Street Photography. Portland style

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Portland Street Photography

Street photography in Portland Oregon has been an enjoyable pass time for me since I moved here back in 1994. The varieties of personalities you encounter on the streets of Portland provide you with a broad pallet of subjects to create an interesting portfolio.  Just keep in mind our iconic bumper sticker “Keep Portland Weird”.  In addition to the great photo opportunities you come across, the lighting conditions in the Pacific Northwest are superb and hard to beat.  Most days with the exception of summer are typically overcast, offering diffused lighting with no hard shadows.  It’s really the ideal shooting grounds for the street photographer.

The Pizza man Phil. Escape from New York Pizza in the NW District.
I have a flag too.
Photograph me but let me hide my face. Sitting outside the food bank selling cigarettes.

Shooting Style

I must admit that on the rare occasion I have been that obnoxious in your face photographer trying to grab that special photo.  However, for the most part it just does not work and only alienates you from your subject. It’s not worth the effort and the results have been less than acceptable.  For the past few years I have taken on a more engaging approach to my street photography.  I have been talking with the subjects, complimenting them, offering assistance or just hanging there with them.


Hitching a ride
Rock on …



As odd as it may seem to some of us, with the exception of the truly homeless, most of the young subjects I have photographed in Portland living in the streets are there because of the lifestyle they choose and enjoy.  Many of them seem quite content asking for money and socializing with like minded people.  And this is where complimenting pays with great rewards.  It’s amazing how willing a person is to be photographed if you just say the right thing. “I love your tattoo”, “Love what you have done with your hair”, “Amazing nails”, “Love your horns !” all of these followed by a simple, “Do you mind if I take a picture or two?” I would say that a good 8 out of 10 people open up and allow me to photograph them and follow them around with the camera.  In some cases after I am done, without them expecting or suspecting anything, I give them two or three dollars just for their time or buy them something from a food cart.  This just makes for a very friendly overall interaction which leaves the door open for you in the future if you ever run into them again or their friends.

The Spontaneous shooter

There are many who set out to do street photography with their camera with the intent of capturing that candid moment today no matter what. Some are lucky to grab the moment but for the most part, you just can’t go out on a mission and expect to capture that great shot. It just does not work that way, the moment is not always there when you set out to capture it and this is clearly evident by the many so called street photos out there depicting this style which clearly shows a mediocre picture. However, if you condition yourself to just take a camera with everywhere you go with the mindset that maybe something will happen today, you will be more successful. You can’t force the moment in your lunch time, but you can be ready for it anytime.

Here are two example of candid shots that happened when I had a camera with me knowing that the day may yield nothing. By no means am I saying these photos are better than others. The point here is, I just did not snap randomly to grab anything in the time I was out. But rather I saw an opportunity that grabbed my attention. A pretty young girl sat at a bar alone and in deep thought.


Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4


Once I saw that girl, it made me think that others may be alone and just waiting as well. That lead to establishing a theme for the afternoon resulting in this shot as well. By the way, both shots taken with the Sony A7II.


Sony A7II and Zeiss 35mm 1.4 FE


Some non spontaneous photos where the subject let e follow him would be a serries from the Blue Man. Here are two un-posed street portraits.


The Blue Man in B&W. Extremely nice. You can find him at Pioneer Square.


The Blue Man in his full colors



The Horned man. Proud to show off his horn and friendly to the photographer.


I have been doing this for some time now.  For many years I was shooting with Leica M both film and digital, then shifted to the DSLR’s and Film cameras like the Nikon F3, F6, D3, D700, D4 etc. While most of these larger cameras are very reliable and offered great choices in lenses, they came at a cost. The weight of these cameras and lenses were just too much to carry for hours. The size seemed intimidating and often scared people and the cost was just ridiculous. I know many opt for pro-sumer entry level cameras but for some reason I always gravitated towards the higher cost pro cameras.  All of this changed when Sony came into the market with their mirror less systems which offered amazing technology, capabilities, portability and an amazing price point. The NEX, RX1, A6000 and A7 Series cameras provide you the tools you need and let you forget the dying dinosaurs of the past from Nikon and Canon. Not once have I looked back or even thought of picking up another Brontosaurs D4 or Tyrannosaur 1DX all but extinct only kept alive by those who have not experienced the full joy of shooting a Sony mirror less with an EVF that serves a purpose.


