May 022012

Copying is not Enough

An appretice’s life in a studio

meant copying the work of 

a master artist.  But copying

alone does not guarantee

an understanding of design. 

We need to bring “information

to bear” as we organize the 

chaos of life into a successful image. 


L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp.

Art versus Xerox

In the 1500’s, when a young boy showed promise as a draftsmen, they were often given over to an appreticeship.  They left home, usually through a family connection, and enter a “Master’s Workshop.”  I say Master in quotes because some of the greatest artists worked from rather mediocre artists.  Regardless of their superiors status, a young apprentice would pay the Master a small amount of money to cover his room, board, and forthcoming education.  When a prospective student considers the extortion rates that private universities request they might want to have a look at the accounting books of studios like Peter Paul Rubens.  It becomes very clear that NO university in the world can acutally rationalize an artistic education costing over $100,000.

Once inducted into the studio, they were given menial tasks like sweeping or fetching supplies.  Eventually they would work up to making preparatory sketches or transfers sketches for larger works.  When they were able to perform to a stardard of excellence (or at least tollerance) they would set to work copying the master’s drawings.  This was a multi-purposed exercise.  It provided income for the master, as the copies were often sold, it kept the young lad out of trouble, which was inevitable in Renaissance Europe, and it gave them a chance to study the designs of the master.

Only when pencil touches paper can an artist begin to understand all of the design problems the master faces when sitting in front of the blank paper.  

By tracing the hand of successful cartoons, working solutions become evident.  But copying was not enough!  It was merely the start of a long life as a half breed between a craftsman and a respected artist.  Anyone who mastered copying without every internalizing the tools of drawing became nothing more than a prehistoric Xerox machine.

The Futurists published a manifesto calling for the destruction of libraries and museums. Ironically this piece now lives in half a dozen major museums. As often as artists say they want to destroy the museum, all too often the museum opens its wings and accepts its rowdy children. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni

We do not want to aspire to be photographic copy machines.  We want to understand the tools of design and make images that reflects our sensibilities about the world.  Now just to temper the young artist’s ego, we MIGHT…if we are very lucky and if we work very hard…add but a grain of sand to the beach of artistic accomplishments of the last 45,000 years.  Even the biggest upheavals and revolts in art only add one more step to the museum staircase.  No movement in art has ever dissasembled or destroyed the efforts which preceded it.  Therefore, we are only looking to expand the visual log of art by the tiniest amount.  But, if we are successful, that effort may be the most rewarding accomplishment of our entire lives.

Henri Cartier-Bresson "Bali, 1949" & Ferdinando Scianna "Bali, 1989" MAGNUM PHOTOS

What mistakes can we avoid? 

If we had to describe the image the above image my Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ferndinando Scianna we could say?

“Its a picture of a woman carrying a basket on her head in a Balinese market.”  

The content is simple.  There are no tricks.  She is not actually an Ex-Queen reduced to ruins, now stripped of her clothing, begging for food.  The black and white image by Cartier-Bresson is a common a scene as any in Bali during the 1940‘s’s.  Forty years later when Cartier-Bresson’s friend and collegue Ferdiando Scianna went to Bali, he took, as some might describ it, the SAME picture with only a few differences.


Photographer                 Cartier-Bresson                VS              Scianna                               

Type                               Black & White Film                          Slide Film

Year                                1949                                                   1989

Orientation                   Vertical                                               Vertical

Angle                            Overhead                                            Overhead

Gazing Direction          Right                                                   Right


On paper, these images seem very similiar, even though forty years seperate their creation.  But if we look at the design elements that Cartier-Bresson employeed and Scianna copied, we will see the difference between the Master and the Apprentice.


Just as a small aside, I just want to say that I have no axe to grind against Scianna.  He has made some wonderful images throughout his career.  He and Cartier-Bresson were good friends, and these articles are not intended to come across as picking on one photographer.  There are oversights in Scianna’s image that can teach us invaluable lessons.

