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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Carcavelos beach at dawn

I live close to Carcavelos beach, west of Lisbon, so when I can I just take the opportunity to go and make some photos. I like it very much especially off-season and early in the morning, when I almost have the place to myself. The beach is big, with many photo opportunities, provided by the sand, sea, sky, and the fort at its eastern tip.

This particular time, I was trying to come up with different photos, trying long exposures, abstracts, to convey the feeling of “being there”.

Photos were taken with the Sony A7II plus the Zeiss Sonnar 50. Sometimes slowing down with just one normal lens is really great.

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The Vasco da Gama Bridge, Lisbon

The Vasco da Gama Bridge, inaugurated in 1998 for the Lisbon Expo, is one of the places to visit and photograph in Lisbon; preferably at dawn, when the light is more interesting. There are several photographic opportunities, from the typical wide angle shots that include the bridge and the river, to the more unusual viewpoints, such as right underneath it.

So pack a tripod and your wide angle lens, and explore the area, as there are many more interesting structures to photograph. These shots were taken with the Canon EOS 6D and the EF 16-35 f4 L lens.

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Two similar images, different interpretations

Today I want to share a couple of photos that I took recently, as an example of how just a small difference in viewpoint  can have a large impact on the final result. I was driving to the town of Odemira, in Alentejo Province (South Portugal) (subject of my previous post) in the early morning, when I noticed the landscape by the side of the road. What caught my attention was that with the arrival of Spring, the fields are getting some more colour, in this case reds and greens. Together with the blue sky and some wispy clouds, the colour palette was simple and nice.

So I stopped the car and walked into the field, trying to look for interesting framings. Photo #1 is probably a type of photo that most would click: colourful field, typical house farm against the sky, classic Alentejo image. I then started thinking about something different, exploring different viewpoints. Hence photo #2; as it turned out, I just rotated my angle of view to the right of the previous framing, basically eliminating the farm house.

To me, photo #2 is more about the idea of Spring, just the open fields, colours, and the sky. It could have been taken anywhere, as there is no more a cultural or geographical registration or identity. This is a type of photography that is less immediate, and a bit more challenging.

So, when out an about looking to photograph familiar places under a different interpretation, think about this example, hope it helps.

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Photos from Odemira – Sony A7II and ZEISS C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM

These are some photos I took recently in the town of Odemira, in South Portugal’s Alentejo province. The name of the town comes from combining “Oued” (from the Arabic Wadi) and “Mira” (name of the river). This town is located about 20 km from the coast, inside the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. As such, it is very close to some of the best beaches in Portugal, but it has a rural and interior feel to it.

Unfortunately, as many interior towns and villages, the younger population has migrated to the large centers, in search of better opportunities. This leaves behind an aging population, plus some houses going to ruins. But Odemira still preserves a charm and character of its own, with the gentle rolling hills, and a life style that takes its own leisurely pace. There are also some local industries and associations that try to preserve old ways of life and traditions, in areas such as tapestry, pottery, and farming.

In this occasion, I visited the town in the morning, just walking the streets and going to the local market (I actually wanted to buy some fruits and vegetables!). The Sony A7II and ZEISS C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens continue to impress me very favourably as a documentary and travelling photographic tool. It is really liberating just using the basic photographic controls: set aperture priority, choose the aperture according to the shot (lens ring), focus manually (lens ring), and shoot.

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The Sony A7II with the Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens

This is just a quick post to share my experience with the above combination. The Sony A7II is the second iteration of a very successful line of mirrorless full frame cameras. Main improvements over its predecessor are: a larger grip – thus better ergonomics, at least for me; a more robust build (the camera features more metal in its chassis); and of course, IBIS (image stabilization via the sensor, so all lenses can benefit). Two things are a bit of a let-down: loud shutter noise, and lack of touch screen.

But most importantly, the camera handles beautifully in the field, where it counts. I use it for documentary, street, and travel photography, with a trusty Zeiss C Sonnar f1.5 50mm ZM lens. This is Leica M mount lens, and as such, it requires an adapter to be used on the A7 (I have opted for the Novoflex adapter, solid and reliable). Much has been said about this lens, basically people hate it or love it; I am in the latter camp, otherwise I would not be using it, right?

The lens renders in its own special way: (near) wide open it delivers a “softer” and “dreamier” look in the areas that are not in focus, with a rapid and smooth transition between your subject and the background. Stopped down, the sharpness increases over the image area, but in the corners, the image is perhaps not sharp enough for “sharpness crazies”. To me, it is more than enough, and I am quite happy with it.

Of course the lens is not auto-focus, but manual focusing with the A7II is a breeze, thanks to some assisting tools. These are focus peaking and zoom/magnification of the user selected focusing area. The lens itself has a “true” manual focus ring, smooth as butter, plus an aperture ring; really “old school”.

