Viewfinder as a composition tool

Cartier-Bresson's first Leica
The Leica I, Cartier-Bresson’s first Leica (c) 2008 Corinne Moncelli

I just love Henri Cartier-Bresson’s  photography. Almost everybody loves, or at least respect his unique imagery style . His first camera was the revolutionary Leica I equipped with a 50 mm lens and a small viewfinder window, as you can see above, and with it he took many of his astounding images. For him:

“…the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to ‘give a meaning’ to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder…”

And through that small viewfinder Cartier-Bresson composed elegantly and with exquisite timing. See below youtube video that demonstrates one of the compositional aids Cartier-Bresson adopted most probably from his art education and utilized in his imagery:

Today, with technology catapulting photography to new standards in sharpness, focus accuracy, light sensitivity and dynamic range, the viewfinder has gone from a mere piece of glass that only enables composition and focusing to many focusing points across the viewfinder. For example, see below viewfinder of Canon 1D Mk II and 7D Mk II:


The amount of lines, squares and boxes is quite overwhelming. Some cameras have more than 100 focusing points spread across the viewfinder, enabling the photographer get the most focus precise image. And to think that Frank Capa and Cartier-Bresson froze split second images with manual focus and mechanical shutters.

And this brings me to my old camera, 13 year old Canon 400D, which I use for my street photography. Its small viewfinder has a modest diamond-shaped 9 points focusing screen:


Even so, viewing the video by Tavis Leaf Glover, I wondered if by any chance the spread of the focusing points coincide with the 1.5 grid or rule of third. This is what I got:

Screen Shot 2019-06-17 at 23.08.51

As can be seen, except of two point, the focusing points are aligned along strategic points/lines (where the black lines intersect). The red lines denotes 1/3 matrix, also close to the 4 focus points. And here’s a recent example:


“Keep the Balance” ©️ Chen Guttman 2019, Herzliya, Israel

I notice this kid riding his bike some 100 meter ahead, so decided to train on my panning technique and switched the program selection to Shutter priority which I retain at 1/60 sec just for such occasions of motion blur. When I came to bring the camera to my eye he lifted the front wheel and went riding across my camera. Only at home I realized how well I captured in term of technique without blur of the main subject. Then I applied the 1.5 guidelines on the full frame:

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 5.49.00

See how the wheels are aligned across the Baroque Diagonal (running from lower left to top right) and how the main up right subject is aligned to the eye’s vertical. And all of this I captured in a split second not really having any time to accurately compose..


Do you use this composition aid in your photography?

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