A-Town Hold It Down :: Street Portraits


Big thanks to Heather Hamilton for tweeting, “The overload of photography rants r getting on my nerves. While I agree with some , I just think our time can be better spent. Like shooting.” There’s been a flurry of new gear announcements lately and I’ve been guilty of talking about gear this week instead of using gear this week. Michael Friberg pretty much summed it up well. Heather was the voice (twoice?) I needed to hear today to fire the Internet, get off my ass, and go shoot. Isn’t that ultimately what it’s about? Thanks Heather.

I saw the gentleman above through the window and had to, had to, had to, get a portrait of him. Everyone was more than willing to let me photograph them today. No one turned me down. Must be that big ass camera. Today was a good day.


















“I’m an inventor and I also can rap my ass off. I need a good manager. Danny East. Tell ’em not to bury me!!!”

Hell yes. I love to see hustle in all shapes and forms.

These street portraits were all shot with the Phase One IQ140. I am still learning this camera and going out on the streets and working in various lighting conditions gives me a good idea of what it can and can not do. I do miss my x100 though. (It’s in the shop) [sticky aperture] poo.






  • paulmhoward said on February 9, 2012

    Man…that bokeh is buttery smooth…I cant wait to see what more you do with this beast! Keep up the great work, homie. You are an inspiration to me!

  • Jay Rodriguez said on February 9, 2012

    Brilliant images!
    I love the fact that you captured the people in their all honest humbling mood. No fake stands no fake smile! All 100% Hood!
    Thanks Zack!

  • Mark Heaps said on February 9, 2012

    The last image, particularly the left portrait is great. I love the reflection in the lenses of his frames. So much city feel in the reflection yet more heart and soul in his eyes. Good stuff.

  • Patrick said on February 9, 2012

    Man, that opening shot in the diner is stunning. I so need a street fix right now…. No Phase , still got my X100 though 😉

  • Gregory Waddell said on February 9, 2012

    Very nice! Just finished viewing the OneLight dvds. Thanks!!!!!

  • DAVID M said on February 9, 2012

    Like the work Zack. I noticed no one was smiling. Makes everything real.

  • erin g said on February 9, 2012

    truly love these, zack. as a non-photographer who grew up in a non-western culture w/ a tourist economy (and thus feels weird about cross-cultural candid photos), i have so much love for portraits b/c they’re not voyeuristic and imply a kind of human relationship…you capture that beauty in these images. and yay for all the life to be found in downtown. this sunday i was running a totally ghetto photobooth in a parking lot around p’tree & trinity with my computer, makeshift tent, and a ratty truck bed blanket. i was totally and completely unprepared and felt really bad about the crappy quality of the printouts…but was so amazed at how everyone was *so* happy with them anyway. i kept thinking, ‘if only i had a real photographer here who could do real portraits–everyone deserve a good looking photo of themselves and their kids.’ most of them hadn’t had their photo taken in forever. next time i’m going to enlist someone w/ real skillz! that is, if there’s a way to upload and print out fast enough to keep up with the long line of people…they deserve it. anyway–love to see what you’re doing now. was just thinking of you the other day, remembering booking you one night in the trinity parking lot for my non-existent wedding (ha!) when you were just getting started. really proud of you!

  • Keith Hammond said on February 9, 2012

    That must be a right beast to carry around the streets for any lenth of time Zack, you said in the video about shooting more on tripod in the studio with it, have you had to upgrade your tripod / head combo to suit the heavier camera or did you already have heavy duty gear ?

  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    I think I walked around for about three hours yesterday. It sure isn’t an x100 but it is manageable. I have a pretty good tripod head but I do need to upgrade to heavier sticks. My lightweight tripod isn’t going to cut it with this camera. I really want to avoid that because I hate heavy tripods but it looks like I’m going to have to upgrade mine soon.


  • Girish said on February 9, 2012

    Always good to see street photography, specially portraits. Like the last one a lot.

  • Daf said on February 9, 2012

    Hi, was wondering – do you have a certain tact, method or standard question for asking random people for their portrait ?
    E.g. mention you’re a photographer, personal work, copies etc etc ?
    I realise different things would work for different people and different subjects, but I’m curious. No harm in asking.

  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    @Daf – I would say that I summon my inner Forrest Gump for this kind of stuff. I keep a big smile on my face, keep the camera in view at all times, and approach folks with an extended hand and I introduce myself. So if you were just hanging out somewhere I come walking up, shake your hand, and say “Hi! I’m Zack. I just saw you hanging out right here and I love your hat. Can I take your picture. That is an awesome hat. Love that. Wish I could rock that look like you do.” or “Oh man, that is a bad ass tattoo. I’m Zack. Can I take a picture of your tattoo?”

