Old farm on the hill

During one of my recent photographic outings, I found an abandoned farm house on the top of a hill. I wrote about this area in one of my previous posts:

Even though I made colour photos at the time, I already anticipated that some of them could turn out good in black and white as well. So later on I decided to convert them to black and white, to confirm that impression. I thought the old and battered house would make an interesting subject in black and white, due to the character of the landscape and the quality of the late afternoon (side)light. I performed the conversion in Lightroom and Silver Effex, using simple profiles and merely adding a red filter to darken the deep blue sky. In turn, this would add more presence to the clouds, enhancing the depth of the images.

Fujifilm X-T3 and Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.
Fujifilm X-T3 and Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens.
Fujifilm X-T3 and Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens.
Fujifilm X-T3 and Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.

Either in colour or black and white, I think both interpretations reflect how I have experienced the area during this late Autumn afternoon. In my mind, these black and white versions provide a more dramatic and stark interpretation of the landscape.

Between mountain and sea

This small essay describes another wonderful trail that is part of the Rota Vicentina network in southwest Portugal. This time, I have walked route 17, a circular path that starts near the village of Carrascalinho, which is located close to the small towns of Maria Vinagre and Rogil. The walk is of moderate difficulty, mainly because it is 14 km long and crosses a hilly countryside that buttresses part of the Algarve mountain range. The following figure shows the location map.

Location map for route 17 (in yellow).

All the details can be found in the ensuing link.

https://rotavicentina.com/trilhos/carrascalinho/

This route is already inside the Algarve province, which is normally associated with sunny weather and golden beaches. Here in the western coast, the beaches are sunny, but the influence of the Atlantic ocean is stronger, with stronger winds. It was my first time walking this route, and what attracted me was that its path goes through the interior of the region, touching the mountain range of the Algarve. This is probably one of the most less-populated areas of Portugal, where some remnants of the Mediterranean flora still resists against the onslaught of the intensive eucalyptus growth. There are large areas of cork oak trees, pine trees, heather, and arbutus. Some of these cultivations are essential to the local economy, to produce the famous honey (from heather and arbutus) and the arbutus brandy. As usual, I carry a minimum amount of photo gear. This time I decided to take along only the Fujifilm X-Pro3 with the 35mm lens. A standard lens is a good choice for general photography.

The initial part of the route crosses some farmland, followed by a large pine tree forest.

Near the beginning of the trail.
Pink heather.

After a few kilometres, the terrain becomes more rugged, as it approaches the mountains. The weather is very nice, with a slight breeze and a deep blue sky. Along the way, it is possible to spot some Autumn colour, and even a spider waiting for its next meal.

Autumn colour.
Waiting for its prey.

The arbutus shrubs become more abundant, and this time of the year the fruits are ripe, displaying their typical orange and red colours. This fruit is very important for the local farmers, especially for making brandy, which fetches high prices.

Arbutus.

The highest point along the way affords a panoramic view over the entire region. To the west, there lies the ocean, whereas the rest of the view is dominated by the rugged mountains that are covered in green. This is a nice spot to rest and have a picnic lunch.

The ocean in the distance.
The Algarve mountain range.

From this high vantage point, the rest of the trail starts to descend, crossing a few isolated settlements and farms. The silence is pervasive, being only disturbed by the wind and the occasional bird song. Thus far, I have not seen any other person.

Interior isolation.

This part of the walk is easy, and soon our starting point is visible again. This was another wonderful route, that crosses a beautiful region that is often disregarded in favour of the more popular coastal area. Even though it lies a mere stone throw’s away from it.

Near the end, with Carrascalinho in the distance.
Local windmill.
Small farm.

Autumn in the interior of Odemira

Autumn is a wonderful season for being out in the field. As nature transitions between Summer and Winter, the days get shorter, the air is crisper and the colors are richer. As I mentioned in my previous article, in early November I spent some days in the Alentejo coast, taking the opportunity to make a few photo walks. The coastal region of Odemira’s municipality is beautiful, but so is the interior area. So, one afternoon I drove a bit to the interior, along the road between Odemira and Sabóia.