Compared to the accomplishments of Cartier-Bresson, we will all have a tough time.  His work stands heads and shoulders above many of his colleauges.  Additionally, it is useful to copy the work of earlier masters, namely HCB.  There is no better way to learn a craft.  We mimick, practice, refine and innovate.  Its a tradition that is centuries old.  Within the tradition of “Making Studies”  I believe that artists have an ethical obligation to give credit to the senior artists who were responsible for informing their craft and not run off claiming they were struck by immaculate genius.  NO ONE was born a great photographer, they all learned.  Some learned faster than others, but they all put in their time.

Cartier Bresson using the arc to organize his scheme. Henri Cartier-Bresson/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Where’s the difference?

The primary difference, which I believe everyone can see is that Cartier-Bresson’s picture looks more active.  We can FEEL the turn of her head, the swing of her hips and the activity of the market.  The image is more alive.  Depicting action in a still image is the photographers dilemma.  Cartier-Bresson succeeds.  His image breathes, bounces, and exists in a state of perpetual motion.  So HOW DOES HE DO IT?

Bali, 1989. Ferdinando Scianna

Let’s look at Scianna first to understand what does not work.  Just because we shoot at funny angles, like up or down at a figure, the angle will not imbue them with a sense of movement.   Scianna shot the image from almost the same angle as Cartier-Bresson, but he did not pay attention to the position of the woman.  The first mistake Scianna makes is the head and the body look the same way.  This is an instant killer of movement.  If the head and body look the same direction, the image will feel very still.  Leonardo Da Vinci explained how the head and the body should be oriented in “A Treatise on Painting.”  With the head and body facing the same way, Scianna is off to a rough start.

Jacopo Pontormo showing us how hips and shoulders relate to one another. "Striding nude with raised arm" housed at the Morgan Library in New York City.

Secondly, in Scianna’s picture, the swing of the hips is impossible to see because it is cropped out.  He should have tipped the camera down further and taken a step back.  Hips and shoulders have a special relationship with each other.  When the right hip drops the right shoulder rises.  Don’t beleive me?

EXERCISE: Try this…stand in the mirror perfectly straight, like a soldier.  Shift all your weight on to your left leg.  Immediately, the right side of your pelvis will drop and your right shoulder will rise up.  When an artist learns to draw the figure, they study how the shoulders and hips can set the entire tone for a gesture.  In Scianna’s picture, he eliminates this possibility when he crops out the hips.

The central vertical is the strongest element in the scene. It is effective, but not very dynamic.

Thirdly, Scianna lacks an overall design scheme.  Cartier-Bresson’s image is designed using arcs.  There is are three main arcs that are echoed in the woman’s body.  It gives the image unity and a repeated gesture.  Remember these elements are subtle, but this does not preclude them from being very effective.

This is a 1.5 Grid laid over HCB's image. Can you see the major directions he is using? There are three of them.

Can you see like an Artist?

That question always raises an eye brow because it sounds like artists “See” in a special way.  They see as well as a musician hears.  Through practice they are more sensitive, more aware, and more visually informed than someone who does not rely on seeing for a living.  We are taught how to be visually literate, it does not appear naturally.  The entire debate about people being gifted is a complete waste of time.  Michelangelo was gifted and guess what he did?  He worked for seventy years until he dropped dead and never wasted any time staring at himself in the mirror pondering his greatness.

First we see the dominant vertical element.

How does Cartier-Bresson learn how to see arcs in a figure?  Simple…he had a good figure drawing teacher.  In drawing classes artist are taught to make abreviated sketches.  They may have 10-30 seconds to draw an entire pose.  Initally it looks like they are scribbling, but over time the artist learns to capture just the basic gestures which define a motion.  In a few strokes of a pencil, we can get the sense that the model is leaning, sitting, standing, or lifting an object.  When you look at the figure over and over again (the 10,000 hour Rule comes into play here) you become capable of spotting a pose in a split second.  This is why Cartier-Bresson refered to photography as a “…recognition of an order.”  THIS was the type of order he was talking about.  It was a pose or a movement that defines the human form.

