How to shoot commercial stock in public settings: Play to the crowd

Current, stylish, and well-shot footage of street scenes, events, and public art and buildings is always in demand. It’s a great way to add diversity to your collection without tackling the complexity of a planned lifestyle shoot with models.

However, for your footage to be commercially usable, you’ll have to plan and edit your shots carefully. When choosing a shot, consider people, branding, and sensitive subject matter — the wrong approach could make your footage suitable only for editorial use, or entirely unusable. But shoot with an eye to privacy and respect, and you shouldn’t have any issues.

In this four-part series, rights and releases manager Pamela Haskell shares some tips and tricks for shooting commercially viable street and public footage. First up: shooting a crowd.

Play to the crowd

When shooting a large crowd or busy pedestrian scene, there will be far too many people in the frame to obtain model releases for everyone. However, even without model releases, footage with people can be used commercially, as long as you shoot carefully.

One of the most important guidelines: In a crowd shot, no single person should be more prominent than any other. That means a crowd shot or street life footage must be about the crowd. If the camera zooms in on an individual, or if a recognizable pedestrian stays in the shot for too long, it’s no longer a crowd shot. One or more people have become the focus and now the shot is about them — and any shot that focuses on a recognizable person must have a model release.

This shot has hundreds of faces but, thanks to the timelapse effect, each only appears for a split second.

One way to safely focus on an individual in a crowd is to ensure they aren’t recognizable. That could mean the person is silhouetted against a bright light or shot from behind, or the shot is angled so their face is obscured. (But remember that even if a face isn’t shown, a person can still be recognizable, especially if dressed for a special event.)

This shot uses focus techniques to preserve the anonymity of people on the street. Notice how, as the woman on the scooter gets close enough to be recognizable, she moves out of focus.

Here are some other strategies for filming commercial crowd footage:

  • Position your camera so people walk past it rather than toward it. Each person will spend less time in the frame, and there is less chance someone will look straight into the camera.
  • Work with your depth of field so faces closer to the camera move out of focus while the mass of people farther away stays sharp.
  • Silhouette figures against light – sunrise, sunset, or bright concert lighting is effective.


  • Experiment with low angles or aerial shots. It’s better to disguise identities with a dramatic angle rather than just cut off heads.


  • Unusual framing is another creative way to disguise a person’s identity.


Read the rest of the series.

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