It is surprising how the character of the landscape changes abruptly from the coast to the interior; just a few kilometres inland, the terrain is characterized by rolling hills, with some deep valleys, where large trees are abundant. There are the typical cork oak trees, dotting the hills, but along the river Mira valley, ash trees and elm trees predominate. And during Autumn, they add an extra layer of color to the landscape.

The road follows the course of the Mira river, so it is easy to find a parking spot and then walk down to the valley. For this walk, I selected a part of the river that bends around a hill, atop which there is an abandoned farm house. Unfortunately, these are quite common in the area, as making a living from agriculture is increasingly difficult. Below is a simple map from this area, which is crossed by one of the trail routes from the Rota Vicentina.

Trail route between Sabóia and Odemira, with red circle indicating the general location for the photos.

After arriving, I walked down to the valley, but unfortunately the river was dry. As usual, the Summer was scarce in rain, and the Santa Clara-a-Velha dam, just a few kilometres up river, captures most of the water. This water is used for irrigation and domestic uses, so not much is left to run its free course. I walked along the dry river bed for a while, making a few photos of the bare trees.

Dry valley floor.
Looking up.
Dry river bed.

Leaving the valley, I climbed to the top of the hill. From here, there was an excellent view over the landscape, plus the abandoned farm house that I had spotted from the road. The sun was going down fast, and the light was acquiring a rich golden quality. I made several photos using both my wide-angle and short telephoto lenses, so that I could frame the dramatic landscape, or isolate interesting details.

Looking over the river Mira valley. Panorama assembled from 2 photos.
Some autumn color.
Trees in the valley.
Cork oak tree.
Old farm house.
Old farm house.
Open sky.
Old farm house at sunset.
Framed between the trees.

I walked back to the valley, because I wanted to make a few more photos of the surrounding trees and hills, and I wanted to catch the golden light that would not last very much. The shade was quickly spreading, so I had to work fast. I was running around between locations, as I only had a few minutes left of this high quality light.

Autumn color in the valley.
Autumn in the hills.
Old cork oak tree.
Cork oak tree and farm house in the distance.
Approaching shade.
Cork oak trees at sunset.
Last light.
Sunstar.

A walk along the coastline

These photos are from a walk along the coastline south of Cabo Sardão, in the Alentejo province of Portugal. I spent a few days in the area in early November, and took the opportunity to take some photo walks. On this particular day, the weather was poor, with heavy clouds and strong winds coming in from the ocean. Nevertheless, I packed my gear and drove to the Cabo Sardão lighthouse, for a sunset walk along the coastal trail.

There are several accessible viewpoints, but especially in windy days, it is important to be careful when approaching the edge of the cliffs. I wanted to portray the stormy conditions on that afternoon, with the elements incessantly pounding these very old rocks. The rocks themselves can be interesting subjects in a photo, because they are all folded and twisted, as a result of the tectonic forces that have uplifted and compressed them around 300 million years ago. I ended up using my neutral density filter to achieve longer exposure times, enhancing the special character of the seascape. I made good use of my wide angle lens (Fujinon 14mm f/2.8), which is perfect for these seascapes.

Given the weather conditions, there was not much color around, but occasionally a small break in the cloud cover would allow a sliver of warmer tone to be visible, adding a bit of life to the scene.

Endless cliffs. There is a white stork nest in the foreground, but the birds have left for warmer locations during Autumn and Winter.
A large boulder hangs on precariously over the precipice.
The folded rocks are a testimony to the immense forces that have shaped them.
The sea and wind relentlessly pound the coastline.
Tectonic forces have folded these rocks. The waves crashing against the coves made an ominous sound.
At the end of the day, feeling peaceful.

Right on cue with the sunset, the light came on in the lighthouse, providing a beacon in such bad weather. I stayed for a little while longer, making several photos of the building, and then drove back home. I really enjoy walking and photographing in this area, even with poor weather it has a unique character.

