About making pictures   - Motion by  Waeshael


How it was made

in a biography by a good friend of HCB, it is said that HCB waited behind a fence for someone to repeat a jump that he had seen the day before but wasn’t ready with camera. HCB was said to have waited all day. The fence, which was on the left of the picture was trimmed out of the print - a very unusual liberty allowed by HCB.

The picture was taken in 1932, so probably a Leica II with a max speed of 1/500 and with a standard 50mm f 3.5 Elmar. Film speed in 1932 was probably less than ASA 100, but could be push processed, as it was here, I suspect. In any case on a cloudy day like this, and around noon from the look of the shadows, proper exposure might be f8 at 1/100, or perhaps f4 at 1/500. But you can see from the blurriness of the subject, that the exposure may have been around 1/50 sec. So, did HCB deliberately shoot with a slow speed in order to blur the image of the man? In order to create the idea of motion in the brain?

We all know that in order to make a car look as if it going fast, we have to blur the image of the car or the background. But what is it that makes the brain think the car is moving? Or here, that the man is jumping? When we stare at this picture we really are expecting the splash to occur as his feet hit the puddle. We are waiting for the splash because we know he is moving. This is why the picture is so powerful, and why all over the world this picture is considered to be one of HCB’s best.

This feeling of motion is caused by unsharp edges of the subject. The brain has been programmed to recognize objects from their shape, not their color (or tones). The eyes collect data and feed it to the brain which compares the data with what it has stored previously. It looks for a matching shape, and if it can’t find a matching shape, it hunts around looking for definite edges until it does recognize a shape. If the shape is blurry, i.e. no sharp edges, the brain decides that the subject must be in motion and the viewer experiences a feeling of movement.

The funny thing is that we can patiently stare at this picture a long time waiting for the splash, reluctant to even turn the page of his book in case we miss the event!

Henri Cartier Bresson  - Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare.

In 1877 Monet painted this same station in dirty browns and blues, almost grayscale.


HCB had to actuate the shutter at a precise moment. So, shutter delay had to be minimal. The man would have hit the puddle about 1/10 second later, so HCB had to anticipate the moment or he had to have a very fast shutter release.

Many modern cameras will not respond that fast. Certainly none that have to be on focus before releasing the shutter. I have a few cameras that are instantaneous, regardless of focus status. The DMC-LC40 has a very fast shutter response.

I check my shutter response by taking a picture of my monitor screen while a stop watch is running. I click the shutter when the display is at a precise second mark (it displays milliseconds,) then look at the numbers recorded by the camera.

Try this site:


Click on START then wait until you see that the clock is precisely at the beginning of a new second. Click the shutter  and read the picture you made. You will need to practice this and take many shots.

The NEX-5 has a spec shutter lag of 115 msecs (1/10 sec approx.) and I got 150 msecs best time with this stopwatch test.

HCB would have missed the shot with this camera.

With the DMC-LC40 I was able to capture the exact second with 30 milliseconds or so, sometimes I anticipated the exact moment by 30 milliseconds, once I got it within 2 milliseconds by anticipating the exact moment.
This was much better than the NEX-5 response. In the field I have used the LC40 to capture my dogs in the air catching a ball, and timing has been perfect.
The Leica M9 has a spec 80 ms lag time - would probably miss the shot also.

But Leica M3 is only 16 ms, and the M7 even better at 12 ms. And these would catch the moment, for sure. I guess the Leica II had a similar shutter mechanism to the M3.

Most P&S cameras have shutter lag times of 0.3 secs or longer (DMC LX5 is an example of this,) so they are no good to catch the decisive moment.