Cartier-Bressons sets the angle of her head on the Baroque Diagonal.

The Icing on the Cake

When you first start studying design, you will learn that every image has a dominant direction.  Whether it is a portrait or a landscape or even an abstraction, every image has a dominant direction.  Artists are frugal beings.  It probably comes from years of scratching out livings.  But in all seriousness, when an artist can “say more with less” the image will have greater carrying power.

The old man had a sense of humor, for sure. The Sinister Reciprocal sets the angle of the breasts.

If there are thirty different directions in an image, chances are it will read as flat and dead or too chaotic to be engaging.  A good artist will use a handful of directions to define an image.  Here we can see how Cartier-Bresson uses a dominant vertical (running through her arm, a supporting diagonal (catching the tilt of her head) and the reciprocal of the sinister diagonal (defining the angle of the breasts).  Maybe Cartier-Bresson was a boob guy? Who knows.  More likely he remembered that the nipples are useful coordinates when drawing a human body.  If you draw them in the wrong place the chest look cross eyed.

After our discussion, is it clear why these images are not the same?


When we go out into the world we never know what might be around the next corner.  At times, we may step into an image rich enviroment, like a Balinese market, that just FEELS ripe for the picking.  The purpose of training your photography is so that you can develop a confident authority over a scene.  Once this happens you can anticipate activity and NAIL a shot when it takes shape.  In the learning process, I would recommend studying a single artist for a month or so.  If you are very disciplined spend a year.  As you search for their images in your world a deluge of lessons will present itself.  It is funny how often you find something when you have a sense of what you are looking for.

Is this intended to be a license to copy someone’s work?  No, not at all.  That is a misunderstanding.  The goal is to study their work, gain an appreciation for their accomplishments and encorporate your own mixture of influences into your life long pursuit.  The well of artistic knowledge is deep enough that you could not hope to consume all the lessons in one hundred lifetimes.  And the unique mixture of influences will result in a distinct look.

So how many combinations are out there?  Well I heard this example given by a mathmatician John Holland in “Hidden Order” (written in 1996).  He said:

“Lets decompose the face into ten components (one of which is “eyes”), and lets allow ten alternatives for each component (as in “blue eyes,” “brown eyes,” “hazel eyes,”…) We can think of ten “bags” holding ten building blocks each, for a total of 10×10 = 100 building blocks.  Then we can construct a face by choosing one building block from each bag.  Because there are ten alternatives in each bag, we can construct any of the 1010 = 10 billion distinct faces with these 100 building blocks!” 


Then he said there are more people alive today (1996) than have existed in the history of humanity (the population was approaching 7 billion).  Which means that mathematically we are in the early stages of repeating combination of facial elements.

What does this mean for us?

When we consider that a camera allows us to choose the 360 degrees of a circle, 9 values from white to black, and a color gamut based on 16 colors…I would say that we do not need to concern ourselves with the “Risk of Repetition.”  There are more variations available then we will ever fully understand.  In the mean time enjoy, study the history of design, and if you are free join me at a workshop where we can really dive into the options I would love to meet you.

Best-Adam Marelli



  41 Responses to “Henri Cartier-Bresson vs Ferdinando Scianna”

  1. Excellent article! I have the original book (as you know) “The Decisive Moment” with the Bali shot – in fact there are about six in total. Occasionally I take out the book and with great care, total reverence and awe leaf through HCB’s plates in dumbfound silence marvelling how the master composed…. He’s a real inspiration and I hope one day to be maybe 1% as good. In the meantime it’s great fun trying to capture that elusive moment! Richard

  2. Excellent

  3. What a marvelous post and a refreshing change from all the techie stuff or some of the crap coming out of the NAPP. More of this please!