    Sometimes, like the guy holding the newspaper I just make eye contact, flash a big smile, point at my camera and then make the hand signal for OK. Same for the door man in the post above. Both of those gentlemen smiled and let me snap away.

    I’ll turn “hard and street” when I feel that I suddenly need to be watching my back and holding my ground. Every now and then you turn the corner and realize that maybe you’re that’s not the street you were supposed to walk down but you have to walk down it anyway. Hold your ground, make solid eye contact, then find the craziest looking son of a bitch on the block and go talk to them directly. If you’re willing to approach the biggest, badest, craziest looking one in the group then you are either A) bat shit crazy or B) confident enough to hold your ground on any street corner.

    And you know, really, the fear a lot of times comes from generalizations and stereotypes. Once you get into a group of crack heads / meth heads / hookers and pimps you’ll find that if you aren’t there to start trouble they’re really cool folks. They have lots of stories to tell and provide for interesting images. I’ve actually had a few folks watch my back and let me know to not go further in certain areas or that something was brewing and it might be best if I move along.

    The times I get most nervous are when I start getting questions about my gear and they all revolve around “How much is that camera worth? How much did you pay for it? Where did you get it?” And no matter what camera I have it’s a ten year old camera that I bought off ebay from a guy for a few hundred dollars because it isn’t worth money any more.

    And this works for a white guy in a tie or a black guy flashing gang signals. In fact, I’ve found, the white guys in ties are the most difficult to approach and let me take their photo. That and young pretty girls. I avoid them so I don’t come across as a pervy middle aged fat guy trying to take pictures of girls on the street. That’s what 300mm lenses are for. Ha! Just kidding! (Meg’s going to punch my arm for that one.)


  • Ed said on February 9, 2012

    Just read this and chuckled…from the rooftops of Seattle, to the hotels of Dubai rubbing shoulders with the best, it’s awesome seeing you running around the hood playing with the new toy. Love the fact your keeping it real. You continue to be an inspiration.

  • JC5034 said on February 9, 2012

    Just pure soul zack very inspiring photos.

  • Daf said on February 9, 2012

    PS Also – nice work :)
    Think my preference is for the non-obvious ones.

    Maybe of interest – RETV seem to be doing a fair few Phase One videos recently : http://resourcetelevision.com

  • Jen said on February 9, 2012

    Inspirational! Thanks to Heather and thanks for paying it forward, Zack!

  • Jenny Seal said on February 9, 2012

    Love these Zack, and you deserve the punch in the arm 😉 (get ’em Meg!)

  • Greg said on February 9, 2012

    Great stuff Zack!

  • Dave P said on February 9, 2012

    This is what honesty looks like.

  • Chris Connors said on February 9, 2012

    Zack, those pictures are awesome and thanks for giving the tips on approaching people for portraits. They are way cooler than from the hip grab shots in my opinion.

  • Jay McIntyre said on February 9, 2012

    Hey Zack, guys like you and Clay Enos have really inspired me to GOMA and shoot! This past summer, I set up on the street and stopped people to take their portraits. Scared the crap out of me, but it was very rewarding. Here’s a blog post of the night.


    I’m hoping do do a lot more. I think doing it on the fly like you in this post can present a whole new set of challenges, and I can’t wait to give it a shot.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


  • Leroy said on February 9, 2012

    I just don’t have the nerve to walk up to people and ask to photograph them.

  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    @Leroy – You have to ask yourself if you even want to. Know what I mean? If street shooting is something you don’t want to do then it’s nothing to even worry about. IF it is something you want to do then you have to push yourself. I can tell you that I still struggle with approaching people. The first hour of walking around is typically me being a wuss and and not talking to anyone. Then I’ll ask. Then I’ll ask again. Then again. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No. No. No. No. No. Ok really? Yes. Yes. Yes.

    It’s a lot of fun and the best part at times is not the photographs but the people you get to meet that you would never have normally stopped to talk to. It’s great to shoot a portrait then you find you’ve been talking to this person for half an hour. The camera is just the introduction.


  • Frank Grygier said on February 9, 2012

    Kinda blow the idea of using a stealthy little street shooter! You are definitely in Phase!

  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    @Frank – Yep! People know exactly what I’m doing when this camera is around. :) Hope all is well in the other A-Town.


  • Alex said on February 9, 2012

    Great set Zack! Love the first image, so much character. Awesome that you got a Phase and are using it for street photography. Cool and inspiring as usual.

