two people, walking through shallow waters towards the horizon at sunset. One, who is wearing a bobble hat, reaches their arm out to touch the other on the shoulder.
Reshma Chauhan

Written by Reshma Chauhan

European Campaign Planner

Our perception of a split second is tricky – and easily tricked. We humans simply aren’t built to judge time in such small increments. Yet we’ve all had something happen so quickly that we were powerless to prevent it, could never repeat it, or missed it entirely. This year, the brief for Canon’s Redline Challenge is ‘A Split Second Story’ and is all about capturing those moments. Being ready for anything. Expecting the unexpected. And nailing those milliseconds when everyone else is still on their sharp intake of breath.

But first, what do we really mean when we say, ‘a split second’? Interestingly, it almost defies definition. Some say it’s a fraction of a second or ‘an instant’. Others are more generous and consider it to be no more than just an extremely short period of time. Either way, it is understood that for something to occur in a split second, it feels like less than a heartbeat, even if it’s not an exact measurement. And this is likely why it’s synonymous with drama – “In that split second, everything changed.” Certainly, there are moments in life that the expression seems to be made for.

The loves of our lives

Even though love is a feeling, what we see and do in the throes of love can be beyond powerful. There are some places that simply lend themselves to extraordinary moments of raw love, like airports and hospitals, where joyful reconciliations happen, but also agonising goodbyes. And yes, love is capable of filling us with extremes of elation and sadness, but it can also reveal the tiniest, most tender, unrepeatable moments – the meeting of hands or eyes, the first breath of a newborn, the freedom of a fleeting kiss.

Two relay runners, one behind the other. The rear runner hands off the baton to the front runner. They are both wearing red vests and blue running shorts. Their faces and legs below the knees are unseen, as the photograph takes in from shoulder to knee.

In every sport, at every level, everything can change in a heartbeat. Catching those split second moments of triumph (or tragedy!) can create incredible images.

Spectacular sports

Centuries have passed and we will never tire of celebrating the extent of human achievements in the field of sports. But it’s not just about those national and international events that have the eyes of the world upon them, we’re just as crazy about our children’s sports days, weekend paddleboarding, muddy obstacle courses and local football leagues. Amateur, professional or just friends in the park, there’s always a champion moment that makes us shout out loud, scream with joy or even shed a tear.

Magnificent nature

Being at one with nature is one of life’s true gifts. For some, it’s scaling mountains or diving in oceans, but most of us can find happy moments in nature much closer to home – in gardens, parks, or even just looking up at the sky. In the quietness of lockdowns, many of us became accustomed to the general noise of day-to-day life being replaced by the less familiar sounds of birdsong. Signs of urban wildlife became apparent and clear skies gave way to clouds and stars. We learnt that the true beauty of nature is that even though we can make efforts to seek it out, it often just finds us. So, it’s best to be ready.

Eureka moments

Thinking about it, a naked Archimedes, leaping in and out of the bath as he discovered the concept of displacement might have actually made a pretty brilliant photograph. However, in his delight he apparently exclaimed ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ (“I have found (it)! I have found (it)!”) and inadvertently gave name to the dawn of realisation. A unique single moment where suddenly the answer sits before you, crystal clear. When we think of eureka moments, our minds take us to the world changing work of scientists and mathematicians, but every day there are many millions of quiet, little eureka moments when thorny problems are overcome. In these instants, faces light up with genuine, unfeigned joy, triumph or euphoria.

The silhouettes of four children, all different heights, play football against a dramatic orange sunset. The contrast between the flat blackness of the children and the deep orange of the sky makes them look like cardboard cut-outs.

Simple, but unexpected. Sometimes events unfold that are a gift to the camera.

Surprises and accidents

We’re not talking birthday parties or Formula 1 crashes here (although both have been excellently caught on camera), but utterly unpredictable, oh-wow-did-that-just-really-happen kind of things for which the very act of freezing time is a miracle in itself. Think people, animals and objects suddenly popping up where you’d least expect them, a pot of paint falling from a height and exploding all over the ground. A storm of such strength that it sends an empty pushchair flying through the air. It’s all about the sudden, the unforeseen and the unpredictable.

The best medicine

Who hasn’t seen a photograph that’s cracked them up? But, as the best comedians know, there’s nothing simple about making people laugh. Spotting the absurd in an instant takes a keen eye and a fast shutter finger because, honestly, funny is fleeting. But don’t let that put you off. Animals and children both have a habit of being unintentionally hilarious, and the world is full of comedies that pass in the blink of an eye. Look for the ridiculous, imperfect and downright silly in the world and snap it! The worst thing that can happen is that only you find it funny. But isn’t that enough?

Canon's Redline Challenge photography contest for 2022 is open. Hosted by photographer and YouTuber Kai Wong, the competition theme this year is A Split Second Story. The winner will receive a bespoke photography mentorship with Canon Ambassador Laura El-Tantawy, a Canon EOS R5 and a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens, perfect for storytelling. Visit the Redline Challenge hub to find out more about the competition and enter your photos by 23 September 2022.

Reshma Chauhan European Campaign Planner

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