Panoramas by the sea

During a recent weekend trip to the southwest Portuguese coast, I had the chance to photograph in the Cabo Sardão area. This is one of my often photographed locations, so it is a challenge to come out with something new, or a different approach. In this occasion, I have planned to tackle two different obiectives. The first one was to photograph the white stork species that lives in the area: this is a unique species of stork, because it nests in the coastal cliffs, and will be the subject for a future essay.

The second objective was to make a few panoramas by shooting a series of photos for later stitching in the computer. There are many sweeping coastal vistas in the area, and sometimes a wide angle lens is not wide enough to encompass the entire scene. For creating panoramas I have been using Panorama Factory, a software that does the job very well.

The first image is a set of 3 photos taken with my Fujinon 16mm f/1.4. The image shows the coast at low tide a short distance away from the Cabo Sardão lighthouse. The hour was close to sunset, so the scene was illuminated with golden light.

Low tide

Next is the classic view of the precipitous cliffs with the lighthouse in the top. This is an assemby of 6 photos, as above taken with the 16mm lens, spanning a large angle of view; larger than what would have been achievable with only a single shot from my wide angle lens.

Cabo Sardão lighthouse

For the third and final image I waited for the full Moon to rise beside the lighthouse. Again, it would have been difficult to get the image with a single shot. This is an assembly of 9 photos taken with the Fujinon 50-140mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom. I like the result because the lighthouse is also lit, as the Sun had just set behind me.

Moon rise

This was an excellent occasion to dust off my panorama abilities, but honestly, these days it is really easy to achieve good results with just a bit of care in the field. For these photos I used a tripod, but this was dictated by the low ISO and concurrent slow shutter speeds. The key concern is to have sufficient overlap between the successive shots, so the software can stitch them correctly.

Some photos made with the Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro lens

Given the current health crisis and the need to stay home, I am taking this opportunity to write a bit about this Fujinon lens which I have been using for a little over a month now. I like to make some macro photos while hiking on trails, should the situation arise. Given it’s focal length, this lens is also suitable for portraits, and some landscape photos with a tighter field of view.

During my time with the lens, I already used it in my 4 day trip to Northeast Portugal, and in a couple of weekends in the Southwest coast (Longueira). As a macro lens, it only goes to 0.5x magnification, but that is why it is small. Other lenses that reach to 1x (or life size) magnification are larger. I do not mind this limitation, as for what I normally photograph (flowers, details, some insects), it is enough. Below are some examples.

Almond blossoms
Poppy
Approach

I also use the lens for landscapes, when I want to achieve a narrower angle of view, or isolate a particular element of the scenery. I show some examples in the ensuing photos.

Field in fog
Fog over river Côa valley
Fog over river Côa valley

Optically, the lens is superb, with plenty of sharpness even from wide open, nice bokeh, and the typical excellent Fujifilm colours and contrast. Here is one of my first shots with the lens, the obligatory cat shot.

Jonas the cat

A trip to Northeast Portugal – part 3

This is the third and final part of a series about my recent visit to the Vila Nova de Foz Côa (VNFC) region. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here:

We departed VNFC early in the morning and started the journey to Freixo de Espada a Cinta (FEC), several km to the North. The road passes through a beautiful area of Portugal, limited to the East by the Douro river, which marks the border with Spain. This is a high altitude granitic and schist plateau, part of the geographic feature known as Iberian Meseta. The first village is Castelo Melhor, which I have alluded to before. From there, only a few km away, lies Almendra, considered one of the most beautiful historical villages in Portugal.

Road map between VNFC and FEC.

Its name comes from the Arabic word for almond, and it is obvious why; once more, the almond trees are conspicuous in the surrounding fields and farms. The village has several historic buildings, like the Manor (“Solar”) that for generations belonged to the Almendra Viscount. It is a palace from the XVIII century, built in the baroque style. Even though it lies in ruin today, its grandeur is still very apparent, with imposing granite facades. A long time before that, in the year 569 AC, the region was under Visigoth domain. The other important building is the Church of Our Lady of Angels, which was built in the XVI century; it has an imposing profile, and its large size and strongholds attest its relevance in these frontier lands.

Almendra – old manor house.
Almendra – church.

