Street Portraits :: NYC 09/2009 :: Video + Stills

I’ve been talking with some folks and the topic of street portraits came up. Some are scared to death to approach strangers on the street. I understand the feeling completely but there are times you have to get over your anxiety about talking to strangers and pursue what it is you want to do. While I was in NYC a few weeks ago I decided to practice what I preach. I gave myself the assignment of shooting 10 portraits of 10 strangers in 10 hours. I had to sandwich these in between other shoots I had on the books while I was there. I approached 15 people and 9 accepted my request.

For those of you who have expressed your concerns about approaching strangers lemme give you some advice.

1) Read David duChemin’s book Within The Frame. David talks in depth about pursuing and expressing your vision where people, places, and culture are concerned. It’s a fantastic book with lots of technical and philosophical meat to dig your teeth into.

2) Get over talking to strangers. I know your mom told you not to but seriously, it’s ok. You will be amazed at how many people open themselves up to you. It’s a great experience for them and for you.

3) Don’t try to approach people who are on their way somewhere. Find someone just hanging out. You won’t be interrupting their schedule.

4) Guys, know your limit with approaching females. Some of you are suave and can do it with style. Dorks like me look like we are just trying a bad pick-up line. Know your limit. Ladies, well, y’all have it easy. Talk to anyone you want. :)

4) As David writes in his book, be kind, smile, and extend warmth and friendship to the folks you meet.

5) Many will tell you “no”. Many will say yes. Listen to what Janet said in the video above. She had not had a portrait made of her in 35 years! She wouldn’t have one getting shipped to her if someone had not simply asked to take a portrait of her.Anyway, here are my portraits. They aren’t the most amazing portraits I’ve ever shot but I’m glad I put myself out there. I met some great people I would have otherwise never talked to.

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NYC street portrait half_spacer.jpg Cheers, Zack


  • Kara said on September 15, 2009

    I LOVE NY. And this.

  • Scott said on September 15, 2009

    This is really inspiring. I went to NYC last summer, and this makes me want to go back so bad. Awesome video and awesome portraits!

  • JVS said on September 15, 2009

    Very cool Zack! Thanks for heads up on duChemin’s book.

  • Cale Glendening said on September 15, 2009

    You need a fisheye?!?

    hahahaha. Great post sir.

  • Carlos Baez said on September 15, 2009

    When I was a student at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale in 1985, they gave us a similar assignment, it was called 72 people on 2 rolls of film, and make contact sheets where all your exposures had to be right on.

    Great job as always Zack, love your spirit.
    Can’t wait to meet you one day, let me know if you make it to Miami.
    Carlos Baez

  • Broderick @ Savory Exposure said on September 15, 2009

    I’ll have to make this same assignment for myself here in Atlanta. Great stuff and love the video. Were these taken with the 5DMKII? Curious if you’re using a fixed lens also, I usually use my 50mm

  • Jeffrey Chapman said on September 15, 2009

    I love people.

  • Jeffrey Chapman said on September 15, 2009

    I love people.

  • Chiat Hau said on September 15, 2009

    Awesome work Zack. I love it very much! Specially on how you make connection with the people on the street. (I believe that’s the most important part of street photography).

    Thanks for sharing your work, all of them are just GREAT… :)

  • C.C. Chapman said on September 15, 2009

    The portraits alone are amazing, but the video really sealed the deal. Damn dude. You’ve got a way about you. Keep it up!

  • zack said on September 15, 2009

    Jeff, you love people twice! :)


  • peter bang said on September 15, 2009

    Love the idea! Way to lead Zack! btw, where’s the 10th stranger? :)

  • Jonathan said on September 15, 2009

    Great stuff !

    Do you ask for model release ??

  • Harry Arruda said on September 15, 2009

    Zack – Another masterpiece !

  • zack said on September 15, 2009

    @Broderick – These were shot with the 5dMkII and a 35mm f2. I wish I would have just kept the video rolling as I was shooting stills. I’m going to do that the next time I do something like this.


  • zack said on September 15, 2009

    @Peter – I never got to the 10th person. I had 2 band shoots and one video to shoot on the same day so I was slightly limited on my time for this self assignment.

    @Jonathan – I do not ask for a model release as I have no intentions of using these images in a commercial application. That’s the only time you would have to have a model release here in the states.

  • Alex D. said on September 15, 2009

    The power of asking!

    It never hurts.

  • Kurt Shoens said on September 15, 2009

    For street portraits like these, how much time do you figure on for each one … before your subject loses interest or becomes self-conscious about it?

  • Jamez said on September 15, 2009

    Hey Zack, cool photos and another great post.

    You got some really nice light going on there for impromptu street portraits. I was wondering, did you use a reflector or anything?

  • Jim said on September 15, 2009

    Great video (again) Zack

    Background on shots – where did you typically hold the flash? Did you use straight flash or modifier?

  • Reid Slaughter said on September 15, 2009

    These are very cool, and more proof that photography and video can bring us together in a positive way. We are all connected. We need each other! Zack, way to go for doing something artistic and affirming, man.

  • zack said on September 15, 2009

    @Kurt – I spent less than 3 minutes with each person unless they wanted to chat beyond the portrait time. I don’t want to ever wear out a welcome so I move in and move out quickly and with a smile. :)


  • Kristen Ashton said on September 15, 2009

    Great video and even better photos, I love the last photo and the video of Janet especially.

  • Rhonda said on September 15, 2009

    nice. you have such a knack for capturing the essence of people.

  • Kurt Shoens said on September 15, 2009

    Thank you! 3 minutes is a good budget. Enough time to make a good portrait while not over thinking it.

  • Mark said on September 15, 2009

    I have a 100 Strangers project going – I just got #30, #31 and #32 in Chicago. I don’t have a time-limit, maybe I should to get me moving a bit more on this. But it’s a great project, gets me out there talking to people and there are some REALLY interesting people out there.

