São Miguel island, Azores

The island of São Miguel is the largest of the Azores, with a perimeter of around 230 km. I visited the island recently with my wife, to attend the marriage of a friend of mine. We spent one week in the island, and were fortunate to have great weather, with lots of sunshine. São Miguel is the island of the volcanic lakes; there are four major volcanic centres: Nordeste (now extinct), Furnas, Fogo, and Sete Cidades. All are worth visiting and beautiful in their own ways.

Want to elicit that jaw dropping “amazing” expression? Go to Vista do Rei viewpoint in Sete Cidades; this is where Edgar Pierre Jacobs located the entrance to Atlantis in one of Professor Mortimer’s famous adventures. Want to eat some good and truly earthy food? Go to Furnas and try the “cozido” that cooked for 6 hours in the hot earth. Want to bathe in crystal clear water? Go to Fogo and walk down to the lake for an amazing walk. Or take the trail to the Sanguinho waterfall, starting from the small village of Faial da Terra. You will think that you have travelled back in time to spectacular “Jurassic” forests.

If you feel like going away from the crowds and resting in a secluded volcanic lake, try the Lagoa do Congro. You will truly feel like being in one with Nature.

It is very easy to travel in the island by car, but it can be difficult at times to beat the increasing number of tourists; the Azores have become quite popular recently, with the low cost airlines flying there, plus Red Bull cliff diving and world surfing championship events. Of course the island is very pretty, with many interesting viewpoints, and lots of walking trails that bring you right into Nature.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of photo opportunities in the island: interesting viewpoints, many kilometres of walking trails, friendly people, local produce, and many more. In terms of equipment, I carried my Sony A7 kit, comprising two cameras and two lenses (Loxia 21 and Sony 55). I also carried a small travel tripod and a set of Lee Filters, including a very useful Big Stopper. You really need a wide angle to capture the large vistas, and the Loxia 21 proved to be perfect, delivering great images in a small package. The Sony 55 was perfect for more general photography.

I have been fortunate to visit two of the Azores islands this year, Pico ans São Miguel. This is a beautiful archipelago, and I now want to visit the remaining islands.

 

Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Congro
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo
Furnas cozido
Furnas cozido
Furnas
Furnas
Furnas
Furnas
Furnas, cooking corn cobs
Furnas, cooking corn cobs
Furnas
Furnas
Mosteiros
Mosteiros
Nordeste
Nordeste
Ponta Delgada and Fogo volcano
Ponta Delgada and Fogo volcano
Say cheese
Say cheese
Sanguinho waterfall
Sanguinho waterfall

Climbing Pico mountain, Azores

This year I had a special birthday (the 50th), atop Portugal’s highest point, the mountain of Pico, in the Azores island of the same name. At 2351m above sea-level, the volcano rises majestically from the ocean, being the third highest in the Atlantic to rise from the ocean bottom. The idea to go up the mountain was my wife’s, and I am grateful to her for such an incredible experience.

We planned everything in due time, since July is a busy month in the Azores. We wanted the event to be a family one, so my son and daughter also went with us. After some research, we decided to book with Tripix, a recently established adventure company. Everything went smoothly, the guide was very good and knowledgeable. The company is also ecologically sound, as it provides wooden poles, not metal tipped ones; the latter end up eroding the lava rocks, which is bad, especially with the increasing number of trekkers. We went up on the afternoon of the 19th, camped inside the crater, and came down the following morning.

The climb is not a technically difficult one, but it still requires relatively good physical shape, due to steep inclines, and some loose ground near the top. Our group consisted of 8 people, plus the guide. The Pico volcano is integrated in a natural reserve, and provides amazing views over the central group of islands of the Azores archipelago, like Faial and São Jorge. It took us about 5 hours to climb up from the starting point at 1200m altitude, and about 3 hours to come down the following day.

Of course I wanted to do some photography, and it is always a challenge to decide what to take on the backpack; especially when also carrying a tent, sleeping bag, food, and some extra clothing for the colder night. In the end, I decided to carry my two Sony A7 cameras, one with the Zeiss Batis 25mm lens, and the other with the Sony 55 lens. Plus, a small but robust Manfrotto table top tripod for long exposures at night. This light kit fitted nicely inside a small 22 litre backpack.