From Almendra, the road leads to Castelo Rodrigo, even closer to Spain. The landscape in between is characterized by granitic plateaus and sparse vegetation, with isolated boulders that have resulted from erosion by wind and water. Today it is quite warm for February, but it is not difficult to imagine the cold winter winds whistling thorough the region. Castelo Rodrigo sits atop a hill, which at this time of the year is surrounded by blooming almond trees; this makes a very picturesque scenery, so I had to stop to make a few photos. The entire medieval town is enclosed inside the castle walls, as a fortification, which was required, given its tribulated history that tells of many frontier wars with Spain.

Castelo Rodrigo.

However, the history of the place goes well into the past, from pre-historic times to romans and Arabs; finally, in 1297 it was incorporated in Portugal. It is well worthwhile to spend some time walking along the narrow streets, feeling the history of the place. Also spend some time tasting the delicacies in the shops, particularly the almonds and almond liqueur. Inside the castle, note the “defamed upside down coat of arms”, a punishment by the King of Portugal imposed on the local nobility, who sided at the time with the opposing Spanish party in the war.

Castelo Rodrigo – defamed coat of arms.

The next leg of our trip would take us to Barca de Alva, one of the entry points of the International Douro Natural Park. Before getting there, be sure to stop in the roman villa of Almofala, with its well-preserved tower. Given that it was lunch time, we had a picnic in a small resting area by the side of the road, under the shade of a willow tree, and close to a small creek. I even made a few long exposures of the running water, just for fun.

Almofala roman tower.

Approaching Barca de Alva, it is interesting to notice that the topography starts to change; in fact, the plateau area we had been crossing since morning, transitions into a rougher terrain, that descends precipitously towards the Douro valley. This is an important location, as it marks the end of the 200 km long train route that starts in Porto in the coast and goes along the Douro river upstream. Unfortunately, part of the route has been deactivated and is in disuse. It also marks the point up to which the Douro is navigable. The Mediterranean microclimate of the region, and how it affects the Douro valley, becomes apparent here: there are many fields cultivated with vineyards, almonds, orange and olive trees. This is where the region of Port wine truly begins.

Barca de Alva – a nice viewpoint before the road descends into the Douro valley. This is a 13 shot panorama.
Barca de Alva – another panorama.

The rest of our trip will follow the road along the border with Spain, and it is impossible not to stop along the way to admire the landscape from several viewpoints. The most famous one is located just before arriving at FEC and is called Penedo Durão. This is a rocky spur that juts out over the Douro valley, at an altitude of around 700m. From this vantage point, and in the right season, many birds that are typical of this Natural Park can be observed: griffin, Egyptian vulture, peregrine falcon, amongst others. It is a great place to stop and appreciate the surrounding nature.

View from the road over the Douro river. Border with Spain.
View over the Douro river from Penedo Durão.

By the time we arrive at FEC, the sun is going down behind the mountains. This is another town rich in history, and whose foundation is lost in the mist of time. The origin of its name “Freixo” (Ash tree) and “Espada Cinta” (sword at waist) is not clear, and there are several legends. One story says that a goth nobleman whose name was “Espadacinta” took a nap under a Freixo after battling the Arabs in the Douro river. Another tells how king D. Dinis, when passing through this land, lied down to rest under the shade of a Freixo tree, but not before placing his mighty sword against it. While sleeping, the tree’s spirit guided the king to establish wise guidelines for the future. Regardless of the story, the town is full of interesting places to visit.

Freixo de Espada a Cinta – main square with church and castle.
Freixo de Espada a Cinta – onion basket.

From FEC to the fluvial beach of Congida is a quick and short drive. This is a great place to spend the night, in peaceful tranquillity by the river Douro. The light of the setting sun reaches the banks of the river, bathing them in golden hues. I make haste with my tripod and camera to take a few shots of the surrounding scenery. At night, I went out to make a star trail session. As the river runs North to South, pointing the camera to the North will ensure a nice star trail rotating around Polaris. Fujifilm cameras make this extremely easy to set up, with their built in intervalometer. I programme the camera to shoot 100 frames of 30 seconds each, this will give me a total of 50 minutes of movement.

Congida fluvial beach. Panorama of 16 shots of the Douro river.
Star trail.
Night photo.

The following morning, I was out of the room before sunrise; the weather had turned cloudy, but that was good, as it added some more interest in the sky area for the photos. I walked around the beach, trying out different foregrounds such as boats and willow trees. I also opted for some long exposures, between a few seconds and 2 minutes; this has resulted in some interesting movement effects in the clouds. In the end, I decided to convert some of the photos to black and white, for added visual drama.

