Fabio Oliveira - Emotion Pictures
Wherever Fabio goes, feelings follow and flow.
Fabio Oliveira wears his heart on his lens. He was born and raised in Campo Grande, Brazil where his thirst for the wider world was quenched via the camera. It sent him around his home country, his continent, and the globe until he finally settled in Melbourne, where he now lives with his wife and children.
For Fabio, the camera is a lightning rod for human emotion. He made his mark in wedding photography, where his ability to rail against convention and tease out truth from brides and grooms from all backgrounds and creeds became a signature. So much so, that couples would cross international waters just to be seen through his eye.
Over recent years, Fabio has broadened his horizons by chasing horizon lines as a specialist travel photographer. He now brings that same sensitivity to both the natural and man-made world, working as both storyteller, social media manager and curator at Riparide. It’s clear that as Fabio continues to test the limits of his talent, his uncompromising belief in ushering feeling into the light will continue to take viewers by storm.
We sat down with Fabio to talk emotion, weddings, travel and his recent experience with the Z 9.
What is your earliest memory of using a camera?
I’m from Brazil. We came to Melbourne seven years ago. In Brazil, the late 80s and early 90s were marked by a series of economic crises which made everything become very expensive. My mum was the photographer in the family and had all the photography gear, but we lost all of that – so I didn’t have contact with that part of my family roots for a while.
Then in my 20s, a very small point-and-shoot camera was my first contact with photography. We lived on the border with Paraguay, and it was normal for us to go across to buy electronics because they don’t pay tax. During one trip I stumbled across this small camera.
And that just exploded my mind… that I could start creating memories by myself. Because back then, anything that relates to photography was my mum’s thing, from family gatherings and everything.
What made you buy that little camera. Was it planned or an impulse?
It wasn’t to get into photography, it was just to create memories. At the time, my father had already passed away. I didn’t have many photos of him. I was very into the box of images and photos from family history. I said that this is going to be my tool for creating new memories. It was time to create my own memories.
Did you talk to your mother about creating those memories?
I did. That’s when she told me that all the photos, all the candid moments that I’ve seen, she took them. There’s one iconic photo on a hill, and there are seven VW Beetles, which were very trendy in the 80s. I asked who took it and she said she did. I think I got that eye from her, the one that looks backwards and connects with and captures people and moments.
Do you remember the first kinds of photos you went out and took?
Even though it was a small camera, it had a menu and dials. I could understand aperture and speed. It was my school. I took lots of good photos of concerts. We didn’t have many big concerts where I lived, but any that I could participate in, I did. I even got some media accreditations with my really small camera!
I still have some of those photos. It’s a nice feeling.
I read on your website that as a child you were quite the dreamer that explored the “magic world”, as you put it?
When you come from a poor family in a place that isn’t very interesting. Even in the southwest, close to other South American countries, you don’t know the world. So, when I started playing with photography, it opened my mind about traveling, learning different cultures.
I didn’t speak any English at the time, so I started thinking that’s one thing I have to do as it will open new doors for me. It will be the first step of me moving out of the state that I was living, to pursue something more in life. Some of the teammates I had back then in the office job I worked, some of them are still working in the same place, after almost 30 years. I could not bear that situation. Photography was the start of looking into the magical world, where I could experience new things.
What was the journey from there to your first professional job?
I was working at a big national bank in Brazil, then moved towards IT. IT jobs were always in Sao Paolo or Brazilia, and I moved there, to the capital. I got a professional camera. I had some friends in a marketing agency, and they were doing one specific job with stock cars, like race cars. So, I started taking photos of that, I think about 14 years ago. I had to travel to about 10 cities, through all the regions, and took photos of the races. That was my first paid job.
Do you still have/like the photos?
I still have them somewhere on my hard drives but they weren’t very professional. It was nice to go to those environments with the cars and the drivers. Super nice. It was inspiring because my first paid photography job involved travel. It inspired me. I knew what I wanted to do.
After that I walked everywhere with a camera around my neck.
Your first paid job was in travel but weddings became your signature. How did that happen?
One of my friends from the church said he was planning to get married and that they saw me walking around with my camera and asked me if I’ve taken photos of people – and would want to photograph his wedding. I found myself saying yes, but I’d never taken photos of people before.