    If you care to check out a slideshow of my portraits, it’s here:

  • Al said on September 15, 2009

    Great stuff. Gotta love the video quality on the 5d mkii, looks amazing. Zack I think you should branch into filmmaking, you just have a knack for storytelling!

  • Mark said on September 15, 2009

    Oh, and I give them my card with the blog address, and also offer to send them the image as well if they email me.

    No one has.

  • andy said on September 15, 2009

    Jana is the coolest one of them all. Love the video conversation with her and her photo.

  • Matt Palmer said on September 15, 2009

    I took as much inspiration from your rejections as I took from the people you got to say yes. I’m not sure I’ll fear the dreaded “no” so much from now on. The video shows you just have to relax and have fun. I guess people will pick up on it if you’re nervous or hesitant in any way and quickly move on.

  • andy brophy said on September 15, 2009

    hey zack….great job with these.

    i had just done this in Atlanta with just a few people a couple weeks ago but looking forward to doing it more…you say they aren’t the best portraits ever, but what’s cool is that they are special to you b/c you remember the story and the experience

    way to go

  • MIke K. said on September 15, 2009

    Wow very cool. I especially like the photo of the woman who hasn’t had a portriat taken in 30+ years. Her facial expressions, mannerisms and style are just awesome!

    Damn why didn’t I think of this when I lived in NY?

  • Chris said on September 15, 2009

    Thanks again for the inspiration. So much diversity in NYC…

  • zack said on September 15, 2009

    @Jamez and @Jim – These were all natural light. I only asked people who were sitting or standing in light I would want to photograph.

    The one that got away was a girl holding a bike rentals sign standing in drop dead gorgeous light. She was Russian and did not understand english very well and, as I said above, she probably thought I was trying to ask her out!


  • Jim said on September 15, 2009

    Thanks a ton Zack!

  • andy said on September 15, 2009

    The weird part (for me) is that even though I can literally talk to anyone I meet as if I’ve known them forever I can’t bring myself to ask someone to let me take a quick portrait.

    In my mind most people would be kind apprehensive about it, but seeing this kind of nudges me in the right direction.

    Our downtown area is saturated with interesting people and some pretty nice locations at that so I may just see if I can work on my nerve a bit. Thanks for the post and inspiration.

  • scotty said on September 15, 2009

    zack, this is absolut cool – i love this street-shootings – NYC – great city/great people

    BR from Europe/hannes

  • Wes Head said on September 15, 2009

    Zack, I’m inspired.

    I set out to start a “strangers” project today. I walked the street for 30 minutes and had 4 solid opportunities in great open shade. I froze or found any excuse I could not to approach a single soul.

    I returned hammered with defeat and overly discouraged. Having watched this, I’m going out again tomorrow.

    God bless man, and thanks for always putting it out there.


  • Dan said on September 15, 2009

    well done, indeed.

    my favorite aspect of the shots you post on your blog is finding the “usedfilm” watermark/logo in each image.

    I’d venture to guess you (or whoever’s doing it) spends just as much time dropping those in as you do editing the image – if not more. :)

    as always, thanks for the inspiration,


  • Brianna Munro said on September 15, 2009

    Awesome idea. You put street portraits/candids into a whole new level. Love your great idea’s Zack!

  • Dylan B said on September 15, 2009

    You’re on the ball this summer Zack – keep on rocking it.


  • GT said on September 15, 2009

    Very cool and thanks for sharing both side. Meaning the Yes and the Nos’. Awesome to see people say No and for those who said Yes, it was awesome to hear what they had to say. Shows how human love to be asked questions and share their stories, still today! Hope you realize the pleasure that you made for that old lady. I’m always amaze at what they have to say and how much experience they had in their lives. The people over 75 years old, have seen the most evolution. The first TV, computers, first man on the moon… We on the other hand, we only see faster, bigger, more expensive… Enough philosophy and good work Zack :)

  • Lola said on September 15, 2009

    I often do want to go around town and ask people if I can capture their pictures. Most of the time I just think I cannot manage to do so with my two toddlers running around me :(

  • Nas said on September 15, 2009

    Zak, you continue to inspire. That’s why I keep coming back to check out your work :)

  • Daniel Fuentealba said on September 15, 2009

    Awesome Zack… my God, awesome man… you know… you’re the man Zack… I’m telling you… you’re the man. You know what you’re doing… very inspiring. Where the hell is my camera… let’s go buddy! we have work to do…

  • Daniel Fuentealba said on September 15, 2009

    what a nice tool is a video recording photo camera when people don’t know they’re recording… you just put it hanging there while you’re doing the talking… very casual, live. I’ll give my flip a try hehehe.

  • Amro Dessouki said on September 15, 2009

    The video is amazing Zack , Although here in Egypt ppl are like afraid from being photographed 😀 , they think here that they might be under investigation or smthn

  • numbeos said on September 15, 2009

    Zack, great job! Just wanted to tell you that I hope one day you grasp a chance of doing this project in any mediterranean countries. You’ll definitely feel the energy among people on the street. In Turkey, to be frank, we dont even need any book as a guide of how to interact with people..I mean approaching so called “strangers” is not a big deal at all…:)any plan to come over here to experience what I tried to mean?

  • Jason said on September 15, 2009

    YOU LIVE THE BEST LIFE. Thanks for being Awesome.

