Felipe Alves is an outdoor travel photographer who lives in Oakland, California. He was born in São José do Rio Preto, São Paulo, Brazil, where he spent 10 years of his life growing up.
Q: What first inspired you to start shooting?
A: What inspired me to start shooting was being a long distance from home.
I wanted to share my memories with the people I cared for who couldn’t be present with me. I remember taking pictures of my little brother in Brazil and mailing them to the United States so my auntie and uncle could see what he was like. I’d have pictures of him smiling, playing with toys, going outside to the park—you know, memories.
There was no internet or Facetime back then. Receiving the developed photographs and looking back on snippets of your life felt so rewarding, and I always wanted to share them.
Q: On your website, you mention that you spent the first ten years of your life in Brazil. How has that experience influenced your approach to photography?
A: I am constantly trying to document things. At a friend’s birthday, I’ll have my camera. Going on a hike or to a beach, I’ll have my camera. Anywhere and everywhere.
I was 10 years old when I moved here, and whenever I spoke to my grandparents, all they wanted to know was how we were doing, how tall were we now. Documenting everything for them was my way of making sure we never felt apart.
As a kid, my grandparents would show me photos of their grandparents, and it always amazed me how I could travel back in time with a still image, so I always try to do the same. You can never have too many photographs, because each one will tell a story.
Q: Now that you’re in California, do you find the creative community reflects the Bay Area’s diversity?
A: California is amazing. You can truly meet anyone from anywhere in the world here—specifically in the Bay Area, and I love it.
With different people from different backgrounds, the creative community strengthens in diversity. You can literally find an artist for anything you need—the options are limitless. Powerful creatives with different stories to tell, different journeys faced, all together for one passion, which is to create/share/inspire/ but ultimately express their art. Photographers, videographers, musicians, painters, actors, so many of us with so many different styles—it’s beautiful!
Q: California is a beautiful place to call home and has so many different landscapes from lush green forests to deserts to mountains, and of course, the ocean. Do you have favorite photography spots in the area?
A: When I was in High School, my environmental science teacher once said that we do not explore our backyard enough. Whether that is your city, your county, your state—go out and explore because our world is so big.
California is a state that allows you to explore so many landscapes, and to be honest, I love them all. However, my favorite place in California would be Yosemite. You can go there during the summer and after a long hike, rest your feet in the water. If you go during the winter, you see it snowy white, during the autumn with beautiful yellow foliage, and during the spring, when the snow melts, the waterfalls roar louder. Definitely my favorite.
Q: Your photography focuses a lot on wonderful and awe-inspiring landscapes, what is the best way to prepare for an outdoor shoot?
A: From experience, the best way to prepare for an outdoor shoot is to make sure you have your timing locked down. If the photo you want is on top of the mountain during the sunset, make sure you give yourself enough time to drive to the location, hike up the mountain, set up your camera, and fully enjoy the sunset without the need for excessive rushing to set up your gear. It’s much less painful this way.
Travel light. Don’t pack everything—bring only the essentials so you’re never carrying heavy equipment while moving from place to place.
Q: You often use natural light to highlight the relationship between a subject and the landscape, what are some things you like the most about working this way?
A: I’ve noticed that the light captured in photographs issues different emotions when someone views it, the mood changes.
I enjoy the sunset and sunrise hours because it gives this timeless feel to the photograph without any harsh lighting. If you shoot the same subject around midday and again during sunset hours, you will most often find yourself drawn to the photo with the dreamy lighting. Everything looks more epic during these special hours.
Q: What would you say to anyone who wants to stand out as an outdoor, travel photographer?
A: Make sure to enjoy the outdoors too.
Don’t get caught up on attempting to get the “best” outdoor travel photograph, and forget what brought you outside in the first place. If you are enjoying yourself at that moment, your photograph will probably convey the same feeling.
And, of course, never stop exploring.
You will only become a good travel photographer if you are constantly shooting and constantly exploring. New locations provide new photographs, new photographs provide more experience, and with more experience, you’ll naturally become better and build a great portfolio along your journey.
Q: Travel photography is always in commercial demand, what are some tips you have picked up from licensing this type of content on 500px?
A: In addition to shooting beautiful landscapes, it’s always a plus when you have a model or subject in your pictures. Make sure your model is wearing something that is license-friendly with no logos of any kind, and that they sign the model release form for your photos.
Whenever a model is present, the photograph becomes more relatable. The model helps the viewer understand the scale and surroundings of where the photo was taken. For example, how big the waterfall is compared to a human.
Another good tip is to make sure to never overexpose, and always shoot in RAW format so you can bring back lots of the details when editing.
Q: Speaking of travel, what is one destination that delivered beyond your expectations?
A: My last travel destination before the outbreak of the virus was Iceland. I will recommend this Nordic island to anyone for the rest of my life. I was there for the first time in February 2020. It was cold, it was windy, but it was beyond beautiful. You will never find similar landscapes anywhere else in the United States.
I saw frozen fields of lava rocks, huge waterfalls, hot springs, ice caves, mountain ranges, northern lights, and glaciers floating in the water. The country is so rich with different landscapes and coastal views, it was insane. I will most definitely go back during the summer season when the sun provides more daylight, and the roads are less frozen.
Q: Do you have advice or recommendations for others who may want to visit Iceland?
A: If you go to Iceland, no matter what people say, make sure to visit Blue Lagoon. It’s a little expensive but worth the experience. Considered to be one of 25 Wonders of the World, it’s an experience that can’t be missed. You will be bathing in a spa powered by geothermal activity, which is really unique!
Pack layers because Iceland is very cold and very open. Book tours to visit ice caves. The ice is already melting, and many of the caves are disappearing, so the sooner you go, the better.
Lastly, experience it all and have fun creating memories and documenting your journey.
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