One giant smile.
One giant smile.

Where do I start?

Probably with more sadness. A lot of you know this is a pretty musical house. And, I tell you this is getting old. Very old. Probably one of my favorite Glenn Frey songs goes a little like this…

“There’s trouble on the streets tonight
I can feel it in my bones, I had a premonition
That he should not go alone
I knew the gun was loaded
But I didn’t think he’d kill
Everything exploded, and the blood began to spill
So baby, here’s your ticket
Put the suitcase in your hand, here’s a little money now
Do it just the way we planned
You be cool for twenty hours, and I’ll pay you twenty grand
I’m sorry it went down like this
And someone had to lose, it’s the nature of the business
It’s the smuggler’s blues, smuggler’s blues”

— Smugglers Blues — Glenn Frey & Jack Tempchin

— RIP Glenn Frey

You know where I work. That may be why I like this song. It just wrote to a friend of mine that I work in “sporty” neighborhoods.


I thought I’d talk about portraits. Street portraits. Ones that are made in a few minutes. Ones the depend on a smile, a little photographer’s patter, good situational knowledge, knowing your gear and a lot of luck.

So, let’s start. There’s a lot of talk about street photography these days. Actually, that’s getting a little old too. It started when Fuji, Olympus and Sony started releasing small but high quality cameras. Overnight, seemingly, all sorts  people became street photographers. Yes. Of course street photography was around long before that. I could rattle off about 50 names of really good street practitioners. Mostly, they worked with Leicas. Their pictures defined street photography. If they didn’t directly engage their subjects, they made pictures that told a story.

Today? Not so much.

There are pictures floating around all over the internet that claim to be examples of street photography. The pictures have been taken from across the street, from behind the apparent subject, often from the hip.


It appears the people who took the pictures were afraid of their subjects. That’s no good. I’m not sure that the bulk of those pictures mean anything. To anybody. Yeah. Sure, sometimes a picture taken from behind the subject adds to the graphics of the image and tells a story. Sometimes, it’s the light that makes the picture shot across the street. But, that’s rare. As in maybe one out of a thousand. Or more.

So I say, engage your subject. Talk to them. Make a friend. Don’t sneak up behind them. Take a portrait. It’s not the easiest thing to do. I’m sort of shy. At times I can be awfully introverted. Stick a camera in my hand and I’m Superman. I’m not stupid fearless, but my personality changes. I guess I like learning about people. I like seeing them be real in their real place. In their neighborhood.  During a quiet moment in a normally chaotic event.

Here’s few things that I like to do.

I try real hard to make an environmental portrait. The person and their place. But, I’m fluid and flexible. Sometime a frame filling face makes the picture. Like the lead picture on this post. Or, the picture I call “Star-Star.” It’s also not the “decisive moment.” That’s different kind of street photography.

The second thing I believe is that you have to know your photo gear. You can’t be fumbling around while you are trying to take a picture of somebody that you just met two minutes ago.

Third. Smile. This is supposed to be fun. You’ll set your subject at ease.

Fourth. Don’t sneak around. Ask. Talk. If your intended subject asks why you are taking the picture, tell them what attracted them to you. See the picture called “It’s all in the signs?” I quickly explained that he was standing in front of a great background. When I was about half-finished I flipped the camera around and showed him the picture on the LCD. Once he saw that, he started using his hands. Yes. He is the proud — I hope — owner of a signed Ray Laskowitz print.

Fifth. This is a huge benefit. You know how I wrote I work in sporty neighborhoods? I’ve made myself known to enough people that I’m fairly safe because of that.

Oh. See that picture called, “New Work?” It’s really new. I made that on Sunday walking back from the second line. I saw the sign. I saw the man. I asked if he minded. He nodded for me to take pictures. I think he’s a ringer. Heh! He kept moving through the light in various poses. He knew what he was doing. Sometimes that happens. That makes me smile.




  1. Excellent advice. Asking is not always easy when you are traveling in foreign countries and don’t speak the language. Gestures work well and a nod of the head usually mean Okay.
    The tight portrait is very nice. What intensity.

  2. I took more photos of people in two parades than I normally take in a year. It’s not what I’m comfortable doing, normally. I admire your ability to engage people and then take their photos.

  3. I have learned more in the last five minutes, than all of the last ten or so years that I’ve been fiddling with a camera.
    On your previous post, the words “I love his portraits” popped into my head. Then, I clicked forward to this post and learned why. It’s also good to know that you’re shy – I am, too. Family and friends will often ask me to take their photos and I love doing it. Because I know them, I know their personalities and I know what I want to capture and highlight. That you are able to do this art with strangers is amazing. Thank you so much for a peek into your world and for providing insight and help. Thank you, Ray.

    And yes, so bummed about Glenn….

    1. Michelle, you made me laugh. You? Shy? I’ve never seen that side of you.

      I’m trying to move into a new phase of Storyteller. A little more teaching. A little more helping. I hate to say this, but it’s getting to be that time in my career.

      Glenn’s passing has been very hard on us. Musicians of a certain age have been — as we say down here — becoming ancestors at a frightening rate. It’s about killing Musical Miss. In the last 18 or so months we’ve said goodbye to way too many people. Some that we knew, some that we knew by their music. A few hours after Glenn’s passing another musician, one of the founders of Tower of Power, left the planet. If you’re around my age, and lived in the Bay Area, you loved their brand of funk. Their horn section backed just about everybody in the 1970s and 80s.

      1. I am the epitome of social behind a keyboard…not so much in real life 😉
        As for Mr. Gillette – I read that he was only 65. Way too young in my opinion. It certainly makes me feel my mortality…
        The teaching, the helping…it looks good on you 😉

      2. Wait until you get to be my age… 🙂 The musicians who passed in these ten days or so, all died from different causes. But, I can tell you that touring constantly and living on the road is no way for a human being to live. I fear that we are coming into a time when a lot of the senior members of the musicians club will becoming ancestors. Already, Eric Clapton has retired from touring. Bad arthritis hands and back. Dylan only sings on stage. Same reason. I could go on… but it’s too early in the morning to get depressed.

        Thanks for the teaching and helping comment. 🙂

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