  • Jase said on September 16, 2009

    Hey Zack – very inspirational and very motivating – i do like the subtle use of the used image logo on the back of the truck trailer and the building’s window too 😉

    Cheers, Jase
    An Aussie in Switzerland

  • Daniel S. said on September 16, 2009

    Hey Zack, I can’t tell you how much I’m thank for your posts, i haven’t read it for a week, cause i had some work going on, so i’m not sure if I’ll be able to submit something, in the project helping people, but I have a couple of ideas for that, meanwhile the closest one, is next sunday, taking pictures of strangers along something called recreative via, which is a goberment project in my city, where they close some miles of street for people to use it to walk, bike, skate, etc. Promise i’ll drag myself to do it, thanks for the inspiration. Daniel

  • Paul Treacy said on September 16, 2009

    “Behave yourself!” Great stuff. What a grin that guy had. I left NYC a year ago. I miss it. Now I’m in London and love it just a much a NYC.

  • Rob Davis said on September 16, 2009

    Hey Zach

    Just wanted to say a big thank you to you for all the work you put in for your blog readers.
    I check your website regularly and always learn something new.
    Shooting ‘strangers’ has always been a sticking point with me. I guess it’s because the people I’d most like to photograph are the most intimidating to approach!

    Many thanks.

  • Simon said on September 16, 2009

    “That’s a nice camera, need a fisheye for that?”

    Gotta love NYC camera dealers :)

  • Carlo said on September 16, 2009

    When I started photography, and I started taking candid on the street, I was scared of asking people. Living in London, but not being an English mothertongue was scary, but I like the direct approach, so I did something similar few months ago, but instead of ten portraits in ten hours, with another photographer we did a Thousand portraits in a weekend!
    Sometimes it is not about the quality of the single shot, but more about the target of the whole. I learned how to approach people, how to avoid the “fear of rejection” and this helped me progressing, if not technically, personally!

  • LluisGerard said on September 16, 2009

    I have no words.

    I’m very shy and I love to take portraits. I love how you do and the way you are approaching to the people. I have to see this post each time that I get sad because I can’t go to someone to take the picture.

    Right now, I’m at job, and I have a BW film camera (charged with 30 photos). I will try to go out (when I finish my work) and I will try to do that, you inspired me.

    Regards from Barcelona.

  • zero-zero said on September 16, 2009

    Ok, I give up. Somebody please point to me where the usedfilm logo is on the pic of the second person (the camera salesman).

    As Dan said in reply #40, they are the icing on the cake – you get a great image, and then you get to play hide and seek. Love it!

    3rd from the bottom looks just like that guy in “House”-forget his name right now.

  • Alli Gaulin said on September 16, 2009

    You pump me up.

    The pink hat lady- I adore her.

  • RJS said on September 16, 2009

    I not only dig the portraits, but I also dig how always manage to blend your “used film” brand into the image in a way that does not immediately jump out at you-

  • Landon said on September 16, 2009

    Thank you. This is inspirational. Good work.

  • Landon said on September 16, 2009

    BTW I’m missing your photo critiques videos. Your videos were the most effective tool I’ve seen for developing an eye for photographs.

  • Paul said on September 16, 2009

    Really great images and a cool video with some really interesting characters. I love the way the video has been edited and the quality is very good from the 5D Mk.II

    Like post #40, I love the way the Usedfilm logo is neatly placed in the images

  • Nigel Pinto said on September 16, 2009

    Once again, an inspiring post.
    I need to get up and get on the road.

    Thanks again.
    Regards from Dubai.

  • Kristina said on September 16, 2009

    I especially like the character in the Raider’s hat. He’s got quite the mischievous grin. There’s a story there… he’d be fun to shoot for a couple of hours.

    Also loving your sly logo insertion. For a minute I thought you owned a bike cart in NYC. 😉

  • Valerie said on September 16, 2009

    Wow! Your pictures inspire me soooo much. Love your work! Great work!

  • Lisa B said on September 16, 2009

    YOU ROCK! I’ll be in NYC for Photo Plus and always ALWAYS go street shooting when I am there. I try to drag some other togs with me. There is no place like NYC or the people in it!

  • Carrie Davis said on September 16, 2009

    Each day I come here I’m inspired – this rocks.

  • Martin said on September 16, 2009

    “Behave yourself.” That pretty much sums it up.
    Thanks for the video.

  • IpNextGen said on September 16, 2009

    Zack! wow, im currently writing an article on the same subject with similar objectives except i was limiting myself to jpeg from camera and a 64Meg CompactFlash!

    Here’s a preview of the article [french but still a photo is a photo ] :

  • Maciek Lesniak said on September 16, 2009

    Great portraits & video, thank You Zack once again for sharing your knowledge! I love what You do man! Keep it up!

  • Rob said on September 16, 2009

    @zero-zero Look at the 29.99 price tag on the luggage… I know, it took me forever too. As soon as I saw how busy that photograph was I dreaded trying to find it.

  • Megan said on September 16, 2009

    I did this a while ago in Little Five Points….I was so nervous approaching the first few people, but got over it really quickly….Not a single person said I couldn’t take their picture. Great experiment to get you out of your comfort zone! I met a really cool guy playing sax on the corner and got an awesome shot of him…..gave it to him to use for promo stuff.

  • Ralph Honsbeek said on September 16, 2009

    Hi Zack ,

    Great Idea and brave ,

    I am so gonna try it out myself … Hey no flash ? ^^ he he


  • kristi said on September 16, 2009

    behave yourself……that and the accompanying smirk just killed me! Fabulous work.

  • Tony said on September 16, 2009

    @zero-zero: it’s on the price sign to the guy’s left.

  • marcus said on September 16, 2009

    There’s no difference between approaching women or men for their photos on the street. Does it really matter whether someone says no to having their portrait made, because they think you’re a dork and it’s a bad pickup line or whether they’re just uncomfortable in front of the camera? You’re likely to just be told no in either case, and so you move on to someone else. It seems like such a minor thing to impose such a huge limit on your vision.

  • theresa said on September 16, 2009

    Beautiful photos and an inspirational post. As a very amateur photographer I have a question. Do you need anything other than people’s verbal permission to take their photos? Do you ask people to sign their permission before you can post them on your blog? I’ve always wondered about this, and it’s stopped me from ever asking people if I could take their photos.

  • Scott Statson said on September 16, 2009

    Love it! This is one of my favorite things to do – it is fun to take a little time and simply ask strangers if you can take their photo – as you mentioned Zack many will have no problem with it and it tends be enjoyable for both parties – thanks Zack!

  • Tom Li said on September 16, 2009

    Great post. Approaching strangers for photos is always something I have trouble with. Thanks!

  • Igor said on September 16, 2009

    You are not just good photographer. You are good video editor too. :-)

  • Michael Daniels said on September 16, 2009

    Wonderful portraits. I can see a connection between you and the subject in each shot.

    I have to admit that just the thought of approaching people made me start sweating and shaking(yes literally).

    I’m going to try it though. It will probably take me longer than ten hours, but I believe it will get easier with practice and is essential if I want to call myself “photographer” at some point in time.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Kellie said on September 16, 2009

    Completely awesome and inspirational. Love the video. Thanks for all that you do Zack!

  • Fred said on September 16, 2009

    this is great….I was just doing this yesterday in NYC…I think I also learned to not approach people that are going somewhere!

  • alim said on September 16, 2009

    What a great post! Very informative and inspirational. Bringing along the video camera was a nice touch too, thanks for sharing the experience with us!

    To follow-up on Jonathan’s question about releases…if you happened to have a portrait that turned out extremely well, would you need a release to post it on a website (say, for a portfolio)?

    I think this a great exercise, one we can all learn from.


  • Norton Zanini said on September 16, 2009

    “Zack: @Jonathan – I do not ask for a model release as I have no intentions of using these images in a commercial application. That’s the only time you would have to have a model release here in the states.”

    Answered my question.
    That was one of the things that kept me from doing…i should just just’ve done a quick research, and yes I felt scared to death to take my “seattle portraits”

    For the first portrait it took me 15 minutes sitting besides the subject, and when I opened my mouth, he was very cool and easy going… yes 15 minutes waste of time… you just gotta ask and be friendly…

    What you are doing Zack is REALLY great, its showing how it is on the REAL field, and what it takes…def will push many ppl up 😉

    Thanks again,

    Norton Zanini

  • paul sherar said on September 16, 2009

    Great post Zack, now i’m inspired. I work with a couple photogs and we have decided to push each other with a self assignment like this

  • Jeremy Hall said on September 16, 2009

    Love the video showing your interaction. I have done some of this on occasion and enjoy it thoroughly when I do. I need to find a time & place to get out and do some street portraits again. Pushes me out of my typical comfort zone.

  • Sulej said on September 16, 2009

    Very nice video, and pics!

  • Kaysha said on September 16, 2009

    I’m lovin’ all your videos! Thanks for the reminder to just go talk to people, the results are always worth it!

  • cristina thornburg said on September 16, 2009

    Love it!

  • Dana~from chaos to Grace said on September 16, 2009

    I’ve recently had to do this at an Indian Pow Wow. I was so scared to do it, but honestly, after a few times, it really isn’t a big deal!

    And when it was over, and I went through the photos on my computer, I was not only PROUD of what I’d done, but I had some beautiful memories too!

    Is it terrible of me to say I found it almost EASIER to shoot strangers than people I know?

  • Dana~from chaos to Grace said on September 16, 2009

    Oh, I LOVED your photos by the way! Can I be you when I grow up?


    What’s that?

    I’m OLDER than you?

    Mere details….I wanna be you when I grow up.

  • Ryan said on September 16, 2009

    Zack, you may appreciate this $2 portrait idea started by Thomas Hawk a while back. He gives $2 to anyone on the street asking him for money in exchange for a picture of them. His idea spawned a great group on flickr devoted to the idea. I’ve since tried it out a few times and have met some incredibly interesting people while keeping me on my toes photographically.

  • Noah said on September 16, 2009

    You rock Zack! I read your blogs and look at your pics all the time… this is the first time I´ve commented though. Thanks so much… you always manage to inspire me and put a smile on my face! I´m kinda shy with strangers and the video really helped me! BTW, what camera are you doing the vids with?

    Thanks again!


  • zack said on September 16, 2009

    @theresa (#78) – You can photograph anyone without permission as long as you are both in a public area. That’s how the paparazzi get to stay in business.

    You can not stand in a public area and legally photograph someone in a private area.

    You can stand in a private area and photograph people who are in a public area.

    You can do just about anything you want with the photos including selling them to newspapers or magazines as long as they are being used in an editorial / journalistic manner. You can sell them for a million dollars if you can get it.

    AS SOON as that picture is used in a COMMERCIAL application then you better have a model release or you are getting your day in court and you will be paying.

    So, if you take a photo of someone and it becomes an advertisement for a product or service, you have to have a release. If it is not being used in a commercial application you do not have to have permission or a release.

    Using it for your portfolio or in a book of your work is a grey area. Lawyers will tell you that you should have a release just to cover your arse but you don’t really have to. More likely than not you would get a cease and desist letter from a lawyer and then you make the choice as to whether you want to fight it or not from that point.

    Hope this helps. And again, these are US laws. I can’t speak to other countries.


  • Leon said on September 16, 2009

    I follow your blog but first time I am commenting….wanted to comment during the Soap Salesman era but there were a million comments so thought it would get drowned out. this one really hit home….absolutely great! I am a New Yorker living in London and wast just home during Labo(u)r Day weekend… really captured the city wonderfully man!! My favorite, although it was hard to pick, one was the guy who offered to sell you a fisheye….that is the VINTAGE NY hustle…brilliant work!

  • Mattias said on September 16, 2009

    Awsome !!