  4. Adam, Thanks once again. Well written and explained. It feels like I am starting to understand photography better through your teachings. I also feel I look different at images, – sort of analyzing them and trying to do the same when shooting.

    • Hey Danni,

      Yes, little by little we can inch away from the assumption that great photographers like HCB were just lucky. Luck has very little to do with his work. There is the occasional touch of good fortune, he would not even deny that, but its a solid body of images, built on a foundation of design.

      It was the comment that Andre Lhote made to HCB, at the end of his life. When HCB brought Lhote a collection of images, Lhote said that HCB’s drawings were responsible for his photos.


  5. I’m not sure that C-B was that analytical. The principle difference I see is that C-B was closer to the subject and using a shorter lens. Whether or not one image is better than the other is not a question of technical analysis but of personal preference.

    • Hey Roger,

      HCB used to go over his photos with tracing paper and pencil. So I am not sure where that fits in on the analytical scale, but its up there for sure. I use photoshop to draw the lines because it saves time.

      But the process is the same. What do you do when you study your images? Surely its not just a matter of staring at them for extended periods of time? Pictures are broken down, dissected, analyzed, ect…Think of the nature of Da Vinci’s work? Its an almost scientific approach to art making. One thing which is often missed about the Renaissance artists, was not just the influence of their work, but the influence of their study and practice.

      HCB’s drawing teacher was a firm proponent of these practices. The things which makes HCB so unique is that very few people with proper formal training decided to become photographers. He took all the lessons of drawing and laid them over the real world with a camera.

      In the end he certainly would have possessed a personal preference, but his underlying mechanism were much clearer to understand than the over used expression “I feel it because…”

      Thank you for asking the question, I am sure a lot of photographers, principally those who were never draftsmen have the same question.


  6. Great article!

    It was fun to think about the main directions. I had the sinister diagonal first, then the bottom left to top right second and then it took me a while to pick the last vertical. Got them all right, though, maybe there is hope? ;)

    Thanks for these great, eye-opening, articles. Would love to do a workshop with you. Are you coming to New Zealand any time soon? :)

    • Hey Thomas,

      Happy to see you are identifying the basic directions. Its something that everyone should develop. Our work becomes infinitely more dynamic when we can understand the DNA of an image.

      Its a painters game for the photographer.

      As for New Zealand…no plans as of yet, but you never know. Maybe we put together a workshop for you guys.


      • Hi Adam,

        I fully agree with you and would be thrilled to learn more from you about the “DNA of images”.

        Please flick me an email whenever coming to New Zealand may become a reality. I’m sure you’d be able to recoup your expenses through a series of workshops.



        • Hey Thomas,

          Email flicked, look forward to seeing you guys in New Zealand. Thank you for the kind words. I am very pleased that you enjoyed the article.


  7. maybe because H-CB studied art before becoming a photographer he had an advantage other photogs didn’t have. As for his “recognition of an order” that is something that doesn’t happen in a snap. H-LB was familiar with the scenes and he knew where the “order” could be found. All he had to do was wait for that “order” to appear then “bang”! gotcha.

    • Hey Alan,

      Have you ever known a musician who could over hear a snippet of music and play it back on a different instrument, break it down into its base components, give you a historical time frame as to its origins and the improvise over it? I am not musically connected in any way, but I have met a few people like that.

      Nowadays, artists are not given credit for being well trained. Surely its because of the deluge of bad contemporary art. But real artistic training gives a painter, photographer, sculptor a tremendous advantage over an untrained eye.

      HCB had a huge advantage. Michelangelo had a huge advantage. They also both worked incredibly hard to refine their craft. We all have eyes, so we CAN see. But it does not mean we can see well. For that we need training because on the surface, many of the designs easy to understand.

      I believe you are moving in the right direction with your train of thought.