It just happened that the night of the 19th was a full moon, which was a good opportunity to photograph under special conditions at night; also, the weather was clear during the sunset and the sunrise, so I managed to get some interesting shots of the moonset and the shadow of the volcano. We stopped a few times going up, which allowed for some picture taking time of the great views. In the morning of the 20th, we woke up at 4am to climb the Piquinho, the small volcanic cone created by the last eruption in the year 1718. From there, we watched the blue hour developing, and after that the sunrise. The volcano is still active, with some fumaroles smoking through the vents.

In the end, this was a memorable experience, that my family enjoyed very much. And I came away with some unique photos for my portfolio too. The Sony kit performed really well, never missing a beat.

Piquinho under full moon
Piquinho under full moon
Sunrise
Sunrise over Pico and Faial islands
From the top, looking over Faial island
From the top, looking over the crater and Faial island
Moonset over Pico shadow
Moonset over Pico shadow
Pico volcano panorama
Pico volcano panorama at sunrise

 

Some black and white images from Oman

This post is more or less a continuation of the last one, in the sense that the photos were taken during the same trip to Muscat, Oman. However, this time I want to describe how I came about making these images, and how they ended up like this, in black and white.

The first two photos were taken just outside my hotel, in a seaside walk that is flanked by some trees. On a late night walk, I noticed that some trees were in bloom (the frangipanis), and I imagined that they would make some interesting subjects at dawn. So I planned accordingly, and the next morning I woke up early and went out shooting. As a bonus, the sky was stormy and the light soft, providing and interesting background. I immediately thought that I had good material for black and white images. I ended up with a composition showing the whole tree, and another one showing branches “reaching” into the sky, and into each other. Some quick adjustments in Silver Effex, and all was done.

For the next pair, the story was different. These were taken in Wadi Bani Kharus, during a geological field trip in the mountains. I was excited to be back in an area that I know very well, having lived in Oman for 7 years. In terms of landscape, the Oman Mountains provide some of the most picturesque and rough scenery, almost primeval in character. It was late afternoon when we parked our vehicles near a small village. The houses hugging the mountainside, and the ridges against the sky, made for a very typical shot. On the way out, we caught the last rays of sunshine filtering through the haze, and silhouetting the ridges; to somehow enhance the primeval feel of the instant, I opted for an antique plate effect for the black and white conversion.

Looking at the images, they remind me of what it felt like taking that morning stroll, or being inside the mountain range.

The tree
The tree

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Village
Village
Ridges
Ridges

 

The ZEISS FE 35mm f2.8 lens in Muscat, Oman

Traveller photographers are always searching for the best/lightest/smallest camera and lens combination, without compromising on performance and image quality. In this regard, the introduction of so-called mirroless systems has brought many valid options. From very early on, the Sony Alpha 7 system has offered such a combination, with the possibility of matching the small cameras with small high performing lenses such as the FE 35 f2.8 and FE 55 f1.8.

In this article, I would like to share my experience of using the FE 35 f2.8 lens in a recent business trip I took to Muscat, Oman. This is really diminutive lens, and it comes with the famous ZEISS logo on its barrel; it also comes with the concomitant price, which is arguably higher than normal for (slow) f2.8 prime lenses. This relative high cost was what initially put me off the lens. But after reading some reviews and testimonials of other photographers, I finally managed to borrow one copy and use it myself. From what I was reading, this little lens was a high performer indeed.

So I ended up in one of my favourite places in Muscat, the Mutrah Corniche and Souk. This is a lively place, with all the merchant stalls, smell of incense burning, spices, textiles, and all other sorts of articles. It is also a place where light levels are somewhat low, and where there are also some high contrast scenes of light and dark areas. Now, I do like the Loxia 35, but sometimes I need auto-focus for quick-shooting, or shooting from the hip.

The little FE 35 f2.8 lens performed without a fault, both mechanically and optically. I was mostly shooting between f4 and f8, with auto-ISO taking care of the rest. There is some light fall off wide open, but this can be easily taken care of during Raw developing. The lens is very sharp, and maintains excellent performance levels into the corners and edges of the frame.

So what is not to like? Well, photographers always prefer faster apertures; as I wrote above, f2.8 in a prime lens is perceived as “slow”. Thus, enter f1.4 and f2 lenses; Sony has a 35 f1.4 lens (also with ZEISS logo), which is top quality, but much bigger and even more expensive. ZEISS has the aforementioned Loxia 35 f2, but this one is manual focus and more expensive too. I think there might be a slot for an auto-focus 35 f2 lens?