    So many wonderfull people we miss passing by on the street today!


  • Kelli Christoferson said on September 16, 2009

    awesome! So inspiring… thanks for all you do to get us photographers moving out of the box!

  • .:dan:. said on September 16, 2009

    THIS IS AWESOME… im going to be doing this.. I travel for work and now I have something to do in the evening besides sitting in the hotel…Thank you Zack for urging me to get off my ass and do something worth while.


  • Michael Shivers said on September 16, 2009

    Zack that was great! I looked at the portraits first and then came back later today and watched the video. it’s amazing how much the video adds to the portraits. Not that photography itself doesn’t do it, but the video just added a whole new level of meaning and understanding of each individual’s character. Thanks for doing this. As I am on a photo/video merge kick, this is really inspiring.

    DId you figure out a work flow editing wise with FCE? Did you transcode beforehand or just do the long renders during the edit?

  • Juliet said on September 16, 2009

    Zack, love this. As a woman, it’s a little easier to get a positive response from a stranger, man or woman, but i find it a little dangerous if I’m alone going up to strangers as a woman because of the perceived vulnerability of women. But none the less a great exercise. I did this once, the first time out with a 1976 Nikon EM, and got some cool portraits of kids and a man on a bench. I should try it again. Thanks for that. :)

  • Brian said on September 16, 2009

    Great portraits and the video was extremely helpful. Nice work and that shot of Janet is perfect…

    Did you exchange any contact info or share a business card if they were interested? I like how you moved on when they said no and didn’t stay to pester them, real classy!

  • Catalina said on September 16, 2009

    Zack, these are awesome! Makes me that much more excited to move to NYC this fall and take on a project like this – and what better way to practice my portrait photography?
    Looking forward to chatting with you next month re: Photo 101 follow up calls. I can’t wait to share my most recent work and get yo’ feedback!

  • Robert said on September 16, 2009

    I decided to take some portraits of strangers for the first time ever today after reading this. Even though my shot’s didn’t turn out good (I was inside and so it was a bit too dark, not to mention my nervousness) I thank you for giving me the courage to do so!

  • Tim said on September 16, 2009

    Those are amazing, especially the woman who advised spending your money and who hadn’t had her picture taken in thirty years. She was so interesting and memorable. I’ve read DuChamin’s book, and want to get up the nerve to do some street portraits too. It’s such a basic and real aspect of photography. Thanks for the post.

  • Anne said on September 16, 2009

    Thank you for sharing your video. It was really great to meet the people you photographed, very interesting and nice people. In some sense photography can be seen as only watching life from the sidelines, but in reality and my own favorite work is when it draws me into meeting and interacting with people I would never have known. Gorgeous portraits too!

  • laura said on September 16, 2009

    YES. Great job. I had so much anxiety when I was in the middle of getting my photojournalism degree, most of it related to talking to strangers.

    The rewards, however, are infinite. Photography is about curiosity.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Peter said on September 16, 2009

    This is brilliant.

  • ABRAHAM said on September 16, 2009

    loved this post. very inspiring. i will try this concept soon. out here in l.a. i’ll do it in spanish!

  • GLENSCOLAN said on September 17, 2009

    the number of comments show that you are a great photographer !

    One question, how long did you use for this work ?

  • Marc Pritchard said on September 17, 2009

    Wicked shots, I love the style of portrait and you clearly have had a connection judging from the expressions you’ve captured! inspiring!

  • Michael Sebastian said on September 17, 2009

    Dude, if you ever harbor any residual doubt about this issue, banish it. It’s YOU. Your success resides in YOU. You can connect with people; you obviously have a way with them that comes thru. By your own estimation, your appearance is unconventional in some respects (not hatin’ on you, I hope you know) yet you exude something people feel right away that transcends the wrapper you walk around in.

    Don’t mean to sound like a butt-kissing fanboy here, but it’s as plain as the nose on your face. You coulda shot these portraits with a bad cellphone camera and they’d have been good.

    Like you, I find I have to MAKE myself do things. I create my own inertia and it trips me up. For instance, I’ve wanted to shoot a series of portraits against a plain background using my 4×5 camera and an old Goertz Dogmar 10-3/4″ lens and Compound shutter salvaged from a nineteenth-century whole-plate camera. I have no studio space but my garage, so I hauled up the backdrop paper apparatus. Now I need to get off my ass and set up some lights and JUST SHOOT THE PORTRAITS. Already my mind is erecting obstacles–too much trouble, no sync contact on the old shutter, no one wants to sit, what modifier should I use, etc, etc, waaaah, waaah!

    Ennui. That’s the word. And it’s the enemy of all that’s good or new or creative. This video and these portraits show the way. leading by example.

    Thanks man.

  • zack said on September 17, 2009

    @Michael – I haven’t figured out my workflow just yet. Still working on it.

  • zack said on September 17, 2009

    @Brian – I did share contact info if they wanted it.

  • zack said on September 17, 2009

    @MikeSeb – I’m your fan boy! :)

  • Vincent Mistretta said on September 17, 2009

    Did you have each of these people sign releases? What are your feelings about getting strangers to sign releases, when do you think you need to? Getting a release has been the thing that stops me the most about taking candids or street portraits.

  • zack said on September 17, 2009

    @Vincent – see comment 97


  • Bertrand said on September 17, 2009

    I looooove these portraits and… these people!!

  • Bertrand said on September 17, 2009

    … and I know who is this woman (
    Annie Leibovitz without her glasses. Isn’t this? Ha ha!

  • Dylan said on September 17, 2009

    Nice one, Zack. We’ve been doing a similar thing here in Seoul for a few weeks now after seeing Clay Enos’ video a while back. Results are interesting, check my flickr stream for a few examples.

  • Mason Resnick said on September 17, 2009

    Nicely done, Zack!

