Rui Palha’s Pictures have an unique sense of light and a great mood of solitudeness. Wonderful monochrome pictures with extremely good aesthetics and light over the field of empty streets speak like a mild music. One can sense the feel of silence in every frame of his photograph.
This week we interview him and speak about his journey as a street photographer.

About you & Photography?

First of all, I need to “say” that I am not so good expressing my feelings nor my thoughts through words. I prefer try to do that through images, but I will try to put in words what you want to know about me.

Photography is a hobby since the 14 years of age. I had my own darkroom, but to be honest, I only liked, since I was a kid, to “press the button” in the streets.

This sentence defines my way to be in photography: “Photography is a very important part of my space… it is to discover, it is to capture giving flow to what the heart feels and sees in a certain moment, it is being in the street, trying, knowing, learning and, essentially, practicing the freedom of being, of living, of thinking…”

What made you choose Street Photography?

I felt always amazed, hypnotized even, with the movement of people, with their expressions, their reactions… I felt it was a fantastic challenge trying to capture all the bustle of everyday life and a way to learn a lot about the surrounding world.

In my photographic world all people are unique and the most important part of my photographs.

Few words on your Solitude shots?

Being the persons the major richness in my photographs and knowing that they live in a concrete jungle I have always that feeling of loneliness, as probably they have too.

What effect does modernization have on Street Photography?

It’s a challenge. In the “good old days” the atmosphere was fantastic, the cars were wonderful, the dresses were sober and photogenic. Nowadays everything is confusing, so it’s necessary to change the way of “seeing” and try to capture a good moment framed as well as possible.

In other aspect there are millions of “street” photographers nowadays so it’s fundamental being creative. We have to be able to anticipate, to understand, to “see”, to “feel” a street scene in a fraction of time and we must capture that moment in a meaningful framing. The composition is fundamental, too. Not only the moment capture.

So you must have the head, the eye, the heart…and the finger in the same axis.

And I think this “axis”, this characteristic, is indispensable to be a street photographer and not an ordinary “street shooter”.

What does it take to make a good Street Photograph?

I don’t know exactly… it depends on the inspiration of the day, the health, the mood.

Many times you must be invisible, make part of the scenery…this will allow you to be closer of some kind of problematic situations. Other times you have to establish a fantastic connection with “street People”, talking with them, hearing them, respecting them.

We have to enable our capacity to “look” and “see” interesting moments…funny moments, different moments, creative framings… we have to understand the “lighting” and try to use it the best way as possible. We have to pick up all the beauty and personality of a “street model” talking with him/her, listening to him/her, respecting him/her… this way we are going to learn a lot every day. You must love people… and respect them.

Street photography is not an easy way to make photography… we have to be brave, astute. We must have the capacity to anticipate the moment before it happens.

Three definite qualities of a Street Photographer according to Rui?

Not Three, but Six…

  • Love People.
  • Respect People.
  • Have always the ability to listen People, they are true lessons of life.
  • Try to understand People, their thoughts, their movement, their feelings, their soul.
  • Be brave and courageous.
  • Try to be as close as possible to the People you photograph. This way you will know and feel their soul and vice-versa.

How do you achieve these unique style in your Pictures?

I don’t know to answer that question, but probably it is a reflection of my own personality.

Do you believe in gear? How important is gear for Street Photographers?

I think the gear isn’t so important as some people thinks. First of all is the “eye” behind it, in second place comes the lenses and in third place the gear.

All your pictures are almost in B/W, any specific reason?

Although I’ve used color sometimes, in the past, I prefer black and white. There’s a concept, “no color, no lie,” that I, somehow, agree with. If you look at a black and white picture and feel that the image “tells” you a story without any distracting elements, then it is a good picture. Sometimes a color photo only has appeal because the combination of tones is nice and coherent.

Still, I do like color photography. There are great photojournalists using it wisely. But I do prefer black and white. As someone wrote, and I agree completely, “if color is used you show the color of the garments; if black and white is used you show the ‘color’ of the soul.”

What makes you go regularly onto the Streets? What drives you, your Inspiration?

Street is Life, my life.
I need the street & people to live.

My inspiration: Henri Cartier Bresson, indeed, and Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt, among others are my “inspiration”. I learnt a lot observing their work.

One place you all always want to visit for Street Photography?

Where I would love to go? All over the world, all the places with different People, different civilization… Africa, Asia… but I am doing what I can in Lisbon, my own town.

One picture and the story behind it?

It’s impossible to answer this. I haven’t a favorite street photograph, to be honest… I am always looking for “THE” moment, I feel I never captured it, and I will look for it forever. But… all my street photographs are important for me because they always have a human story behind them.

Any Advice / Secrets for aspiring Street Photographers?

In my humble opinion, I think it’s not possible to “teach” street photography, at least for me, as you know (I always said that), I am and I will be an eternal apprentice…every day I learn something new in the streets, with people, with life.

The way I use to learn “street photography” is the way they can use to learn, too.

Some tips I read somewhere, but with which I agree:

  • Get close to the subject, make them the primary object in your frame.
  • Street photography is all about observing people, their actions and juxtapositions. Keep your eyes open, look for interesting connections.
  • You’re more likely to get a memorable photograph when you’re part of the scene and reacting to the emotions and drama that is being acted out around you.
  • Be casual about the camera and keep it away from your face as far as possible. Try to avoid looking like a “photographer.” As a side effect, trying to hide your camera and sneaking a photograph in when possible may make you look suspicious. Like I said, be casual about the camera.
  • Don’t take too much equipment and travel light. It’ll make you less obtrusive and you will be able to move around for the best shot quickly.
  • Anticipate moments between people before they happen.
  • Have your camera out and ready to shoot at all times. Things can move quickly on the street so if you’re not ready you’ll miss lots of opportunities.

Your Best compliment / achievement you received so far?

The most important is the friendship and respect I feel everyday from the occasional “street models”. Usually I try to give the photographs I made before to the people I photograph.

Besides this I think it was very important here in Portugal that my first and only book “Street Photography” was the winner of the award of Authors 2011, sponsored by the Portuguese Society of Authors in audio-visual category, for the “Best Work of Photography”.

Order the Street Photography Book by Rui Palha

Any final thoughts for our readers?

Always be happy with your own street work before spreading it everywhere. Be very critical and demanding with yourself. Enjoy People, Life and Street. This way you are enjoying the entire world and it’s a way to grow up under all the aspects.

Quick Questions:

  • What is your idea of happiness?
    Just a second… takes advantage of it
  • Your Favorite food?
    Steak with fries
  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
    As I wrote before, my book was the “Best work of photography” in 2011.
  • Where would you like to live?
    Where I live, in Lisbon.
  • The Book you are currently reading?
    Several books at same time
  • What do you most appreciate in your friends?
  • What is Love?
    A basic sense of our lives
  • Your favorite motto?
    Live the day as if it were the last day

You can find Rui Palha on the Web :

All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Rui Palha. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.