The Sony era …

Cross dressing in Portland. Sony A7S
The Mad Pizza. Sony A7S
A99 and 135mm 1.8. No longer in my possession now that I am all into the A7
A7S with Otus

With the use of the Sony cameras, walking for extended periods of time is easily doable with suffering the Quasimodo shoulder from carrying the old DSLR’s. Your subjects don’t get intimidated by these smaller cameras and the street photography continues uninterrupted.

Conclusion and thoughts

Engage with people if you feel comfortable and no obvious threat is present, be friendly, ask if you can. It goes a long way, carry small gear, return often to the same scene and give back.


Here are some samples of what I have captured over the years walking the streets of Portland with a camera.

Streets of Portland

9 Comments on Street Photography. Portland style

  1. Love the photos. Just one thing to point out: it’s “compliment,” not “complement.” The word pairs complement/compliment and complementary/complimentary are pronounced identically, hence the confusion in spelling. Just remember that complement with an E means “to complete” or “to enhance,” while compliment with an I means “to praise” and complimentary means “free.”

  2. I completely agree with your “Engage with people” approach. – I’ve been doing that for years, too. It works even if you have a potentially intimidating set-up. For example, sometimes, when I want the up-close, face-in-the-frame type of images, so I would go shooting with a 70-200G – It might have been intimidating, but the initial conversation beforehand and that I respectfully requested to photograph them, smoothed the way.

    Also, I usually keep a small reporters notebook with me and when I encounter street musicians, I get their email so that later I can email them links to some of their images. It’s always interesting to hear their stories, too … Note, if you chose to email, use an extra, cut-out email account that you don’t mind receiving spam.

    Keep posting your great images!

  3. Hi Jorge. Thank you for your article and your photos. I enjoyed the photos and found the article insightful. I used to shoot with Nikon as well before I switched to mirrorless (currently with Sony and Samsung) and I can relate. I have a couple of questions:

    1. About the Sony a7 series cameras, they seem to me to be just as large as a DSLR, which seems to defeat the purpose of using mirrorless (except the EVF advantage). What do you think?

    2. I like the colors from the RX1 but not the colors of the a6000, mostly because I find the reds look more like vermillion. I like the colors in your photos. Do you use a custom camera profile and if so may I ask how you created it?

    Thanks in advance!

    Best regards,

    • Thanks for reading the article.

      I would have to disagree a little about the a7 being as larger as dslr’s. At least when compared to Nikon and Canon. granted 4/3 dslr’s are pretty small. But, I do see your concern especially when the newer lenses coming out are so large. It does take away from the charm of the camera when you see a lens like the new 35 or 90. That is why I tend to use the smaller native lenses like 55, 35 2.8 and loxias. they keep the camera small and light. there is no question a7 is very light compared to other dslr’s and you can really see and feel the difference after a few hours on the street

      The RX1 is an amazing camera and I know of something coming out later this year to compete with it. but unfortunately I believe the entry will be late and inferior. But as far as the colors go, RX1 are spot on. A6000 is amazing camera and it yields great images even with straight processing using light room and existing profiles. This will always be an individual preference so I would find it hard to know what some may or may not like in color. however, I can say with confidence that for 600.00 its hard to beat!

  4. Enjoyed the article and the images. I rarely image people, but really the photography of those who do.
    Thanks for the article and the great Leica website.

  5. Hi JT; it amuses me to read your comments about the transition from dinosaurs to the Sony line. I got my M9 2010, already owning a nice collection of lenses along with two M6’s. Got my first NEX-7 Easter 2012, sold my two M6’s . . got another NEX-7 2013, gave up the M9 (in spite of the finest sensor ever made) – got very excited about the announcing of M240 . . was VERY disappointed when it eventually surfaced . . was equally excited when A7 & A7r came & bought the A7r spontaneously. Fantastic camera . . BUT, was somewhat disappointed about the shutter lag, which renders the camera near useless for my kind of street shooting, often aiming at people moving quickly. Now, finally . . having bought the A7II, I feel I’m almost at home. Still in love with my two NEX-7’s, though – they are simply just great.
    My main reasons for seeing the light with the Sony cameras, are 1.: The peaking – allowing me to work at almost the same speed as AF while still being the boss re where I want the focus. 2.: The EVF showing me the effect of the exposure settings, instead of correcting the image (like the M240) forcing you to spend time watching metering +- symbols. 3.: The modest, inconspicuous looks & size (especially the NEX), not at all frightening like the dinosaurs. Combined with a shabby panama, an equally shabby linen jacket, a moth eaten beard and 74 years on your back, you’re as far away from professionalism as you can get. You’ll rather evoke laughter and smiles than anger!
    Thanks for your attention . .

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