Turned on.
There is a football field close to the lighthouse.

Dawn at Almograve beach

The advantage of being very familiar with one place is that planning for a photographic visit becomes easier. The terrain is known, as well as the best viewpoints and logistics (access, car parks and walking paths). The flip coin to this familiarity is, of course, the challenge of imagining new compositions for well known places and subjects. In the beginning of October I found myself near Almograve beach, in the southwest Alentejo coast of Portugal.

I have known this beach since my childhood, and have been photographing it for three decades by now. Thus, coming up with “new interpretations on an old subject” is not easy. But I enjoy a good challenge, and so I woke up one morning really early, and went to the beach for a photo walk. The conditions were promising: low tide, some clouds and many interesting sand patterns. I started from the southern end of the beach, and slowly made my way towards the northern end.

Nature keeps changing things, and this year the beach has seen an abnormally high amount of sand, so that during low tide, a larger than usual area is exposed. This makes for some new interesting photo opportunities, using rocky outcrops and sand patterns as foreground elements. Shortly after arriving, I made a few photos showing the overall view of the beach, with the first light of day softly bathing the cliffs.

View to the north.
Southern cliffs receiving first light.

Walking along the beach, I had no trouble finding some interesting sand patterns and rocks. In particular, there are black schist rocks crisscrossed with white quartz veins, that are common in the geology of this area. Sometimes it was a challenge to keep the tripod stable, because the sand was water logged and quite soft.

Buried outcrop.
Low tide sand patterns.
Small pool.

In the intertidal areas, the movement of the water has created small sand dunes. For someone like me, familiar with this beach, it was odd to see so much sand; I kept trying to find some particular rock that used to be exposed, and now must be buried under all the sand.

Wavy sand.
Tidal pool.

I spent more than one hour photographing in the beach, so by the time I went back to the car, the sun had crested the sand dunes in the east, illuminating the landscape. The soft purplish and pink colors of dawn were replaced by the golden tonalities of the low sunshine.

Here comes the sun.
Yellow and blue.

These photos were all made with my Fujifilm X-T3 camera and Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens, a perfect combination for this coastline landscape, where there are several linear elements that can help to lead the eye into the scene.

New trail season

In the last few years I have become an enthusiast of the Rota Vicentina trail, a network of walking (and cycling) paths in the coastal region of southwest Portugal. Many of my articles here describe and address some of the trails that I have walked in the past. During the last couple of years, the challenges posed by Covid-19 were in part mitigated by being able to still visit the region and walk along its trails, enjoying the contact with Nature in complete safety.

The trail season in the Southwest has officially started in September, when the weather normally becomes milder, with the approach of Autumn. In early October there is a national holiday in Portugal, so there was an opportunity for my wife and I to spend a few days in our house in Longueira. Of course we allocated one day to do one of our favourite trails, the one of Nossa Senhora das Neves, in the interior of the Odemira municipality. We have done this trail several times before, as described here:

We like this trail for several reasons: it crosses a beautiful countryside, where the traditional ways of rural and farm living are still present; it is possible to see very large and old cork oak trees, dotting the landscape; there are many other species of typical and local fruit trees (quince, arbutus, olive); and of course there is the magnificent view from the top of the hill where the small chapel was built.

Even after walking this trail a couple of times before, I aimed at coming away with some different photographs. This can be a challenge, as inevitably one tends to stop in the same places: the isolated farm house, the large cork oak tree, and so on and so forth. The weather was sunny and relatively warm, with some isolated puffy clouds in the sky.

I tried to make some photos thinking about how they would come out in black and white, as I feel this would better describe the feel of the place. I was simply carrying my Fujifilm X-Pro3 camera and 35mm lens, so my mind set was really minimalistic. Below are some of the photos that I am happy with.

One of the largest cork oak trees.
Farm.
Sheep.
Fields.
Old tree.
Rural landscape.
House on the hill.
Along the way.
Tree and cloud.

I am looking forward to this next season of walking some of these beautiful trails in the Southwest.

