WIRED Video: Street Portraiture

It has nothing to do with flash, actually. In fact, it is all available light (in shade) and shot on taped-up white seamless. In this configuration, the open sun area behind you is almost like a huge, on-axis soft box.

But this isn't about the lighting. It is a good primer on overcoming your shyness of photographing others -- and how to interact with them in a quick, fluid environment. Something I suspect many people reading this site will appreciate.

FYI, the photographer is Clay Enos, and you can see more of his work here. And on top of that, he is a pretty consistent blogger, too.

Thanks much for the tips, Clay. And ditto to WIRED.com, for making the video embeddable.



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply Amazing

July 19, 2009 12:14 AM  
Blogger KE Photo said...

Awesome stuff as I shoot in the street portraits often I have much respect for shooing in the streets. But for him to not say pre-planned feels unfair as he has white paper taped to a wall and he knows exactly what the image will do. I know his locations change and you cant control the people but this rest is controled and planned out.


July 19, 2009 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only I had the guts... A 50 and a D3 and a piece of white paper!! Sh*t! They'd call the cops on me in a heartbeat!!! Too cool...

Thanks David...

July 19, 2009 12:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So then what? Cool stuff but do you get model releases from everyone and publish a Blurb book or is shooting street portraits just for entertainment and interaction? I ask because Im wondering what he/you tell people about the photos. "Hey Im shooting portraits for....." What do you say you're doing to get them to go along?

Thanks. I love this blog!

July 19, 2009 1:10 AM  
Blogger Steven Erat said...

At 4:40 he mentions Photoshop and the video cuts to a screenshot of a blonde wearing glasses. That's from my Flickr stream here:


July 19, 2009 1:10 AM  
Blogger Iain said...

Taking strobes out on the street can be rewarding. Apart from having more control over the light, it gives you a conversation starter: people are curious about what you are doing.

It is also a challenge to find a lighting set-up that gives you a look you are happy with and is also 'error-tolerant', that is, it works even when things are not the way you want them.

I shoot on the street at night, which gives more control over the light in some respects, but causes other problems, like street lights looking like glowing orbs above people heads. I found a good spot where I can bounce flash from the eaves, and has a lot of foot traffic.

After trying various things, my current set-up is SB-600 in my left hand with a LumiQuest Big Bounce (at +0.3) and and SB-800 on camera (at -2.0).

My photos are here: http://freephotoproject.tumblr.com/

July 19, 2009 1:29 AM  
Blogger Daniel Solorio said...

Thanks for the tip. Having this amazing blog, doesn't make you feel like you have an army of detectives, diving the web and reporting back at you of any interesting stuff? Keep on the good work, thanks for your effort. Eagerly waiting for the next bootcamp assignment, promise to work harder. –Daniel México–

July 19, 2009 1:31 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Pretty cool. I may have to try this out.

July 19, 2009 2:12 AM  
Blogger Paul Baarn said...

Thanks for posting this. You can do the same thing with flash, of course, but the gem is in just asking the people. I wonder what his yes to no ratio is. I don't see myself yet getting the b*lls to do this stuff, haha.

July 19, 2009 2:27 AM  
Anonymous TC said...


Some of us have actually tried to do this strobist style.

On the street, with a flash in one hand and a camera in the other - walking up to strangers and asking to take their portrait.

I've only done it once, but here's what I got:

But there's also a Street Strobist flickr group:


July 19, 2009 2:28 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

Sweet... I mean really. How often do we, as Strobists, get hung up on lighting the living daylights out of something. Brings it all back to Keeping It Simple Stupid.

Thanks for sharing

July 19, 2009 2:30 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

To Anonymous above:

Let 'em call the cops. In a public arena, you are allowed to shoot. And, it's paper - white seamless. You can get 25' long roll (5' wide) for $25ish. Go out, do your shots. They can't take your film/memory cards, and unless it's trespassing, you're in the clear. They might claim you're doing a commercial type shoot, but whatever - it's easy to roll the paper up, trash it, carry it to another location, etc...