Congida before dawn.
Congida before dawn.
Congida before dawn.

It was with a sad feeling that we left the area and returned home, after a few very fulfilling days in a beautiful part of the country. But we left with our hearts and minds richer, after experiencing all the culture, history, and landscape of the region.

Between VNFC and Peso da Régua. Route 222 follows the Unesco World Heritage site, for the Douro wine country landscape.
Douro valley near Peso da Régua.

A trip to Northeast Portugal – part 2

This is the second part of a four-part instalment about my recent visit to the Vila Nova de Foz Côa (VNFC) region. Part 1 can be found here:

For the first full day in VNFC, we had booked a visit to two of the Upper Paleolithic (22,000 – 10,000 BC) rock art sites located along the Côa river valley. In the mid- 1990’s, archaeologists working in the area discovered several open – air rock art sites, and soon their importance was recognized. At the time, there were plans to build a dam in the Côa river, which would have drowned them. A big public discussion went on with arguments from both sides; at the end of it, the dam was cancelled, and a large part of the area was classified by UNESCO as World Heritage. Rightly so, if you ask me.

These sites constitute the oldest record of human engraving activity in the world, being also unique in the fact that they exist in the open, not in caves, as it was more typical of the time. 20,000 years ago, man engraved thousands of drawings depicting horses and cattle on the schist rocks of the Côa valley, a tributary of the Douro river, in northeastern Portugal. The engravings essentially portray animalistic figures, although a human representation is known. The most represented animals are horses and bovines (aurochs, which are now extinct).

Since 2018, Arte do Côa (which includes the Vale do Côa Museum and Archaeological Park) has become part of the Council of Europe’s Cultural Itinerary, where sites such as Lascaux, Chauvet, Niaux (France), Altamira (Spain) or Valcamónica are represented (Italy).

There are three sites open to the public for visiting, with guided tours departing from the dedicated museum in VNFC, and the village of Castelo Melhor. Depending on the exposure to sunlight, two of the sites have morning visits (Ribeira de Piscos and Canada do Inferno), while the third one can be visited in the afternoon (Penascosa). For more details, please see here:

https://arte-coa.pt/en/visit/

Location map of the rock art sites.

The museum in VNFC is located about 3 km away from the town, along a road that this time of the year is full of blooming almond trees. I made an early start, before sunrise, to make some photos of the landscape. It is simply a beautiful landscape, with the soft rolling mountains and steep hills descending into the Côa and Douro valleys. The terraced hills are a testimony to the perseverance of man to try and tame Nature for centuries. Today, the almond and olive trees dominate. So early in the morning, the river valleys are covered with fog, which adds mystery and beauty to the landscape. The museum’s building itself is quite interesting, as it was built to resemble a large block of schist lying in the ground.

Before sunrise.
Before sunrise.
Almond blossoms.
Almond blossoms.
Museum building.
Fog over the river Côa valley.
Fog over the river Côa valley.

The first visit was to the Ribeira de Piscos site, a small creek that is a tributary on the left bank of the Côa. As all visits, it requires driving in a 4WD along some rough dirt tracks, but our guide, Marina, handled that smoothly. One of the main attractions – besides the rock art itself – is being able to experience the surrounding landscape and the peacefulness of the area. The highlight of this visit is the engraving of a human figure, the famous “Man of Piscos”. There is also a small rock with four small horses finely engraved with an amazing level of detail, including ears and hooves. The last rock panel holds a near – life size aurochs’ depiction, that would have been visible from the opposite bank of the Côa river. Closing my eyes, it was easy to imagine being here 20,000 years ago and picture our first ancestors living in the vicinity and hunting these animals. At the time, an Ice Age was on, but today, in late February and at the bottom of the valley, it is well over 20 Celsius, quite warm for the season.

Côa river near Ribeira de Piscos.
Ribeira de Piscos rock art.

It was with some regret that we had to return to VNFC, where we had lunch. In the afternoon, we would visit the Penascosa site, meeting our guide in the village of Castelo Melhor. Again, the drive from VNFC to this small village afforded impressive views over the landscape, with the bonus of the ever-present almond trees in bloom. Castelo Melhor is an old village, with a small castle in ruins at the top of a hill. Its history goes back to pre-roman times. It’s first “foral” or charter, was granted in the year 1209 by king Afonso IX of Leon. In 1297, the village became part of Portugal.

