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5 Henri Cartier-Bresson Photography Composition Lessons

Henri Cartier-Bresson was the master of photography composition.

Below are some visual analyses of his pictures.

1. Bicycle // Henri Cartier-Bresson 1932, FRANCE. Hyères.

Use the “fishing technique” in street photography — look for the leading lines and wait for your subject to enter the frame where you want them to be.

In this case, Henri Cartier-Bresson waited until the bicycle entered his frame.

2. Henri Cartier-Bresson 1932, FRANCE. Paris. The Quai St Bernard, near the Gare d’Austerlitz.

A great example of the subjects in the far right of the frame (in red), and the surrealism of the image (the two men are overlapped, and thus look like one person).

Also I like the repeating diagonal shapes in the frame, and the atmosphere, and the depth of the scene.

3. Henri Cartier-Bresson 1933, SPAIN. Madrid.

One of the most surreal pictures from HCB, also note the layers of the children in the foreground.

4. Henri Cartier-Bresson 1932, FRANCE. Marseille.

The nice clean background (good figure to ground), and the diagonal composition and body positions of the two men. The composition follows the “Golden rectangle” quite closely.

FRANCE. Marseille. 1932.

5. Henri Cartier-Bresson 1961, GREECE. Cyclades. Island of Siphnos.

Classic Cartier-Bresson composition, once again with the fishing technique — and all the beautiful geometric forms which make the frame. Also note, the depth of the photo — the doors which frame the scene as well.

Learn more: 17 Lessons Henri Cartier-Bresson Has Taught me About Street Photography

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Take your composition to the next level:


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For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”

Further articles to improve your compositions in photography:

Composition Theory

Chiaroscuro. DYNAMIC LIGHT AND SHADOW. Hanoi, 2016 by ERIC KIM
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Learn compositional theory:


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By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher