A lazy afternoon stroll

The distance between Almograve and Lapa de Pombas is not big, at 2 km. There is even a dirt road along the coast connecting the beach with the small fishing inlet. It makes for a perfect lazy afternoon walk, admiring the beautiful coastline, where the cliffs are constantly being carved by the action of the sea and the wind.

The light during Autumn is always special, and after some recent rains, the colours of the sand dunes, rocks, and cliffs had seemingly taken a new life. Deep blue skies with some clouds and haziness also created some interesting light against the mist coming from the waves.

Gone are the summer crowds, so it is possible to enjoy the quietness of the place. There are the occasional fellow strollers, or fishermen trying their luck on the cliffs. This stretch of coastline holds many small coves, where often the geology controls the topography with abundant folding of the Palaeozoic rocks. As time passes by, erosion simply carves the rock and reveals the inner structure of the landscape in numerous folded strata. These make for very interesting shapes and textures, which are enhanced by the sidelight illumination.

Lapa de Pombas is a very simple and small fishing harbour, that holds maybe a couple of boats and some wood huts. The place was eerily quiet, with a spring nearby providing fresh water, plus some cats lazing in the steps and enjoying the warm sunshine. The aroma of the peppermint is pervasive – it is used in a local fish soup, adding a special taste.

Even though I know this part of the coast like the palm of my hand, every time I visit, it always provides something new. Otherwise, simply enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the place is more than enough to recharge our batteries and lift our spirits. Is there a better way to finish the day other than admiring the setting sun while seating on the cliff, perhaps with a drink?

Lazing on the sun
Lazing on the sun
Cliffs and sea
Cliffs and sea
Rusty colours
Rusty colours
Fishing and reading
Fishing and reading
Dunes
Dunes
Geology
Geology
Hazy light
Hazy light
Coastline
Coastline
Along the coast
Along the coast
Waves and sunset
Waves and sunset
Fall light
Fall light
Sunset at Almograve
Sunset at Almograve

Serra da Freita – a trip with Fujilm X – Pro2

Taking advantage of a bank holiday, I have recently visited the Serra da Freita region, in northern Portugal. This has been in my “to-do” list for quite some time, as the area, albeit small, is rich in cultural, geological, and landscape heritage. The rugged terrain, made of granite, quartzite, and schist, has been settled by Man since pre-historic times; today, many of the isolated and picturesque small villages are deserted, or only have a small number of (old) inhabitants. People have left for better jobs in the coastal cities.

Despite this, the local municipalities are making strong efforts to renew the region, based on its core attractions: local culture, natural & historical heritage, trekking, gastronomy, are key elements that concur for a unique experience

I planned my visit around two of the main attractions in the area: Passadiços do Paiva and Arouca Geopark. You can learn more about them here: http://aroucageopark.pt/en/

The Paiva river is one of the least polluted in Europe, and now it can be appreciated at close range by walking along the Passadiços, a wooden walkway 8km long that is quite popular. It is part of the Arouca Geopark, a network of a dozen or so spots that provide a unique insight into the early (Palaeozoic) history of our planet.

The surrounding countryside and landscape are a feast to the senses, with the sounds, smells, and large mountain vistas that are visible at each turn of the twisting roads. The road network is more than adequate, and traffic is scarce. Sometimes, after another turn, a small village, no more than a dot in the landscape, appears similarly out of nowhere. Such was the case, for example, of Manhouce, a small rural village that in recent years has become famous thanks to some local traditional music. Just seeing the corn cobs drying in the sun along the road, the granite – built houses, feels like going back in time.

I experienced some of the most beautiful landscapes of my life in front of the Frecha da Mizarela, the highest waterfall in Portugal. To fully capture the scenery, I decided to shoot several frames, to be later stitched. That day would end at the top of Serra da Gralheira, basked in the golden light of the sunset.

In terms of photographic gear, for this trip I wanted to keep simple, so I only carried one camera with one prime lens, i.e. the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and 23 f/2 lens. This is a high quality and small package, that I carried in my backpack, together with food, drinks, and travel tripod.

In front of Mizarela waterfall
In front of Mizarela waterfall
Giant trilobites in Canelas museum
Giant trilobites in Canelas museum
Passadicos do Paiva
Passadicos do Paiva
Monastery Sao Cristovao Lafoes
Monastery Sao Cristovao Lafoes
Local produce
Local produce
Local company
Local company
In the forest
In the forest
From above
From above
Sunset
Sunset

 

Foggy coastline

No matter how often you visit and photograph one place, there are always new opportunities to find out and explore. This adage was proven true once more when I visited an old familiar area of mine, the Southwest Coast of Portugal, specifically near Cabo Sardão. I was in the area for my annual summer vacation, when the day dawned a bit foggy.

