Prior to the start of the World Cup, I had the good fortune to travel, over the past year and a half, to all twelve cities that hosted football games.

It took all of about one minute on the first trip in December 2012 to realize Brazil was one of the world’s special places.

São Paulo from the air.
São Paulo from the air.

I landed in São Paulo and was mesmerized by the look from the air of a city dominated by an endless sea of high-rise buildings.

Coming from New York I thought there couldn’t be a place as impressive as the Big Apple, but São Paulo has a wow factor.

From Recife to Fortaleza to Belo Horizonte to Salvador, each city in Brazil is so different from the others. A city like Brasília, with its stark Oscar Niemeyer architecture, has an intensely different feel than the beach cities up and down the East Coast and from an inland city like Belo Horizonte. Even the beach cities all have their own distinct vibe.

Under the art museum in São Paulo.
Under the art museum in São Paulo.
Everyone on the phone in São Paulo.
Everyone on the phone in São Paulo.
All eyes are on the TV at a shoe shine stand in São Paulo as Spain plays Chile.
All eyes are on the TV at a shoe shine stand in São Paulo as Spain plays Chile.
Fútbol in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.
Fútbol in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.
A nun leaves a plant at the front door of a home in Curitiba.
A nun leaves a plant at the front door of a home in Curitiba.

My trips to Brazil were done as pre-World Cup and Olympics planning sessions for Reuters when I was a global sports pictures editor there, and I jumped at the chance to return to produce a travel series for Flipboard about six cities hosting World Cup games, documenting it all on a Lumia mobile phone.

Relying exclusively on the phone to photograph the stories was a change from using professional cameras and lenses, but what I most enjoyed about it was not standing out.

The bigger the camera, the more likely people will notice you, make sure they walk around you, stop before walking through a scene you are shooting, or simply do what they can to avoid being photographed.

On this trip no one ever really noticed I was taking their picture.

Popcorn vendor in Curitiba. Popcorn is everywhere in this country.
Popcorn vendor in Curitiba. Popcorn is everywhere in this country.
A street mime performing on the Rua XV de Novembro pedestrian mall in Curitiba.
A street mime performing on the Rua XV de Novembro pedestrian mall in Curitiba.
Policemen search people on the pedestrian mall in Curtiba on the afternoon of the Ecuador-Honduras World Cup match.
Policemen search people on the pedestrian mall in Curtiba on the afternoon of the Ecuador-Honduras World Cup match.
Sunrise in Centro Manaus.
Sunrise in Centro Manaus.
The rising sunlight hits the Adolpho Lisbon Market in the port area of Manaus.
The rising sunlight hits the Adolpho Lisbon Market in the port area of Manaus.
Morning in the watermelon patch at the fruit and vegetable market in Manaus.
Morning in the watermelon patch at the fruit and vegetable market in Manaus.
Working hard, giving the dog a ride in Rio de Janeiro.
Working hard, giving the dog a ride in Rio de Janeiro.
Preparing to dive into the ocean from the rocks at Arpoador in Rio de Janeiro.
Preparing to dive into the ocean from the rocks at Arpoador in Rio de Janeiro.

The World Cup comes and goes in a month, but everything I tried to document will be there long after.

A kiss is but a kiss...Except when in a picture frame at sunset with Ipanema Beach as your backdrop.
A kiss is but a kiss…Except when in a picture frame at sunset with Ipanema Beach as your backdrop.
The sun rising on another spectacular morning in Rio de Janeiro.
The sun rising on another spectacular morning in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil has clearly stolen my heart. I am drawn endlessly to the beaches of Rio, not at all as a place to swim but as a place to experience life and document it.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am the furthest thing there is from being a morning person, but when in Rio I never missed the chance to be on a beach at sunrise. It is almost impossible to come up with the right words to describe the daily light show on Copacabana, but photos capture the hues of light that change every day.

You never know what color sunrise will be, nor can you ever predict what people you will encounter on the beach each morning: joggers, walkers, swimmers, sleepers, tourists and even a prostitute servicing a customer out in the open.

Life in its fullest sense is witnessed.

A young man balances on the horizon as he dives into the ocean in Recife.
A young man balances on the horizon as he dives into the ocean in Recife.

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Gary Hershorn began his photography career in 1979 with United Press Canada in Toronto. In 1985 he transferred to Reuters, starting as Chief Photographer, Canada and then moved to Washington D.C. as a senior photographer in 1990. In 2000, he took over the helm of the picture department’s Americas division and in 2011 he became the global sports pictures editor. He currently works out of New York as a freelance photographer and photo editor.