How to take pictures like Bruce Gilden ?

Taking pictures like Bruce Gilden is a hard task, but we are here to assist you with it thanks to 5 tips.

Bruce Gilden is a well known photographer who is famous for his very aggressive style. To debate on whether Gilden’s photography is ethical is not the goal of this article even though it is an interesting question that we might answer in one of our next articles (subscribe to our mailing list to make sure not to miss it). Our goal here is to provide our readers, that are interested in taking photos like Bruce Gilden, with insights on how to proceed. This article will be divided in two parts, the first one will focus on analyzing what is a typical Bruce Gilden photo and the second one will focus on describing how to achieve similar results to Gilden’s ones. Before jumping to those two parts, it seems necessary to quickly present you Bruce Gilden.

Born in 1946, Gilden bought his first camera in 1968 and his first photographic project consisted in taking pictures of people at Coney Island. He quickly started focusing on photographing what we could consider as outcasts of the modern society. Such outcasts includes yakuzas, rural farmers in Ireland, prostitutes, drug addicts, and so on. This focus might be explained by Bruce’s own life as he was the son of two drug addicts and as he let people understand that his mom has done sex work in order to earn money. Although most of his pictures are shot in black and white, he has also done some projects in color recently. Our article will focus on recreating the look of his black and white photography. But what do they look like?

What does a Bruce Gilden picture look like?

A picture is worth a thousand words so here is a small selection of Bruce Gilden’s work:

As you can see, there are three main characteristics commonly present in Bruce’s photos

  1. Use of flash: Bruce is using flash even in broad daylight, it allows him to separate the subject from his background and to give a more dramatic look to its images.
  2. Closeness: Bruce is getting close to the subject he is photographing. He is an adept of Robert Capa’s saying “if your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough”.
  3. Characters: Bruce often describes his subject as characters. He is not interested in photographing ordinary people, but he rather wants to focus on what he calls characters.

Keep these three points in mind as they will influence the way you should act when you try to shoot pictures like Bruce Gilden.

How to take pictures like Bruce Gilden ?

You can already guess some of our points from the discussion above. Thanks to our 5 tips, you will be able to reproduce Bruce Gilden’s style in your pictures. Without further due, here are our 5 tips to take pictures like Bruce Gilden:

1. Be brave

What Gilden is doing is not easy, you will probably get confronted by people that are unhappy that you have just thrown a flash and a camera in their face to take their picture without their consent. You need to be brave (or a bit crazy) if you want to successfully obtain pictures similar to Bruce Gilden’s ones.

2. Use a flash

As it was stated previously, Bruce Gilden is known for his use of the flash, even in direct sunshine. This gives this dramatic look to its pictures. Bruce was using an external flash, which means that the light was coming from a different angle than the one in which the shot is taken. You can also use an on camera flash but the result might be less similar to Gilden’s work.

3. Get close

If your goal is to shoot photos like Bruce Gilden, then you need to get close to your subjects. We recommend using a small camera which will limit the negative reactions of your subjects. Bruce was using an aperture between f8 to 11 and a wide angle lens (28mm). This allowed him not to be too strict about focusing and to get closer than he would with a narrower lens.

4. Look for characters.

Be constantly aware of your surroundings and try to spot the people that stand out from the others. Which kind of characters you want to shoot depends on you and your preferences, but we kindly suggest you to avoid taking pictures of people in a disadvantageous situation as this is ethically debatable.

5. Take pictures that will create an emotion

Whether it is disgust or laughter, if you want your pictures to have the same impact as Bruce Gilden’s ones, you should take pictures that will create an emotion when the viewer witnesses it. Bruce Gilden is really good at creating emotion with his pictures, most of the time negative ones and this might be the reason why he is such a controversial photographer. But if you searched for an article on how to take photos like Bruce Gilden, you are probably on the side of his admirers rather than his haters.

One last word

If you follow those advice, you will be using the same technique as Bruce Gilden and will be able to take photos that look like his. But remember to be creative and to try to find ways to add some of your personality when shooting with those tips in mind. You should also be careful not to get assaulted as depending on the places you apply those tips to shoot like Bruce Gilden, people might react aggressively. We advise you to always be ready to defuse the situation by explaining that you are training your street photography and that you are just trying to imitate one of your favorite photographers. A good idea is to always be ready to show some of your work so that your subject can understand that you are just an awkward photographer and not a weird guy perving on them.

If you use some of the tips in this article, we would love to see them. Don’t hesitate to shoot us a direct message on our Instagram with your pictures. If our site is ready when you read this, you can upload them there and get rated. More info on our in-development website can be found here.

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