Shoot Like Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Quick Guide To Becoming An Amazing Photojournalist

“Most of my pictures are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape that I guess you’d call the human condition.”

Photo by Valerii Kosmasov

It’s by Steve McCurry, whom I didn’t know much about until recently. I stumbled across him when a link called Behind The Scenes Of Photographing 2013 Pirelli Calendar showed up in one of my social media feeds.

Since I’m a big sucker for anything “behind the scenes” related to photography (never miss an opportunity to learn by observing a decent photographer!), I watched it. Here it is:

If you’re single and male you’ll probably enjoy watching all 28 minutes of it just for the abundance of attractive women.

Since I’m an engaged man (to an intoxicatingly amazing woman, I might add) I was a lot more keen to watch this old photography master at work than the models strutting and pouting their stuff. Ten years ago it would have been a different story!

It becomes really fascinating when I took a look at McCurry’s finished photos and connected them in my mind with what I saw take place behind the scenes. All of a sudden, I begin to better understand how they were created. You can see the photos for yourself here:

But that’s not all.

Fashion photography typically doesn’t grab me, but that photo of Brazilian Capoeira dancers did, so I decided to investigate further. I found McCurry’s website, which turned out to be a shrine to photo reportage of places, events and people all around the world.

I think I learned more about photography that afternoon just sipping tea and flipping through the galleries than if I paid for some techno-lighting-blah-blah photography course.

Connecting with Your Subjects

Then I came across THAT quote. All of a sudden everything made sense. Getting an insight into McCurry’s mindset instantly explained why his photos look the way they do. The quote tied together the photos on his website, the Calendar and the video.

In that moment I sat back and reflected on my own photography. I’ve heard of people talk about the importance of “connecting with your subjects” – as I’m sure you have.

In the past I used to dismiss much of that advice with the same degree of skepticism I reserve for horoscopes and psychic predictions. My mantra was: let me just nail the lighting and the composition and the photos will be amazing!

However, I recently noticed that in some of the favourite images I’ve taken in 2012 there’s something else present: they weren’t necessarily that perfectly composed or lit, but there’s a real, authentic moment frozen in them.

Or, as McCurry puts it, “an unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face”.

And it’s tempting to read it and begin to stalk your subjects – much like a wolf stalks his prey, waiting for that “unguarded moment” you can pounce on.

To do that would be to miss the point. What I realised is my faviourite photos have happened when I let my own guard down, which enable my subject to do that as well.

Together, we did something wonderful – whether it was play, laugh or discover – and I just happened to press the shutter at the right moment. That was all.

I think an amazing photojournalist (or someone who takes great candid photos) is someone who has an amazing capacity to let go of barriers which separate them from other people. In moments when those barriers are gone, connections form and real, raw, captivating scenarios naturally unfold.


When we seek to improve our photography, we are often tempted to add things to the equation. More skills, more knowledge, more frames per second, more ISO (256,000 just isn’t enough, right?)

But maybe – just maybe – the secret to capturing amazing moments lays simply in taking one thing away. And that’s something we’re all capable of.

By Steven M

Steven McConnell is a professional photographer based in Sydney, Australia. He currently specialises in family photography and is passionate about creating photographs which tell real stories and businesses which deliver real value. You can connect with him on Google+


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