A coastal walk

The coastal path between the Almograve beach and the Cabo Sardão lighthouse is part of the Rota Vicentina trail network. This easy walk is about 8 km long, and takes you into some of the most beautiful views and locations of this part of the Southwest Alentejo natural park. I think this path was the first one I walked many years ago, even before trekking became a fashion in this region. Since then, I do this walk several times a year, and not always with a camera and photography in mind. It is simply a nice outdoor nature experience, walking along the coastal cliffs and sand dunes, with the constant presence of the ocean and the seabirds.

Thus, one recent September afternoon, I decided to head to this trail, to make some photos during sunset time. The weather was nice, there were some wispy clouds in the blue sky, and the light was good. What I had in mind was a particular rock formation, in the shape of and arch, created by the erosional forces of the wind and the sea. The tide was going out, exposing a few beaches that are difficult to get to. Most likely, only the local fishermen know how to get down there.

Coastline at low tide, with the arch in the very background.

Along the trail, there are numerous “exits” towards the edge of the cliffs, affording wonderful views of the coast. I selected a few locations and made several photos, as the approaching light of sunset, with its golden quality, bathed the landscape.

Rock formations.
Along the way.
Rock arch.

As the sun continued its path towards the horizon, I kept moving, trying to find different viewpoints to set up my tripod. The wind was picking up, so I had to be careful in more sandy areas. Between the loose sand dunes and the rock outcrops, there are several layers of consolidated dunes; these have been cemented by ferruginous minerals and as a result have a vivid orange rusty color.

Rusty dunes.
Looking south, with the Cabo Sardão lighthouse in the distance.

A few minutes after sunset, the clouds became illuminated by a pinkish color, adding a nice touch to the landscape.

Colours after sunset.
Rota Vicentina trail marker.

At sunset, the lighthouse is turned on, and I always like to make a few photos of it. I returned to my car and drove back home, feeling grateful for another nice walk in this wonderful place.

Cabo Sardão lighthouse.
Lighthouse beacon.

An early morning walk near Odemira

I spent a couple of weeks in my house in the small village of Longueira, in the Alentejo coast, as part of this year’s summer vacation. It was a busy time for the family, but still I managed to go out and do some photography. As usual, this involved being out of the house before dawn, and after sunset, to catch the best light over the surrounding landscape.

This article is about one of such occasions, where I went to a place near the village of Odemira to photograph the full Moon setting in a nearby farm field. I arrived at the location around 6.00, and was greeted by some patches of thick fog… so I was naturally concerned that the Moon would not be visible at all. Fortunately, even though there was some fog over the area, the Moon was still visible, so I quickly set up my tripod and started shooting. I made several frames using both my wide angle and short telephoto lenses. The fog added another layer of interest and mystery to the landscape, and as the sunrise approached, it started lifting.

Moonset in the fog.
Moonset behind the hill and farm house.
Touching.

The previous photos illustrate the changing light conditions as the night slowly turned into day. I framed an old farm house and made several photos as the Moon went down. This was really fast, as you can see in the following couple of shots, which were made 5 minutes apart.

Early morning fog.
Dawn.

Leaving the farm field, I next walked to another nearby location, from where I could watch the sunrise over the hilly landscape and the river Mira valley. This was covered in thick fog, but the sky was acquiring a nice pinkish colour. There was a nearby tree that provided an interesting foreground.

Tree and sunrise.
Sunrise and fog.

Looking around, there were other interesting subjects, especially a few old tractors and farm machinery. Thanks to the fog, the light had a nice and soft quality. The fog also subdued the early morning sounds of the birds and the wind rustling through the trees. The surrounding quietness was all – enveloping.

Old tractor.
Old tractor.
Old farm machinery.

This was another good photo walk, and I was happy to have made some interesting and different shots in a very familiar place. It was time to go back home for a well deserved breakfast. As a final note, most of the photos here were made with the Zeiss C Sonnar 50 f/1.5 lens (modern Leica M mount version), adapted to the Fujifilm X-Pro3 camera. I was always a big fan of this lens, having it used before in Sony A7 cameras. Results in the Fuji camera are also wonderful, particularly under soft light as above.