  • Tim Limon said on September 17, 2009

    Zack, Nice entry. I did some street shooting at a shopping mall on the west coast and blogged about it. Here’s the entry

    P.S. Please don’t critique my blog. I’m a hobbyist with a day job…

  • Mark Culata said on September 17, 2009

    Very inspiring work, Zack!

  • Ed Verosky said on September 17, 2009

    I think these portraits are outstanding, actually. Great job, Zack.

  • Bill Raab said on September 18, 2009

    Thanks Zack. I don’t know ya but I love ya brother.

    Now – off to get me a fish eye.

  • trace said on September 18, 2009

    OT, but I saw this bit on Vincent Laforet’s blog. If you have the day free and the studio’s available, would make a good combo, eh?
    ~ trace

  • Jennifer said on September 18, 2009

    Hi Zack,
    I’m wondering how you metered for exposure here. Did you have your camera on aperture priority or was it on manual? I’m learning to “expose to the right” and imagine I’d have to take two or three shots of the person before I get my exposure where I want it! Just wondering how much time you took to do that. :)

  • Devon said on September 18, 2009

    Nice work, found inspiration in both video and stills. I’m currently doing the 100 Strangers project on flickr. Basically, same idea.

  • Obi said on September 18, 2009

    I think you guys are a bit luckier in the States. You can probably only do this in London during summer

  • Shawn Read said on September 19, 2009

    Hey Zack, great videos! I had to do a similar exercise for photography school over the summer, and I loved it! Maybe I’ll hit the mean streets of Boston today and try it again, thanks as always for the inspiration!

  • Scott Webb said on September 19, 2009

    I just watched this on my apple tv and had to jump on here right after.

    To me, the key here wasn’t the exposure, the, the light, the number of photos, the coolness of the video.

    What I took from this was the simle art of the ask. You’re demeanor and opening was kickass. This is where I have struggled. “I was wondering if I could take your picture” just wasn’t sitting well in my head and didn’t allow me to have the courage.

    This simple, and small idea, is going to to help take a few things in the right direction.

    I thank you and I really want a camera that can do video now too! SO kickass. Maybe a flip is in order for this kind of stuff. I’ll try my iphone with video first though.

    I tried going out for a “freesytle Photoshoot” and came back with maybe one picture. so much went wrong. it was a learning experience though and when I try this, it’s doing to make me stronger.

  • Darren M said on September 19, 2009

    Just finished watching the podcast, then came here. Totally enjoyed it and really like how you approach people.

  • Rath said on September 19, 2009

    great post!!!

    i luv it

  • Marie said on September 20, 2009

    I’m so gonna do this in my little town…thanks for the inspiration and courage.

  • Jessica said on September 20, 2009

    so simple. so effective!

  • Chad Pennington said on September 21, 2009

    Zack you always inspire me like Scott Kelby or Chris Orwig

    Let me ask , can you blog a vudeo and show us soup to nuts how you make and edit your video in post production. From adding text to music. This would help a lot of us thanks

  • Ben said on September 21, 2009

    Great work Zack, thanks for letting us see the “behind the scenes” of what led up to these shots.

    Quick question, I see that you’re shooting some of these at ISO 400 and I have to imagine that you’re not letting the camera make this decision for you. Was there so little light that this was necessary (even at the low f-stops?) or was there another artistic reason to not be shooting as low as possible? Granted, can’t imagine there’s too much more noise with the 5D at 400 from 100.. I always try to ask questions when I see something different from what I’ve learned.. Thanks! Always inspired by your creativity and talent.

  • Val Pasquil said on September 21, 2009

    its always fun looking at your pictures. i always look for the USED FILM watermark first then appreciate the photo.

  • Abel Longoria said on September 21, 2009

    great series indeed… looking forward to the mixer and workshop here in Houston!

  • Dimitris said on September 21, 2009

    What is Jason Button doing in NYC? lol! Nice concept and execution.

  • tim tab said on September 21, 2009

    great stuff… really inspiring…. I totally want to give that a try!

  • Thomas Lester said on September 21, 2009

    I love these pics. One, because I used to live in NYC and miss it dearly. Two, it’s like playing “where’s Waldo” with your water mark!

  • Doug said on September 21, 2009

    It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try, I can’t get that “special” look you have to your portraits, the colors really “pop” and they just look so “natural.”

    You said this was all done with natural light, but in the video I see your assistant carrying a light stand?

    Did you use your “magic one-light technique?”

  • Raf said on September 21, 2009

    Another great project !

    Zack when do you come do workshop in UK ?

  • Mark said on September 22, 2009

    Thanks for this post. The photography is absolutely stunning. I did this a few times during my trip to Europe and it worked out.

    I’ll definitely make more effort to if I can take their photo.

    Great work.

  • Casey said on September 22, 2009

    This is a very inspiring post! I’m gonna do the same project and I’m anticipating some great results.

  • keith said on September 22, 2009

    Thank you for showing me it’s okay to be rejected.

    Beautiful work, way to hustle.

  • Tom K. said on September 22, 2009

    I’m sorry…..but…..Zack continues to rule the thinking mans photography world.


  • Terri said on September 24, 2009

    Hi Zack!
    You’ve got this photographer/filmmaker all kinds of inspired! I noticed many questions on if you shot in AV or used a reflector. I’m curious also! Your lighting is stellar and I’d love to know how you get such great images out of your Mk II in 3 minutes!

  • Eduardo K said on September 24, 2009

    Hey Zack… I’m from Brazil! I got your site on a friend twitter’s. Very cool!!! Congrats!

  • Todd said on September 24, 2009

    You really can’t beat NYC :) The people you meet is at least 75% of the fun you have, whenever you visit. I could never afford to live in the city, but it’s definitely an experience every time I visit. Homeboy was trying to sell you a fisheye – hahha I can see you hit up the chinatown district, canal st. Awesome job on the portraits, and great vid Zack.