Get the image. Do whatever it takes to get that image. Break rules. Be nice to people. Don't harm anything... basically, don't be stupid. But be brave.

Courage is the DNA to Discovery.

July 19, 2009 2:40 AM  
Blogger Editor said...

Two thoughts:

1. I hope the UPS guy didn't get fired.

2. I would like to see the Photoshop / Post on these - I've shot a ton of DSLR portraits with that same lens, against that same paper, in that same light, and mine didn't come out looking that good.

July 19, 2009 2:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow that was really neat stuff. But what does he do with the pictures when he is done? Does he show them or what..are they released?? Ideas thoughts??


July 19, 2009 3:26 AM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Seems like a guy I'd want to have take a photo of me. Makes people feel comfortable very quickly. Considering, as well, it must have been a little more intimidating for people because he had the film crew there as well.
Can you do this kind of thing anywhere? or do you need a permit? I know when you start pulling out tripods and lighting things start needing permits pretty quickly... but does white paper draw the same attention?

July 19, 2009 3:49 AM  
Blogger Charles Verghese said...

Thanks for the post David....s'been a while since I got on here.

Taking photos of the general public...as you mentioned in your post...is something that I (& I suppose a few other people) have a problem with. While it doesn't eliminate the problem for me, it does show us one more way to 'capture' people on the street.

Another point he makes is that you don't need a lot of gear...it's the mindset!


July 19, 2009 5:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like it!
simple and good.

July 19, 2009 5:12 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

I think passersby would be much happier to have their picture taken if they also see a film crew there, makes it look like more of a legitimate big-budget production... :)

July 19, 2009 5:17 AM  
Blogger Reinoud said...

Should't he use model releases? Or are those singed afterwards so would not loose the spontaneous moment?

July 19, 2009 7:21 AM  
Blogger Bill Morgan said...

What does he do about a model release? Does he get a model release? Is one needed if he's using the photo taken in a video or for some other reason?

I love the idea of the street portrait!

July 19, 2009 7:46 AM  
Blogger Stian Knudsen said...

That was sooo inspirational!


July 19, 2009 8:24 AM  
Blogger Kristian Solli said...

Great vid! I think I will try to something similar.

July 19, 2009 8:46 AM  
Blogger http://mylifenphotos.blogspot.com/ said...

thanks for sharing this, some day I need to get out and do something like this just to push myself out of the comfort zone. Watching him I realized how my 5'0 size limits me when photographying people and I need to get one of those little rubbermaid steps so I can be more on eye level instead of always shooting upward. ahhh the perils of being me.

July 19, 2009 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

I see a number of questions regarding model releases.

As far as I know (UK and US) you don't need a model release unless you are going to use the image in a commercial (ie advertising/marketing) role.

If your image is for "art" - even if it is published, and the art is not tied to some negative connotation (ie suggestive that the model is a pedophile, etc) then it's okay. You can sell the prints, you can publish a book with it, you can display it on your website.

Of course, if the person contacts you and asks you to take it down, while you are legally okay, you may do well to be nice and do as they wish.

July 19, 2009 9:31 AM  
Anonymous anony-mouse said...

the only thing that bothers me is why he doesn't use vertical grip in his d3

July 19, 2009 10:50 AM  
Blogger Ronzo said...

I really did enjoy this post. But if I'm out asking to take photos of people, some will agree, but only if the get a copy. Either a printed version in the mail, or by email. This creates more work then I'm willing to do. How do you guys deal with this?


July 19, 2009 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Craig Murphy said...

