The Art of Photographic Manipulation Brings Cities to Life

by Cristian I

Xavier Portela visited Tokyo in 2014 with high expectations. As a self-taught photographer, he wanted to capture the energy, emotions, and electricity surrounding him. After seeing the images that came from his camera, he couldn't help but feel disappointed.

After seeing the images that came from his camera, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

What he had taken was nowhere near what he remembered the experience is to him. That’s when he decided to start manipulating his photographs through color, amplifying the saturation in ways that his mind retains, but the lens doesn’t convey.

Portela says that what you see with your eyes during a trip to any city is only part of the experience. You have the people, smell, noise, and temperature variables that also play roles in how you remember things. That’s what he hopes to accomplish with his new take on photography.

Tokyo Aerial View
Tokyo Aerial View

His “Glow” Photographic Series Creates New Life in the City

Portela created a series of urban pictures that he calls “Glow” to represent the memories he incorporates into each photograph. He traveled to New York City, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and more to capture the energy he felt there. After sending the files to his computer, he starts working on the images to have them feel as if they came straight out of a manga.

Each photograph in the city series is awash in different light colors, although purple, blue, and pink tend to be Portela’s favorites. In previous sessions, you’ll find his work at the street level. For “Glow,” the photographer started taking aerial shots to help provide more realism to his memories.

As the colors change in his image, you can also see that he creates atmosphere adjustments to offer cooler or warmer tones to reflect his memories of the experience. When he visited Dubai, Portela used extended exposure techniques over the water to capture streaking lights of boats that would pass to add even more depth to the image.

In Taipei, the color saturation is closer to the pink end of the spectrum. You can feel the vibrancy in the images as there is life at the ground level where all the stores, restaurants, and nightclubs are. In the apartments above these destinations, the color tones are blue, dark, and cold.

Top of the Empire State Building
Top of the Empire State Building

Portela Works with Models, Landscapes, and More

Although Portela made a splash with his “Glow” series, it is far from his only photographic work as an artist. He has found himself working with some of today’s top models, promoting brands, and taking landscape portraits.

One of his most interesting projects is in a collection that he calls “Lunar.” It was taken in the winter months during a trip to Northern Iceland.

Portela describes the work as being “between abstraction and reality, natural and complex at the same time.”

He uses the same color manipulation techniques with the landscape portraits to enhance the spectrum, saturation, and tone in the places where the sun shines on the snow within the collection. These efforts turn the snow and glaciers into a warm, slightly pink tone that keeps the starkness and cold you see in these environments real.

Some of the Icelandic pictures incorporate the footsteps taken in the snow to reach the destination. There’s also a few that include an individual in the photograph to represent the depth and loneliness found in these often untouchable places.

Lunar Project
Lunar Project

More About the Photographer: Xavier Portela

Portela is a Brussels-based photographer and filmmaker. He transitioned into the artist world in 2012 after starting his career in web development while studying multimedia in Belgium.

After landing a dream job at Bose, Portela decided that the comfortable life with a daily routine wasn’t his style. He wanted to work on his own, following his passion for imagery. That’s when he took up the mantle of becoming a photographer.

“Glow” is an ongoing series where he keeps capturing the energy of the cities he visits. Most of the images in this collection happen at night so that the viewer can get a sense of the power found at that moment. By adding colors to the visual onslaught of neon lighting and signs, it feels like he is creating a new vision of the world for us to explore.

It would be fair to say that Portela appreciates the chaos that happens in the city in any form. He tends to capture emotional moments that the eyes cannot see, basing the final vision of the photograph on the memories he created at that time. You can hear the noise with each image shared on his Instagram.



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