  • Nathan said on September 24, 2009

    That’s great Zack! I really need to start giving myself assignments like this. Great video and photographs man!


  • wilsonian said on September 28, 2009

    These are brilliant. Trying to work out ‘environmental portraits’ in my head, and these examples are as good as any I’ve seen. Thank you.

  • Adam Leahy said on September 28, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this Zack. I used it in my photography classes today (high school) as a starter to a conversation about portraiture.

  • Sooz said on September 29, 2009

    you’re work always makes me feel.
    thank you for that

  • amber - smitten said on September 30, 2009

    i was just in new york for the first time and saw so many interesting people i wanted to take photos of but didn’t even ask. thanks for the amazing post.

  • Garry said on October 2, 2009

    I love Nicks advice at the end..
    “Behave yourself -that’s it!”

  • Dave said on October 2, 2009

    It took me a while to get going on this, but just started on Tuesday. After asking the first one or 2, it gets a bit easier. Place me as one of the scared to death people who’s slowly over coming it.

    Thanks for the idea!

  • zack said on October 2, 2009

    @Doug – These were all available light. You did see an assistant walking around with a tripod but that was for some of the assignments I was shooting. I didn’t use anything for these portraits.

    Also note, I only asked for portraits for people who were in light that I wanted to photograph.


  • Alexandra said on October 4, 2009

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m LOOOOOVING it!!!!! … I love the video at the start :) It’s incredible. And I love the portraits :) It has inspired me to do something similar :) Thanks for the inspiration and I will be following from now on :) I LOVE your words and your photos :) Great stuff!

  • Tony Eckersley said on October 4, 2009

    This is a great project Zack, thanks for sharing.

    My photography skills have been able to develop because of photographers/professionals like yourself, Chase Jarvis, David Hobby, David Nightingale, Joe McNally and Scott Kelby and their willingness to share is a tool any photographer, professional, amateur and people just starting out, should be taking notice of.



  • HP said on October 5, 2009

    thanks for the inspiration Zack, always wanted to try this but didn’t find a way to start it. Keep up the great work. Greetings from Mexico!


  • “I got stuck here and I can’t get out” -hilarious.

    I guess if you just approach people with the right attitude and personality then people are much more willing. But if you were to be timid I doubt you’d have such luck.

    “live in peace and love eachother”

    “i say spend spend spend, and everybody elses money too” “haven’t had a picture taken in maybe 35 years”

    “behave yourself”
    It looks like you got more photos of vendors, are they more likely to say yes? I want to try this, except it’s 39degrees outside right now.

  • Kate said on October 8, 2009

    You and your work are inspiring and encouraging, as always. I love this little project and how you drew these folks out. I especially enjoyed your exchange with Janet (and so happy she’s getting a portrait of herself after so many years!), and Nick’s advice for the world… “behave yourself”… those are words to live by. :-)

  • lynn daly said on October 11, 2009

    Your creative approach to dropping in your logo is totally fresh.

  • Puregroove_Org said on October 13, 2009

    Awesome vid, man with a great message. I appreciate you doing it.

  • Joe Milton said on October 16, 2009

    Zack, I’m kicking myself for not visiting your blog more often. What an excellent and inspiring video. To me there’s nothing more interesting that the human face and every individual human story. Thanks for the tiny little peek inside these people’s lives.

  • Nancy Ebert said on October 16, 2009

    Wow, zack! Very inspirational! You have a New Fan now in Germany :-)
    maybe you’ll like my New Blog, too!
    All the Best, Nancy

  • Fortunatas said on October 17, 2009

    Zack, you’ve made a really important post with nice tips! Once in my 14 yrs I tried to ask people what time is it and what’s the name of the street I’m walking. Why? It was an exercise to overcome shyness, and it helped me a lot. Now I’ll make it in my 35 only with camera and a little self-project. Thanks for inspiration!


  • Neale Smith said on October 22, 2009

    Inspirational Zack, great video great shots, thanks for sharing!!

  • Janet said on December 5, 2009

    Love these! I am new to photography; I live in NYC, and have missed a lot of people shots because I am reluctant to intrude. This really helps. What do you find works best when you ask permission…and do you always offer to send them a copy? If so, what size? Thanks in advance for your reply…

  • Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home said on December 5, 2009

    Love this! The people and stories are fascinating. Oh, and the photos, too. :-)

  • Natasha said on December 5, 2009

    I’ve watched this for 10 times now and I think I’ll replay it more. :) It’s so inspiring and so amusing… They all are great and I really like the woman saying: “spend spend spend… ” and the closing line is fantastic: “behave yourself… that’s it”. :) Love your work!

  • Shereen said on December 5, 2009

    Great Shots and I have to admit a push forward for everyone whohas the fear of approaching people on the street to take their pictures. I am not sure how it will work out here in Cairo, but i will definately give it a try…

  • Stuart Walker Photography said on December 8, 2009

    I’d love to try some street photography. I guess the same kind of people skills used in wedding photography would help. Thanks for sharing.

  • Derek Boston said on December 10, 2009

    Very cool video and end results Zack. How you obtained their address to send them a portrait is even more impressive.

  • Leah from New Zealand said on December 11, 2009

    I was looking for inspiration and I just got it. I’ve got an uncle like the guy with the cane…maybe i should start in my own backyard…Auckland may be as interesting as New York, people are people wherever you live ay

  • Mr Din said on December 11, 2009

    thanks for sharing… you’re definitely right, the hardest thing to do is smile, go talk to people and listen to them!!

    love your video and really enjoy your portraits!

    thank you!!

  • Jehane said on December 11, 2009

    Good work! Once I took a picture of a fruit seller in India. When I asked his permission(expecting some snob retort), he was very happy and posed for me near his shop. I was more surprised than him!

