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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.