The light and scenery of the Algarve have been praised by lots of photographers. But perhaps more than the landscapes and beaches, it’s the people here that make for interesting photos. Trying to tell stories with images instead of words, this month Enjoy the Algarve goes for a photo walk in the streets of Loulé.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2017
There’s a reason why Kyle makes the photos and I do the writing. It mainly has to do with the fact that his photography skills are great, while mine are limited to pressing a button while the camera is set on automatic mode. Same goes for my camera knowledge. So while the other workshop participants are discussing the various options of their Canons, Nikons and Sony’s, I remind myself to take off the lens cap before shooting. Unable to make a useful contribution to the conversation, I keep my mouth shut. Still, according to photographer Vitor Pina, there’s no need to worry.
“A camera is just a camera,” says Vitor. “It doesn’t matter which one you have.” He actually recommends having the camera on aperture priority mode (where you only control the ISO and aperture while the camera selects the shutter speed) during this walk, which suits me perfectly as it’s almost like shooting on automatic. “Don’t spend too much time looking at your machine or you’ll miss the things that are happening on the street. Your camera is only a tool. With hammering you don’t look at the hammer either, you look at the nail,” he explains. Vitor knows what he’s talking about. Perhaps best known for his project ‘Algarvios’, he’s been photographing people from the south of Portugal for quite some time now. He’s also shot this cover, these pictures and of course he’s been our Picture Perfect photographer.
His camera, (an M4/3 system by Olympus), is the smallest of the group. It’s about twice as big as my mobile phone. Unobtrusive, it makes him look almost like a snapshot tourist. And that’s the beauty of it, according to Vitor: “I don’t want to intimidate the people I’m taking pictures of. Also, I want to be comfortable; if the camera’s too big and heavy, I’ll never carry it around. A bigger camera doesn’t make me a better photographer,” he states. On hearing this, the men, who were previously comparing camera sizes and focal length of their lenses, nod earnestly, while I share a smile with the other woman in the group.
While having a coffee, Vitor recommends using an ISO of 400 and an aperture between 4 and 8 for the best depth of field. He explains: “It’s all about being ready; like a sniper, always ready to shoot. On the street, you don’t have time to think about what f-stop you’ll be using.” That’s why he never shoots in manual mode when doing street photography. “If you set everything up for a shot in the light, somebody really interesting will walk by in the shade. No-one is fast enough to change all the settings in an instant. So I set up my camera for just one thing and only take close-up photos of people. If I see a great landscape shot I don’t take it. It’s like music: if I’m playing heavy metal, I’m not suddenly going to play fado.”
This advice in mind, we take our cameras and move from Loulé’s Largo São Francisco up on to the Rua 5 de Outubro. We’re soon called back by Vitor, who tells us to walk slower and look around more. “Wait for the right situation, create the scene. If you go fast, you’ll miss a lot of things. Above all: look for the light!” People on the street look at us like we’re a bunch of weirdos and move out of the way, either not wanting to spoil our pictures or just not wanting to be in it. Feeling a bit self-conscious about photographing strangers, in the beginning I only take pictures of my fellow workshop participants. Some of the others do this as well. This makes us even look stranger, but on the plus side it’s a great way to overcome your camera shyness.
It’s market day in Loulé, which means the streets are full of produce and people. Although this might seem like an excellent scene, featuring old Portuguese salesmen with wrinkled faces, it actually makes it harder as there a lot of people standing in the way of whatever you want to capture. Also, photographing strangers can feel quite intrusive – some ancient cultures even believe that by taking a picture of someone, you steal a part of their soul. Uncomfortable, too polite or perhaps too afraid of annoying people, I cheat by making photos while keeping my camera on tummy level so people don’t notice as much, framing the shot by looking at the display instead of through the view finder. Later on, I practise my Portuguese and ask a couple of people if I can take their picture. They agree, but pose, smile for the camera and behave differently, which makes the picture less ‘real’. I’ve come to the conclusion that street photography is very hard.