  8. “The entire debate about people being gifted is a complete waste of time. Michelangelo was gifted and guess what he did? He worked for seventy years until he dropped dead and never wasted any time staring at himself in the mirror pondering his greatness.”

    The citation of the week. Thank you for another enlightening article, Adam!

  9. Hi Adam: How are you my friend?

    Congratulations to another nice and interesting article. Very enjoyable read as always.
    Although I’m more of a lurker I felt compelled to write (and hopefully start a discussion) after reading this article of yours.
    It’s not that I disagree with you but I’d like to add another viewpoint to your analysis that makes Scianna look a lot better than he does right now.
    Everything you say is spot on. Your analysis is perfectly correct and you came to the right conclusion. Yet, at the same time it’s perfectly wrong.
    How’s that possible?
    Let’s look at it from a slightly different viewpoint.

    The assumption your article is based on is that the apprentice copied the master.
    Well, let’s assume Scianna didn’t copy nor did he ever intended to with this photo.
    Furthermore, let’s assume that those few differences you stated correctly are not failures or oversights on Scianna’s part but rather done by him very much on purpose.
    Considering that Scianna is an accomplished photographer who joined Magnum Photos in 1982 and became a full member in 1989, those assumptions are not all that far fetched.

    Alright, what to make of this?
    I believe Scianna is not an apprentice who’s very bad at copying but instead shows how much he learned from HCB and how good a student he really is.
    Here’s my viewpoint. 40 years after HCB took the photo Scianna happens to come across a similar situation. – I’d say it’s reasonable to doubt he was looking or planning it.
    He immediately recognizes the opportunity (in seconds – good eye!), and manages by employing the same design elements to create something completely different and hence paying the biggest tribute a student can give his teacher. A lesser student would have copied, he created.

    Let’s have a closer look and see if my viewpoint holds any merits. – Just to be crystal clear, this is not about right or wrong. Nor am I trying to proof anything or worse, start a pissing contest. (I respect Adam way too much and although we haven’t met in person – yet – I consider him a good friend.)

    To keep this short I’m not going to list every mistake, the lack of liveliness, over sighted or cropped out details Adam explained already. He pretty much nailed it.
    Having said that, looking from my viewpoint all those mistakes are in fact not mistakes but done on purpose. How’s that possible?
    Sounds strange but the explanation is quite simple. Liveliness is lacking because Scianna photo doesn’t need it. His composition doesn’t kill movement because he doesn’t want to show movement. He didn’t crop out the swing of the hips nor is he interested or cares about the special relationship hips and shoulders have with each other because that’s not what his photo is all about.

    Do you see where I’m going with this?
    As much Scianna’s photo looks like a bad copy on first sight, it’s a very clever way to pay tribute to HCB. He makes the same picture without making the same picture.
    How does he do it? He is changing the intent of the photo.
    In other words, he’s using the same ingredients as HCB did but instead of making spaghetti, he’s making farfalle. (in lieu of a better anology)
    Scianna’s photo of a woman carrying a basket on her head in a Balinese market is not about movement, action and activity. It’s about quiet elegance and grace.

    The best way to not only show but make the viewer also feel it, is to create harmony and balance.
    Maybe not as clear a line as straight and diagonal one’s but look at the rounded line of the bottom bowl echoing the jaw line of the woman’s face, or the rounded outline of the tilted bowl on top echoing the cleavage line. Basically the bottom bowl equals the woman’s body, while the tilted top bowl echoes the woman’s tilted head.
    I’m pretty sure there’s more to find but it’s enough to illustrate my (view) point.

    Last but not least, one question remains. What’s the point in all of this?
    Frankly, I don’t know if there is one. My viewpoint is likely as right or wrong as Adam’s.
    For all I know when Scianna took the photo HCB’s ‘version’ from 40 years ago didn’t even cross his mind.
    If he really would analyze every shot he’s taking while he’s taking it, I doubt he (or anybody else for that matter) would ever take a photo. (Nor would he want to set himself up as a ‘copycat.’)

