The Master Henri Cartier-Bresson – the Decisive Moment


Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was a French photographer who is widely considered the father of photojournalism. His phrase the “Decisive Moment” is one that many photographers know well. If you are not familiar with his name or this phrase – it’s time to learn!

Father of photojournalism

bressonSomething I recommend in my classes is to learn about the history of photography. Who are the greats that came before us? How did this craft we know today come to be? There is much to be learned from the masters of yesterday. I want to start introducing them to you and couldn’t think of a better place to start (especially seeing this week’s challenge is street photography) than with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Well known for his candid street photography, Cartier-Bresson was, in many ways, progressive before his time. One of the first to use a 35mm camera, a war prisoner and escapee, his first published book was title “The Decisive Moment ( Images à la Sauvette  in his native French – if you can find a copy in print grab it!)

I’m going to let you do your own research into the man, his life and his images but I’ll start you off with this video interview with him, from 1973.

Some books by Cartier-Bresson

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Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Morocco and India. To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

  • Starkman

    Absolutely ridiculously brilliant. His vertical cropping power alone is remarkable. Further, you see almost a mitigation between the atmosphere of the stiffly posed when photography was just beginning and the relaxation in about the late 40s.

    What a great video.


  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    glad you enjoyed it – I can’t take credit for the video but I did share 😉

  • midwestslp

    Very interesting article. I love learning about the greats. Thank you for sharing. And just a little note of advise: please don’t forget to have your articles proofread. Sometimes important mistakes get by us.

  • Gregory L. Donoghue

    Loved it. Interesting perspectives. Mr. Cartier-Bresson’s quote,”After a certain age you get the face you deserve, I think.” Is memorable. The photo of the Indian women facing the mountains is superb!

  • Claude B.

    Superb description of pictures. The message is, we photographers are doing now the past in pictures of the future.
    Thanks to showing this document.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    Yeah I loved that one too!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    Do you see a mistake in this one? I did proof it, if there’s a mistake let me know and I can correct it.

  • midwestslp

    Let’s start by correcting me! I should have said “advice” not “advise”.

    Where you write “I’m going to let you do your own resource into the man…” I believe it should be “research”.


  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    right you are! all fixed

  • midwestslp

    “He phrase the ‘Decisive Moment’…” should be “His phrase…”
    Sorry, it’s just that proofreading is part of my job and my eye is trained to catch these things. I truly did enjoy your article and the video, though!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    fixed thanks again

  • Stanley Artlover

    Thanks for the post! Henri Cartier Bresson’s photographies are amazing… I found some beautiful pictures representing Cartier Bresson’s “Decisive Moment” in Art Days, here is the link! Enjoy!

  • Diana Drummond Davis

    Thanks! Describes exactly how I feel when I am shooting photos just because something in me either says “now!” or “wait, wait, wait, now!”

  • Patricia Duff

    That was so good! Not only a reveal of Bresson’s process, but also of the very essence of the capture of art through life; his reveal of how sensitive one must be to the world for any art form. Loved it. Thank you.

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