In the end, the little FE 35 f2.8 lens is a great option for an A7 camera, it makes perfect sense as a reportage/travel lens. Combined with the excellent high ISO performance of the sensor, f2.8 is not really that limiting. Of course, there are situations where we may need to combine high ISO, f1,4 or f2, to get the shot. For those situations, there is the FE 35 f1.4 lens. For the rest, the FE 35 f2.8 is surely more than enough, and one hardly notices it is mounted on the camera.

Relaxing
Relaxing
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Working
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Colours
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In the souk
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The shop
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Choices
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The bag
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Smell the incense
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House and fort
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Going down
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Going up
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Fishing
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Waiting
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Souvenirs
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Red power
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Underneath
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Repairs
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The smile

 

ZEISS Loxia 35mm f2 lens – walking around Lisbon

The Loxia line of lenses for the Sony Alpha ILCE camera system consists (so far) of two, the 35mm f2 and the 50mm f2. These lenses are manual focus, but provide electronic comunication with the cameras. Thus, manual focus aids like peaking and automatic viewfinder magnification are provided, should one desires to enable them.

I have always liked shooting with a 35mm lens, so trying out the Loxia, when it became available in Portugal, was a natural thing to do. The lens is robustely built of metal, with a typical Zeiss buttery smooth focus ring, plus the traditional aperture ring. This is a lens that combines purist tradition with modern day electronics. The design is probably borrowed from the ZM lens line, where 35mm and 50mm have always been rangefinder afficionados favourites.

With this in mind, I set off shooting for a day in the streets of Lisbon, with the lens on my Alpha 7II camera. The Loxia 35 f2 is a pleasure to shoot with, thanks to the simple operation and the manual focus aids provided by the camera. The lens performs as I was expecting, in a traditional way. It is not bitingly sharp from corner to corner wide open (for that, there is the Batis 25), but stopping down to normal street shooting apertures (say between f4 and f8), it provides plenty of sharpness, plus the typical Zeiss colour and microcontrast.

I shot various types of subjects – people on the street, buildings, details, even close-ups. The light varied from soft cloud cover to direct sun light, but the image files (RAW) came out very well, with more than enough latitude for my usual processing.

In summary, I can highly recommend this lens if you want a fast 35mm to shoot in a classical way. Below are some images from this day.

Sunrise
Sunrise
On reflection
On reflection
Old Alfama Quarter
Old Alfama Quarter
The Old Sé Church
The Old Sé Church
Shop
Shop
Old Alfama Quarter
Old Alfama Quarter
Inside the Sé Church
Inside the Sé Church
Tram
Tram
Praca do Comercio
Praca do Comercio
Old Lisbon
Old Lisbon
Autumn Colours
Autumn Colours
Crinkled
Crinkled
Street Art?
Street Art?
The Rossio Train Station
The Rossio Train Station
Selfie...
Selfie…
Selling Roasted Chestnuts
Selling Roasted Chestnuts
By the river
By the river
Abandoned
Abandoned
Lines #1
Lines #1
Lines #2
Lines #2
Old Cafe
Old Cafe

Some images from the ZEISS Batis 85 f1.8 lens

After the (excellent) Zeiss Batis 25 lens, I also managed to grab one Batis 85, thus completing my lens set. My plan is to use the Batis 25 mostly for landscapes, and the 85 for portraits. However, this first set of images from the 85 comes from spending some time on the streets of Lisbon with it. Granted, an 85mm lens is not the first thing it comes to my mind when going out on the street, but I was surprised how versatile the lens turned out to be.

In one afternoon, I shot some street portraits (of course), but I also used the lens to shoot some details inside a church, some street scenes, and some city views. The lens performed very well, responding quickly to find the focus on moving people, and not missing focus in poorly lit venues. The detail and rendering I am seeing in the files is pure Zeiss, with plenty of detail, microcontrast, and colour fidelity.

Below, are some images that came out of this first session. These were shot on the A7II, using aperture priority, which is my default shooting mode.

ET
ET
On the bench
On the bench
Autumn colours
Autumn colours
Waiting
Waiting
Street car art
Street car art
Who's calling?
Who’s calling?
Lady
Lady
In support
In support
From up here
From up here
Square
Square
Castle
Castle
Choice
Choice
Smoke
Smoke

Kuala Lumpur – photos from a short visit

I recently visited Kuala Lumpur on a business trip. As with all my trips, I always carry a small camera to take some travel photos. Particularly when it is the first time that I visit a particular place, as was the case. It is a 12 hour+ travelling time from Portugal, where I live, so when I landed at around 3pm local time, with a 7 hour time difference, I was pretty knackered!