    (It’s 5:30am now, I hope this makes any sense at all.)

    • Hey Harald,

      Good to hear from you. I am just starting work at 5:30am, though I assume your day is just ending. Either way you will read this when you wake up.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It must be months of built up lurking : ).

      I will respond as best as I can in order of your comments, but when we finally meet, I will bring a copy of a HCB and a Scianna book and explain it all over a cup of coffee. It will be much clearer then.

      The first part about the apprentice was just to give some historical background. Having studied the histories of apprenticeships through artists biographies, I find that many people, even art historians who should know this, do not really understand what the role of being an apprentice meant to a developing draftsmen. So I wanted to give an intro to the fact that Copying was a mandatory skill. It is the exact opposite in art school these days. They were not told to “be creative” or even encouraged to invent themes or solutions. Apprenticeship was a hard arrangement, quite unlike art school. Only after years of copying were they given slightly more free license. But they learned like crazy how to design and compose.

      When HCB studied under Andre Lhote, his manner of education was fairly strict. If you read any of Lhotes books on painting you get an idea for how he would have taught the young HCB. Spotting visual relationships and coincidences (the term is used differently in art than it regular life) was part of the training. He would have had to analyze master paintings and sat through many lectures by Lhote explaining how these design devices work. Lhote also went to great lengths to state that the “Sunday Painter” never understood a thing about design and that prevented him from ever making a single piece of art. All of the devices exist under the surface of the canvas and need to be taught. If they are not learned the portfolio of the Sunday Painter will be riddled with amateur mistakes.

      Scianna, whose pictures I often enjoy, tends to make careless mistakes because he is just not seeing the problems. This is an endemic problem in photography. How can I say with confidence that he is “missing it” rather than him “intending it?” Because as I went through my drawing education I made the same mistakes. Then as I got older, I watched the next round of younger students do the same things. Its an endless cycle of the SAME problems that occur when developing your eye. When we make pictures without training they tend to be stiff, lifeless, awkwardly cropped, derivative, and flat. Why is this a problem? Because a photo paper is flat, 2 Dimensional, lifeless, and dead. A good image brings the paper to life. So to make a flat, motionless image is not part of the challenge. There is another level of work where a photographer starts to break the rules, but Scianna is not doing that here.

      Now the positive side of all of this is that I believe ANYONE can learn to see well. As I mentioned above we can all see, but training makes a world of a difference. Likewise we can all throw a punch, but you could not pay me to get in the ring with a professional boxer. He is fully trained, hardly any amateur would stand a chance. Art and photo are no different. BUT…quality is often confused with commercial success. Some of the biggest hits in the Art World are a joke. That is a different conversation.

      Back to your other points. Scianna was not apprenticing. He was brought into Magnum as HCB was leaving. There was a famous note in the Magnum meeting minutes where it says “could the HCB please stop making water colors during the meetings.” (paraphrased quote, but it gives you an idea for HCB’s level of attention to Magnum matters by the end when he resigned)

      And I hate to give people credit simply based on the club they belong to. In fact Scianna was the first Magnum member to be received on a fashion portfolio. There were a number of members who firmly objected his entrance. To me, it hardly matters. But it is important, especially for younger artists to understand that membership to a group or club, should not be mistaken for excellence. There are many people who have such memberships for reasons other than merit. See HCB’s resignation letter for his thoughts on the subject.

      Scianna credits HCB as one of his greatest influences and studied his work for many years. When you study someones work their images become lodged in the recesses of your brain. Sometimes you even lose site of whose image it is, but the outline sticks. This is what I believed happened with Scianna. The image did stick, but he was never trained as a draftsmen so he MISSED all of the design elements.