Such foggy spells are recurrent in the coast, and normally clear out later in the morning. With this expectation in mind, I set out to take some photos of the nearby fields, with typical houses, hay bales, and grazing cattle. The yellow colour of the field provided a nice contrast with the fog, while covering the scene with some mystery.

As the day evolved, it became clear that the fog was there to stay; in fact, it lasted to nightfall… therefore, I changed my plans (which entailed going to the beach) and went out on a short trek near Cabo Sardão, where the cliffs, sea, and fog, hopefully would result in interesting and different photos. I walked the area until sunset and was rewarded with a new take on a familiar landscape, where the fog played a central role; now and then, it would become somewhat weaker, allowing glimpses of the cliffs entering the sea in the distance.

For those wanting to visit this place, it is worth mentioning that care must be taken when accessing some of the best viewpoints, as they are normally at the end of rocky spurs, with precipitous drops nearby. Especially with fog, the rocks may be slippery.

As I mentioned above, there are many interesting subjects; one of them, which opened due to the fog and the soft, low contrasting light, was the numerous rock formations and erosional features present in the dunes. Some of the dunes are consolidated with ferruginous materials, which highlights the red colours. The soft sky light results in a natural enhancement of the colours, like a natural saturation slider.

I played around with both wide angle and telephoto compositions, trying to convey the ruggedness and mystery of this stretch of coast, which is beautiful. Hope you like the resulting images.

 

Grazing, Longueira.
Grazing, Longueira.
Sunrise
Sunrise, Longueira.
In the distance.
In the distance.
Fields.
Fields.
Pre-historic.
Pre-historic.
On the verge.
On the verge.
Cliffs and beach.
Cliffs and beach.
Elements.
Elements.
Low tide.
Low tide.
The cube.
The cube.
Iron rivulet.
Iron rivulet.
Remnants.
Remnants.
Going down.
Going down.
Inlet.
Inlet.

London – some black and white photography

I recently went to London for some well deserved vacation time with the family. It is a fantastic city, full of photo opportunities and truly a melting pot of cultures. When I go back to places that I know well, which is the case, I tend to keep it simple in terms of photo gear; in this case, one camera plus one lens, a 35mm f/1.4.

Being London, the weather was often overcast, but with some clearing of skies towards the end of the day. I wanted to concentrate on the margins of the Thames, with the new booming architecture mixing in with the old, plus the new establishments along the river. Plenty of interesting points, offering new views over some classic locations.

With this plan in mind, I made most of my photos with the plan to ending with some interesting black and white images. I am continuously amazed by the power of the available computer tools to extract the most of the files. Of course, simply converting a colour file to black and white is no magic recipe for an interesting photo; if the elements for interest are not there, they will not appear out of the blue.

In some of the photos, the combination between clouds, sky, buildings and light turned out to be very good, and I am pleased with the results I got in the end. Below are some of the photos of the trip.

Reflected
Reflected
Parliement
Parliament – with the famous tower and clock under wraps, I opted for a different view.
Park sunset
Park sunset – good light at the end of the day.
Tidy
Tidy – traditional river activity with modern background.
Scale
Scale – using bridges to provide some depth and dynamism.
Eye panorama
Eye panorama – can not avoid the Eye, really. It’s a great ride too.
Greenwich panorama
Greenwich panorama
Shard
Shard

 

Fun with Depth of Field

While trying out a new lens for my system (a 35mm f/1.4), I went out to take some photos of some hay bales I had seen before, close to an old and abandoned house. I waited for sunset to have some good light, and off I went.

I tried some compositions, including the one below, catching the Moon and bicycle.

House and Moon
House and Moon

Having such a fast lens available, I then thought about using it at extremes of aperture range, in this case, from f/16 to f/1.4. The results are shown below, in the following order: f/16, f/1.4 (maintaining focus on the bike), and f/1.4 (focusing on the house).

Resting #1
Resting #1

 

Resting #2
Resting #2

 

Resting #3
Resting #3

Normally, when shooting such subjects, I tend to favour  a deep depth-of-field, so that both the foreground and background are acceptably sharp. However, later on, when I looked at the images, my favourite of the series was #2, focused on the bike, and shot wide open at f/1.4. In my mind, the bicycle and hay bale are given more prominence, while the house is still there, identifiable. All bathed by the warm and golden light of the sunset.

Talking about sunset, this is what it looked like that day. Wonderful.

Sunset
Sunset

 

 

Milfontes – morning magic

 

I have written before about this small town located in SW Portugal, at the estuary of the river Mira. It is considered as the “pearl of Alentejo”, and is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Coming summer, it can be a bit congested, given the affluence of vacationers. But throughout the rest of the year, it is a haven of tranquillity and beauty.