Of course to take photos outside of business hours involves waking up early and staying out late, and walk, and shoot a lot, on the street. Let me tell you that KL in late October means rainy season, high humidity, strong showers, and nice temperature (around 30 Celsius). The good news is that there are plenty of photographic opportunities even if you don’t have much free time; the bad news is that during my visit, the atmosphere was hazy due to fires in Indonesia, so I hardly saw the sun.

Anyway, the best way to know a new place is to simple walk around, so that is what I did. Friendly people everywhere, street food stalls with a lot of tasty foods, modern shopping malls and interesting architecture (both old and new), there are many things to see and visit.

To tackle all of this, I took a highly competent little camera with me, the Canon Powershot G7X. It packs a lot of power and image quality potential, with a relatively large (for a compact that is) 1 inch sensor, a bright 24-100mm lens, and a touch screen. I spent all the time in aperture priority mode, auto-iso, and touch focus on screen. The image stabilization helped immensely when the light levels were low. All in all, a great little camera for travel. Of course I shoot RAW all the time, to get the most bits from my bucks.

In the end, after 5 days in KL, I came away with some photos that I am happy with, and that is the most important thing.

Tasty food
Tasty food
High end
High end
Towers
Towers
Heavy rain
Heavy rain
Old & new
Old & new
Old & new
Old & new
At night
At night
At night
At night
Rapid KL
Rapid KL
Resting
Resting
Reflections
Reflections
In a nutshell
In a nutshell

Almograve beach summer sunrise

Today I just to post some images I made recently in a place that I love: Almograve beach, in Portugal’s southwest coast. I have known this region for almost 40 years, but it always seems new and fresh to me. When I was a kid, I used to dive from some of these rocks. Today, that is not possible during the summer, because the life-guards will not allow it.

The rocks have been eroded for sure, but at our human scale and time frame, we cannot spot the difference. What we can appreciate is the change in the beach profile, which changes every year, as the sands are shifted along the shore. This year is one of high sand content, and many rocks are buried under it.

One morning, very early, even before sunrise, I went out to photograph the beach at low tide. This is in August, so one has to go really early to catch the best light, and to avoid the high number of people that flock to the beach. The weather was cloudy, which is good for photography, but bad for beach goers… Lucky me, I managed to get some nice images, with interesting sky and clouds.

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Low tide and sunrise
Low tide and sunrise

Early morning fields

Portugal’s Southwest is home to some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere, many of them still in pristine condition. Justifiably, that is where most people end up spending their time, hopping from beach to beach. However, just a few kilometres inland, it is possible to find many small farms, where life still goes on at a leisurely place. Actually, it is this dichotomy of land and sea that makes one of the fundamental characters of the region, underpinning its classification as a Natural Park.

One of the various interesting subjects to shoot while visiting the region are the typical hay bales that cover the fields. At sunrise and sunset the light is best for these landscape shots, as the light changes from soft pastel tones (just before sunrise) to more strong side lighting, leading to long shadows.

Below are some photos from a recent shoot at sunrise. Of course, during the summer, this means getting up very early, but it is well worth the effort. These photos were shot with 20mm and 90mm lenses; the wide angle provides more sweeping vistas, but the tele allows the isolation of some interesting parts of the landscape.

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Old and new
Old and new

 

The Mutrah Souk in Muscat, Oman

The Mutrah souk in Muscat is one of the mandatory places to go for visitors. It is a very traditional place, with various shops lining the narrow alleyways. It is actually quite small, but still one can feel “lost” inside, due to the narrowness of the streets, and the ambience inside: traditional fares like incense and spices are available, as well as all other types of products. Be sure to visit one of the juice stands for a really good natural fruit juice, or the more traditional teas and samosas.

Less known to visitors are the streets located just a stone throw’s away from the more commercial streets; in here it is possible to find busy men unloading merchandise for their shops, and traditionally decorated wood and steel doors. Away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial activity, I was able to concentrate on capturing some of the “flavour” of the souk, the details that often go unnoticed.

In this regard, the Sony A7II and Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm lens are a wonderful combination, for this more contemplative type of photography. Having visited this place so many times before, this time I wanted to obtain some different results, other than the more “normal” shots inside the souk proper.

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