Anne Darling Photography

Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004)

This short video about Henri Cartier Bresson has lots of his photographs for you to check out before you read on. You might like to view it full screen by clicking on the four-arrow icon bottom right.

henri cartier bresson the eye of the century Right: Henri Cartier-Bresson : L'Oeil du siècle

Henri Cartier-Bresson has created more memorable images than any other photographer working during that era, photographs that show a great empathy and respect for the people in them. But how did he manage to get so many outstanding shots, again and again? What can we learn from the way he worked that might apply to our own way of working?

henri cartier bresson in india

If you want to shoot like Henri Cartier Bresson get the basics right first. Always shoot in black and white. Stick to a prime focus lens. Always use a fast ISO. Don't use flash but rely on available light. And be as unobtrusive as possible. Using a smaller camera is good as this helps to be less obtrusive. Oh and a good dose of imagination helps too!

Cartier-Bresson simplified his methodology in order to concentrate completely on his subject. Simplifying things technically to the point of being able to make shots without fussing over the controls is a great way of working as it lets you be more spontaneous, more intuitive, and allows for rapid response to the situation presented. It doesn't have to be the exact set of rules that Cartier-Bresson adopted but if you develop your own way of working it will help you enormously and also help you understand just what your own creative style should be.

Images above and below are taken from: Henri Cartier-Bresson - The Modern Century henri cartier bresson

Cartier Bresson said: "For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously". His philosophy is backed up by the way he worked - the method and the result are inextricably bound. But the photography for him was more than an assemblage of lines and shapes which neatly lined up at 'the decisive moment'; an image was something that had intrinsic meaning, based on a deep, genuine interest in the world.

henri cartier bresson masters of photography series Left: Henri Cartier-Bresson (Masters of Photography Series)

"In order to "give a meaning" to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression."

I think the last sentence is the most telling one and very important for photographers who are developing their craft. For Henri Cartier Bresson, a simplified methodology is a means to an end, that end being a simple, direct vision capable of expressing the heart of the matter. Speed is of the essence in this process:

"To take a photograph means to recognize - simultaneously and within a fraction of a second - both the fact itself and the rigorous organisation of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis."


henri cartier bresson masters of photography series

Cartier-Bresson was not only a photographer, he also made several documentary films between 1930s and 1970s. Henri Cartier-Bresson (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) is a two-disc DVD set which includes a series of documentaries about him plus five major works directed by Cartier-Bresson himself. There is a 24-page illustrated collectible book containing criticism of his work and reproductions of many of his famous photographs. It's a great way to delve more deeply into the wisdom and genius of the man himself.

"To take a photograph is to hold one's breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy."

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