Lisbon’s pastel dreamland still feels like a small European village. Photographer Ricardo Junqueira gives us a candid view through his lens.
Exploring the cobblestone streets of Lisbon, Ricardo Junqueira takes in the aroma of fresh coffee and warm bread. Around him, he hears people chatting. They’re all speaking different languages.
It’s a city where everyone knows everyone. A place “where the baker knows your name” and where people take the time to stop and talk as they’re on their way from one place to the next.
The photographer first moved to Lisbon ten years ago, and he felt at home almost immediately. “Within a week, my wife and I had completely surrendered to this charming city,” he remembers. “We were in love.”
He was delighted to learn that he didn’t need a car; he could travel anywhere—and everywhere—by foot.
It changed the way he looked at his surroundings, encouraging him to pause and soak in the colors of the city.
“When you travel somewhere for the first time, or when you move somewhere new, you always have an advantage, and that’s the fact that you pay attention,” the artist says. “You’re able to see things—things others might pass without actually seeing them—with fresh eyes and without prejudice.”
Born in Brasília, Junqueira was raised on some of the most exquisite architecture in the world, with Lúcio Costa’s revolutionary layout and the iconic edifices of Oscar Niemeyer.
His passion for architecture, nurtured during his first 22 years in Brasília, was always there. It followed him as he moved to São Paulo, then to Natal in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, and finally, to Lisbon in Portugal.
And, it was architecture that encouraged him to explore his new city. Having built a reputation for architecture and interiors, he was contacted in 2010 by Airbnb. When he moved to Lisbon, the brand became one of the first he worked with in the City of Light.
After shooting for magazines and commercial clients, Junqueira loved the idea of photographing “real,” lived-in residential spaces—not necessarily those that would be featured in a magazine, but those that were special nevertheless. Each place was unique because it was infused with the character and personality of the people who lived there.
It was during this time that he began making pictures of the city’s glittering pastel façades—while walking to and from shoots, but also when looking through the windows and balconies of the houses he visited.
He’s always liked to capture more than what he’s been assigned, covering the shot list and then going beyond to notice something more. When he first started in 2012, he photographed two to three houses per month for Airbnb, but interest in vacation rentals—and this kind of photography—boomed.
By 2018, he was shooting two or three houses for Airbnb every single day. He was also working with a different company, which added another three to four houses to his daily schedule.
Junqueira estimates he’s photographed around 2,500 houses throughout Lisbon in the last ten years. The location was usually a surprise. He was given an address, and he arrived. But that spontaneity allowed him to get to know Lisbon inside and out. Now, he’s able to predict how the light will fall over almost any given street at any time of day or year.
Of course, Lisbon is known for its light, due in part to its topography and layout. When captured at just the right moment and angle, that light bounces off those golden yellows, rose pinks, and sky blues to create a color palette that feels almost too good to be true.
And, then, there are the hills.
“Lisbon is an ideal city for photographers because it’s the ‘City of Seven Hills,’” Junqueira says. “Therefore, it has many viewpoints, and it is always possible to see in many different directions from a higher point of view.”
The neighborhoods where Junqueira made these pictures are spread out across the city, each representing a unique moment in its history.
In the Alfama district—known for its narrow, labyrinthine streets, terracotta roofs, and melancholy fado music—you can find structures that date back to well before the earthquake of 1755.
Visit Príncipe Real, and you’ll discover colorful mansions built in the 19th century. Bairro Alto, home to famous newspaper offices in the 1800s, was once a hub for journalists and, later, bohemian artists and writers.
The pastels are sprinkled throughout the entire city, and they can be found inside many of the buildings as well. “The colors are a preference of the Portuguese,” Junqueira says.
Often, he’ll see laundry drying in the midday sun—a small glimpse into the inner lives of the people who call these apartments home. Sometimes, a resident will poke their head out or sit on the balcony to enjoy the sunshine and sounds of the city.
While many photographers have sought out Lisbon’s hilltop vantage points during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset, Junqueira is different. The nature of his assignments means that he doesn’t have the luxury of planning around “ideal” lighting conditions. But he sees that as a gift; whatever the conditions, he has to make do with what he has.
“I’ve never liked routine,” the artist admits. “I like to photograph what fate presents me with. I think it’s possible to make beautiful images in any weather and at any time of day.”
Since he’s out and about during the daytime, he doesn’t need a tripod to make these images. He brings two cameras with him—a Nikon D750, fitted with a 14-24mm f.2.8 Nikkor lens, and a Nikon D850, fitted with a 24-120mm Nikkor lens.
The reason is simple. With two cameras, he can avoid changing lenses and cleaning his sensor throughout the day. The images featured here were made with the 24-120mm, which affords him quite a bit of versatility.
Most of the time, Junqueira shoots in aperture priority mode, setting his f-stop around the f/11 “sweet spot” so that all the details are sharp throughout the frame.
If there’s a person in the shot—a pedestrian or biker, for instance—he has to beware of motion blur, so he generally keeps his shutter speed around 1/125 of a second, fast enough to keep things sharp even if he’s shooting at a 120mm focal length.
In sunlight, he can keep his ISO low at 100. Very rarely, he’ll need a polarizing filter to cut down on midday glare, but aside from the cameras and lenses, he usually only carries “some memory cards and some extra batteries, a color checker, a brush, and a lens wipe.” He travels light.
“It is very easy to cross Lisbon from one side to the other in a few hours’ walk, and the city invites you to do so,” the artist says. “During that walk, you’ll encounter a variety of architecture in the neighborhoods, ranging from buildings from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages, and even the most modern—as is the case of Parque das Nações, which was built in the late 1990s. This coexistence of ancestral architecture with these modern additions makes the city very interesting.”
In Lisbon, the streets are safe and the people are friendly. Many times, Junqueira has been stopped by an older person, someone who’s lived in the neighborhood for many years, who will share a bit about the history of their house and its surroundings. He’s touched by their kindness, and he’s always willing to put his camera away for a while to listen.
“Although the number of tourists has been growing, and in some more central neighborhoods, there is already some gentrification, most of the city still lives like a small European town,” Junqueira explains.
That small-town atmosphere means that the artist is now familiar with much of the city: The scent of fresh-baked bread and the sounds of people talking sometimes fade into the background.
In many ways, he envies visitors who are just getting acquainted with the city, remembering what it was like “falling in love” with its streets a decade ago.
“One thing I’ve always had—and one thing I hope I never lose—is the ability to look closely and curiously at things,” he tells me. “I try to be like a two-year-old child who is seeing everything for the first time.”
License this cover image via Ricardo Junqueira.