Street photographer Petzval Angelli is an old, tired man. His camera equipment is even older. As he sets up his camera, he places a sign that says, “Your is portrait free; Tell me why.”
He dozes off on a park bench, but is awakened by a young woman, Ashley. She tells Petzval that she and her fiancé had a huge fight and she wants a portrait to show how sad her face is.
The camera’s groundglass shows a sad woman until Petzval makes some adjustment with the lens. Now there is a young man with her and they are smiling. Petzval tells her he will have a print for her the next day.
After people walk past the photographer, Robert Decker approaches Petzval and explains that he is on his way to the hospital for cancer treatment and he wants his family to see how he looks before the treatment. Petzval agrees and focuses his camera, which shows the tumor. After the lens is adjusted, the tumor is gone. Decker is told that his print will be ready tomorrow.
Two thugs approach the photographer and threaten him and his camera unless he takes their portrait. He tries to talk them out of it, but is forced to make the portrait, which finally, he does. The thugs leave.
Petzval packs up his equipment and returns to his apartment to develop the film and make prints. The next morning, he returns to the park bench with three envelopes.
Ashley arrives and cannot believe that her fiancé is in the photograph. She leaves for work and when she shows the portrait to her co-workers, the paper is blank.
Robert Decker arrives and tells Petzval the great new. The hospital redid his tests and he has no tumor. He thanks Petzval and leaves, taking his portrait, which we see is now blank, with him.
On the way back to his apartment, two police officers stop their car to offer assistance to Petzval. He declines, but hands the third envelope and portrait to the officer telling him that he found it. Petzval walks away. The officer opens the envelope only to find a blank paper. An emergency call comes in and the officers drive off, not realizing that the blank paper now shows an image of the two thugs on the bench. They have been murdered.
Petzval has left the park and the city and is now walking on a beautiful beach. People walk past him, paying no attention. Petzval stops and sets up his equipment in the sand. The sign reads “Your Portrait is Free; Tell Me Why.”
People continue walking past Petzval. No one stops for a portrait.