The Best Street Photographer in Portugal – Rui Palha (His Photography World and Tips)

What will you do when you can’t sleep?

Some may read a book, watch a movie, listen to music…

I will look for great photos.

This is how I discovered Rui Palha’s photos… then I successfully turned my evening into a sleepless night because I can’t stop looking at his photos.

Why Did We Pick Rui Palha as the Best Street Photographer in Portugal?

Rui Palha was born in April 1953, in Portugal, and lives in Lisbon. He started photographing when he was 14 and now is one of the most renowned and respected street photographers in the world.

In 2011, Rui’s book “Street Photography” was awarded the “Best Work of Photography” by the SPA Portuguese Society of Authors.

Throughout the years, Rui Palha was considered one of the best street photographers by many websites and photography blogs, including Leica Cameras Blog, Street Hunters, Top Teny, and more…

Looking at Rui Palha’s work you can feel his world and connection with people at the moment he captures the picture. A simple description is, his photos will touch your soul.

Who Should Read This Article

Anyone who is into black and white photography and street photography will enjoy reading this article because most of the works produced by Rui Palha are black and white street photography.

For sure, those who wanted to be better photographers could benefit from Rui’s sharing too because he is a great photographer.

Interview Rui Palha – The Best Street Photographer in Portugal

Rui Palha and His Street Photography World

Q: Can you give us a short sum up about your work?

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

I try to be a storyteller using images, telling the others what I “see” every day during my “street walks”. My photographic “world” is in Lisbon, 90% of my photos are made in my town, where the anonymous people are the main actors of the photographs.

I think there isn’t a day equal to the precedent, the People is always changing, as well as the moments, the lighting, and…the inspiration, too.

I don’t have a formal main theme… my theme is street, People, feelings, life… I am always looking for THE moment, I feel I never captured it, and I will look for it forever.

I like low light conditions, rainy days, and problematic places. First of all, I like People, Real People.

Usually, before Covid, I walked on foot some kilometers per day… walking, talking with anonymous people, photographing what I can and what I feel.

Sometimes it’s easy others don’t.

Many times I repeat the route; it is always different despite being the same… the people are always changing as well as the situations and the lighting.

My type of photography it’s a task a little bit solitary, but I feel always accompanied by the world that surrounds me.

This sentence defines my way to be in photography and…in life:

“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…”

Q: How did everything start? Why and how did you start your street photographer’s life?

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

I was 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.

My first contact with photography took place in my house. My father had an old Franka Rolfix from 1935, a medium-format camera with a 105 mm lens … I loved seeing him use that camera and it was hypnotic for me to see the printed photographs later.

When I was 14 years old I was photographing in the streets using a very small Minolta 16, 16 mm film, with a 24mm fixed lens.

It was a very different time from today. No internet, no digital photography, no computers, no Smartphones, I had to learn everything by myself and wait, sometimes, a long time to see the results.

I always carried with me a little memo book, where I wrote everything for each “click” …. speed, aperture, weather (cloudy, rainy, sunny, etc), time of the day, etc.

Late night, in an improvised darkroom (in my WC), I developed the negative, in a special tank for 16mm, and I made the contact proofs and some prints during the night.

Of course, most of the time, I was disappointed with the results, and crossing the photographs with my notes I tried to correct the nonsense and mistakes I did during the day before.

It’s a great way to learn something … making lots of errors. If you do everything well, for the very first time, you will not learn anything.

I never liked the darkroom work, it was very fastidious and I always thought I was losing my time. What I liked was walking in the streets with my camera.

Anyway, I had to use the darkroom and, of course, it was a good way to learn something more.

Until today, I am not an expert in post-processing digital photographs. I use some tools, in a very basic way, just direct conversion to grayscale, levels, contrast, dodge&burn and unsharp mask.

Usually, I spend 2 or 3 minutes post-processing a photograph. If the photo is really good I don´t need more time. If the photo is not good, I don’t try to save it.

Q: Other than street photography, do you accept other photography jobs?