Moonrise, Cabo Sardão

In this essay I return to one of my favourite places in the Alentejo coast of Portugal. The Cabo Sardão is a rocky promontory that juts into the Atlantic ocean, about 10 km south of the village of Almograve. Its lighthouse was built more than 100 years ago, and has since then been providing a beacon for a busy shipping lane. The coastline in this region is characterized by tall cliffs of 300 million year old rocks, where many seabirds come to nest and live. The white stork is conspicuous in the Spring and Summer, whereas the peregrine falcon is a bit more elusive.

I come to Cabo Sardão quite often to photograph, either around sunrise or sunset, when the light is more interesting. I planned this visit to coincide with the day before July’s full Moon, when our satellite would rise more or less at the same time as the Sun would set. Immediately after sunset, the lighthouse comes on, so I was hoping to frame it with the rising Moon slightly to the side. I arrived 30 minutes earlier, and walked to a nice viewpoint facing the cliffs. Some viewpoints are difficult to get to, especially when it is windy, so it is important to exercise due care and to be vigilant, to avoid incidents with possible falls. I selected a small natural platform in the ground to set up my tripod, and composed a few shots with my wide-angle lens, framing a large boulder in the foreground. This provided a good leading element into the rest of the scene, with the lighthouse and scarp in the distance.

Close to the edge.

I stayed in the vicinity of this viewpoint and made a few more photos after the lighthouse was turned on. Both vertical and horizontal compositions work well, using the stratigraphic layers as visual guiding lines.

The light came on.
Light’s up.

Finally the Moon appeared, rising on the left-hand side of the building. The sunset had happened only a few minutes before, so there was still a good amount of natural light, which helped in illuminating the cliffs and in obtaining a balanced exposure.

Moonrise.
Moon and lighthouse.

On the way back to the car I made a few photos in the nearby football pitch.

Goal.

I was lucky to have clear skies, as in the previous days the area had been occasionally covered with fog. I always like to visit this place, often just to rest the mind and experience the still wild natural surroundings.

Along the coast

The coastline between Almograve and Vila Nova de Milfontes is characterized by sand dunes, rocky cliffs, and small secluded beaches. It is a beautiful area, which can be walked easily along one of the sections of the Vicentina Trail. Even though it is a place I have visited and photographed many times before, I never tire of going back. This time around I planned to visit during low tide at sunset, to be able to access some locations where the wonderful geology exposed along the cliff faces can be seen.

After parking the car in Almograve beach, the trail follows the coast to the North. There are many interesting subjects to photograph, be it the vistas over the successive beaches, or the small flower clusters that populate the dunes.

Dune flower.
Field of rocks.
Windy.
Coastal beauty.
Low tide at sunset.
Rocks and more rocks.

At this late evening hour, there was no one else along the trail, and the sense of tranquility was pervasive. However, with the approaching sunset, I made my way back to photograph the rock outcrops in Foz beach, close to Almograve.

Foz beach overlook. The cliff face in the distance has some wonderful examples of geological folding and other phenomena.

Thanks to the low tide, I was able to reach some locations from which the views towards the rock outcrops are really nice. I am a geologist, so being able to combine my professional interest with my favourite hobby is an added bonus. There are many folds of various types, plus several exposures of fractured rocks, all bearing witness to the tremendous tectonic forces that have shaped the area.

Folds and more folds.
A close up of some folded rocks.
Last light on fractured rock.
Quartz veins filling the fractures.

The low tide also exposed the algae covered rocks, and I took the opportunity to photograph some of them. They were a most vivid green colour.

Folded layers and green algal mats.
Tidal pools.
Rising.

I stayed in the beach until it was dark, simply enjoying the experience of being there. Most of the photos were taken with the Fujifilm X-E4 camera and Fujinon 14mm f/1.4 lens; the wide angle lens is quite appropriate to the near – far compositions that I like to photograph.

Final light.