Yes. No answers to the 64,000 question. What is the answer to 'Why'? Person on the street asks 'Why do you want to take my picture and what are you going to do with it'? Unless someone knows you its the first thing they are going to say and if you don't have a legitimate answer, well, then your just a jerk or creep with a camera in their minds. How about some ideas from people here on good answers. Without a release form what exactly can you do with the images? Is it ok to use them in a public exhibition or your online gallery? I do have in my bag a release form that only gives me permission to use them for my own publicity. No second parties. Its a much easier one for people like this to sign if they trust you. I also offer to send a print to them.

July 19, 2009 11:00 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Great video, it's worth noting however that this is nothing new. Avedon was truly the master of this genre. "In The American West" is the shining example of what this approach to photography can become in the right hands.

July 19, 2009 11:42 AM  
OpenID stephenzeller said...

Thanks for passing along this great video! Great stuff!

July 19, 2009 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Ross said...

I do quite a bit of work in public spaces using models (pro and otherwise). There's been an idea in my head for ages to give tapping people on the shoulder and asking to photograph them a go.

Guess it is time to experiment!

July 19, 2009 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Mike Murrow said...

Here are some attempts at answers for above questions. I shoot on the street a lot here in Santa Cruz.

Model Release. Nope. And I hang the images up in shows and have sold prints. They are in public. Nuff said.

Peoples reactions? "why?" my answer: I'm a documentary photographer. The response 99% of the time? "Oh, cool where do I stand?"

July 19, 2009 1:17 PM  
Anonymous TC said...

Re: Ronzo

I gave them my card with the current frame number written on it, and told them to contact me if they wanted a copy.

If they had contacted me (none did), they would have gotten a digital copy usable on facebook or a postcard print.

Anything more/bigger, they would have had to pay...

July 19, 2009 1:31 PM  
Blogger Andy Frazer said...

Wonderful video. I really love his color work from Black Rock City (it's on his website under PERSONAL work).


July 19, 2009 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Uwe Noelke said...

Gods light is best light. Gods light is the most natural light. I like it a lot. Very authentic street portraits. Good work.

July 19, 2009 1:49 PM  
Blogger buffalo69 said...

There are two key elements that this short film brings out for me: Minimal gear and the act of doing.

Mr. Enos has reminded me, once again, that the best way to learn photography is to get out and shoot. Let's say you get pumped up to go out, tape up a seamless, and shoot passers-by on the street. And let's say things don't go as well as you had envisioned: The tape doesn't stick to the brick, the wind rips up your seamless, when you talk to people, you feel awkward, somebody in the building your shooting next to comes out and yells at you--basically, a worst-case scenario. Well, after it's all done, you can go home and chalk it all up to experience that you now have and no matter how "badly" things may have gone, that experience has real value that can now be applied to the NEXT time you go out and shoot. Just my opinion, but this vid reminded me that sometimes it's best to shut off the computer and get out and shoot.

Big thanks to Mr. Enos, Wired, Strobist and DH for all you DO (emphasis on do)!

Pete in Buffalo

July 19, 2009 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Craig Murphy said...

@Mike M.
So you think that is it for usage of images like this? Gallery shows, portfolio book, studio wall hanging, and editorial only?
Online gallery..no go. That would be advertising? Just asking opinions.

July 19, 2009 2:16 PM  
Anonymous Me Ron said...

Yes, now that's how we roll in the city shoots, like the phonebook, lots of characters minimal gear.

Pray tell, is he wasn't using any strobes where did all the flash pop from in the video? Anyway that's also a perfect setup for David's "over power the sun with pocket strobe" technique.

The unassigned assignment, no contest, just a shoot--hey it's a Hobbie--viva las vagas.

July 19, 2009 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Me Ron said...

Back @ Steven Erat

Imitation is the Greatest Form of Flattery

To be pirated by a pro--wow congrats!

and David we all Flatter you

July 19, 2009 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Me Ron said...

Model Release sure not a problem--I ask them if they want me to email them a copy, and give them a model relase on a 5x8 index card with the addition of an space on the form for the email.

Everyone wants a copy.

99% don't even read the card.