Castelo Melhor – castle at top of the hill.
Castelo Melhor.
Castelo Melhor.
Castelo Melhor.
Castelo Melhor seen from afar.

From here, a short drive takes visitors to the Penascosa archaeological site, located on the right bank of the Côa river. This is a busy place with more visitors than in the morning, because there are more rock panels and engravings to see. Still, the silence in the landscape along the way is only perturbed by chirping birds and buzzing bees. Before descending to the site, it is mandatory to stop and admire the view, including the Erva Moira winery and farm on the opposite bank of the river. Again, this is typical Douro wine terraced landscape, but with a significant area where almond and olive trees are cultivated.

Erva Moira – Côa valley and wine country.
Côa river at Penascosa.

Arriving at the site, indeed several 4WD vehicles are parked, attesting to the popularity of the place. Still, the groups are split between the several rock panels, and everything proceeds at a leisurely pace, as befits the location. A few meters behind us, the river Côa glides smoothly, surrounded by the mountainous terrain. Pre-historic man has left us a significant number of engravings (36 engraved rocks), depicting several animals. In some instances, a sensation of movement is transmitted by having the same animal’s head in three different positions. Also unique to this site is the representation of a fish.

Penascosa rock art.
Penascosa rock art.
Penascosa rock art – fish.

At the end of this very full day, we were all left with a profound respect and admiration for our ancestors of the Côa valley. They were true artists, and they were the first to bring art from inside the darkness of the caves to the full light of day.

In terms of photos, there are no restrictions, except it is not allowed to touch the rocks, of course. I found it useful to have a small macro lens like the Fujinon 60 f/2.4 to be able to achieve some close-up details of the engravings. Plus, some macro photos of the almond blooms. Other than that, a wide angle is mandatory for the sweeping landscapes.

On part 3 of this series, we will depart VNFC and will go to Freixo de Espada a Cinta, crossing one of the most beautiful areas of Portugal. We will end the day right at the border with Spain in a fluvial beach at Congida, well inside the International Douro National Park.

A trip to Northeast Portugal – part 1

A few days ago, I returned from a trip to Northeast Portugal, particularly to the region of Vila Nova de Foz Côa (VNFC). It was a family vacation trip, that I had been planning for some time; finally, during the Carnival holyday break, we managed to go there for a few days. I have family roots in VNFC, as my grandparents were from there, and I used to visit for vacations when I was a child. The trip was split into several days:

Day 1 – drive to VNFC (around 400 km), of course with a few stops along the way, in medieval villages (Belmonte and Marialva).

Day 2 – visit the Upper Paleolithic rock art sites in the region, which since 1998 have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

Day 3 – drive from VNFC to Freixo de Espada a Cinta (FEC), visiting a few other old villages along the way, such as Castelo Melhor, Almendra, and Castelo Rodrigo.

Day 4 – drive back home, in part along route 222, that follows the Douro river and its many vineyards. A landscape that is also classified as World Heritage.

The entire trip.

This region of Portugal is extremely rich in history, with numerous cultural and landscape places to visit. It is characterized by several mountain chains that surround the Douro and Côa rivers and is close to the border with Spain. During February and March, the almond trees are in bloom, adding a beautiful character to the landscape. We were lucky that in many places, these trees were still in bloom; it is quite an experience to see the steep hills covered with the white blossoms. When the wind is strong enough, the flowers falling from the trees resemble snow.

Of course, I made a lot of photos, who wouldn’t right? I thought it better then to split this piece into several parts, following the several days, as indicated above. I will start with the first day of the trip, where the highlights were the medieval villages of Belmonte and Marialva.

Belmonte is located near Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain in continental Portugal, in the Beira Baixa province. As many other villages in the region, Belmonte´s history goes back to very early times of Portugal’s foundation as a country. In fact, the establishment of Belmonte as a village was granted by king D. Sancho in the year 1211. Today, there are many interesting sites to visit, like the castle and medieval Jewish neighbourhood. This is also the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brasil in the year 1500. Arriving there at lunch time, we had a picnic and did some sightseeing around the castle and old town.

Belmonte – castle.
Belmonte – general view.

