I thought I’d try something a little different for this blog. If your a follower of our blogs here at Action Camera you probably have come to know me as a tech oriented blogger. Either actual tech or tech as in technique. Today I’m switching it up and using this time to talk about one of the greatest photographers that ever lived. Henri Cartier-Bresson was born August 22nd, 1908 and died August 3rd 2004. I think it’s fair to say he was a pioneer of candid photography; what we may now refer to as street photography. Rather than turn this blog into a history lesson, however, I’m going to try something different. Using Bresson’s amazing quotes I’m going to attempt to explain what they mean to me and why I consider him to be one my hero’s of photography.
“A photographer must always work with the greatest respect for his subject and in terms of his own point of view.”
Let’s face it, whether we are conscious of it at every moment or not most of us photograph to capture moments of beauty… to preserve and share that beauty. I would argue that, as Bresson suggests we must first respect that which we are shooting. We must realize that beauty is all around us but without the recognition and respect for that beauty we have little hope of seeing it let alone capturing it.
“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.”
“The photograph itself doesn’t interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality.”
These are two quotes that speak to me in the same way when I attempt to evaluate just about every shot I’ve taken. If you want your photography to be your art then it cannot simply be a picture. It has to convey something. It has to say something to it’s audience, even if that audience is just you; especially to you. If you look at a photo you’ve taken and all you see is a picture with no story or emotion then you’ve failed. Yes, that’s right, you failed. Don’t worry though; photography is often unequal parts failure and success. Try again. It was also Bresson that said; “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Keep shooting and improve. The key, however, is to keep shooting with the focus on improvement. Most goals have to be visualized to be reached.
“Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should?”
This is a key concept to just about any photograph. We can obviously stand before any given scene and throw on our widest lens and attempt to capture everything before us. It is the skilled photographer that knows what to cut; what not to let our viewers see. First we must see it all, and then through our position, lens and composition decide what portion is preserved and rendered timeless with our shutter click. This lends itself to a concept I cover almost every time I teach a photography class; wait. Don’t just click away, but explore a shot before you actually take it.
“Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”
Again this is about seeing the world as it unfolds before you. Timing is everything but if you can learn to think three dimensionally you can give yourself an advantage. Learn to see how lines and even moving object will change and interact differently with your viewing angle. Predict the position of a moving object and how it will effect your composition if you simply wait for the right moment; which leads me to the next quote.
“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”
It’s all about intuition and timing. Candid shots and street photography are not about burst mode. Don’t do it. Burst mode has its place but this type of photography is not it. Seriously… just don’t. You may miss a few shots by relying on timing rather than bust but what you’ll gain in skill and in learning to see a shot develop will far outweigh your few missed shots.
“A photograph is neither taken or seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you.”
Probably my favorite quote about photography ever. I think this goes back to respecting what your shooting. Candid photography is not about manipulation of a scene it’s about capturing the beautiful moments that the world offers up to you. The only manipulation you should be doing is though your settings, field of view and angles. Before you take a shot ask yourself what caused you to think there was a shot there to be had in the first place. Again, if you fail to respect the beauty before you you’ll never capture it. In many ways a photograph is a relationship between you, your subject and the surroundings. Respect it all.
I leave you with just a few more samples of Mr. Bresson’s amazing work. I would urge you to explore more of his photography. There are several amazing books featuring his work and he is also often featured just up the road at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
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