      To use your pasta analogy, the difference between a Scianna and HCB image is the ironically the Frenchman would have made a better plate of paste because, he made the paste by hand, grew the tomatoes in his garden, canned them every winter and waited for summertime to add the fresh basil from his window sill. Sciannas would have looked the same on the plate but was served on an airplane, out of season, with over cooked pasta and used ingredients from a chain supplier. From a distance they may read the same, but there is a depth that exists in HCB’s meal that is unrivaled by Scianna. Anyone who has had a simple pasta dish in italy will understand the distinction. Anyone who has not had the opportunity may not but can imagine the exercise with a different food.

      The pictures are no different. Scianna would love us to believe that all of his choices were deliberate, but my sense is that his picture is a watered down tribute. Now it may have been a charming joke between the two men, since they were friends. But if you pressed HCB on the issue I doubt he thinks much of Scianna’s effort.

      And now your million dollar question:
      What’s the point of all of this?

      The points are three fold and I wont elaborate too much as I have written too much as is:

      1. I believe photographers are getting ripped off. There is very little useful information designed to teach photographers how to compose an image. Even if someone does not learn it all here, I want people to know “Yes, there is more info out there!”

      2. We want to know WHY we make pictures. If you ask someone why they take pictures and they have trouble answering, they need to spend more time considering their craft. WHY bother taking pictures? If you cant answer that, its time to go to the mirror and stare for a very long time, until you can answer the question.

      3. “Art is NOT about appearance.” -Myron Barnstone. Those things which are on the surface of a picture are only the introductory elements. The DNA of an image is what you want to understand. Appearance is the misunderstanding of the untrained eye. I write these articles for people who want to push their craft further and develop a set of useful skills. The biggest myth perpetuated in the world of photography is that images are all about individual perspective.

      My closing example is that of music. I use this example a lot with people because it seems to make sense to everyone.

      I do not read music. If you take a piece by Chopin and put it next to a piece by Justin Bieber, they look the same to me. Its a page with dots and lines. Its completely meaningless. One is a masterwork the other a piece of pop nonsense. But to a musician those marks MEAN something. They can read the image.

      But I can read images…and HCB and Scianna are not the same. If the pictures read the same, its not because of any fault or deficiency in the viewer. Its simply a matter of training. No matter how much music I listen to I will never read music unless I learn. I don’t feel badly because I don’t read music. I never learned. Pictures are the same thing.

      Thanks again for the comment, I hope people enjoy the dialogue.

      Sleep well.


  10. Thank you for another enlightening article on HCB. I feel that there is a misconception among street photographers today that HCB is old fashioned and/or detatched. A lot of people seem to think all he did was choose a background and wait for someone to walk through but clearly he waded into the fray as well, just without a flash and a 28mm lens. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is inspiring to me to know that he internalised his art school training and brought it to bear in the fleeting capture of life’s moments. This is what I love about candid/street photography, trying to create Art on the fly.



    • Hey Keith,

      Happy to know you are seeing the distinction between HCB and other trends. There is a huge difference between the two that appears to get missed often.

      Glad you enjoyed the article, thank you for stopping by. Come again!


  11. For years I thought that I appreciated HCB, but your articles have given me a whole new viewpoint. I cannot believe that I didn’t see how strong HCB’s compositions are until you pointed it out! Shame on me!

    • Hey Michael,

      Glad you liked the article. Composition, the way artists learn it, is a TAUGHT craft. No one just picks this stuff up on their own. They may pick up bits and pieces, but in order to possess a comprehensive authority over the material we need to learn it from a master instructor.

      I think of a parallel like Mike Tyson. For all of his natural talent, his trainer Custamato, still had a ton of work to do. And Tyson used to study endless hours of tapes to see how other boxers solved problems.

      The photographers who say that jump out of bed and take great pictures, are doing a great disservice to the greater photographic population.

      No shame on you. Learning is part of the process.


  12. Ref the HCB v The iTI débâcle, frankly folks, much ado, etc etc .. HCB used time-honoured methods to compose his pic : The iTi seems, à moi, to have seen and snapped .. just like that. And there it ends. Must end. Unless you have column inches to fill. Cheersm’dears ! Jacques ps – great tits !

