Henri Cartier-Bresson was the godfather of street photography and one of the most famous photographers of the 20th century. For me personally, he’s also one of the best photographers that I know of. If you share my opinion, perhaps you’d like to learn how to take photos like him. In this video, Frederik Trovatten challenges you to try it. He breaks down the techniques Cartier-Bresson used in his work and takes you on a walk through Copenhagen as he tries to implement them in his own images.
What Cartier-Bresson is most famous for is “the decisive moment.” But in addition to that, it’s the way of composing his photos that sets him apart from everyone else. When asked what makes a great photograph, he said that it’s a “combination of shape and geometry” something that “you can’t describe.” The photo needs to have “a soul,” which might be the most difficult thing to break down and explain. But let’s try to explain everything else.
Henri Cartier-Bresson used a 35mm Leica rangefinder camera with a 50mm lens. He shot everything in black and white with Kodak Tri-X ISO 400 film. He would normally set the shutter speed to 1/125 s and adjust the aperture based on the lighting conditions. To replicate this (in a more modern way, though), Frederik uses a Fuji X-T3 with a 35mm lens and turns on black and white mode on the camera. But since Rolleiflex medium format film camera is normally his camera of choice, he shoots with that one as well.
Although many of us love using a shallow depth of field, it’s better to tone it down a bit. In Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work layers are important, and it’s what often makes his photos so captivating and interesting. He was mainly known for candid street photography, but he also took amazing street portraits. So, if you hit the streets and try to take photos like him, you have both options.
As I mentioned, composition in Cartier-Bresson’s photos was one of the things that he was famous for. He used leading lines, rule of thirds, rule of odds, juxtaposition, frame within a frame, and the golden ratio. He never cropped his photos, except this one he took through a fence without even looking. Finally, it’s worth noting that Cartier-Bresson never used flash because it “kills the emotion” in the photos.
Frederik recommends that you read Cartier-Bresson’s book The Decisive Moment, which will give you an even better insight into his work and let you study it thoroughly. And then, go hit the streets and practice, practice, practice!