Felipe Paiva – Beauty and Decay

With a signature style of juxtaposing the beauty of his models against a gritty backdrop, Felipe’s images command your attention for their honesty and evocative nature. Check out his story below. 

Say hello to Felipe:


Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I’m originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have lived in Tennessee and Georgia, and have been living in Chicago for the past 7 years.

What’s your favorite place in the world?

It’s a hard question, but I think if I had to choose, Paris would be one of my favorites – there’s history and architecture everywhere. It’s a photographer’s paradise!




What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?

I’m an “in the moment” kind of photographer – I don’t usually plan shoots or anything ahead of time – I go with the flow and see where it takes me. However, I would love to shoot in exotic locations.

How would you describe your visual style?

I try to mix the beauty of my models with some gritty/urban background. I usually favor shadows and under exposure over light. I’m also really subject-centric, leaving not a lot of space for a background and I don’t like to follow the “golden rules” of photography. I believe that a good image is something that pleases the eye, regardless if it’s technically perfect or not.

How do you find your inspiration?

I try to create an empathetic relationship with my models, feeding on their energy to create. That’s also why I favor individuals that don’t really fit within the status quo – they have stories and life events that are more interesting than those who strive to fit society’s norms.

Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

The only time that happens is when I’m super tired or hungry. Most of the times, I have to remember to end a shoot because I can just keep going on forever.

Tell us about your career.  How did you get into it?

I’ve always been into visual arts, from comics to anime and movies. Photography kind of landed in my life because I was always paying attention to angles and the way people use images to tell stories.

What types of photography do you do?

Mostly boudoir, but I also do weddings and street photography.

What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?

I think it was when I first realized that I could manipulate a moment in time to create something that was not necessarily real. When I could show the world how I see it.

What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?

As I often tell my models, “every shoot has a story.”

What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?

I think every photographer in the beginning thinks that their equipment will create better pictures – I went from changing lenses several times during a shoot to not even bothering on bringing more than my 50mm to a shoot. Limiting myself made me more creative and intuitive.

Of the photos you’ve taken, which are your three favorites? 

I used to go around town with my camera, shooting people in the street. Many times, people that I knew called me a creep for doing that, so I would show them this picture and they could never say another word.

One of my models is this gorgeous, adorable girl, always upbeat and nice. No one would ever know she had big self-confidence and depression issues. During a shoot, I decided to tap into those feelings and this is the result.

This was my first shoot with a professional boudoir model. One of the ideas that I had was for her to hold her camera with the straps covering her nipples. We were on the street so she didn’t want to risk a ticket for “indecency.” Toward the end of the shoot, we found this little basement space. It was a split moment of looking at each other and making that idea happen.

Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

I choose not to compete. I don’t care to be the best or most successful photographer around. I stay in my lane doing my work, the way I want to do it, and I think my recognition is a reflection of that attitude.

What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?

Buy a cheap 50mm and shoot with it only – shoot everything around you until you know how a picture will come out before you even press the shutter. When that happens, you start experimenting with different ways to shoot and perceive a moment. When that happens, you start expressing yourself through your way of communicating. When that happens you buy a better 50mm, and shoot with it only… Rinse, repeat.

What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?

Just open herself and her emotions to me. The models that communicated with me on a personal level are the ones who I got the most out of from the shoots.

What was your most memorable photoshoot?

When two other photographers, five models, and I snuck into this abandoned building to shoot. The place was dirty and scary, but the material we got out of it was priceless. We shot for over nine hours.

What’s the funniest story you have from being a photographer?

A cop walked into one of my shoots as my model was topless. Not only did he not give us a ticket, but he also now follows me on Instagram.

If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be?

Questions like that are really hard for me because I suck at choosing. Hmm, even though I don’t like electronic music, Burning Man would be a cool place to shoot. I’m also afraid of ruining my gear there, but the idea behind the event is amazing, and I’m pretty sure I would be able to come back with the most amazing pictures.

Who was the most unforgettable model you’ve ever met?

Morgan. She was the first professional boudoir model I ever shot. The way she would internalize an idea and express that with her body was unbelievable – she started pointing me in the direction I wanted to go artistically.

Who do you want to give a shoutout to?

Kelsey – you kickstarted this. My wife – for being understanding, supportive, and trusting me. To all my models – for helping me create some awesome art.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?

Point and shoot – worry about the technicalities later.

What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?

If the model has a bad attitude or doesn’t open up to me. I want to shoot a living thing, not a mindless doll.

How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?

Talking to them, telling jokes and stories – if necessary, with food bribes.

What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?

It’s too personal and complicated to be said here.

How do you express yourself through your photography?

My photography says a lot about my current mood or how my life is going. Sometimes, my black and whites are happier than my colorful shots. My photography is always helping me communicate with the outside world.

What’s the most inspiring photo you’ve ever seen?

This changes on an almost monthly basis.

What photography advice do you wish you had when you were first starting out?

Worry less about following the rules and more about capturing the scene.

What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?

Shoot, shoot, and shoot.

What are 3 tips you have for aspiring models?

Open yourselves up to the photographer, talk about boundaries before the shoot, and avoid anyone that says you will be famous if you shoot with them.

What kind of gear do you have?

Canon 5d MKII | Sigma art 35mm | Sigma art 50mm | Canon 85mm. The 50mm is my favorite. She’s versatile and usually represents what I’m looking at really well.

What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Cloudy days are the best days to shoot.

What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Go easy on skin retouching – you lose a lot of the model’s personality if she looks like a plastic doll.

Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?

At the moment, I’m trying to shoot as many different models I can at this abandoned place called the Damen Silos, so I can put it all together in a book called The Dam(sel) Silos.

What is your most life-changing event?

Moving to the States changed my life in so many ways, that even now 11 years later, I’m still learning the consequences.

What has photography done for you as a person?  How has it changed you?

It made me more creative and calm; it taught me how to direct other people and how to achieve an image that was previously in my brain.

What’s something no one knows about you that you’d like to share?

A public website is not the best place to tell those things, hahaha.

Who’s your biggest hero in your life?

My mother.

What’s one of your biggest fears?

What I am going to do when I finally grow up.

What will you be doing five years from now?

I don’t even know what I’ll be doing next week…

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Moving to a different country, for sure.

What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?


For anyone that wants to get in touch with Felipe, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile

Website: www.roadsaltphoto.com

Facebook: Profile

Instagram: @roadsaltphoto

Flickr: Profile

MM: Profile

Felipe, thanks for sharing your story with us! 🙂

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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