What I learned from Henri Cartier-Bresson

The second image below is an image that I took recently at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Preserve. My wife was walking around taking photos of the birds while I waited at the bench watching some Egrets. If your into birds at all this is an excellent place to go birding. While I was waiting a family arrived and started watching the birds. 

As I stood there waiting for a possible photograph to present itself I recognized a pattern that would make a good photo start to appear. The image “  FRANCE. Sunday on the banks of the River Seine.“ came to mind. It was taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1938. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Photos

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Magnum Photos

I was shooting with my Leica Q2 which has a 28mm lens and at the distance that I was standing was perfect for the group photo. I moved the focus point to the bottom of the frame, turned on live-view and held the camera out like I was shooting with an iPhone. I knew exactly what I wanted and only took about 5 frames. 


The image is simple but has a lot going on.  

The group of 3 at the right forms a triangle. 2 faces looking away and 1 towards the camera. The white cap the girl is wearing contrasts with the seated boys dark hair. The matching patterns on their shirts and dress. The older boy gesturing to the younger.  

Another group of 3 to the far left. They form a triangle. Their backs are to the edge of the frame. The middle children form a triangle. The boy and the girl in this group are the only individuals moving in the image and they are going towards each other. An arch is formed by the heads going left to right. Mother, Father, Son, Daughter, Son, and older Son. 

The light brown sand contrasts with the deep blue water. Each head is on a different plane, no two perfectly line up.  


Will my image ever be considered iconic. Doubtful. But there is a great deal that you can learn about composition by studying the work of the masters. I immediately recognized the potential of the scene and waited for the image that I wanted. I didn’t copy the image by Cartier-Bresson but I definitely used it as inspiration. Look at good work. Figure out why it works. Incorporate those tips into your own work. Don’t copy others but be influenced by what you see.