Viewfinder | Subway Portraits

Timothy Krause on taking portraits of subway riders.

Man boarding the 6 train

“I’ve been shooting subway pictures with a camera app for my smartphone. I love the intimacy that this affords, as smartphones are near-ubiquitous these days, and few seem to notice one more person playing with one on the subway.”


”This man, for example, a tourist with his family on the downtown platform of the 14th Street–Seventh Avenue station. I’m standing right next to him, the phone angled up at him, obviously taking a picture of him. But he doesn’t notice, enraptured by something taking place on the track or platform in front of him, lost in the swirl of the people and the city.”


”I love the horizontal line established by the eyes of this young woman on a Brooklyn-bound L train and the eyes of the woman next to her: both looking straight ahead, alert but unseeing, safe behind the New York version of what T. S. Eliot called the ‘face to meet the faces that you meet.'”


“I like how the subway benches make an impromptu photo booth, their occupants seated, relatively immobile, often lost in thought or withdrawn, and thus wonderfully open to the camera’s eye.”

Two women

“My smartphone is too slow to stop motion in the low light of the subway, which makes for a lot of blurry shots. Sometimes there’s something unexpected, magical, like the look on the face of the woman in red.”

Man with phone

“On the Bedford Avenue L train platform.“

Woman with eyes closed

“One of many shots I got of this woman on the 6 train. I liked her languidness, her self-possession and unconcern among all these strangers.”

One happy island

“Another 6 train picture. I remember thinking, ‘Is she sad, wistful, lonely, dreamy?’ It wasn’t until later that I noticed the ironic tagline on the ad, ‘One happy island.'”

Man looking leftward

“Another, ‘What-is-he-thinking?’ shot, and another 6 train picture. I like his layered outfit, the long wispy hairs over his forehead, the grey hairs on his left temple.”

Woman in red coat

”Whoever knew fluorescent light could be so flattering? I love the textures of her hands and face, the red of her coat and her black bag with its white stitching. And the ever-so-slightly dreamy feel of the soft focus on her face, blurred a tiny bit as she inclines her head forward.”

Man boarding the 6 train

“A man getting on the 6 train at the 51st Street station. I love his look of tense expectation, his guarded-yet-civic New York mien: perhaps he’s impatient or worried, but no rushing on the train for him, he waits for the passengers to disembark first! And the American flag decal framing his head like an accidental halo.”

Timothy Krause is a community contributor to The Local East Village. His photography can be viewed at his blog.