National Geographic Travel photo editor Jess Mandia recently traveled to Portugal, where she wandered the city streets, got lost on her way to the beach, and captured stunning vistas with her camera. We asked Jess about her favorite images, tips for taking travel photos, and the most scenic locations from her trip.
Where is the best view in Lisbon?
The best view of Lisbon’s terra-cotta roofs is from the top of the Arco da Rua Augusta. The arch itself is beautifully constructed, but for a small fee you can go to the top and take in a panoramic view of the city. I always look out for places where you can capture unique perspectives; we spend most of our lives standing at ground level, so if you’re willing to climb a little higher you’ll usually see something interesting. The city is also transformed at night, so keep shooting when the sun goes down. The Corinthia Lisbon had a gorgeous night view overlooking the Águas Livres Aqueduct, one of my favorite pieces of architecture in the city.
What’s your favorite thing about these cityscapes?
I’m really attracted to symmetry, so when I was walking around Lisbon these scenes popped out at me like a Wes Anderson film. If you frame it well, the lines can help create a focal point for the viewer and draw them in. The city streets are also perpetually busy, so when I happened upon this quiet cobblestoned street where a tram was passing through, I wanted to capture this moment of calm in the bustling city.
You captured some really beautiful detail in the cathedral photo (below). Where is this and how did you take this photo?
I took this photo inside the main chapel of Jerónimos Monastery, which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. It has a gorgeous interior, but it was too dark inside the church to take a simple snap, so I had to improvise. I propped my camera on the railing and took a long exposure. The motion blur from all the moving patrons and the soft, golden glow of the lights gives it a cool, ghostly effect. I was also surprised when another visitor snapped a photo of me and I caught her camera flash in my frame. Sometimes the best photographs happen by accident, so it’s a good idea to experiment with exposure and shoot a lot to get that one magical moment.
What were your favorite spots outside of Lisbon?
After a few days in the city I rented a car to drive down the coast of the Algarve to check out the smaller towns in the south of Portugal. I actually got lost—a happy accident—because I ended up stumbling upon Praia da Bordeira. I climbed the tallest peak to try and capture the limestone cliffs jutting out into the water. At first I was disappointed that the beach was so hazy, but it’s actually what makes the image unique. Clear, sunny skies always make for great postcards, but don’t be afraid of shooting in less than perfect weather—you might be pleasantly surprised.
Those waves look pretty inviting. Did you go for a swim?
The Algarve attracts surfers from all over the world, but even if you’re not a surfer there’s plenty of adventure to go around. I was able to stand-up paddleboard right up to these rocks, climb the rock face from the water, and cliff jump.
Is that a photo of a Polaroid (below)?
Yes! These are employees at the backpacker hostel in Rosperia, Algarve, Portugal. These guys looked like interesting characters, so I offered Polaroids to the staff in exchange for their portrait. I used a 1970s Polaroid land camera—it’s completely mechanical and less invasive than a digital camera. I was able to create a tiny, four-by-five-inch image instantly and gave it to them as a keepsake. I find giving a little something back is a great way to get people to sit for a portrait—whether it’s a Polaroid, emailing them a digital image, or simply showing it to them in my viewfinder.
You talked about the best view in Lisbon, so what was the best view in the Algarve?
Sunset over the lighthouse at Cape Sagres was one of the most memorable views, not only because it’s beautiful, but because of the story behind it. I don’t usually photograph landscapes, but when I heard about a place called “the end of the world,” I needed to see it. The Romans considered the lighthouse a magical place where the sunset was much larger than anywhere else. They believed the sun sank here, hissing into the ocean, marking the edge of the world. I understood the lore when I visited. If you look beyond the lighthouse all you can see is miles and miles of ocean.
That sounds incredible. You spent a lot of time exploring outdoors—did you get to visit any attractions?
On my last day in Lisbon, I decided to go to the Oceanarium because I’ve never been to one. I decided to shoot with my mobile phone, which allowed me more freedom to move around the exhibits. You don’t need a fancy camera and bunch of lenses to get a beautiful photo—sometimes simple is better.
Want to make your trip more sustainable? Jess stayed at the Corinthia Lisbon, an energy-efficient, eco-friendly hotel, and reduced her carbon footprint by booking a direct flight from Washington, D.C., to Lisbon with United. Follow Jess Mandia on Instagram.