  • Bill said on December 17, 2009

    Great stuff…. The picture looking up at the guy with the windows behind is my favourite, followed closely by the doorman, Great use of depth of field. Very inspirational.

  • Steve said on January 5, 2010


    I stumbled across your site recently and have to say that I really like your work, how you work, and how you tell people about your work. A really cool thing you’re doing here.

    As a self-labeled introvert (not painfully so, just average), I’m normally hesitant to approach strangers and talk to them. This post inspired me. I was in NYC today to rent a lens and forced myself to take your challenge.

    I was amazed at how easy it was to approach people, introduce myself, and get them to allow me to take their picture. I had limited time (maybe 90 minutes), so I focused less on all the elements of the shot. Instead, today’s challenge for me was all about overcoming my inhibitions and getting ten strangers to say yes. The funny thing was out of all the people I asked, only four said no (a policeman and UPS driver – both of whom smiled and said they aren’t allowed, and two others). How’s it feel when they say no? No biggie. I said “no problem, thanks anyway” and moved on.

    I’m looking forward to doing it again. Next time though, the goal will be making good portraits.

    Zack, thanks again, I really appreciate it.


  • Razz said on January 6, 2010

    Wonderful! The whole site is!

    I read #97 and get the model release stuff – I think. What I have never been clear on is the term “commercial use’. I fully understand public places are allowed, i.e.: no release is needed for editorial or magazine etc. I even understand that if the shot ends up in an ad, billboard or anything selling a product or service I need a release – maybe for my portfolio – I assume because I am advertising me. But, what if it is framed – to be sold -as art (art is strong term here, but a wall hanging none the less). Example, I am at a community college and take some shots of a homeless guy. I even talked with him a bit and, as I always do, showed him the shots after I took them (gave him a few $ too). Do I need a release to frame them and show them in a gallery – for possible sale?

    Thanks and great stuff here.


  • Silas Middleton said on January 18, 2010

    Had exact same idea when I was visiting New York (as Im sure many others did)… but I didnt have the courage to do it! One day Ill return, and do it! Thanx for the inspiration from Australia

  • M. Akbar Nurpatria said on January 22, 2010

    Hi.. love your works! I’m a photography instructor. I’ve always encouraged my students to approach, and get a bit acquainted with their subjects. But, most of the times it would take rather long and some disappointments also. 10 in 10 hours? Amazing. Good job.

  • Pat Wilson said on March 4, 2010

    I’ve recently decided to get serious about photography, tho I’ve taken snapshots for years.

    When doing street portraits, do you get a model release? (I’d hate to get a fantastic photo and not be able to use it!)

    I just found your site today – but I’ll definitely be a regular from now on.


  • Dillan said on March 19, 2010

    LOVE the blog and love the advice. However, I have a question concerning approaching people and photography in general. I am 17 and I love photography. I won’t say that I’m professional or anything close to it but I still do a little bit of work here and there. However, most of the time, I can’t get people to take me seriously in any way. Any advice for the younger photographers on this topic? Thanks.

  • zack said on March 21, 2010

    Dillan – You just gotta keep going and prove to people you are worth paying attention to. I know that’s a hard dang job but that is what is required. Honesty, respect, and being genuine will always win when you are approaching people.


  • Tudor said on March 22, 2010

    Your video about NY is awsome ! I love the natural feeling of all your work !

  • kyle steed said on March 24, 2010

    This is so inspiring. I need to check out that book “within the frame”. I find as I get older I get a little more comfortable with talking to people I don’t know. And I think that’s where we can muster the courage, only when we’re comfortable with who we are. Thanks for sharing this.

  • kyle steed said on March 24, 2010

    This is so inspiring. I need to check out that book “within the frame”. I find as I get older I get a little more comfortable with talking to people I don’t know. And I think that’s where we can muster the courage, only when we’re comfortable with who we are. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Rick Mouritzen said on May 14, 2010

    Do you do some magic with the skin tones in post or is this how the 5DmkII captures it?

    (Loving the site and your critique videos… good stuff!)

  • Wedding Photographer France said on June 18, 2010

    Very inspirational. I love your attitude. Just ask :)

  • Jen said on July 3, 2010

    Hi Zack! This idea inspired me so much it got me actually got me started. It’s the first post on my new blog. I did what I could in my busy “Mom/work” schedule, but I did it!

    After that, I signed up for your November workshop. I look forward to meeting you.

  • Matt and Katie | Photographers said on July 15, 2010

    Awesome project! I was scrolling the photos and I’m like, “That’s Nick!” My wife and I were in NYC for 4 days. We talked to Nick for 10 minutes or so and he hooked us up with a pedicab ride. I didn’t have the guts to ask him if I could take a portrait. I’m glad you did, it brought back some awesome memories. Thanks Zack!

  • Bent Marinosson said on July 25, 2010

    Thank you Zack. You’re a huge inspiration. I love the NY project. You’ve inspired me to do a similar project next weekend. I have one question, I have the same setup (5D Mark ii and 35mm f2) – did you shoot the video at 1080p or 640×480 ? Thank you!

  • zack said on July 27, 2010

    Bent – 1080p.

  • Bent Marinosson said on July 25, 2010

    Answered my own question :) I took a closer look at the ratio and it’s in 1080p :) Thanks again for your inspiration.

  • ed said on January 7, 2012

    I did exactly what you did.I just walked up to people on the streets of Toronto and in a friendly manner just explained what i was doing and most people cooperated and were good about it.Best thing I eveer did.It is now my favorite type of photography. It makes it easier to do portraits of people you know. It is a great way to learn to act and put people at ease in front of the camera.

  • Zack said on January 7, 2012

    @ed – Glad to hear it!


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