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I have a confession to make.

I am a travel blogger and I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to photography.  I’m one of those people who has been walking around with a DSLR camera, and using the presets most of the time. 

I know I’m not alone.

When I made plans to visit Lisbon, Portugal, I knew I had to up my game. With its lyrical combination of enchanting grandeur and urban decay, Lisbon is a photographer’s dream.

So, based on photos like the one above and his stellar Trip Advisor reviews, I booked a Lisbon photography tour with Miguel Helfrich, a brilliant local photographer and owner of Lisbon Photo.  His evening tour in the Chiado neighbourhood seemed like a perfect opportunity for a solo traveler like me to discover the best vantage points in Lisbon and to learn about night photography — all at the same time.

Iconic Lisbon

Lisbon photography tour

Upon meeting Miguel in Rossio Square, it was immediately apparent that his home town and photography are two great loves of his life.  Anyone who can get me racing up a steep cobblestone street to get this shot must have an innate ability to inspire through sheer enthusiasm.  Of course, he happens to know when to catch the moment that these two trams pass. 

The trams have been transporting passengers up the hills into Chiado and Bairro Alto since the 1890s.  It’s an iconic Lisbon photo opportunity, not to be missed.

Lisbon photography tour

At the top of the hill, we paused at one of Lisbon’s miradouros (viewpoints) with a view of the Moorish castle, Castelo de São Jorge, to capture the blue hour — that fleetingly poetic period after the sun sets when the indirect light casts a blue shade over the city’s seven hills. 

This is the first photo I have ever taken in manual mode on my camera.  It was a start, but as the blue light faded, Miguel gave me a mini-workshop on how to get the settings for aperture, exposure time and light sensitivity just right.  The mysteries of manual shooting were starting to become clear.

It was time to get back to practice.  While Miguel showed me some of the iconic photo spots in Lisbon, he also seeks to provide a taste of real life.

Lighting up the night in Lisbon

Lisbon photography tour

Chiado is a chic, sophisticated district of theatres, shops and old-style cafes, with wonderful light for night photos.  The neighbourhood next door is Bairro Alto, the nightlife hub of Lisbon with countless restaurants and small bars, where the haunting sounds of Fado music can be heard.  Miguel suggested that a visit to Lisbon would be incomplete without enjoying fresh seafood in a restaurant in this area.   The small venues and mild nights of the city make al fresco dining a charming option, while the day’s laundry flutters overhead.

Lisbon photography tour

It never would have occurred to me to take a photo, handheld through a metal railing, of people drinking coffee.  But this too is the essence of an evening in social Lisbon. 

These Art Nouveau quiosques (kiosks) have been around for over a century and grace many public spaces, serving traditional snacks and drinks.  They fell into disrepair when public gatherings were discouraged during the dictatorship, but have been recently restored as the heart of public life in the city.

Some history with your photography

Lisbon photography tour

The tour isn’t just about the techniques of photography – – it’s also about getting a sense of the place.

In Carmo Square, we sat outside this entrance to the gothic ruins of the Carmo Convent, destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, while Miguel told me about the ‘Carnation Revolution’.  I had heard the story once before but, as a photographer, Miguel has a way of painting the picture.  It was here in this square that half a century of dictatorship came to an end.

It happened on April 25, 1974.   Until then, Portugal had been under a fascist dictatorship for 50 years, the longest in Europe.  Culture and expression were controlled by the state.  Women were not allowed to vote.

But on that day, a revolt by idealistic young army officers turned into a popular uprising.  Armed military officers surrounded the military barracks next to the church where the Prime Minister and several of his Ministers had taken refuge.  They surrendered and thousands of people poured into the streets, handing out spring carnations to the soldiers and placing them into the muzzles of their rifles.

It was a near bloodless military coup that led to democracy and it remains a source of immense pride in this country.

I felt compelled to look up the news photos from that day and they do, indeed match the picture in my mind. 

Street scenes

Lisbon photography tour

My photography lesson continued in the streets just outside Camões square, where I managed to get a shot (handheld) of the classic Tram 28 which passes through the popular tourist areas of Lisbon. 

Here, we talked about composition and how to get the architectural lines straight in the camera, a particular challenge for a geometrically challenged individual like me.

Lisbon photography tour

Miguel also has a keen eye for detail and it gave me a fresh perspective to the standard postcard style photos I normally pursue for the blog.