July 19, 2009 3:09 PM  
Anonymous MattH said...

@Editor - The lens is only part of the equation. The 50mm changes dramatically from 1.4 to 8 in regard to dof. Plus, he did some excessive (IMO) sharpening and high-pass in PS.

July 19, 2009 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Leon Huang Photography said...

Very nice video! But I'm not so sure if I'll do it here in Singapore. Most people are going to be dubious about your motives.

July 19, 2009 3:40 PM  
Blogger Doug Wade said...

People overthink everything.

1. It's worth doing this kind of stuff just for the practice (if you can get a quick decent portrait of some random guy in 30 seconds that's a valuable skill).
2. It's worth doing this kind of stuff just because it's fun.
3. Releases aren't that big of a deal. Depending on your location you might not need them for many purposes. And if you do, just put a really basic one on the back of your business cards. Trade them a signed one for a promise to email them a copy of the shot.
4. You can't really think of an answer to "Why?" Because I'm practicing. Because I hope to put them in a gallery. Because it seemed like fun. Because I'm a photography student and this is an assignment. Because I just got a new lens and needed some victims. Who cares, just pick something that seems plausible and is at least part of the truth and go with it. If you're not a creepy person they'll just roll with it.

One approach: "I'm just practicing but if I come up with something cool I might put it in a gallery show someday." Take the picture, look at the back, show it to them. "Hey, that's really cool, would you mind signing this two line permission to use it and I'll let you keep a copy of my card and email me when you get home and I'll send you a copy." Most people will be flattered, especially if you bring that up after you've seen the image.

If you think you need real guts to do this kind of stuff that's a sign that you would benefit from just going and doing it. Or just go to the mall and say "Hello" as you walk by 50 different people. Most people are friendly. The ones that aren't will just keep walking.

July 19, 2009 4:09 PM  
Blogger Regina White said...

Loved this!

July 19, 2009 4:18 PM  
Blogger Anoop said...

You are shooting in a public place, you don't need either a permit or a release. Just like a papparazzo.

July 19, 2009 9:43 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

Wasn't there a vid posted here(?) a while back of a NYC guy just shooting folks in the street with no introduction, no invites, just *doing it* before they noticed.

Anyone recall where it is?

July 20, 2009 12:12 AM  
Anonymous Bruce said...

I noticed that quite a few people said they didn't have the intestinal fortitude to just stop people and ask to make their photograph.

I have to admit, when I first started doing it 35-40 years ago it was daunting; but you do get used to it quickly. If you show the confidence like Clay Enos does, people will stop and let you make their portrait.

I don't ask for a model release since I only publish on my website. The photos are for sale there at a reasonable price. Most people will eventually buy their own photo.

There was one young lady who purchase one after two years. She said she was cleaning out an old purse and found my card.

I always let them leave with my card, directing them to my website and the People gallery.

July 20, 2009 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His work is brilliant.

I have done a similar series using a 135L lens rather than a 50mm that he uses. Check it out here: http://tomkaszuba.com/blog/?s=Portraits+of+people+I+don%E2%80%99t+know

July 20, 2009 1:56 AM  
Anonymous Joeri El Hazimi said...

This is just so inspiring and motivating. Just the way photography should be...the way I definitely like.

July 20, 2009 5:17 AM  
Anonymous Beef said...

what was that? people portrait in diffused light under a bridge, shot with a 50 1.8, and then photoshopped (at least exposure +1, clarity +10, contrast +60).

so, is this photography?

yes of course, manual of basic photography, page 2.

C'mon... bring us some useful and entertaining. something new.

July 20, 2009 6:18 AM  
Blogger Lew said...

A model release is only required if the person appears to be endorsing a product or service. If it's just a straight portrait / reportage / journalism you are fine. But sell that portrait to be used in advertising and you're in trouble without a release.

July 20, 2009 7:13 AM  
Anonymous Craig Murphy said...

