3 Things We Can Learn From: Henri Cartier-Bresson

by . October 3rd, 2014

One way to get better at photography—other than constant practice, that is—is to look and dissect the work of great photographers. Studying photographs of others will inspire you. Not only that, it also keeps your eyes sharp and ready to snap that image at a moment’s notice. It puts into perspective how these amazing photographers approach work and create their photographs. This is why we are going to make a new post series wherein we’ll feature and look at the lives of photographers from the past who made iconic photographs and other amazing contributions to the world of photography. We’re going to call this series: 3 Things We Can Learn From (insert name of famous photographer here).

Now, for our first post in this series, we are going to take a look at the work of famed French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and learn some valuable lessons to aid our photography. Before holding a camera, Cartier-Bresson was first taught painting under the rigorous training of Lhote. The training proved to be extremely beneficial for his photography in the future and gives us the perfect segue into the first lesson from Henri Cartier-Bresson. Henri-Cartier-Bresson 1. Study the composition of painters Henri Cartier-Bresson applied the aesthetics he learned from Lhote — but he didn’t just apply it; Cartier-Bresson had it ingrained in him. Having to fully understand the composition of painters, it helped Cartier-Bresson to set up his shots very well. It all seemed like second nature to Cartier-Bresson to know where to place his subject, where he wants his subject to be at the right moment, or how will his subject interact with the whole environment. Henri-Cartier-Bresson-Punjab-India-1947

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.

2. Develop patience and a method Being trained as a painter, Cartier-Bresson learned to be patient and be methodical with his work. He does shoot on-the-fly occasionally but—more often than not—he photographs with a plan in mind. Cartier-Bresson is known to be very patient in photographing. Cartier-Bresson likes to arrange elements before photographing a scene. He likes to look for geometry and incorporate them in his photos. Henri-Cartier-Bresson-In-the-Last-Days-of-the-Kuomintang-Peking-1949

“Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”

3. Failure is a part of the process of getting better Just like many successful artists, Henri Cartier-Bresson believe that failure is a part of the process of getting better. He famously said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” He believed that the only way to become better at photography is not only by just shooting and shooting more images. He believes that one must shoot with careful though in composing the photograph and waiting for the right moment to press the shutter. Henri-Cartier-Bresson-Santa-Clara-Mexico-1934

“We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.”


“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.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

If you are interested to learn more about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work, you can see his works at Magnum and at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can also read some of his books, we highly recommend: Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century,Henri Cartier-Bresson: À Propos de Paris, and An Inner Silence: The Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Did this post inspire you? Share your thoughts at the comments below!

(Image Sources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art & The Image Kid)