I felt like, okay, I don’t know what I’m going to do. If you trust me to be there, I will, but I’m not going to charge. If you like the photos in the end, you pay for the album and I print the photos, but if you don’t like them, it’s a gift and I’m not going to ruin your wedding.
That first time was really nice. I really liked the experience, the adrenalin. You can’t afford to miss a moment. And it was my friend - I didn’t want to ruin his wedding forever. It’s big pressure but I like the preparation, I like the vibes. Everyone’s happy and celebrating. It matched with what I was looking for in terms of photography – emotion, memories. It brought back all the sentiment I had with family photos.
From then, it all blows up. One client led to another. A friend would say to another friend “oh, he does a great job. You should invite him!”. So yes, weddings blew up, because…
Because you were good at it.
There was a group of friends in Brazil, all over the country, different states. Younger, with a different mindset for weddings. Back then it was super traditional. Church, ceremonial, night light, lots of flash.
We started influencing wedding shoots to be during the day, with sunset lights, portrait sessions before the wedding - things that nobody did back then but now has become pretty standard.
Those things that weren’t done very often, were you influenced by anyone or particular culture?
Because I needed to study weddings in order to take photos, a lot of influence came from mainly the US and Mexican border but also a couple of places in Europe. That was the starting point. Some years I shot 40-50 weddings, while still working IT.
Wow. You said that weddings appeal to your natural sentiment and also that you can’t miss a moment because you could “ruin” someone’s special day – I wonder not just about the moments you need to capture, but those that you direct or orchestrate. What sort of things do you do to make a couple comfortable to express their love and make it seem natural?
It's super natural. I never really learned from someone, never did a workshop or anything. I was inspired by one Mexican guy named Fer Juaristi who I ended up meeting and running workshops with. He’s super fun and tries to make silly jokes, and I do the same.
Can you think of any of those jokes?
In Portuguese we have a lot of jokes and it’s hard for me to translate into English sometimes. It was a big deal when I moved and tried. Now I’m in Melbourne, super international, diverse cultures altogether mixed up. It’s kind of a challenge but I always try to make silly jokes.
Like: “you guys look at each other and pretend you’re happy. Look at his face… he’s pretending to love you when he in fact, doesn’t”. Just these silly things. In Brazil we do, almost a little bit ‘low’ jokes.
Another is “go very close, talk in his ear about what you’re going to do on the Honeymoon”. Not disrespecting but just making sure they are uncomfortable but comfortable too.
I’m guessing from your photos that you’re very good at doing exactly that, but any interesting stories about when it’s gone wrong?
Traditionally, there are two big deals when shooting a wedding in Brazil. One is we have to photograph a ring. Not just the exchange of the ring, but the actual ring, like a product image. The other is the food, like a product photo for the chef. Sometimes I get it sometimes I miss it.
So, with the food, I said “I’m not going to do that at all”. Yes, if the couple hired a special chef and want photos of the food, I can do that. But, not out of obligation. We broke that tradition. The food, and a long line of people, it’s just not very special. Not beautiful at all. Why am I going to take that photo?
The ring itself, what’s important is the exchange, the emotions.
Because of that kind of experience, I started to put it in my contracts. I’m taking photos of people to capture memories and everything else is not as important.
So, you push for heavy emotions, and you’re obviously a very ‘human’ photographer that loves feelings and love and sentiment. But recently you’ve moved more into travel photography which in many ways, is the complete opposite of weddings – as it’s focused on places and things rather than people. How did that emotional side of you translate into travel?
It’s kind of like a personal challenge. While travelling, I want to discover new cultures and make friends. I always try to connect with local cultures. I’m Christian, but I like to experience and connect with other cultures, religions and people. Sometimes it is hard to translate that into the actual travel images.
So, as I said it’s more of a personal challenge. To travel the world and have new experiences.
But the travel photography started because I travelled to actually capture weddings.
You currently work for Riparide. How did you get involved with the company?
In 2015 and 2016, I started following some local businesses and photographers. I had a bunch of good friends that I’d go on daytrips with, exploring Victoria. I can’t remember how, but Marlon the CEO of Riparide, messaged me and said he loved my photos and that he had an idea for a company.