    • Jacques,

      what does iTi mean? I can’t make sense of your comment other than “great tits.”


  13. So the rule of thirds is actually based on an armature of a root 2 triangle (theme of 3)?

    Goodness gracious! You are teaching this old dog some new tricks. Thank you.

    • Hi Ben,

      The short version is yes, kind of. The rule of thirds is actually a result of something called the “Rebated Square.” It is another one of the basic principles of design which are simply not taught to photographers.

      When we understand where “Thirds” originated the system begins to make more sense. But you are correct it is a Theme of Three.

      Whether its a young dog or an old dog, ANYONE can learn this. They just need to be taught. Its not the type of thing that a photographer will stumble upon, on their own. plus, who wants to waste all that time reinventing the wheel. Better the spend your life using techniques, than possibly discovering one.


  14. Hi Adam!
    I’m reading this article again for the 5th time and still find it so refreshing.

    You’re so right when you say that there is very little useful information designed to teach photographers how to compose an image. Enough of skimming through introductory elements. It’s time to dissect & explore the DNA. That is why my wish right now is to learn from you! :)

    Best wishes
    Nurul (35mmHip)

    • Hi Nurul,

      Happy to hear the article is getting so much milage. There will be some more articles coming out over the next few months. But the best way to dive in is at a workshop or in “One on One’s.”

      This way you can have all of your questions answered on the spot. It looks like I will be making it to your end of the globe at the beginning of next year. So if you can’t come to me, I will make it to you.


      • That is sooooo greattttt!! I hope to see you…and I hope you stay awhile here, in case I cant get you in a workshop, I’m interested in a one-on-one. You gotta let me know soon, cos this is too exciting!


        • Hey Nurul,

          I will keep you posted on the workshops and I can drop you an email with information about the One on One’s before I fly out today.


  15. Might be that my English is not that fluent but here I go I started this craft just a year ago , with no experience or training on the craft that I was about to perform, as everyone of us I got interested not for the best camera but for the best … Certainly is that I have been reading and seeing art,pictures and so on, to get a glance of what art is, after reading this article I get the will to invest more time in reading about painters esculptures so far I am taking baby steps towards to educate myself

    Adam thank you so much for being straight with your analysis it helps to understand that every one of us could get a bunch of info in a single piece.

    By the way I’m at the Midwest region in USA , but proudly Mexican .


    • Hey Roberto,

      No worries about your english. Its much better than my spanish. Thank you for leaving a comment. I imagine that many people are on a similar path as you are, when it comes to photography and art. I am happy to provide you with some direction.

      How do you find the Midwest as a Mexican?


  16. Great decomposition of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s image, though I do not think Ferndinando Scianna’s is attempting to “copy” in any way. Scianna’s is a completely different image subject and you only compared it’s merit against what it lacked in the Bresson image. The complementary comparison of what Bresson’s image failed to capture in Scianna’s what not mentioned.

    HCB’s image does capture the raw feeling of the market, it’s people, their motions, their interactions, and in a beautifully choreographed and composed frame – with nearly everything in focus including the far basket. Scianna’s image captures the color, vibrancy, and detail of the fruit she is carrying with a very shallow depth of field – that is the subject. In HCB’s image the people seem to be poor, destitute, without clothes and only with some potatoes to eat. In Scianna’s we see great color of clothing, a finely ornate metal basket, and other colorful people in the background. In both images the subject woman is looking away from camera, so we focus on the scene. The scene’s captured by these two artists are completely different though.

    • Brian,

      I wrote you a response and then accidentally deleted it. I will need to redraft it.

      More soon.


  17. Lol, you have no understanding of this HCB photo. It’s charged with meanings and you are looking for some curved lines. You are welcome.

  18. a very well written piece!

    thank you for sharing this!

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