Portraits Of Strangers
I’ve always been fascinated with people on the street and how they carry themselves. Their faces, body language, the clothes they wear - everyone’s walking around with their own unique story, and I can’t help but be curious. I've spent a lot of time working with non-actors in commercials and documentaries, which has been a crash course in connecting with people quickly. It’s not your typical "stand here, do this" directing. It's about getting real people to open up in front of a camera, which is a challenge in itself.
An Unguarded Moment
So I decided to take this approach in my street photography. Some street photographers are great at stealing a shot of someone when they're not looking, catching them in an unguarded moment. But when I see someone I find compelling, I’m much more interested in a collaboration. Stopping a stranger, starting a conversation, and inviting them into this slow, deliberate process. Asking them to take time out of their day to stand in front of a camera and share a little bit about their life with me. And when a stranger says yes, I feel so honored.
In our fast-paced world, where everyone's always rushing to the next thing, these moments of pause and connection are becoming rare. The whole experience helps me overcome my own nerves, while keeping me sharp and motivated to engage with people often. It’s a big social experiment, one that helps me become a better storyteller.
8x10 Large Format Film
Switching to an 8x10 camera was a bit like learning to drive a manual car after only driving automatic. Everything takes more time, more attention. There's no room for winging it, no rapid fire shots, or shooting from the hip. It’s refreshing to slow down.
A Different Beast
I used to do quick street portraits with a medium format camera. It was a fast process - meet, chat for a minute, snap some shots, done. But large format photography is a different beast. It demands more time and commitment from both me and my subjects, which means more chatting, trading stories, and a deeper understanding of the person I'm photographing. Every step along the way - from setting up the camera, focusing, to firing the shutter - is deliberately slow. It forces my mind to be where my feet are, fully present in the moment. For all the effort and time, I typically only shoot two sheets on a person. Not a high shooting ratio at all, but for me each shot is a bit more meaningful.
Like A Pro
Most of the time I’m shooting in daylight exterior environments, ideally with some shallow depth by shooting at a larger aperture. ILFORD FP4+ handles it like a pro, delivering reliable results time after time. The lower speed lets me shoot in bright conditions and holds everything together nicely. But what I love about ILFORD is the range of film stocks they offer. If I need to switch gears for different lighting conditions, I know I have options. With black and white film I’m not distracted by color. I am free to focus my attention on my subject’s story and how the light is falling onto them. When I inevitably mess up somehow, it’s a reminder to slow down and not rush things.
Making A Connection
For me, the real reward is meeting people and getting a glimpse into their life. It's about stepping into someone else's shoes for a while, seeing the world through their eyes. We’re so used to being on the go, being connected through technology, being “on” all the time. But when you stop and take the time to really connect with someone from another walk of life, it's like a breath of fresh air.
The Faces In The Crowd
I’m blown away by some of the stories and how much people are willing to share. It’s as if we all want to connect with others and be heard, and I think that’s a wonderful and addicting thing for me. The resulting photograph is almost secondary to the experience of spending time with someone new. It’s what keeps me motivated every day to shoot more sheet film. Some large format photographers are drawn to beautiful landscapes. But for me it’s always about the faces in the crowd.
About The Author
San Francisco-born Marcus discovered his passion for cameras early on, later honing his skills in cinematography at the Academy of Art University. Moving to Los Angeles, he swiftly made his mark in camera departments – shooting both live-action and still photography. By 2014, Marcus shifted to full-time directing, shooting notable campaigns for brands such as Gatorade, Samsung, and Porsche. When he’s not on set, you can find him roaming streets in SF and LA shooting film portraits of strangers.
IG + Threads: @yourpalmarcus