From Belmonte we kept driving North, towards VNFC, enjoying the nice sunny weather and the mountainous landscape. A few km before VNFC, lies another medieval village, Marialva. I remember stopping here when I was a kid, and even today Marialva is an invitation to a child’s imagination about knights and castles. The whole village is enclosed inside the castle walls. Its history goes back to Roman times, after which the Goth tribes occupied the region. In the year 1063 it was conquered by D. Fernando Magno and received its present name. The first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, granted it village charter and status (“foral”) in 1179.

Location of Marialva.

This entire region near Spain has seen quite a number of independence wars, and was never very populated. The first kings, attempting to attract people to the interior and sustain the conquered lands, offered incentives to the villages – granting permission to hold markets and offering lands. It is quite telling that today, in the XXI century, the current government is still granting incentives to attract people to the interior… some things never change.

Seeing Marialva’s castle at the top of the hill, surrounded by farms, is a very nice sight. It is possible to stop the car at the entrance of the village and visit it. Of course, the mandatory thing to do is to walk around and inside the ramparts. There are not may inhabitants today, and the few that we met were old people – this is a common thing in these small interior villages. The view from the castle over the surround landscape is beautiful, encompassing many kilometres in all directions, with mountain ranges and farmlands covered in fruit trees and granitic boulders.

We found a couple of old ladies that were selling some local products, including almonds and olive oil. I remember being a kid and breaking the almond shells in my grandparent’s house. I bought a bag of almonds, which are very good. After visiting Marialva, I left with the feeling that I was exiting a time machine. The eery silence at the top of the ramparts is a stark witness to the isolation of the place.

Marialva – view from the road.
Marialva – pillory square.
Marialva – castle.
Marialva – old friends.

After a few more kilometres, we finally arrived in VNFC, where we settled for the night. Not before doing a bit of walking around, bringing back childhood memories. The historical centre includes the church, pillory, and town hall. The first charter was granted by King D. Dinis in 1299. On the northern exit of the town, by the side of the road, is wrth to stop and admire the view towards the Douro valley. We rested there until sunset, simply admiring the view. The next day was going to be very full, with the visits to some of the pre-historic rock art sites.

VNFC – looking North.
VNFC – pillory and town hall.
VNFC – church.
VNFC – almond blossoms.

On the trail with the Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR lens

I recently added the little Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR lens to my photo kit, to be used for landscapes and travel. This lens offers a lot of quality (both optical and build), and it barely gets noticed when mounted on a camera. This is great for trekking and hiking. I have just returned from a weekend on the Alentejo coast, my usual “get away” place, where I had the chance to use the lens on a couple of walking trails: one along the coast near Cabo Sardão, and the other in the interior, between Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia. For both trails, I mounted the lens on the Fujifilm XT-3 camera and was good to go.

This wide-angle lens is part of the Fujinon set of lenses that are small and have a tapered design, in many ways like lenses available for rangefinder systems. Other lenses from Fujifilm similar to this are for example the 23mm f/2, 35mm f/2, and 50mm f/2. For those that prefer to use prime lenses, these make a very nice set. Fujifilm also make a 16mm f/1.4 lens, which is very good, but it also more expensive, larger, and heavier. If you don’t need the extra stops of light, the small 16mm f/2.8 makes a lot of sense.

My first serious session with the lens was along the trail between Cabo Sardão and Zambujeira do Mar. This part of the coast is beautiful, especially in the late afternoon and during sunset, when the light turns the cliffs a golden hue. I also had my tripod, so I made a few long exposures along the way. Just before sunset, the clouds turned into wispy swirls in the sky, adding a lot of interest to the photos.

The next morning, I went with my wife to walk a 13km trail between the villages of Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia, in the interior of Odemira municipality. Last year we walked the same trail, but we liked it so much we wanted to repeat it. It is really a nice contrast between the coast and the interior regions; the latter are characterized by gently rolling hills, with several farms, where cattle and agriculture are the main economical contributors to a sustainable income. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a lot of fog, which can make for an interesting change in the landscape. I knew of a particular farm that has several cork oak trees that would be interesting subjects in the fog. I wrote about this place here:

So, when I arrived there, I stopped the car, and proceeded to make a few shots of the trees surrounded by fog. After a few minutes of walking through the dew laden grass, my trousers and boots were completely wet, but the photos turned out quite well. When processing the Raw files, I decided to convert them to black and white using the Fujifilm Acros profile. I think that the black and white enhances the moody feel of the place in this particular morning.