We had a few chats and he pitched the idea of storytelling – the accommodations and the surrounding nature-scapes, leveraging the creative community in Melbourne to help him make Riparide a reality. It was a really nice idea and I was participating since the beginning. I helped him connect with a lot of creatives. Even though I don’t speak great English, for me it is super easy to make friends. But he had a lot of friends too. Both our friends validated his idea.
From there, I photographed as a Riparide storyteller. During COVID, my business kind of froze and I lost a bunch of clients. I had to run into my savings and it was a very difficult time. During the lockdowns I saw that Riparide was expanding and I said: “look, you know I love your brand and your company and we have worked together for so long. If you think I can be helpful with the expansion, I would love to”.
After months of conversations back and forth he recently offered me a position. I had decided to pull back from other forms of photography after COVID, as I cannot run without travelling and the wedding industry is still recovering.
Do you still tell stories for Riparide and what was the last accommodation you covered?
Yes. The last one… we travelled to Byron to a very dreamy place. The place was really nicely designed – a ship container house, really big, big group. On a hill, looking towards a river. The scenery was amazing. We stayed two nights and had an amazing time. The water in the river was warm so we could play with the kids, go kayaking, have fun. So, I took Nikon with me on that trip and experienced a lot of prime lenses with the new Z 9.
That was actually my next question. I hear you road-tested the Z 9. How as it?
In terms of the camera design, it kind of blew me away. Very sturdy, very firm. And just the experience of the camera itself is something else. I could customise everything. There were so many buttons that make your life easier.
The camera is absolutely incredible. And then the updates Nikon provided with one firmware upgrade. I was like, this is like a Tesla kind of update into a camera. From one update you could put 8K recording video, change all your formats - and it increases possibilities for creators. This camera will live for so much time.
I’ve been using big RAW files since 2015. At the beginning it was hard because it increased the process of your laptop, your hard drive, your cloud. But the composition possibilities —of cropping and changing and working alignments— blows me away and is really helpful when shooting architecture for Riparide.
And the prime lenses?
I got so many I could not use all of them. I normally like to use two primes, like a 24mm and a 50mm. This time I got the 20mm, not the 24mm, because I had seen the great reviews.
In fact, the NIKKOR Z 20mm f/1.8 S has no flaws at all. Almost no chromatic aberrations. Not much distortion if you have a good distance from the subject. The sharpness is amazing. I’m having so much fun with the files that I’m being asked to stop having fun and just share the work! It’s been amazing. I could not use all the lenses but the 20mm, the 50mm and the 35mm were great to capture huge architecture.
Also, during the adventure at the river, I stopped by Byron Bay to have some fun at a lighthouse and used the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S and the lens was super nice.
Imagine that every photo you’ve ever taken gets destroyed (for some unknown reason), except for one. Which one would you keep?
Wow. That’s a big question [thinks].
If we take off all the family stuff, I really love one photo that I took in Indonesia, at a particular waterfall. It’s pinned on my Instagram. Everyone goes there and takes a drone shot, because of the circular form of the place, where there’s lots of waterfalls (they call it 1000 waterfalls). Everyone was taking the same shot.
I flew backwards and saw that there was a mountain in the background, so I found a different composition. It was a stormy day and it’s hard for me to say… but I was one of the first person who did that kind of composition in this famous place. I’m proud of my exploration. It turned out to be a really nice photo. That one’s in my heart. It’s super nice.
If looking to the future, beyond travel and weddings, is there anything you dream of photographing/doing?
A book is something that all photographers want to do. The kind of photography I do… you can’t really do a book of weddings for a broader audience.
Maybe I can come back to Brazil and utilise all the things I haven’t done so far over there. I also would like to do street photography, and just explore different kinds of photography I haven’t done yet. Now that I have a family, I can’t travel as much and need to be creative in deepening my craft in a different way.
Again, on your sentiment and emotion. Why do you think photography means so much to you and what would life be like without it?
Photography is the best way for me to express my emotions, who I am and the things I stand for: true connection, true relationships… just capturing the best of people without them noticing.
Actually, scratch my answer to the previous question. In terms for the future, what I really, really would like to do is come back to my roots: weddings and portraits and PEOPLE, but not for industry. For myself. Personal projects, tell different stories, capture the emotions of these people in a unique way.
Street photography is nice, but it’s super hard to put emotions into it. Photography is, for me, so people can look back at an image and it can tell them a story of their relationships, or how they felt or the challenge they were facing in that moment.