AWL Photographers in the Field: Rio’s best views by Alex Robinson

As the Olympics have shown, Rio is a city with astonishingly beautiful views. Before the games began I headed there to capture as many of them as I could.

South America, Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro city, Ipanema, boys playing football on Ipanema beach in front of the Dois Irmaos mountains

By the time I reached my Ipanema hotel the light had turned from hazy yellow to rich gold. There was no time to lose. I grabbed the camera and headed to Ipanema beach, beginning in the neighbourhood of Leblon at the far south. It was a weekday so the sand was crowd-free, but there were a bunch of favela kids playing impossibly skillful football. I was lucky to catch them, ball in mid-air.

South America, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Ipanema, a young woman carrying a surf board along the beach MR

A walk north along the beach – tracing the Olympic cycle road race route gave me wonderful views of the long sweep of the beach, with the Two Brothers mountains in the depth of the picture, silhouetted against the setting sun. But I needed a person to really make the shot. Hunting around I found a young American woman who agreed to be my girl from Ipanema.  She charmed a passing Brazilian into lending a surfboard. Then we waited for a crowd-free moment and were away.

South America, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, View of Copacabana, Sugar Loaf and Rio city from the summit of Cabritos hill at dawn

The next day I woke in the dark – Rio’s dawns are as beautiful as its sunsets and I was determined to catch one from a high vantage point. Many of Rio’s heights are ringed by favela slums – notorious no-go areas – especially at night. Thankfully I had a good contact who would steer me through and after a hair-raising motorbike taxi ride, a clamber through breeze-block lined steep streets and a sweaty hike I had the camera ready for the morning light – rising over Guanabara Bay, the Sugar Loaf and Copacabana.

South America, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, View of Copacabana, Sugar Loaf and Rio city from the summit of Cabritos hill

The path to my morning viewpoint had cut out of the favela and climbed through a series of concrete steps, clinging to the side of one of Rio’s boulder mountains. On the way up, in the dark I hadn’t seen the vertiginous drops off to the west – sheer and plunging down over 100 metres to higgledy-piggledy bric-a-brac shacks. Nor had I seen the stunning view looking back along the route. I persuaded one of my fellow hikers to go ahead of me on the descent, and then to turn to climb once more for a few paces, giving this stunning shot.

South America, Rio de Janeiro, Niteroi, Oscar Niemeyer’s Contemporary Art Museum (MAC Niteroi) set against the dramatic mountains of Rio de Janeiro city

Late morning and early afternoon in Rio are bright and contrasty – not good for views – so I shot interiors, then catching a mid-afternoon ferry from the old docks across the bay where the Olympic sailing events took place, to Rio’s twin city – Niterói. Rio locals joke that the best thing about Niterói are the views of Rio – especially from the beaches. I captured this shot – with Oscar Niemeyer’s eye-catching art gallery in the foreground, as the sun was shafting through thick afternoon cloud.

South America, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro state, Niteroi, fishermen pulling in the net on Charitas beach at sunset with Corcovado in the distance

The sun was nearly gone and I rushed in a taxi to a neighbouring beach, hoping for more views – with Rio’s jagged skyline silhouetted against the light and then twinkling in the bay. It wasn’t to be. The city was hidden by a cape cresting the next swathe of sand, but I caught this view of fishermen pulling in their nets from the sea. Their catch was limited to a few thin, wriggling fish. Thankfully mine was a whole lot better.

South America, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, View of Rocinha favela from the summit of Dois Irmaos peak

For my final day in Rio I chose to take another hike – along a narrow winding forest trail which until a few years ago was used only by drug-runners escaping from the police. Nowadays the nearby favelas have been “pacified” – with a strong police presence – to the resentment of many of the locals and the relief of some. So my climb through the bird-filled forest was anxiety free. I caught this view of Brazil’s largest favela – Rocinha along the way.

South America, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, View of Ipanema, the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, Corcovado and Rio city from the summit of Dois Irmaos peak

I was positioned to capture one of my favourite Rio views just as the light was thickening into buttery yellow – warming the buildings of Ipanema, the shores of heart-shaped Lagoa lake, and Ipanema beach. As the sun dropped behind the Christ statue and the mountains it cast a golden light on the Redeemer and out across the sky. I caught this shot, on a long-exposure.

To see more of Alex’s images of Rio click here

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