From this place, we then drove to Santa Clara a Velha, and started the trail. Spring is arriving, with the fields filled with green grass and flowers. Seems like it is going to be a good year for the local farmers. Near Sabóia, the landscape was dominated by the green of the land, and the blue of the sky. A few wispy white clouds and yellow flowers completed the picture, and who can resist a cliché? I took a photo using a polarizer filter to enhance the vibrancy of the scene.

At the end of the day, after completing the walk, I was quite happy with the experience of using the new addition to my photo kit. The lens delivers very nice images, with plenty of contrast, the usual Fujifilm colours, all in a small and robust package. I am sure it will accompany me in many more occasions.

Planted fields near Cabo Sardao
Cliffs near Cabo Sardao
Cliffs near Cabo Sardao
Cliffs near Cabo Sardao
Sunset near Cabo Sardao
Field in fog
Field in fog
Field in fog
Springtime near Saboia

Brejo Largo beach, SW Portugal, with the Fuji XH-1 and 16-55 f/2.8 lens

It is nice to be able to visit the same location several times, be it within 1 year, or several years. In any case, there are many opportunities to record the seasonal effects in the landscape, together with the differences imparted by varying weather conditions. During Christmas and New Year, while taking several days off from work, I had the chance to (re)visit one of my favourite places – the beach of Brejo Largo, located only a few km North of the small village of Almograve.

It is possible to reach the beach by car, via a dirt road that starts a bit inland, in Longueira. However, since many years ago, my preferred way is to simply walk there, either from Longueira, or from Almograve. The first time I went to this beach was more than 30 years ago, with my brothers. Driven by “word of mouth” from some German tourists, we ventured from Longueira (our family Summer vacation spot) towards the coast, finding our way through rural paths, pastures with cows, and coastal sand dunes.

Today, the path has changed a bit, due to alterations in the land occupation, but it still retains the same characteristics as before. Some parts of it, especially near the coast, are signposted, as they belong to well established walking trails. You can actually make a nice circular trek of about 8 km, connecting Longueira, Brejo Largo, and Almograve. I never tire of walking in this area, appreciating the local tranquility and beauty. In this late December time, some of the fields still have unpicked sweet potato, but not many; no doubt they will be picked soon, as this is an important produce for the local economy. Other fields are used as pasture for cows and sheep, or planting corn.

In several isolated pine trees, it is possible to see nests with storks – gone are the days where these birds would migrate to Africa to spend the Winter time in fairer climates. There is even an unique species of stork that nests in the sea cliffs all year round. From Longueira to Brejo Largo the distance is around 4 km, an easy walk. After about 2 km you will pass the last group of houses, and the path will continue between a small pine tree forest. The terrain will also become sandy, as it enters the coastal sand dune system.

The sound of the sea and the waves is quite clear, brought by the wind. It is a sunny but cold December afternoon, with a clear and blue sky. I am thinking that such sky conditions will not be very interesting for photography, and will have to adjust accordingly: limit the sky area in the compositions, and make the best use of the side light. I am now hoping for some mellow light filtered by the sea spray, right at sunset time. We shall see.

Photographically speaking, I only took my Fujifilm XH-1 with the Fujinon 16-55 f/2.8 zoom lens, plus the tripod and Neutral Density filters for some long exposures. All in my small backpack, plus water and snacks. I have also packed another jacket, as I will be back only after nightfall, and I know the temperature will drop significantly by then. By now, after using this system for 1 year, I am so familiar with it, that it feels like second nature. Being weather resistant also helps to provide some degree of confidence when using it in the beach. There are lighter combinations in terms of camera and lens, but I really like this one: both camera and lens are robust, and perform really well. I am almost always in Aperture Priority mode, and low ISO, on the tripod.

When I arrived at the beach, the tide was rising, with the waves reaching almost to the bottom of the cliffs. Thus, I decided not to descend into the beach, and stayed at the top of the cliffs. Looking at the light conditions from the clear day, and with only about 1 hour until sunset, I had to work quickly. Being familiar with the area, and already with several framing ideas in my mind, i quickly entered into my shooting routine. I tested a few long exposures, and saw that the sea was giving nice results; in the northern part of the beach, there is a large geological dike intruding into the schist, which makes an interesting subject. This dike runs parallel to the coast, but unfortunately it was already covered by the incoming tide in the beach proper.

