10 Things Henri Cartier-Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

1. Focus on geometry
If you look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, he applied geometry to his images poetically. If you look at the composition of his images he integrated vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, curves, shadows, triangles, circles, and squares to his advantage. He also paid particular attention to frames as well.

2. Be patient
When Henri Cartier-Bresson would talk about “The Decisive Moment” he said sometimes it would be spontaneous but others times he had to be patient and wait for it. Regardless he was very methodological when he would go out and shoot, and would only keep his images if every element of his image (people, background, framing, and composition) were perfect.

3. Travel
Henri Cartier-Bresson traveled the world and shot in places such as India, all of Europe, the United States, China, as well as Africa. When he traveled the world, he was able to capture a different slice of life and learn more about the local people he was with. For example when he was shooting in India—he stayed there for around a year and immersed himself into the culture.

4. Stick to one lens
Although Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with several different lenses while on assignment working for Magnum, he would only shoot with a 50mm if he was shooting for himself. By being faithful to that lens for decades, the camera truly became “an
extension of his eye”.

5. Take photos of children
One of my favorite photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson is of a little boy carrying two bottles of wine under his arms, with the triumphant grin of a champion. When I first saw the image, it struck me in the heart as it reminded me of my own childhood. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master at taking photos of children in their natural playful state, creating images that convey beautiful nostalgia to his viewers.

6. Be unobtrusive
When Henri Cartier-Bresson would shoot on the streets, he would stay as low-key and unobtrusive as he could. I even read that he would cover his chrome Leica in black tape and even sometimes with a hankerchief to make it less noticeable when he was out shooting. Most of the images that he
captured his subjects were oblivious of the camera, and thus truly candid.

7. See the world like a painter
Before Henri Cartier-Bresson got into photography, he was actually first interested in painting. Once HCB discovered photography, he applied the same aesthetics in classical painting into his images. For HCB composition was extremely essential, and his images reflect that of romantic painters before him. Interestingly enough when he was much older, he actually denounced photography and focused the rest of his life in drawing.

8. Don’t crop
Henri Cartier-Bresson was vehemently opposed to cropping. He believed that whenever you took a photo, it should always be done in-camera. If his
framing or composition was a bit off, he would disregard the image.

9. Don’t worry about processing
Although Henri-Cartier Bresson knew how to process and develop his own film, he never did it by himself. He would go out and shoot and send his photos to people he trusted, who would develop it for him. This gave him a huge advantage because it would allow how to spend less time in the darkroom, and more time out shooting.

10. Always strive for more
Henri Cartier-Bresson never had much of an emotional attachment to his images. In the documentary I watched of him, they tried to surprise him by printing and showing him all of his classic and earlier work on the walls of the gallery they were interviewing him at. However HCB looked at them with little interest and told them that once he took a photo, he would simply move on and look for the next photo.

Culled from: Eric Kim’s Blog


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