  • Joe said on February 9, 2012

    Love the Ice Cube reference. Oh, and nice pics 😉

  • Mike said on February 9, 2012

    Great work Zack! Just throwing this out there: If you ever get the chance, could you take a few shots like this side-by-side with some 35mm sensor shots? There’s plenty of MF vs 35mm image quality comparisons out there, but not many that focus on the “look” MF gives? Again, just throwing that out there. Thanks for posting!

  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    @Mike – I tend to shy away from those side by side comparisons because there are so many factors that come into play and it brings the pixel peeping measurbators out in force and everyone starts crying foul because of which lens was used, which camera was compared to which camera, differences in post production, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

    At the end of the day. When it comes down to pushing that button… it always falls on the shoulders of WHO is pushing the button and not which button is getting pushed. I want to be the guy who can talk about gear, have some conversations about 100% crops from time to time, and so forth but I always want the conversation to go back to photographs. That is more important than anything.

    And note, as I researched these cameras I looked at every side by side comparison from 35mm to medium format and all that. There are lots of guys out there shooting these things side by side by side by side and aside from the sharpness and dynamic range, none of the other shit mattered to me that much. I was going to put a full res jpg on my blog here but my bandwidth is peaking as it is. Posting that on my server would kill me. If I find a third party host I’ll put a few full size images up for everyone to look at. I’d like to post TIFFs but those hover around 80 to 90 megs each.

    Lastly, Shooting the side by sides takes some time to do. I just don’t physically have time in my schedule to do it and do it properly.


  • bimal nair said on February 9, 2012

    Heartily admire your honest thoughts always Zack! You are true inspiration to me. I wish to tell you that i miss hearing from you whenever you arent blogging. You always are an motivation to look for soul in what we do as photographers. God Bless Zack! May your goodness never ever fade! Thank you so much for taking time and talking to me/us, everytime you do.

  • Zack said on February 9, 2012

    @Bimal – Glad to be of service!


  • Mike said on February 9, 2012

    Thanks for your response Zack, but the measurbating is exactly what I did not mean! There’s enough pixel peeping stuff out there already–I just meant the “look” of MF. No one has compared that very well. For example, the perspective compression and the way things fall out of focus… and the so-called “3D” quality.

  • David said on February 9, 2012

    Gotta get me a phase!

  • MikeScott said on February 9, 2012

    Funny how street shooting works best with a small camera or one that’s ridiculously BIG. I suspect some subjects would be more leary of a DSLR (are you ‘the media’?), but with the Fuji X100 or the MF Phase (MF might stand for medium format, or..) you must be an ~artist~ and therefore cool.

  • PsiModuloQuadro said on February 9, 2012

    Always amazing! Thanks for your art!

  • Adam Malcolm said on February 9, 2012

    Zack, why not try a Dropbox for the big files for us all to see?

    Also, I keep meaning to ask. Did you ever try the Eg-S focusing screen with your 5D MK II? Recently, after years of putting it off I installed the Ee-S, the 5D Mark 1 version onto my camera and it’s blowing me away. I know you’ve mentioned the inability to focus manually with DSLR’s for some time, but with this screen I’ve found what was once almost guesswork is now a breeze. Being able to actually SEE the F/1.8 with my 85mm is stunning.

  • john salgado said on February 9, 2012

    Zack, you are such an inspiration to me< thank you for sharing this with all of us.LOVE the first guy!

  • Seishonagon said on February 10, 2012

    Hey Zack, great shots as usual. It’s really interesting to have you covering everything from iphone to Phase and see how you manage each.
    There is a distinctive common “voice” in all of them, yet each as its own technical niche that drives the look and feel. For me, following that in the different media you publish to is the best way to learn and grow my own craft.
    That’s actually a subject that would make a great talk at GPP this year! I’d pay money for that.
    BTW – are you bringing the Phase to Dubai? Or is it just too much to lug around?
    Cheers, and maybe catch you in March.

  • Patrik Lindgren said on February 10, 2012

    Superb images of everyday people and their everyday life.

    I´m a bit fed up with the whole streetphotography-thing, it´s superpopular here in Sweden, but that is the kind of “real” streetphotography where you shoot snaps from the hip and never really engage with the subject. And by real i mean according to their own “rules”. Rules are meant to be broken, at least sometimes.

    I like this better, you engage in some way and get the approval and you walk away with great images of people in their own environment. Really good stuff!

  • CyberGus said on February 10, 2012

    Fantastic chemistry in those portraits

    I’v been doing some street portraits (inspired by your work too), here you can take a look, Stranger series and TNT portraits:


    And as Jay said, thanks for the inspiration :)

  • Zack said on February 10, 2012

    @CyberGus – Wow. Nice work. Thanks for sharing.