I made a few more shots looking south, and then quickly walked the rest of the way, to photograph the beach in the opposite direction. I was completely alone, with the exception of a couple of walkers that were doing the trail. In the summer, the place will be busier… Keeping an eye for the sunset, I noticed the light changing very quickly, becoming softer and more “golden”. I found interesting foregrounds along the cliff edges, including the typical low lying shrubs buffeted by the wind. It was an interesting colour combination composed of the dark rocks, the greens and goldens of the vegetation, and the hazy blues of the ocean and sky.

I remained on the beach until after sunset, and then slowly made my way back to Longueira. About half way through I saw a good possibility for a few more photos, as the Moon and Venus were already bright in the blue hour sky, and the fog was starting to cover the low lying parts of the landscape. There was a horse roaming about, which I managed to get into one of my photos. I arrived home well into night time, but it was well worth it. As a final bonus, the windmill in Longueira had its Christmas decorations on, so I took a photo of it, as a final frame for this session.

Brejo Largo beach – volcanic dike
Brejo Largo beach – looking South
Brejo Largo beach – mellow light at sunset
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – wind blown
Brejo Largo beach – sunset
Brejo Largo beach – after sunset
On the way back – Moon over fields
Fields, fog, and horse
Fences and fog
Christmas decorations – Longueira

The Fujinon XF35 mm F1.4 R lens in landscape use

I often go out in small photo walks with just one lens and no particular objective in mind. Since I prefer to use prime lenses, the one I decide to take in such outings is usually a focal length that I am used to. For this occasion it was the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4, which provides a normal angle of view.

Having recently spent a weekend in the Alentejo coast near Almograve, I simply carried one camera and one lens with me. I managed to take a short walk in a very familiar area, between the beach of Almograve and the fishing harbor of Lapa de Pombas, about 2 km long along the top of the cliffs. I wanted to take advantage of the low tide at sunset, to explore the small rocky inlets and pebbly beaches that can be found along these two locations.

Almograve is a starting point for one of the legs of the Vicentina trail that links to Cabo Sardão first, and then to Zambujeira do Mar. So it is very popular with trekkers, but they do not spend much time exploring this stretch of coast, which is a pity. Within this 2 km, if one descends to the sea, it is possible to find many interesting subjects, from the more generic landscapes, to more detailed aspects of rock textures and geologic features.

Normally, a normal lens is not the first choice when shooting landscapes, coming after the typical recommendation to use a wide angle lens instead. And that is fine, as I personally find that any lens from wide angles to telephotos can be used successfully for this genre. But I also think that a normal lens can facilitate a more natural angle of view on the landscape, without the exaggeration of distance between foreground and background (wide angle), or the magnified/compressed relationship resulting from a telephoto.

Along the way, there are several narrow sandy trails that are used by fishermen to go down to the sea level. Some of these are easier to negotiate then others, so due care is required. But the effort is well worth it, because once down near the sea, the cliffs are often made up of spectacular folded rock formations. These are a testimony to the the massive tectonic forces that have shaped the Earth, in this case during the Palaeozoic Era, hundreds of million years ago.

I spent the time until sunset carefully composing interesting frames of numerous subjects, such as craggy vertical rock surfaces, veined by mineral fractures; folded rocks; isolated plants clinging to the scarce soil. During and after sunset, I concentrated on the colorful clouds and water reflections, plus some rocky silhouettes. It is surprising the richness of subjects that can be found in this small area.

I find the small Fujinon lens perfect for such photo walks, providing a highly versatile tool for experimenting around. I found myself playing with depth of field when photographing a close up of a small shrub, with the cliffs behind. It is really simple to change the aperture on the dedicated lens ring, and this ends up providing a more tactile connection with the lens. The lens has high quality optics and provides an excellent starting point during processing of the RAW files later on. I only applied normal white balance, color and contrast adjustments, and the images came out really well.

The Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (courtesy Fujifilm)
The Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (courtesy Fujifilm)

almograve_25_10_19_10_net

Rock skin
Rock skin

Fractures and veins
Fractures and veins

Folds
Folds

Folds
Folds

Rock textures
Rock textures

Folds
Folds

Folding panorama
Folding panorama – 12 vertical photos

Lone blur - f/11
Lone blur – f/11

Lone blur - f/2.8
Lone blur – f/2.8

Colorful beach
Colorful beach

Colorful sky
Colorful sky

Castles of rock
Castles of rock

After sunset
After sunset

 

Night photography in Santa Clara a Velha

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to carry out a night photography session in a reasonably dark area near the village of Santa Clara a Velha, in Odemira municipality (southern Portugal). A few months ago, when I walked a trail between the villages of Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia, I passed through a ruined windmill at the top of a hill. The place afforded a clear and nice view to the North, over the rolling landscape. At the time, I made a mental note about returning to the location during the Summer, for some start trail and night shooting.