Finally, I post some images taken with this combination, from Lisbon, Fatima sanctuary, and Batalha monastery.

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The Grand Mosque of Muscat, Oman

The Grand Mosque in Muscat (Oman) is one of the “must see” spots of the city. The best times to photograph are at dawn and dusk, but these do not overlap with public visiting hours (8 – 11 am). So, when the light is more interesting, you are limited to take photos from the outside; this is still interesting, and makes for some nice photographs.

To photograph the interior of the Mosque, as well as its environs (gardens and surrounding complex), it is better to arrive at 8 am, to still have some interesting light (during winter), and avoid the crowds. Inside the Mosque, there is a pathway that you must follow, but still, some interesting photos can be taken. Also worth documenting are the various archways (which provide interesting viewpoints) and the several styles of ceramic tiles. It makes for a very interesting learning and photographic experience. A wide angle lens, or wide angle zoom, is recommended to photograph the Mosque.

At the end of the day, you can then relax and unwind in the beach front of the city, even trying your luck at football!

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Winter light on the beach

The Southwest Portugal coast is a haven for hikers, naturalists, and of course, photographers. This coast is full of well-preserved beaches, reached only by dirt roads or foot. So, there are many places where it is possible to be almost completely alone, even in the summer.

In the winter, isolation is fully guaranteed, so I took the opportunity of a recent visit to go out and take some shots in the afternoon. Winter is one of my preferred photographic seasons, as the sun is really low, making for great light in the landscape. Plus, the skies are commonly filled with dramatic cloud formations. One just has to avoid the rain, and keep warm!

In this occasion, I took my Canon 6D and 16-35 f4 lens, plus tripod and filters. I was hoping to come away with some interesting beach shots, with the vast expanses of sand in the low tide, complemented by the sea and clouds. I kept shooting until after dark, it was that nice!

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Sony RX10 goes to Abu Dhabi

I recently went to Abu Dhabi on a business trip, to attend a conference. As always, I wanted to take a “small travel” camera with me. Recently, I had been looking with increasing interest at the Sony RX10. Actually, I had been looking at this camera since it was introduced in 2013, but the original high asking price cooled off my interest. With the price going down with time, I ended up getting one; after all, it is hard to resist the package: Zeiss 24-200mm f2.8 lens, 1 inch Sony sensor, good ergonomics, image stabilization, plus the other bits and bobs.

So when the time came to choose a camera to take with me to Abu Dhabi, the choice was obvious. I carried the camera plus a 13 inch laptop in a shoulder bag, no problem. I know Abu Dhabi well, but being on non-leisure trip means getting up early and staying up late, to make the best of the light. I was also travelling without a tripod this time, even my small travel one, so I was totally relying on upping the ISO and image stabilization. I went out mostly to photograph along the Corniche, close to the hotel where I was staying. The skyline in getting more impressive by the day, and makes for interesting photographs at sunrise and sunset.

The camera performed as expected. Zooming the lens is indeed slow, but after a while one gets the hang of it, and anticipating the focal length required makes up for it. Auto focus worked well, even in night scenes I always managed to find something to focus on, quickly and reliably. The ISO performance from the camera is acceptable, considering the size of the sensor. I was typically shooting in aperture priority mode and auto ISO up to 1600. This managed all the situations I encountered.

Now, at ISO values 800 and 1600, the image starts to degrade if you examine your images at 100% on screen. Careful sharpening and noise reduction can help up to a certain point, and the images end up being acceptable for most uses. In the end, I was able to take the photos, and it is marvellous how much technology has progressed.

I would say that the RX10 is a camera that will serve many photographers well, and that delivers high quality images if you understand its operational limits. It even allows you to step out a little bit from those limits and take photos that otherwise would not be possible, while maintaining a certain file integrity and quality. In the end, as a general purpose fixed zoom lens camera, it more than delivers.

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ISO 1600 and f2.8
ISO 1600 and f2.8, not bad

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Some photos from Muscat, Oman

Any trip to Muscat is incomplete without a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. This is one of the (many) highlights of Muscat, and even more so if you enjoy photography. Having lived in Muscat for a few years, whenever I return, I always try to include a short incursion to the area, to photograph the mosque around sunset time. Of course it is possible to visit the mosque interior and surrounding grounds, which are very beautiful too. This time around, I did not had the time to do so.

This is the time when the lights in the dome and the minarets come on, which make a nice combination with the remaining natural light. The gardens and the mountain make for a scenic foreground and background, respectively. Using a small travel tripod makes it easy to shoot the longer exposures required.

I also include some photos from other small trips I was able to make during this visit, from the areas around Mutrah Corniche, and the beaches of Barr Al Jissah hotel complex.

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