Magnum Photographer Bruce Gilden On What Makes A Good Photograph Great (And A Bad Photograph Terrible)

Bruce Gilden is one straight talker. The no-nonsense Brooklyn born, Guggenheim-awarded, Magnum photographer does not mince his words, that’s for sure. There is so much to learn from him in this interview, in between his quips and comments. Listen in as he shares more than 45 years worth of experience as he critiques a selection of images of street photographs in this VICE interview.

For those unfamiliar, Gilden is one of the world’s most well known New York-based street photographers. He is most well known for his in-your-face, flash-based candid street portraits and his work is uncompromising, both in it’s content and how he approaches his subjects.

He’s been shooting since 1968 and while New York may have changed several times over in the ensuing decades, a lot but Gilden’s style has remained remarkably consistent as he’s moved from shooting just on the streets of NYC to across the world.

What I love about Gilden, aside from his vision and remarkable consistency, is he is a pure, unadulterated no nonsense, straight talker. In today's "be careful not to offend" entrenched view, he does what so many photographers either aren't equipped to, or are afraid to do - he calls it as it is. I heard him give a talk a few years ago, and the guy just cuts straight to it. The key though, is that he says very clearly why he doesn't like something (or why he does). He makes a lot of very valid points in this interview, but he also moves so quickly through it that you might blink and miss them.

I’ve outlined some of what I think are the really valuable points that he makes that you might miss below:


  1. A body of work is a COLLECTION of work – a body of work only works because all of the images relate and have a consistent theme. One off ‘accidents’ do not represent a body of work


  1. Accidents should be CONSCIOUS – there is a difference between purposeful and random accidents  - and a random accident never comes from a place of strength.


  1. Know your history – how to build on what those who have come before you have done. Studying what has come before you will give you a strong foundation for where you take your own work.


  1. How a single image is just really a story – and how the components of the image (the subject, composition) work together to deliver a stronger message


  1. Details are critical – the importance of what is both left in and excluded from the frame, and how these details help to tell a stronger story, reinforcing the elements left in for the viewer


  1. Directing flow – how to move the eyes around the frame and how this helps tell a stronger story


  1. Background distractions – watching out for them and how it can interrupt the flow


  1. ‘Obvious’ images -  why they tend to have less value or lasting impact than photographs that make your eye work harder


Yes Gilden doesn’t mince his words and he can come off as antagonistic, but he is a wealth of great information. Let me know if you got anything else form the interview that I might have missed, would love to know what else you guys gained from this (if anything).


David Geffin's picture

David is a full time photographer, videographer and video editor based in New York City. Fashion, portraiture and street photography are his areas of focus. He enjoys stills and motion work in equal measure, with a firm belief that a strong photographic eye will continue to help inform and drive the world of motion work.

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I don't know that guy and I don't know much about him, but I guarantee you that he has been punched in the face more than once. A real charmer.

Case in point - out of the 30 examples of "Photo of the Day" on, I see only two that tell any story. The rest are all just pretty pictures with no story. So, as Ronald Regan would say: "there you go again." In other words, almost all of Bruce Gilden's advise is rubbish.

his advice is rubbish because of what gets posted on Fstoppers 'Photo of the Day'?

-> Baruch Atta:

Gilden's advice might not be relevant or meaningful to YOU. That does not make it "rubbish".