Fast forward in time, and I went back on the night of 30th August, during New Moon. I arrived at Santa Clara a Velha around 8 pm, parked the car, and took the trail up the hill, to the windmill. I had packed a small chair, plus a light dinner and a flask of hot tea, which proved nice to have a few hours later, as the night settled in. I wanted to arrive at the location before night fall, to facilitate setting up the tripod, camera, and lens. I had with me the Fujifilm X-T2 and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens, plus a head lamp. At sunset time, I took a few nice photos of the village down below, and even happened to catch a lone biker coming up hill in his mountain bike. Other than that, it was a very peaceful night from then onwards, with only the sound of birds and crickets as company.

I proceeded to find the North and frame the ruin of the windmill in the lower right hand of the composition. My plan was to have a nice rotating star trail around the windmill, centred on Polaris. I manually focused the lens, set at f/2, and left it untouched for the remaining of the night. The plan was to use the interval timer plus T mode of the camera, to shoot about 1.5 hours total exposure time. This means 181 photos at 30 seconds each. Finally, my ISO was 1600. To me, part of the fun to do this type of photography is being out in the Nature at night and enjoy the star rich sky in a dark location. In the meantime, as the temperature was dropping, I took a few cups of hot tea.

After shooting the star trail, I also took a few series of shots of the Milky Way: 10 in total, for later stacking. I was packing up my gear when I noticed the Pleiades rising on the East, so I took another series of photos. There was some light pollution, coming from the nearby villages and a main road in the distance, but I was happy with the results. After a good session, I was confident that I had some good images to work from, so I returned to the car. Before leaving the village, I made a few night shots of the church, which was illuminated. On the way back, I also stopped at the train station of Sabóia; the place had an eerie feeling about it, very different from the daytime.

In terms of image processing, I have used Sequator to stack the photos. In the past I have used Star Stax, a good programme too, but Sequator has a couple more useful options, like the ability to separate the “land” from the “sky” part of the image.

Location
Location

Lone biker
Lone biker

Dusk over Santa Clara a Velha
Dusk over Santa Clara a Velha

Night time
Night time

Looking up
Looking up

Star trail
Star trail

Church
Church

Eerie
Eerie

Attention
Attention

Too late for passengers
Too late for passengers

A day in Constância with the Fujifilm X100F

During the summer months in Portugal, a good alternative to avoid the crowded beaches on the coast is to head out to the interior. In recent years, the popularity of fluvial beaches in the interior of the country has increased, as they offer a nice experience to those that look for the quietness of a rural setting. Far from the busy coastal beaches, it is possible to combine a visit to a historical village with a cool swim to mitigate against the summer heat.

One of such places is the village of Constância, that I have visited recently with my family, simply to spend a nice and quiet day surrounded by nature. This village is in the Central area of Portugal, and sits atop a small peninsula, nested between the rivers Zêzere and Tejo. Constância is rich in historical and cultural heritage – the first Iberian inhabitants have settled here, followed by Romans, Visigoths and Arabs. One of the greatest Portuguese poets, Luís de Camões, author of the Lusiadas, has lived here between 1547 and 1550. In more recent times, the metal bridge over the Zêzere was designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Parisian fame.

The fluvial beach is a nice spot to spend the day, swimming in the clear and fresh waters of the river or resting in its forested green margins. Before leaving, we decided to stroll around the village in the late afternoon. The village has many points of interest, from its pelourinho to several medieval churches and chapels. Consequently, there are many interesting details to notice and photograph, wandering around the narrow streets. It is well worth it to walk up the village until the top of the hill, from where a broad view of the Tejo river opens to the east.

For this day trip I only carried the small Fujifilm X100F camera, the perfect tool for such occasions. It was entirely suitable to take a few obligatory family snaps, plus the required documentary shots. I also quite like the Acros B&W film simulation, which I have applied during RAW conversion. I think it suited the historical feel of the place nicely.

River Zêzere
River Zêzere

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância - church
Constância – church

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Location map
Location map