Richard Man – Photography and Calligraphy

June 6, 2009

What Camera Would Henri Cartier Bresson (HCB) Use?

Filed under: photography — Tags: , — richard @ 6:43 am

One of the favorite pastimes on the Internet is to debate whether HCB used a 50mm Leica lens or 35mm lens (by all acounts, 50mm was his favorite although he did occasionally use other focal lengths). The other topic that HCB or other great photographers get dragged into is “if they were alive now, they would / would not use: photoshop / idiot camera mode / Canon vs. Nikon” etc.

Certainly, anyone studying Ansel Adams’ work would agree that he would take on Photoshop like Armstrong to the bicycle. Adams was a master technician and spent hours burning those crosses (darkroom-wise speaking) on the Moonrise photo. He changed from an earlier lower contrast interpretation to the higher contrast prints of later days. This guy loves to make his picture “perfect.” So I don’t think there is any reason why he wouldn’t love photoshop. He may not add or remove mountains or add clouds, but you know he would dodge and burn and adjust the contrast *just right*. Definitely, Ansel Adams, a photoshop lover for sure.

HCB, on the other hand, was the master of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stoopid) – he carried his beloved Leica in his hand and set the aperture to F8 and the shutter to whatever, and waited for the perfect moment to snap the decisive moment (*) where the composition, the story telling, the action coincided to form the perfect image. There are stories of him hiding behind his wife and he would push her aside for a brief moment, raised the camera, shoot, then dropped the camera as if nothing happened.

His negatives? Besides the frames that are not so great (yes, even HCB, and may be in particular HCB, has bad frames), his exposures are all over the place. What makes HCB so special and famous were his printers, who struggled to bring life to the great photos hidden. They are as much part of his hero status as HCB himself.

So clearly, if HCB were to shoot pictures today, he would use the Leica M8.2 in auto-idiot mode, with auto-ISO, and aperture priority. He would put the lens on F8 and just shoot all days. If you and I use the auto-ISO idiot mode, we would be just rich snobs who have too much money to burn and spend $$$ for the Leica to do a P&S’s job. HCB? He needs the auto-ISO because he needs all the technical help he can get to get that perfect exposure, to compliment his visions. His printers would be much happier if the M8.2 were available then.

(*) Some people call any image that is captured at the peak moment as “decisive moment,” this is only a small part.



  1. I completely agree with you. I was recently reading interviews with one of the fashion photographers that shoots with yashicaT4 and contaxT2, can´t remember if Teller or Richardson, and the way he described the joys of just shooting without thinking about anything else but the escene and the moment and the accidents that happen reminded me of HCB.. made me get up and go take photos! Love the KISS method, everything is so technical now, we forget the whole point of photography. Probably HCB would be using tiny Olympus with tilt screen like Majoli! the wife would be much happier too!

    Comment by ro — June 11, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  2. I think it’s tough to say what these guys; the only sure thing I think we can agree on is that AA would at least dabble in PS as an adjunct to his usual method(s). He’d also take a keen interest in upper-end large-format inkjet printing processes.

    As far as HCB goes: M8? maybe, but he’d still be handing his SD cards off to someone to do the “dirty work.”

    Funny story: when I worked in a custom b/w lab in the late 70s, one of our clients was Jill Krementz (married to the late Kurt Vonnegut). She was shooting work for a new book, and sent a bagful of film ot the lab for developing and contacts. The exposures were all over the place, making it quite difficult to make decent contacts for evaluation. The owner of the lab, a pretty good photographer himself, called up Krementz and asked if she could meet him over lunch. The discussion they had must have gone over her issues with metering, because afterward she went out and bought a new camera, a Nikon FM. (No idea what she was using up to that point.) Sure enough, from that point forward, the process of making contacts from her negs became nearly a no-brainer. She apparently wasn’t metering much at all before the switch; the FM’s “traffic light” metering display was apparently all it took. 😉

    – Barrett

    Comment by Barrett — July 4, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  3. This was an interesting article. Thanks.

    Comment by Lainer — February 13, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

  4. “set the aperture to F8 and the shutter to whatever”

    LOL! Well put. 😀

    Comment by Sylvia — May 3, 2010 @ 3:44 am

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