Chasing light from Rio to Australia, Bali, India, Hawaii. Catapulting out into the world with enormous curiosity and sense of adventure. Looking for that moment where everything suddenly fits together and you capture the unique essence of life in a way only you can do. That’s the life of travel photographer Rafael Moura.

Chasing Light and Inspiration in Bali

By Jade Moyano
Apr 10, 2018

Chasing light from Rio to Australia, Bali, India, Hawaii. Catapulting out into the world with enormous curiosity and sense of adventure. Looking for that moment where everything suddenly fits together and you capture the unique essence of life in a way only you can do. That’s the life of travel photographer Rafael Moura.

Rafael is a globetrotter with a very unique eye and wonderful creative sensibility. I found him online, though I know if I had just chosen to go out for sunset that day I would have run into him on the beach. The irony that is life in the age of technology… One image led to the next, and the deeper I looked the more intrigued I became.

Rafael has a diverse set of skills and no particular limitations when he shoots, which is rare to find today. A lot of photographers are specialized in one thing but Rafael’s ability to capture marine life, surf, travel, portraits, landscape, and even fashion is impressive. To me, Rafael was immediately different. First, because he’s almost incognito – no website, only 40 images on Instagram, unpretentious. Second, because he doesn’t hide behind his screen. He answered all my messages within minutes, agreed to meet up, and actually became a friend.

Dedicating your existence to capturing and sharing beauty takes a certain character, a certain personality, even a certain temperament. The constant moving around, the uncertainty, watching the natural evolution of your craft with every click… Those are things one must absolutely love.

He is now based in Bali, where we met under a tree to try to cover the past 33 years of his life. It went something like this…

What’s inside the head of a photographer?

Ever since I was young I’ve always had this thing with detaching from things and places. I could not be tied down. I didn’t like school, I didn’t want to be in one place. I remember being linked to simplicity always. I was always kind of lost in cities, I would stare out the windows and think of songs and places and totally time travel.

Did you always think in pictures?

No. In Brazil I thought I liked photos because my dad used to lend me his cameras and I used to shoot here and there but it wasn’t serious, it was just a hobby. Photography was an inspiration, especially before social media, I just wanted to share what I was seeing. Then I began my journey in Australia, where I grew a lot professionally, found my path and matured. I lived 6 years in Australia. I started off as a dishwasher then I learned english and started working in surf shops. I met a mentor there and he helped me a lot, I learned from him and we started to shoot together. Living in Australia was like a school for me, it always felt like one step ahead from where I was coming from. The way of thinking was way more open, aesthetically I was also exposed to a lot more.

When did you start to take photography seriously?

I worked in Billabong Australia, at the surf shop and I would assist on shoots from time to time. I really only started to shoot in 2012, it took me a long time to get going because I was a perfectionist and needed to be on the same level as the people I looked up to. Now I can see someone’s work and know what equipment they used, what they shot with, which lenses. You look and you know which aperture and shutter speed. That’s when I started to consider myself a professional. But it still takes me a long time to get one image done. I’m a perfectionist and I like to spend time on each image.

You don’t have a website and only have a few images on Instagram, yet people seem to really appreciate and know your work.

It all happens by word of mouth. The Brazilian style and aesthetic can be a bit old school so when I went back after Australia people really started to notice my work. I don’t post as much. I deleted everything, I used to have over 300 photos up but your mind and your eye change over time and you start to see things differently so I change my feed a lot. I post one, delete 3. I like to do everything right, I care about details and organization. Sometimes it gets in the way… but I like to have it done in a specific way.

So you went back to Brazil with this experience from Australia, and this new profession. What happened there?

So I went back already knowing I didn’t want to live there again, I went to see family and get myself together to take next steps. I wanted no attachments, so I didn’t go for contract work or anything like that… But things started to unfold slowly, people were paying attention to my work and I got a gig for a TV show, called Canal Off. I met them while shooting a surf contest in Australia and we ended up connecting in Brazil. So they took me to shoot the show in India.

What do you like to shoot the most?

Travel. Even though I shoot a lot of surf and some fashion, travel is what I love and what I focus on. What I love about traveling is the people. Shooting portraits is special. I love people, local life. To me there’s always a humanity component to shooting, of getting along with others and connecting to your subjects. I connect with my subjects. I put myself out there to make people feel comfortable first so that they can share themselves in raw form. I aim for that, always. I love to play too so it helps people’s essence come through in photos.

Why did you choose photography?

I didn’t choose photography, it chose me! But one thing I really get from it is freedom, photography allows me to be free to go anywhere. The worst part of it is editing because I have to sit!

Does the photo happen when you shoot or when you edit?

I see a lot of people doing heavy edits. I don’t edit too much. For me the photo happens when you take it. I have a photo that a lot of people ask me if it’s photoshopped and it’s not. I planned the image. I usually add a little contrast, lower saturation, and I play with the light, color balance… but not much else.

You live in Bali now and your relationship to the island comes through in your photos. How do you get people to open up?

One of the things I try to do when I am somewhere is learn the language, that helps a lot with connection and getting the real shots. Any word you can say helps them open up. Anywhere in the world. I see people shooting the same thing, all editing the same thing. Everyone is going to the same places. For me, I need to love the subject, it could be anything, but i have to love it. I love Bali. Photos always have to tell a story. Always. I used to write long captions with my photos, to show what was going on at the time the photo was taken , etc, but I stopped. I should go back to that actually, it’s the real me! Life changes and you change… but the senses are always the same. I want to tell more stories.

Where do you want to go next?

I want to go to Angola next. I’m very interested in tribes. Earning their trust, learning traditions, and then being able to capture that. It’s a beautiful culture and there are no instagrammers there! I want to go places where people don’t go often… also showing how adventure is a huge part of photography.

What inspires you? What makes you excited to get up?

Life! Being alive. Simple things. Am I gonna remember this moment in 10 years? The stars, the rain falling on my skin, swimming. Making people see things in a different way, seeing the details on a rock, watching the ocean for hours. I think it’s nice to appreciate the sun instead of taking pictures of the sun.