Lisbon photography tour


A tailored photo tour

Lisbon photography tour

Photo by Miguel Helfrich, Lisbon Photo

I enjoy tours because they provide context for what you are seeing.  However, most other tours don’t take into account the light, the angles and the time needed to not only to take a good photo, but to capture a sense of place, as Miguel has done in these photos in Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon.  

With the Lisbon Photo tour, I discovered the city in a unique way – – through a photographer’s lens.  Based on my tour, the experience can be highly customized to your needs.  In my case, that included plenty of photography coaching.  For a more experienced photographer, it could be all about the hidden gems that Miguel can show you.  I’ve added his Alfama tour to my future travel list.

Lisbon photography tour

Photo by Miguel Helfrich, Lisbon Photo

Beyond the Lisbon photo tour

Not only did I fall for Portugal during my visit, this tour has fundamentally changed the way I approach photography.  I still have much to learn and practice, but the real value of the tour with Miguel at Lisbon Photo is that the benefits continue long after the tour ends. 

Lisbon Photography tour

Blue hour in Ottawa, Canada

Lisbon photography tour

Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, Canada

More Information:

Lisbon Photo provides tours in a number of neighbourhoods in Lisbon and to Sintra.  Family and VIP tours, photography workshops or a photo album of your visit are also available.  See also Lisbon Photo on Facebook.

Tourism Information: Visit Lisboa, Visit Portugal

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How to Eat Like a Local in Lisbon, Portugal

Food Tour Happiness in Porto, Portugal

The Best Way to Tour the Douro Valley, Portugal

There are 18 comments for this article
    • TravelBlissNow Author at 12:11 am

      Thanks Null! It really was a fantastic tour and it would be very useful for someone who uses any kind of camera, including an iphone. The key thing is that the guide is a local photographer and will show you all the best spots, share lots of information, and make suggestions on composition and angles for the shot, if you like.

    • TravelBlissNow Author at 11:50 am

      Thanks so much Laura! Lisbon is beautiful, and this tour will ensure that you come back with great photos. They also offer workshops.

    • TravelBlissNow Author at 5:02 pm

      Thanks Joanne. Perhaps a return visit? It’s really a great way to see the city and my photography is improving because of it.

  1. Cindy at 9:29 am

    Beautiful photos – either you underestimated your abilities or you really learned a lot on your tour! I’m glad to heard about this tour, as you say, its a great way for a photographer with any level of skills to discover great locations to shoot, see the city, pick up a few tips, and stay safe. I love night photography, but even with my husband in tow I’m a little hesitant to wander too far at night in an unfamiliar city – having a photographer guide would be ideal!!

    • TravelBlissNow Author at 3:41 pm

      Thanks Cindy! This really was my first time shooting in manual mode. Lisbon Photo offers tours during the day also, but I picked the night tour for just the reasons you say. Lisbon is pretty safe, but wandering aimlessly while looking through a camera lens is not always smart. That and I wanted to see the city and improve my night photography.

  2. Janice Chung at 10:47 am

    My compliments on your photography. Fabulous photos….especially the night time ones! I was really intrigued to read your post as I JUST booked a trip to Portugal in February. Hopefully I’ll get some good shots like you did!

    • TravelBlissNow Author at 3:32 pm

      Thank you so much Janice! You will love Portugal, and it’s very photogenic. If you want to get some good shots in Lisbon neighbourhoods, I can certainly recommend Lisbon Photo. I learned a lot about the city and photography.

  3. jane at 8:50 am

    Well, judging by your shots during and since, your photo tour of Lisbon was a success! and thanks for taking me back there to when my husband and I were there last year!

  4. Donna Meyer at 7:59 pm

    OK, you got me. I am definitely doing this on my next trip to Lisbon. I fell in love with the city on my first trip two years ago and now can’t wait to go back. I want to get all those photos I missed (or which looked lousy!) on my first trip. This Lisbon Photo Tour is going to fix that. Thanks so much.

    • TravelBlissNow Author at 11:14 pm

      Thank you Donna! I feel the same way about Lisbon. I hope you get back there soon — the Lisbon Photo tour will definitely ensure that you get the photos you want. I’m going back for the tour in Alfama (and some egg tarts. of course!)

  5. Miguel Helfrich at 11:17 am

    Thank you all for your interest in Lisbon and in Photography.
    LISBON PHOTO will help you find the best spots, the hidden details and the best composition… the simple one.

    Workshop or normal photo tour, we can all become friends!

    • TravelBlissNow Author at 2:10 pm

      Thank you Zoe! Great idea… I stopped in again recently and did the Alfama tour in Lisbon, which was just as inspiring on both counts!

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