In one of my recent visits, just a few weeks back, I planned to shoot the hay bales that dot the countryside during this time of the year. I had envisaged to use the bales as foreground interest, using the rising sun and the Cercal hills as backdrop. Of course, shooting the sunrise during the summer implies waking up at around 5am, but this is just one of the challenges of landscape photography!

I wanted to capture both wide angle and more telephoto field of views, so those were the lenses I carried with me: the Zeiss Loxia 21 f/2.8 and the Sony G 70-200 f/4. I prefer to have the flexibility of a zoom for my telephoto shots, as the light changes quickly, and “zooming with your feet” is not always practicable.

Shooting towards the East, I got lucky for the bonus of the mist and fog that were present along the river Mira course. This extra element provided some fantastic depth and feel to my photos, thus really paying off for the early rise!

Shooting from my tripod, I soon entered in the rhythm of composing, relaxing, taking my time, while at the same time enjoying the light play over the rural landscape.

In the end, I consider this session as a success, and fully recommend this location for landscape photographers; within a small area, there are several subjects of interest, either facing the sea, or inland.

Breaking light
Breaking light
Blue mist
Blue mist
Field and mist
Field and mist
Golden
Golden
Golden rise
Golden rise
A pair
A pair

Mutrah souk with ZEISS Loxia 50 lens

I have recently travelled to Muscat, Oman, on a business trip. On such trips, I always try to find some time for photography, especially in such an interesting location. I know the country very well, because I worked and lived there for a few years. Muscat, in spite of all the developments in roads and housing, still keeps its own special charm, so to speak. The city’s mountainous background, its old quarters and traditions, and the hospitable Omanis, make for a unique combination that keeps me coming back whenever possible.

On such occasions, when I can only dedicate a few hours to photography, I profit from my previous knowledge and go straight to the places that I find more interesting; like the Mutrah Corniche, and the nearby Souk. I also prefer to carry only a small camera and lens, to favour mobility and to avoid looking conspicuous. My approach is simply to shoulder the camera, mingle with the folks, wait for something interesting to happen, and shoot away. My Sony A7II and ZEISS Loxia 50 f/2 lens allow me to do this in a most efficient way; the combination is light and reliable, goes unnoticed,  and delivers time after time. After a while of walking in the souk, people do not pay me attention anymore. the lens’ aperture and manual focus rings allow me to pre-set the shot as I deem appropriate, so that I can concentrate on what is happening around me.

I leave you with some photos taken close to sunset and at dusk, in a pleasant February evening.

Feeding the gulls
Feeding the gulls
Incense smoke
Incense smoke
All eyes on us
All eyes on us
Mutrak souk
Mutrak souk
Alley
Alley
Pots & pans
Pots & pans
Fruit sellers in Mutrah souk
Fruit sellers in Mutrah souk
Mutrah Corniche
Mutrah Corniche
Mutrah Corniche at dusk
Mutrah Corniche at dusk

Wind mill in Odemira

In a recent visit to the lovely village of Odemira (a place I often go to), which is located inside the Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, I was lucky enough to be able to see the wind mill working. The municipality of Odemira invests money to maintain some of these old mills working; it is an old tradition, that is being maintained by a few men. One of these was operating the mill when I visited; his name is Jose Guilherme, and he was very kind and invited me to go inside.

His is an old family of millers, going back to his great-grandfather’s time. Unfortunately, this family tradition will die with him, since no one else in the family will pick up the trade. I always enjoy experiencing and visiting these places of tradition, and talking to the people that still use them. Mr. Guilherme told me that in a couple of hours, he had milled 50 kg of wheat, thanks to the strong wind and his expertise in operating the mill. He still has customers that take the grain to him for transforming into flour, that then goes into making the famous local bread.

He was gracious enough to let me take some photos, and I will be sure to give in some copies next time I am in Odemira. This is the type of experience that is still possible to have in the region, where the old traditions are still alive.

Equipment wise, I used my trusty Sony A7II, and the discrete ZEISS Loxia 50 f/2 lens. I simply love this combination for this type of reportage shooting. I converted the files to black and white to convey a stronger feel of the place and the experience.

The wind mill.
The wind mill.
The grain enters...
The grain enters…
... and exits as flour.
… and exits as flour.
Mr. Jose Guilherme.
Mr. Jose Guilherme.
His father.
His father.

 

ZEISS Loxia 50 f2 lens – some impressions

Currently, where auto-focus reigns supreme, it may seem odd to use a manual focus lens. But sometimes, for photographing at a more leisurely pace, a manual focus lens is a valuable tool. No need to think about auto focus modes, camera drive modes, just take full control about where, and when, you want your lens to focus. When travelling, or when simply on a stroll photographing on my own, I enjoy the simplicity provided by manual focus, and manual aperture setting, on the lens.

