A lifelong resident of the Lisbon area of Portugal, Pedro Portela has never been lacking gorgeous photographic opportunities. The small nation of Portugal is famous for breathtaking beaches, rolling farmland, and even ancient Roman temples. It’s against these backdrops Portela shoots both film and digital portraits. He also has been turned around on his initial impressions of wedding photographers, and now counts himself among professionals using medium format film to capture weddings.
With a father who was a photographer, Portela wasn’t particularly interested in shooting until he got a summer job in a friend’s father’s photo lab. Eventually he got his own SLR and his passion began. Normally working alone, Portela never assisted any professional photographers. Almost entirely self-taught, he shoots his weddings in a combination of digital and film media. His business has grown almost entirely by word of mouth recommendations.
Initially drawn to shooting the beautiful landscapes of Portugal, Portela is self-admittedly “not a people person,” he says. Unsatisfied with his early attempts at portraiture, things changed when he got a digital back in 2006 while in law school. He began to photograph women who wanted to be models, and helped them put their books together. Although he still loves shooting landscapes, portraiture has become his first love.
There are some upsides to being an attorney who takes photographs, Portela says. “I don’t need anyone to do all the releases and paperwork. I do it all myself,” he laughs. He also assists fellow friend-photographers who need documentation regarding models or sales of images.
Portela is something of an anomaly, coming to photography after the digital revolution was well underway, yet choosing to shoot medium format film. His main camera is a Mamiya 645 AF. The lens he relies on most of the time is an 80mm f/2.8 AF lens. For environmental portraiture he often uses a 55mm f/2.8 lens. The rare formal portraits are handled by a 150mm f/3.5 manual focus.
Less often, he gets his 35mm fix both digitally and with film from a Nikon F100 and a Nikon D300. The autofocus lenses he uses with those two bodies include a Nikon 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8, and an 85mm f/1.4.
Portela is committed to the gear he’s currently using. “I recently had an offer to change my Mamiya for a medium format range finder system,” he says. “I didn’t because I especially like the sharpness of Mamiya lenses wide open. I shoot almost everything at 2.8. The shallowness of field and static preferences is mild. That’s one of the main reasons I don’t use any other system. The Mamiya RB and RZ are excellent cameras. But the normal aperture 3.8, f/4. You don’t have 2.8. In spite of being smaller format, the 645 is very good and balances the convenience of a small package in a camera with the quality and the shallow depth of field of medium format.”
Citing the shallow depth of field as a major motivator for the type of gear he’s shooting, Portela claims he gets a 3D look to his medium format work, which is impossible with 35mm. “I do some work with external flash with the Mamiya, and I really like it because it really feels like an SLR,” he says. “And one more thing. The cheapest lens on Mamiya is a top lens in 35‑millimeter SLR. They are great. The Mamiya lenses are very, very, very sharp.”
Although he has an SB-800, he rarely uses artificial light. “I use reflectors and diffusers. I like to give more quality to the sunlight,” he says. “I also use reflectors to open up shapes.”
His next project will be photographing people in their work environment using medium format and color film. “Film is very rich for color and skin tones,” Portela says. “I really like the social impact photography can have. It’s not as strong as it once had because of video and there’s so many cameras around now, but it’s still a project I want to do.”
Portela is also translating his blog into English, which will help him with destination clients visiting Portugal. Instead of investing in a Web site, he’s been buying many photography books and a lot of gear, he reports. Stay tuned for more beautiful scenes of Portugal both digitally and on film from this young shooter.