Where did you grow up?

I was born in Belgium but my father is Portuguese and mother is Flemish.  When I was 6 years old I moved to Portugal and would spend a lot of time at the beach and as you can imagine it was a big change coming from a cold country where you want to stay indoors all day to being by the ocean in the sun. That's when I discovered surfing. I used to go with my dad, brother and sister and we all had a really close connection with the ocean as we grew up there together. Both summers and winters we were surfing every day.

Who were your early influences for photography?

This is pretty deep because it's a mix of growing up around surfing and meeting surfers. The first time I felt something for photography I went surfing with some friends of my brother. Back then I was 14 and didn't have a drivers license so we would go surfing with one of their dads, he was an amateur photographer and would bring his camera to the beach to take photos of us. I remember after the surf we stopped at a beach where there was this really weird wave, a big wedge, and I asked him if I could take a photo of the wave itself. I took that picture and later on sent it to this surfing magazine where they used to run a photography competition and I actually I won the contest and was like 'Woah! That's cool!' haha and then I kept discovering photography just on my phone, like a really shitty phone, just taking photos of sunsets etc.

Mendo Dornellas surfing photographer portugal

Then I got a Go Pro so I pretty much started mixing water with photography and film and was creating my first surf movies but really really basic. I think the turnaround was when I started working with Dreamsea and I met Xué, that was the photographer of the camp and I remember asking him if I could use his camera and I took some pictures of a girl there. That was my first proper photography, the first still I could get and I really felt like I had something because the photos came out cool and it's funny because its still a photo I could post straight to Instagram now as it was the start of the quality I could see myself in.

Mendo Dornellas photography

What would you say was your first big break?

So after that, this first feel for photography itself, I was still in college and I had this assignment where the final project was about a big video we had to make. It was a big turning point for me because that was what changed my life in a way to what Im doing now.  The teacher proposed to us “look if you want to buy a proper camera it would be really good to have some quality to your project but it’s 100% okay if not and stick to amateur equipment”.  I felt during that time that it was the perfect time to buy a camera and start exploring photography more. So I borrowed some money from my parents and bought a camera, did the project and everything went really well. Actually the teacher was really impressed and told me it was one of the best videos he ever saw from a student. I started taking photos of everything. I’d go for a surf and always bring my camera. It was my last year of college and that was the first year I was able to get some money so I started travelling. I remember my first big trip outside of Europe with friends was Morocco so I made a short documentary/video with commentary and started posting photos and videos from the trip. All my friends and also people I didn’t know were giving me really positive feedback. So I kept taking as many photos as possible, bringing my camera with me everywhere I went. Soon brands started noticing me, looking at my work and asking me if I wanted to shoot for them. I couldn’t believe people were willing to give me money to take pictures. But I remember back at the time I was only focused on capturing what I really liked, I never fell from the wayside of capturing good photos for the money. I really kept shooting only what inspired me or captured my attention in a positive way.

The big break? The first big brand I worked with is Brandy Melville. I started shooting with them and it pretty much shaped my style. It was great, I was given a lot of creative freedom and got to choose the models and locations, so it was a lot of freestyle shooting where I learned a lot and I was able to pick the best models and capture the beauty and light. For sure Brandy Melville was essential in the way of what I’m doing today.

Would you say you are a fashion photographer?

Hmmm (pause). Yes and no. I like to do everything;, fashion, advertising, sports.  I don’t really have a main interest. Back in the day, I was shooting culture, going to a remote village and capturing untouched places and interesting people with a strong identity and personality, so more of a mix of portraits and culture but I like everything and what really keeps me really fired for photography is every day is a new day. Of course I shoot stuff that is similar but every time is a new challenge because the models, what I’m taking photos of, the places are always different. So yes, I’m a fashion photographer as well as a bit of everything.

Mendo Dornellas photography auric swimwear 2019 floatie

What is your favorite new piece of equipment?

Water housing. That was really a merge between my second home, the ocean, and what I do for a living. Mixing those two things is pretty special for me because I know as a surfer, someone that spends a lot of time in the water, being able to spend those moments showing that to people who don’t really live that life and showing them another world is really special. That’s something I find really beautiful in photography. To be able to show people what they’re not used to seeing. Water housing for sure.

What is your goal for the next couple of years?

That’s a good question. I don’t really know I just go with the flow. I try to establish some goals.  The goal for me this year is to travel as much as possible. I have a campaign on the streets for advertising. Try to go as much as possible as a person, try to be more happy every day.  I don’t know, but for sure it won’t be just around photography, I really want to merge the business with other things but photography will still be an area I want to work with.

Mendo Dornellas photography portugal auric


How do you like Nicaragua?

I love Nicaragua. It’s beautiful, the people are lovely, really good waves, it’s cheap.  It’s a country I really like and will for sure keep visiting.

Which photoshoot has been your greatest achievement to date?

Every time I do a shoot there are different perspectives.  The craziest photoshoot I ever had was when I was shooting in Nazare with Nic Von Rupp. That was really last minute and the most challenging conditions, being on a jetski with a driver in giant waves, the toughest environment I ever had to shoot in. It was probably the most interesting as well because it was something completely new for me and at the same time this ocean/passion/surfing thing so that was a special one. But I don’t know, I don’t have one greatest achievement. Tomorrow is a new day, you never know whats coming, just keep growing.

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