You need a release form to put them on your web site. When you do that you 'publish' to your site. Your using the image to advertise yourself. Whats the difference using it there or using it on a brochure you send out? I'm not seeing the difference. Persons photo on your brochure or postcard mailer...better have a release form.

July 20, 2009 10:16 AM  
Blogger Ian said...


I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play on on TV, but you might want to check out http://www.nyip.com/ezine/techtips/model-release.html

July 20, 2009 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Tom O'Meara said...

"Craig Murphy" above is incorrect. People should not give legal advice when they do not know what they are talking about. Merely "publishing" these to the web as examples of your work is perfectly legal without a release. no release required to sell them or display them in a gallery either.

July 20, 2009 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is that it's nearly always the guys with D3s that tell the rest of us not to get hung up on our gear?

July 20, 2009 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Matt S. said...

Was doing this at Seattle's waterfront just this Saturday. It's much easier to get people's attention when you are working strobe.

I had a strobe behind a glass wall as a backlight and one hand held for the model. crowds of people gathered to watch and wonder aloud about the professional photoshoot (which was just me and my brother and our wives practicing). At that point it's a piece of cake to find volunteers.

I always hand out a business card (usually right up front so they know I'm not just some random weirdo with a camera) and have them email me if they would like a digital copy. That way it falls to them to take the next step if they're interested. It also guarantees that they check out my website.

To most of the public, lights + business card (x website) = professional photographer.

July 20, 2009 2:51 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Hey, Is it me or this that a really strong use of high pass and Overlay. It took me a while to notice but I'm pretty sure that's how he's generated the B&W effect.

It can make stubble look pretty cool :)

July 20, 2009 3:23 PM  
OpenID vrillusions said...

Regarding all the talk about release forms. It's useful to have the photographer's bill of rights with you or just read it. Address is http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm The short answer is as long as you are standing on public property like a sidewalk, almost anything you can see from that spot is fare game. I only know this as a fact in U.S. and you'll need to check with other countries regarding it.

+1 to the business card up front. Shows that you've at least gone through the trouble of having a business card you probably aren't too much of a weirdo.

July 20, 2009 4:54 PM  
Blogger John said...

Very cool. Nice to see someone getting such worthwhile results with such an easy setup, and obviously enjoying himself at that.

What I really got from this is, you don't have to over-think the setup, just find some workable light and enjoy the ride. Plus, how cool is it that he got to meet all of these different people just by asking to take their photo.

July 20, 2009 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fun clip, great exercise in breaking the ice.

The OC Strobist group did just this sort of thing this summer. We met at a park, sans models... And after exhausting our own modeling techniques, we "set up" a studio on an interesting grouping of rocks and asked trail passer-bys to sit for a shot.

The neat part was one guy/model struck up conversation with our OC group and he mentioned a gathering of newspaper (?) guys that gathered for a beer appreciation once a month and invited us to participate and even photograph. If I am not mistaken, I believe one of our OC Strobists has gone to their Beer Night. :)

Breaking the ice is a great lesson in any situation. Kudos.


July 20, 2009 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Vince said...

"You are shooting in a public place, you don't need either a permit or a release. Just like a papparazzo."

Don't compare yourself shooting normal citizens to papparazzi shooting celebrities. Public figures have different expectations of privacy than you or I would.

July 20, 2009 11:18 PM  
Blogger Anoop said...

Expectations and law are not the same thing.

July 21, 2009 3:24 PM  
OpenID taylom29 said...

This is actually something I was planning to try in Brighton (UK) in a few weeks time... it's packed with weird and wonderful people... just off to Calumet for some white seamless!

July 21, 2009 4:52 PM  
Anonymous KJ said...

Pretty cool.

Of course people react differently in different countries. For example, here in Finland, it would be nigh impossible to get people to stop, and be photographed. We just are not that open for that sort of thing. While in US, I believe everyone and their cousins want to get their 15s of fame.

