Henri Cartier-Bresson: The decisive moment

© Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation
© Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

Henri Cartier-Bresson is a famous French street photographer and photojournalist. After recovering from black water fever he gave up painting and took up photography.
He used a small Leica camera with a 50mm lens which he covered with black tape to make it nearly invisible. He enjoyed submerging in a crowd and at the same time being ready to take a shot without being noticed by the people being photographed. He mainly took black and white pictures, and, surprise, surprise, he took no interest at all in printing his own pictures.
About his style he once said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (The Decisive Moment). He was continuously looking for the combination of a visual and dramatic highlight (see picture on top).
The Decisive Moment
The Decisive Moment

He traveled all over the world and participated in many historically important events where he took memorable pictures. For example, he took pictures of Mahatma Gandhi on his deathbed, after being shot during a protest against violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Death of Mahatma Gandhi
Death of Mahatma Gandhi

Although The Decisive Moment suggests that he always immediately  took the right picture. This is not true. Henri Cartier-Bresson took a lot of pictures before capturing the highlights he had in mind.
Besides reading The Decisive Moment, I also enjoyed the two blogs of Eric Kim about Henri Cartier-Brenson:

Pro approach to autofocus


Most of us completely rely on the autofocus of our camera. On my Nikon D800 there are two options: AF-S and AF-C. The first one is used for still life objects and the latter for moving objects. The S stands for Single Servo and the C for Continuous Servo. If you know in advance which situation applies it is easy to set the relevant option.
However, in practice when I shoot a group activity, I like to combine sport photography of activities and journalistic portrait photography of individuals. I have to act fast, so, there is no way I will continuously change from AF-S to AF-C and back again. For me this is not going to work.
After reading the extensive guides of the Nikon D800 by Thom Hogan (he writes excellent guides) I found out about the Pro Approach to Autofocus. The idea is to separate focus and release.
Standard they are combined in the Shutter Release. Pressing it halfway is to focus and pressing it completely is releasing the shutter. In the Pro Approach the focus is assigned to the AF-ON button. The only function of Shutter Release button is release. Furthermore, set the focus mode to AF-C.
This enables us to do the following:

  • Portrait Focus on, for example, the eye by pressing the AF-ON button, then let go the button. Reframe and then press the Shutter Release.
  • Sports  Press and hold the AF-ON on the subject to focus on. While holding the AF-ON press the Shutter Release. In this case the AF-C mode makes sure the subject is followed even though it moves through the screen.

In the beginning it takes some time to get use to. Now it has become second nature. The only disadvantage is that it is not easy to give the camera to somebody else to take a picture. However, for me it makes life a lot easier.

Large canvas

Laguna Querococha
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Some time ago a colleague of mine asked me why I did not display my pictures in my office. Good question. So, I decided to print a large canvas of Laguna Querococha (near Huaraz in Peru). Normally I print 60 by 90 cm², now I went for 80 by 120 cm². With the 36,3 megapixels of the D800 this is no problem. All the details are visible and the colors are very vivid.
A couple of years ago I started to print a canvas at Profotonet in the Netherlands. They do an excellent job: very high quality print and material, and the logistics is also very good. They deliver in 1 or 2 days. Once my daughter was not satisfied with the colors, they had a look at it, and a new canvas was sent to her right away. For free, of course.
Below you see the picture in my office. Please do not look at the mess on my desk. I get a lot of compliments of people visiting my office on the scenery, the composition, the sharpness, and the quality of the canvas. Most of them start to realize that I also have a life after office hours. Together with my secretary I am looking for another picture to balance this one.

Please have a look at my albums. Let me know if you are interested in buying one for a canvas.
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Radio Triggers

In the past, for a studio setup, we used cables to somehow connect the camera to the various flashes. Furthermore, we had to set the power of each flash individually, by hand. Nowadays, all major camera manufactories have a wireless system to connect the camera to the speedlights of the same manufacturer.
For example, when using a Nikon camera and Nikon speedlights it is relatively easy to get a correctly exposed picture by using AWL (Advanced Wireless Lighting).
The idea is that the pop-up flash of the camera gives a number of small pre-flashes to tell the speedlights to give an orchestrated pre-flash. In this cycle the camera measures and calculates, using Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering, what the strength of the final flash of the various speedlights should be. This is all done just before the mirror goes up, so before the actual picture is taken. It goes so fast that we do not even notice that the pop-up flash flashes several times.
This means that with my D800 I can manage two groups of speedlights, A and B. For simple portrait photography this is fine. I have been using this for the last couple of years with some great pictures.
However, there are also some drawbacks: it only works when there is line-of-sight between the camera and all the speedlights, it is difficult to add a studio flash, and in some cases three groups (for example: main, background, and kicker for the hair of the model) are required.
So, recently I bought:

The Flex TT5 is both a transmitter and a receiver. So, one goes on top of the camera and per speedlight or flash another one is needed. The advantage is that line-of-sight is not important anymore and it can handle 3 groups (A, B, and C).
IMG_1188With the AC3 it is possible to control the strength of flashes of the speedlights in the various groups (max 3 groups).
IMG_1187For my studio flash, an old Linkstar FS-200D, it is only possible to control whether it will flash or not. As you can see, the Flex TT5 is connected to the studio flash with a cable. The strength of the flash has to be set manually on the studio flash itself.
The Sekonic L-478DR allows me to trigger each group of speedlights separately (without using the camera) and get a per group and a total reading for shutter speed and aperture. It also shows how much each group contributes to the total light. It is really impressive.
In a future blog I will come back to how the equipment works in practice.

Turn of the year 2015/2016: sales and plans

Laguna Querococha
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

At the turn of the year I thought it was a nice idea to look at my sales at  my two shops: Dreamstime and Werk aan de Muur (a Dutch website).
Currently, I have 478 pictures online at Dreamstime, and a total sales, since 2009, of roughly 300 pictures. The last couple of years there is a substantial increase. I guess that has a lot to do with my trips abroad.
Looking at the sales figures I wanted to know how these sales are distributed over the various categories. The obvious categories are landscape, cityscape, and portrait, however, I have the impression that buyers were more interested in the location they were taken. So, I just made up my own categories.
Below you see that my pictures of major European cities (mainly Budapest and Paris) and some Dutch cities (Maastricht and Rotterdam) are leading. Directly followed by pictures of my two visits to China (Beijing, Wuhan, Yangtze River, and Yellow Mountain). Also, the portraits I made of my two models are doing quite well. The holidays in the Alps with the many hikes produced many sellable pictures. The same is true for the sailing holidays near Corfu and in the Netherlands.

Cityscape 25%
China 21%
Portrait 17%
Alps 14%
Boats 7%
Animals 6%
Peru 4%
Concept 3%
Nature 1%
Coast 1%

Since this year I have more than 50 pictures at Werk aan de Muur, although this figure does not mean much. I can easily add or drop pictures. Two of these pictures belong to their Collection: the Dom Tower in Utrecht and Machu Picchu in Peru. The first one has been a couple of times, this is also the total sales at Werk aan de Muur.
The upcoming year my plans are:

  • Gaining more experience in low key studio lighting
  • Capturing more of the character of historical cities both in the Netherlands and abroad
  • Capturing more of the atmosphere of landscapes
  • Overcoming my fear to do street photography.

So, there are quite a few challenges ahead of me! At the top and the bottom of this blog you will find two of my favorite 2015 pictures.

Market at Chinchero, sacred valley of the Incas
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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