Now, it is time to speak about why I consider myself a Street and Humanist photographer

Besides straight Street Photography, I always have, in parallel, some social projects in problematic neighborhoods of Lisbon, and I love them.

I think it is an important component of Street Photography because, in my opinion, it’s fundamental to connect with people that, sometimes, are not very warmful due to the marginalization and stigmatization that society makes to them.

In these cases, it’s necessary to “enter” into their world, That’s what I tried and, usually, I got it.

I am in this moment, also and due to Covid limitations, promoting worldwide Photography, made by fantastic photographers in a group I created, “B&W Humanist and Street Photography Corner“.

In conclusion, I don’t accept any other photographic works.

Q: What is your photography philosophy?

I don’t know, but I think I try to be a storyteller using images, telling the others what I “see” every day during my “street walks”.

I try to gain an insight into the feelings of People, thoughts with the help of their gestures, motions…

I always try to show, among the real-life scenes of everyday life, the beauty that always exists inside the unknown People, my “street models”, the beauty of the human race independently of color, religion, and politics.

As you know I am an amateur and I will have this status until the end of my life. It’s the only way to do what I want and not what the others want me to do.

Everybody has to be (and feel) free to create, to reflect what is inside themselves.

Q: Which is your favorite piece of work? Why?

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.

Street Photography Tips by Rui Palha

Q: What are your favorite parts and the biggest challenges as a street photographer?

So many factors… the moment itself framed as better as possible, the magic of lighting, a framing that pushes my eye, a scene I construct inside my head, the graphics that people “design” while they are moving…
Henri Cartier Bresson said about Photography “It is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”.

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 on the same axis.

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

Many times you must be invisible, make part of the scenery…this will allow you to be closer to 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 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

Q: Can u share with us some street photography tips?

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 any Street Photographer beginner 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 are 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. As 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.

In conclusion:

  • 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.

The Best Street Photographer in Portugal – Rui Palha: Cameras and Gears

What cameras and lens are you using? Why them?

I use several types of equipment, depending on what I want to produce as a final result and the places I go.

I always carry a Leica Q for “forbidden places” like underground, big shopping centers, and “problematic places”. It’s a great and versatile compact camera.

And/or a professional compact camera Sony RX1R II with a 35 mm sensor that not being so fast as Leica Q or any rangefinder camera, has incredible quality in the final result with its fixed 35mm Zeiss lens and a fantastic 42,4 megapíxeis

I use, too, a Leica M Monochrome and a Leica M10 with 21mm, 28mm, and 35 mm lenses.

I agree completely and I try to follow the quote of Robert Capa: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

Do you think mirrorless cameras would be great for street photography? Why? If you don’t think so, then why not?

I use Rangefinder cameras and compact cameras (Leica Q and Sony RX1R II), I don’t use mirrorless cameras.

Why I prefer rangefinder cameras? Because in Street Photography we need to be fast and the camera doesn’t need time to auto-focus. I always use zone focus, so it’s much faster than any other camera.

Can you suggest a mirrorless camera that you think would be great for street photography?

No, I can’t suggest because I don’t use them, but many photographers use Sony A7R Mark IV and love it a lot.

Rui Palha – Portugal Tips

Can you recommend some great photo spots in Portugal?

Oh, there are so many… all old Lisbon is fantastic, as well as Gare do Oriente and Parque das Nações in the new town.

Out Lisbon, there are lots of great places to go, or in Urban places or the countryside, even at the seaside.

Can you give us some traveling tips to Portugal? Like your favorite food, must-see attraction…

Tips for Portugal? Everything is great, the food is fantastic as well as the wine, the cheese, the bread, the People are very nice and the light is wonderful for Street Photography.

About “must-see attractions”… if people come to Portugal to photograph, the “must-see attractions” are all my favorite spots that you can see in my Photographs

Interview Rui Palha – The Best Street Photographer in Portugal: Final Words

Rui is a great photographer and you can learn a lot from what he shares. There are people going to Lisbon just to meet him! I hope you enjoyed the interview like I did,

If you are want to find Rui, here are the details:



Instagram: rui_palha

Facebook: Rui Palha