  • Daf said on February 10, 2012

    Thanks for the great answer :)

    Yeah – I have a pre-prepared answer about how much stuff costs too, but as it’s a D200 with the rubber grips hanging off – it’s not too far from the truth! Ha.

  • Rem said on February 10, 2012

    Cool pictures Zack, as usual! Go you with the tripod for street-photography?
    lg Rem

  • Zack said on February 10, 2012

    @Rem – Nope. This was all handheld at ISO 50 – 200.


  • John Cooper said on February 10, 2012

    Wow Zack. Your portrait work is taking on a whole new dimension with that camera. Don’t want to praise the machine instead of the operator, but these look almost like 5×4. It’s even in the composition. D’you find yourself framing differently with the Phase One? The depth of field’s beautiful, but even the colour (color) has a more natural look. Just beautiful.

  • Nasir Hamid said on February 10, 2012

    These look incredibly detailed, like HD, possibly too detailed for my tastes. A great set of images. There’s nothing like shooting portraits on the street of complete strangers, something I love to do and continue to do pretty much every day in my lunch break. I’ve found there’s a link between the camera you’re holding and your success rate of yes’s.

    More please.

  • Michael Whalen said on February 11, 2012

    WOW! Those are some bad ass shots, Zack. I now understand why you have been wanting to shoot medium format. No way could you get this same sharpness and DOF with digital or 35mm. So crisp and sharp! Excellent street shots!! Even the ones through the glass. I’ll never be able to afford the Phase, but I will continue to shoot with what I have. I want to thank you so much for doing the Creative Live videos. I have learned so much and – I know I will never be at your level – I have improved my photography alot by your videos.

    But anyway, your new tool is awesome dude. I know you will master it in no time.


  • Moira said on February 11, 2012

    I love love love the ones of the guy with the red hat!

  • rem said on February 11, 2012

    Thanks Zack, I thought as much. What will be a cool option (sometimes) is a monopod!
    I will try it here in my little hometown Bern. As soon it coms warmer!;-)

  • Max said on February 13, 2012

    Hi Zack,

    Greetings from Australia (again!). I love the images, but I do have a question. Do you carry with you model releases and get everyone you shoot to sign the model release forms? Just asking ’cause I’m inspired and would like to try some street photography. By the way, do are you still doing website critiques? If so I’d love it if you would be able to do mine. Thanks!

  • Zack said on February 13, 2012

    I don’t have people sign model releases. Number one I don’t plan on selling these. Number two that adds a whole new level of “What the hell are you doing this for?” kind of questions. Also, in the state I live in, there would have to be some sort of compensation paid for gaining a model release. I really don’t see myself selling these to Nike any time soon. If Nike wanted this kind of work for me then I’d go out and shoot for Nike and tell people I was shooting for Nike and I would compensate them for giving a release. I feel that’s the most professional way of doing that kind of thing.

    Without a release I can still show these pictures, sell them as art or editorial, or put them in a book of my work without fear of being sued.


  • Lech said on February 13, 2012

    Love the street portraits. The work through the glass/fence/boundaries has a special feel to it on a number of levels. I think you know that, I won’t go into it.
    But, I’m extremely curious to know how your experience changes shooting a small body camera versus a medium format. I’m sure you get alot of “there’s Ansel Adams coming” – and I’d expect there to be a different reaction than shooting with the Fuji x100, which feels, well, amateur to the casual bistander. Any thoughts on how the perceived professionalism of the camera effects the mood of the scene/people? Thanks, and I’ll take my answer off the air.

  • Zack said on February 13, 2012

    Lech – I did get more “Wow. What is that?” with the Phase but I haven’t found that people respond differently that much to what type of camera you are using. The fact is they were just standing there and somebody with a camera showed up asking to take their picture. The “asking to take their picture” is the first thing they are reacting to. The camera used doesn’t change that first reaction.


  • Run said on March 12, 2012

    Do you usually get consent / model release to publish street photos of people?

  • Zack said on March 12, 2012

    @Run – Nope. As long as they aren’t used for commercial purposes I can do so legally.

  • french said on October 29, 2014

    Hello zack,

    Love your approach!
    But…sticky Aperture on your X100(s) or (t) ???
    is that still a problem


  • Chip Quinn said on March 5, 2015

    You seem to have been put on Earth to take street portraits.

  • Chip Quinn said on May 18, 2015

    You describe how you meet people on the street, all cheerful and gladhanding to make contact and get them to allow pictures. However, in your best street portraits (which are stunning), the subjects are somewhere between somber and judgmental, and they stare directly at you. How does the transition from cheerful to confrontational come about?

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