Love Letter to Lisbon and Porto as Street Photographer and Human Being
Portugal is such a unique and special place, it's hard to explain. There is a very interesting vibe of saudade (my favorite Portuguese word that means a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves) and elegance everywhere - architecture, people (especially, senior people), way they live. I could sense this elegance and beauty in the air.
Portugal, I already miss you so much, and I definitely will go back!
In this post I'd like to cover some photographic observations about two beautiful cities of Portugal - Lisbon and Porto - that I had a pleasure to visit.
I would like to start with Lisbon, as I spent my first two and last two nights there.
1. Light. There is something about light in Lisbon that felt so different to me - it was warm, soft, bright but subtle, as if the sun is shining through a mist or a glass. And this same light reflects from cobblestones and building walls covered in tiles and it adds to this atmosphere of lightness, air and vibrance and joy everywhere. If you love to shoot shadows and contrasts - Lisbon is the right place to do this!
2. Color Palette. Exactly how I like it - deteriorating but insanely beautiful buildings are colored in subtle pastel tones and covered with mosaics of beautiful tiles. There are no or very few modern glassy buildings that ruin views of old streets so it feels absolutely surreal to walk along those narrow streets surrounded by charming old buildings with washed laundry hanging from balconies. All of this creates an atmosphere of home and authenticity.
3. People. There is something spectacular about Portuguese people - you all know how I love to photograph charismatic subjects, and here in Lisbon (and Porto) you will find A LOT OF THEM! Like tons! Amazing faces, amazing hair styles, some grace and dignity in appearance that I haven't seen in other European trips, especially in older people - their outfits, the way they hold themselves, their posture, etc - all is full of grace and self-respect, it feels like they only go out perfectly groomed and dressed and classy but at the same time do not spend much time on this, it feels like it's in their blood.
Reactions to cameras are either friendly, charming, disarming, or completely ignorant, there is no suspicion, no aggression, mostly indifference or friendly nod or subtle welcoming smile. I am seriously in love with Portuguese way of being.
4. Places to Shoot. I tend to walk around same spots and streets to get familiar with them and actually start seeing details that maybe missed after first time, that's why I can't say they I did a lot of shooting in many neighborhoods, but here are some spots that I definitely got shots that I liked:
Rua Da Conceicao - please forgive me the spelling - the street where I got most of my shots because it has a tram way there, and a stretch of very old stores and barbershops, as well as the street is always crowded not only by tourists but also natives.
Alfama - Old Town. Better go there on a sunny day when people are around and wandering in narrow streets of the Old Town.
Bairro Alto / Chiado - a great mixture of natives and tourists, fancy stores and homeless people, and beautiful beautiful light. Don't forget to check it out at night time too - completely different scene with night life and windows! If you happen to be there on a rainy night - it is the best time to shoot: all these raindrops on windows of street cars and cafes and bakeries.
Miradouros - Viewpoints. I didn't get shots there BUT viewpoints are definitely where you will get the greatest views of the city from above, and definitely a lot of objects to shoot.
Rossio Square - this place is rich on people - from wandering tourists to homeless or weird people around the square who can be very interesting subjects to photograph.
Conclusion: Absolutely cute and amazing city. Awesome for street photography. I am glad that Portugal is still a little bit out of radar of main touristic destinations for a lot of people but I see that it's changing and more and more tourists are going there which is not surprising - it has the best combination of attractions to offer for amazingly affordable prices. But with that I don't want Lisbon and Portugal as whole to lose this authentic spirit and become another spot that is choked by decease called tourism.
It took me 3 hours on train from Lisbon to take me to a completely different city of beautiful Portugal - Porto. And by completely different I mean difference in vibe, looks, and light, and that's what makes it so fascinating because within one trip to Portugal you may have absolutely different and polarized experiences. This comparison may sound a little bit harsh but it's like going from Los Angeles to San Francisco - both are located on the West Coast but if LA is this cute sunny relaxed city, then San Francisco is much windier, chillier, darker, dirtier.
Porto has this personality that is very close to my spirit - similar to New York City (yes, I judge citied as human beings). It is moody, dark, chillier, more rainy, it has an edge. Yes, it is filled with tourists - and I felt like even more than Lisbon or in a different way which is very very sad, but through this touristic madness you can still feel city's personality. I really hope that tourism won't choke the uniqueness of this place completely.
Some photography observations around Porto.
1. Shooting in the Rain / Shooting Fog. I think it is one of the best cities to shoot in the rain or after, and especially in nighttime or early morning as the city gets foggy and by fog I mean a very thick layer through which light looks gorgeous, whether it's neons and city lights or morning sunrise.
2. Bridges and waterfronts. So many of them and such a beautiful element to use in your photographs that will add that iconic look to any image if used properly.
3. Size. They say that the city is very small and walkable which is true and I think it is an advantage for any photographer because you have this ability to explore the city better and even create walking patterns or select your favorite spots.
4. People. Like I said above, Porto in my opinion has this edge, this personality, and therefore there are so many natives who live their daily life right in the center of the city among tourists, and you get to watch them hanging around train station or churches, ignoring crowds of tourists and cameras and just living life. I was amazed by the variety of characters on 1 square meter - you will get MILLIONS of interesting subjects - well dressed, with umbrellas (they carry them all the time just in case it rains), with huge mustaches and beards, with classic hats (Portuguese older men are obsessed by wearing hats) and coats/raincoats. I had a feeling that I am on the set of a classic movie constantly but this is just their way of dressing and living.
5. Places to Shoot.
- Sao Bento Railway Station. To say that I was impressed by it is to say nothing. This train station IS the most beautiful railway station I have seen - it is old, deteriorating but grand and feels like it's straight from some old movie. AND what's even more interesting about it is people - arriving and departing characters, or people waiting in the main hall in front of the train schedule, or standing in the doorways in sunset, or sitting in the trains (windows are big and train cars are well lit inside). I literally was starting and ending every day from this station and spent many many hours shooting there at different times of the day. I could probably even live there hehe.
- Rua De Santa Catarina - packed with stores and crowded by tourists, you still have a lot of opportunities to photograph natives who are rushing to/from work or heading toward churches. If you turn to some smaller side streets, you will have a chance to observe daily life, older people reading newspapers and drinking espresso/wine, or smoking together at building corners.
- Jardim de São Lázaro - somehow I really loved this small park and got some amazing shots of gentlemen chilling there or playing cards/chess. If you happen to be there in the rain, you might get some awesome shots of blossoming trees with blooming flowers.
- Bonfim - somehow this neighborhood was very generous to me. It was less crowded by tourists and I could capture more natural life there and this is what I like the most: women window shopping, or feeding pigeons, men smoking cigars and thinking about life or playing chess, children playing in the street, etc etc.
- Ponte Luis I - go to the bridge at sunset to photograph fishermen or early morning so see the fog and get some moody shots. Bridges are always magical and have mysterious powers over people's imaginations, and look good on photos too.
Conclusion: One trip is not enough to fully embrace magnificence of this place. You will definitely feel yourself in a fairy tale and will be shocked by the variety of scenes and a number of characters to photograph in the streets of Porto. Be ready to shoot in the morning, in sunset and especially at night - Porto will give you all of it and even more. I would say that it is a photographic heaven for all street photographers.
If you have any doubts about going to Portugal I would say this - don't hesitate! But please - treat it gently and with respect - it totally deserves it!