Since I use a Sony Alpha 7 camera system, it is possible to adapt hundreds of so-called vintage lenses, from other mounts, to the Sony E mount. And I have done that before. But for the standard focal length, 50mm, I have never tried to use a manual focus lens; I was used to the excellent Sony Zeiss 55 f1.8 lens. Recently, I am trying the Zeiss Loxia 50 f2 lens, which is completely manual in operation, but has the electronic contacts to “talk” to the camera, since it is a native E mount lens. In all other aspects, it feels, and handles, like any other high-quality Zeiss manual focus lens, which means is a pleasure to use.

I am familiar with Loxia lenses, because I have used the 21mm and 35mm ones in the past. The lens line is rounded up by the 50 f2, and more recently, the 85 f2.4. Today I want to share some photos, and impressions, from using the Loxia 50 is a recent trip to Odeceixe, a well-known beach located in SW Portugal. I spent a couple of days in the area with my wife, profiting from a balmy end of October, with unseasonably warm temperatures for the time of the year. After some picnicking and swimming, we took the trail that links Odeceixe to the small fishing village on Azenha do Mar to the North.

This trail is very easy to do, and affords great views along the coastline, plus crossing coastal dunes and farmlands. This time of the year, it is sweet potato pick up season. In fact, some of the best sweet potatoes come from this region, with yellow, orange, and purple varieties. But that will be perhaps the subject for a future article, in case I manage to visit the sweet potato festival in Aljezur at the end of November.

Mounted on my Sony A7II, the Loxia 50 balances and handles perfectly; it works and feels like the precision instrument that it is. Manual focus is easy, with all the technological assistance provided by the camera, in terms of peaking and magnification at your fingertips. All the hallmarks of the Zeiss heritage are present in the lens, with the vibrant colours (but never over the top), contrast, sharpness, and resistance to flare. At the end of the day, in Azenha do Mar, I spend some time taking some long exposures off the tripod, photographing the boats in the small harbour.

For those who enjoy manual focus, the Loxia lenses combine tradition and modern performance in a very good way. I will certainly be keeping my copy of the Loxia 50.

Azenha do Mar
Azenha do Mar
Azenha do Mar
Azenha do Mar
Sunset
Sunset
Sweet potato close-up
Sweet potato close-up
Sweet potato harvesting
Sweet potato harvesting
Panorama
Panorama
Odeceixe
Odeceixe
Odeceixe
Odeceixe

Azores – Sao Miguel island 2017

Last month I visited the island of Sao Miguel (Azores) for the second time in about one year. I was in vacation with my family, but I wanted to take some quality time for photography. As always, this means going out when before sunrise, and staying after sunset. During the rest of the day, we visited the usual touristic spots, plus some other not-so-well-known locations.

With the introduction of low-cost airline transport to the island, it is becoming busier every year, but it is still possible to get away from the crowds; one should try to visit the most popular sites outside of the “tourist bus schedules”, and to enjoy the many signposted and beautiful hikes around the island.

When I visited last year, I came away with some good photos, and visited many of the popular places. This time around, I wanted to get something different, something that would convey the “soul” of the place. In the Azores, even during the summer, one gets “4 seasons in one day”, meaning that the weather changes quite quickly. This can lead to unexpected photo opportunities, especially in the mountainous volcanic lakes. From West to East, the major ones are Sete Cidades, Fogo, Furnas, and Nordeste (the latter is inactive, the others are not).

My favourites are the Fogo and Furnas lakes, for their sense of isolation (Fogo) and very active fumaroles (Furnas). The weather being unpredictable, one must combine good planning with some luck. I visited Fogo and Furnas twice, for example; in Fogo, the sunrise was amazing, while in Furnas the sunset was covered by dense fog. Both occasions ended up in great photos. I particularly like the Furnas lake covered in fog, which adds to the sense of mystery and timelessness.

In the Nordeste I was welcomed by tall precipitous cliffs dropping vertically into an endless sea, with menacing clouds rolling by. In Ferraria, the small lighthouse made a good counterpoint to the immense sea beyond. Sky, sea, weather, nature, all mix in the Azores, providing lasting emotions and memories.

For my memories of this trip, I chose to get rid of colour, as I wanted to enhance the raw beauty of the island, stripping it to the very basics of its framework. I converted the files to black and white, adding a light sepia toning and rough frames, for a consistent look to this body of work.

I hope you like it, and that you visit these wonderful islands.

Lagoa Sete Cidades
Lagoa Sete Cidades
Faial da Terra, Nordeste
Faial da Terra, Nordeste
View from Ferraria
View from Ferraria
Lighthouse at Ferraria
Lighthouse at Ferraria
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa das Furnas
Lagoa das Furnas
Lagoa das Furnas
Lagoa das Furnas
Mosteiros beach
Mosteiros beach