It isn’t anymore for Vitor, who’s got it down to an art form. He talks with everyone and gets right in their faces without them minding. “It’s important to get really close to your subjects. Sometimes I ask for permission, sometimes I don’t, it depends. Sometimes I jump on them, like a lion hunting for zebras in the savannah,” he laughs. Strange as this may sound, that’s exactly how he does it. But unlike zebras that’ll run away, most of his subjects don’t seem to matter having their picture taken and have a laugh with him afterwards. “And if they don’t want to be photographed, also fine,” shrugs Vitor. “Maybe next time; I don’t insist. Don’t forget that it takes some time for people to let you get close and trust you. I’ve been coming to Loulé’s market with my camera for years; they all know me here by now.”
Before leaving the market building again, Vitor reminds us to change back the ISO on our camera (which we’ve set to 1600 before entering the hall) and concentrate on what we see. “I can teach you everything, but I can’t teach you to see. We’re walking the same roads, passing the same subjects, but we’re not seeing the same things.” This is true. Comparing each other’s photos throughout the workshop, it soon becomes clear that they’re very different; one person focusses on colours, the other goes for shapes. There’s a guy in our group who has only taken pictures of bags and shoes, which Vitor applauds: “You need to find something that motivates you; whether it’s faces, doors or windows.” Vitor’s passion is people, mainly in close-up. “Everything we do in this world, is for people,” he explains. “Every person has a background. Trying to put their story in a single picture is hard, but still, you can tell a lot from a photograph. A sunset is always a sunset; but people change dramatically in their lifetime. My aim is to document this change here in the Algarve, which is a lifetime of work.”
Not having been focussing on anything, a lot of my photographs are absolute rubbish. “Doesn’t matter,” says Vitor. “Some of the best street photographers are happy if they make 10 great pictures a year.” He helps by pointing out particularly interesting corners, giving tips on composition and light. All the time, his eyes are moving, scanning the crowd. Like a hunting lion, he’s permanently aware of his surroundings. There’s the sound of a motorbike approaching, and while the other photographers turn their head towards the sound, Vitor is already on the move with his camera, positioning himself so he can get a good shot of the guy driving the Harley.
After the market we make our way back through Loulé’s old town, which is full of interesting buildings. Their walls have aged with time and are full of cracks while the ochre and red brown colours have faded, making for a nice background. Vitor explains how to photograph people if you’re shy: find a place with good light, frame your shot and wait for someone interesting to pass. Like fishing, this can take a while. Trying it on a street corner, we soon have a bunch of people refusing to pass, politely waiting until we’re done with photographing the blank wall, while we’re waiting for them to pass so we can get them on camera… Apparently this technique works better when you’re alone.
Apart from a photography lesson, this photo walk is also a tour of Loulé and its inhabitants; we meet a woman weaving palm leaves, a guy selling regional produce and a man painting with coffee, using his coffee spoon as a brush. It’s an exploration journey of the city, its architecture, colours, crafts, and, of course, its people. Moving slower – we’ve taken over three hours to cover about 2km – and paying more attention means you get to know a place more intimately. As for the photos I’ve made? Well, let’s just say that Vitor doesn’t have any competition to fear from me; I’ll stick to telling stories by using words instead of pictures. However, after Kyle has played around with settings and filters on the computer, it turns out there are a few decent ones.
When to go?
Normally the photo walks in Loulé are held every month, usually on a Saturday. It’s necessary to reserve your place in advance; do so by calling (+351 929 112 824) or emailing Vitor Pina.
It’s also possible to get private photo walks or photography tuition. Just ask Vitor.
To get in touch with Vitor, and also see some great black & white Algarve photography, check out his website.
For enthusiastic photographers who want to try street photography. This activity is also great for people who like taking pictures as well as discovering an Algarve inland city.
The maximum number of participants in the photo walks is 10. Vitor speaks Portuguese and English.
Make sure to take your camera (but leave the tripod, your lens collection and giant reflector at home!) and shoes which are good for walking.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2017