Photo shoot in Brasil:

From jungle to favela

I am privileged to make a living from photography and at the same time be able to travel around the world. Of course, it has been a bit difficult considering the pandemic, but that did not stop me from spending a month in Brazil.

Text and photo: Johnny Haglund

Big, black water buffaloes look at me a little frightened. Then the buffalo farmer Newton appears. He will milk the cows and does not mind me joining.

Around us, the rainforest begins to wake up with all its sounds and smells.

With the Canon EOS R6 around my neck and a flash in my hand, I squat in a corner of the small enclosure and the sky is just beginning to get a glimmer of light in the east. I'm taking pictures. Lots of pictures. That the mosquitos sting and the sweat runs, I hardly notice - I am simply sucked into my own little world and all that matters at the moment is capturing what is happening in the best possible way with my camera.

And that is basically what I do. I'm a photographer, that's my job. Sometimes I'm on the other side of the globe, other times I'm under the ground right next to where I live, but the job is always the same; tell the story, explain what you see and experience through pictures.

I make a living from my hobby and I love every day. Well, mostly. Of course, there are several bumps along the way, if not, more people would live like this. My month-long trip to Brazil just before Christmas is a good example of this; a great adventure, but not always comfortable.

I joined some fishermen at work in the rainforest. A fantastic experience. We raced in narrow rivers surrounded by jungle and countless sounds.

No vacation

It is always demanding, but at the same time fun, to pack the camera bag for trips like this. What should I bring? A bag too big with too much equipment makes me inflexible, but at the same time I do not want to stand in the middle of the Amazon forest and discover that I am missing something. Besides, I will also bring a lot of other things such as mosquito tent, clothes, good shoes, first aid kit, stand, chargers, lanterns and more.

Over the years, packing has become some kind of science to me. I poke around at the little things, do everything I can to get the most important things without exaggerating. And of course, both camera bags and other equipment are adjusted before each job. Further down you can see what I brought to Brazil, but how I adjust bags and equipment is based almost exclusively on one thing; pictures. I will take the best possible pictures I can with my knowledge and my resources. Everything else comes second.

Patience is key

I started the journey in Sao Paulo. From Sao Paulo I flew to Manaus. After a few days in the very corona-plagued jungle town, I headed further east on the Amazon River by ferry to the town of Santarem. Then another ferry south to Fordlandia and Itaituba. The whole trip at very slow pace.

As I see it, time is very important when stories are to be told through pictures. I look for light, people, nature, atmosphere and much, much more. The opportunities to document several stories increase the longer time I have at each place. I have noticed that the people I photograph open up more if I invest time in them. My experience is that people then give more of themselves, which ultimately gives me better photo opportunities and maybe better photos.

Furthermore, the journey went through the jungle on the so-called Transamasonica, a road that crosses almost the entire Amazon river from east to west. And finally, I visited two favelas, in Belem and Sao Paulo. The trip into Sao Paulo's biggest favela was especially fascinating , but not very safe.

A different portrait

An opportunity to take photos came around while people were waiting for a ferry to cross the Tapajos river. People notice at me at first, but then they go back to their own little world. I focused on the old man in the mirror and used a large aperture to blur everything around.


The last day before I went home to Norway, I was allowed to visit Paraisópolis, Sao Paulo's largest favela with 120,000 inhabitants. These favelas are, in short, ruled by drug cartels. The reason is that places like Paraisópolis are a maze of small houses, narrow streets and alleys - a great place to hide both weapons and drugs.

When I entered Paraisópolis with an interpreter, a local acquaintance and permission from the top guys, I was soon stopped by two young boys on a motorcycle. They did not know that I had actually been allowed by their bosses to enter this favela. With stern faces and visible weapons, they blocked the road in front of me.

Leandro, who had provided all the permits, was five meters away and luckily discovered what was happening and came running. Two sentences later, the boys covered their arms and showed big smiles instead. Then they would shake hands and say good morning, before accelerating off into this labyrinth of brick and concrete.

- The cartel's runners, said Alois, my clearly nervous interpreter and added; - As a foreigner with a camera, you cannot make many mistakes before you are at best chased out of the favela - or shot and killed, he pointed out.

The equipment

I use Canon EOS R6 and RF24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM most of the time. I can say that the Canon EOS R6 is the best camera I have ever worked with. The fact that the camera is both very good at high ISO and has a very effective built-in stabilizer makes the R6 very flexible. In addition, there are a number of other factors, which makes it almost impossible to take a technically bad picture with this camera.

The kitbag - Johnny Haglund