But cool concept, I hope I could sometimes try that.

July 22, 2009 12:45 AM  
Blogger jeromeinsf said...

Funny, this video was taken literally 2 blocks away from WIRED offices in SF!

July 22, 2009 11:23 AM  
Blogger Sledgeweb said...

Does anyone have any quick links to some details on the permit issue? In this case, I assume he needed the permission of the store he is shooting outside of since that could be seen as disruptive to the business. But, what is the law on this? If you are on a city block, what kind of permission do you need and from who? I'm located in DC, and have been told to move by security persons from certain locations. For example, I was told to move from the Jefferson Memorial site while shooting there. And from some streets. I've always been fuzzy on this issue.

July 22, 2009 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Aspen Photography said...

Clay is an amazing photographer. Definateley makes you think about not getting hung up on tech but think about the shot. Being brave is something i need to work on, this video helped so much. Brilliant.

July 22, 2009 7:04 PM  
Blogger Eduardo Pavez Goye said...

I'm gonna try it.
Looks fun!
Thanks for sharing his work, hes portfolio is really good.

July 23, 2009 1:43 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I didn't like this at all.

I like the idea I guess, but he's trying to do Avedon's American West in an hour and without any story behind the subjects. Not very original.

This would have been a lot better if he'd spent a few more seconds talking to the subjects and worried less about flexing his self-promotional muscles to the camera.

And take it easy on the Clarity slider, Clay.

July 23, 2009 1:47 AM  
Blogger Joe DuPont said...

On his blog he has a recent post about releases.

July 23, 2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger SomeCoolStuff said...

This guy is great. Love the video. Thanks!

July 23, 2009 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Craig Murphy said...

Here where I am it seems to be the store owners permission that you need. Boils down to the local codes,etc. I called the mayors office and asked about shooting on the streets and do I need a permit to set up. Its a small city. The person I had on the phone said no permits needed. Just don't really block the sidewalk so people can't get through.

July 23, 2009 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do anyone know, what ps adjustments were possibly used on these bw photos?

July 24, 2009 3:57 AM  
Anonymous gabriele lopez said...

it reminds me of a work from another photographer, stopping all those subject in ny, shooting and giving polaroids as a gift at the end..so cool, anyway

July 27, 2009 12:49 PM  
Blogger Michael Kormos said...

He must be the first photographer I've seen who doesn't use the vertical grip when shooting.. vertical.

July 28, 2009 10:06 AM  
Anonymous Josh said...

Cool article; some great stuff in there. Thanks for the post.

July 28, 2009 2:14 PM  
Anonymous oliver ueberschär said...

what f.... great idea

i like it very much and start it in the next few days in germany

- oliver - germany

July 30, 2009 5:29 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I've known Clay for several years. He is a very good people person. He smiles a lot. People immediately take to him. Also, this was not his first street shoot, he was doing this 10 years ago with film and a portable white tent. I don't think he would care about the Avedon comparison -- white bg makes most subjects look good.

Also, his equipment has gotten better over the years, but he's been shooting with a 50 for a long time. He's not too hung up on releases. He really does mean that you should just stop worrying and go out to shoot. It's pretty good advice.

August 11, 2009 10:54 AM  
Blogger KY Warrior Librarian said...

Fantastic! Loved the video. Loved your attitude. Keep snapping!

June 12, 2010 2:06 PM  
Blogger Levy Carneiro Jr. said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Enos Clay!

Here's my contribution:

Street Portraits


June 24, 2010 7:56 AM  
Blogger Mike Levad said...

sI just did this but used a black background. Whoa what a hoot. I had so much fun and so did my models. I only shot for about 1/2 an hour and was able to shoot 8 of the 9 people I asked. http://twinbirchphotography.blogspot.com/2011/05/uptown-street-portraits-562011.html

Thanks for the inspiration Clay.

May 08, 2011 9:16 PM  

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