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Sunday, July 03, 2016

Henri Cartier-Bresson [What I learned]

Readers of my blog [few you may be, but much treasured!] will know that I had just finished reading The Mind's Eye by Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most well-known photographers of the 20th century and responsible for the concept of the 'decisive moment'. After that, I was intrigued enough to find out more, so I bought another book which was a mix of biography and photo portfolio to learn more about him.

What I read was exciting in that it made me think more about what photography meant to me. There were lessons I picked up from the book and from his work, some of which I felt could be applied to my own photography skills, some I couldn't quite agree with, but hey, you can't win them all. These I have put in the form of Nutshells for me to remember much more easily. 

So here, in a nutshell, are:

My HCB Nutshells

Know your Geometry
The Golden Ratio, the Golden Mean, the Rule of Thirds, Cartier-Bresson considered knowledge of these essential for good photography and used them in many of his most famous work. To him, you had to have a good understanding of how geometry affected composition to take a good photo. "In the beginning, there was the Word... Well, in my case: 'In the beginning, there was geometry.'" he said in an interview. 

What I've Done
This shot is one that I feel shows geometry. The man is walking along a path which acts as a line of symmetry between the blocks of flats which flank him on either side. A flaw might be that the trees are not exactly symmetrical but at least they break up the monotony of the flats. (Plus, you can't always choose to move trees!) Could this shot have worked without the man? I don't think so, because I feel he adds some human element to it. 

Nutshell: Be familiar with rules of composition and apply them in your photos.

Get yourself in and look at people.
No staying behind the camera and no selfie sticks for Cartier-Bresson. To really know where to catch the action, you have to be a participant in it. That means no telephoto lens from a distance, unless you are a tabloid paparazzi. Get into the midst of things, observe the people around and get up close to them. 

What I've done
To get my shots at the CNY bazaar in Chinatown, for one, I actually had to be in the bazaar, instead of driving through in a car, or standing at the side alleys! I also had to observe the people around me and how the stall owners and customers were interacting.

Nutshell: Observe what's around you and participate 

The last nutshell is one I especially like, that seems to encapsulate everything about photography: 

“To photograph: it is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart.” 
Taken from Goodreads.

So have the head remember the rules, have the eye observe all and let your heart tell you when to press the shutter button. Practise, practise, practise till all of it is so embedded in your head it becomes a reflexive action. And take at least 10,000 photos. :) 

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