Between Moons in the southwest

Every landscape photographer knows that one of the best times to include the Moon in landscape photos is one day before the full Moon. On that day, the Moon rises around the same time as the Sun sets; this results in a nice light balance during golden to blue hour transition, because as our satellite rises, the landscape is still illuminated by the fading light of the sunset. As a bonus, the following morning the Moon will set around sunrise time, again providing an excellent opportunity for a good light balance. On the day of the actual full Moon, it rises after sunset, which means the landscape will be darker.

During my recent vacation time in the southwest coast of Alentejo, Portugal, I had the opportunity to photograph during the full Moon, so I made plans to choose a nice setting for such. Being familiar with the area, I chose to photograph the Moon rise in Odemira, and the Moon set in Milfontes. In Odemira I set up near the local windmill, which in itself is an interesting subject. By being located in an elevated area, I would see the Moon rising over the surrounding hills. Then, in the ensuing morning I would go to Milfontes to photograph the Moon setting over the river Mira estuary. I have already shared some photos taken during such sessions in my previous essay.

All the best plans can be laid to waste if weather does not cooperate. Fortunately, I was lucky, as the weather cooperated. I drove to Odemira about one hour before sunset, to take some photos of this nice village. The winding road twists and turns as it descends towards the Mira valley, with some good view points along the way.

Odemira windmill
Odemira windmill

I spent several minutes photographing the windmill and the village during the sunset. It is a nice spot that affords a 360 degree view, from the village proper to the rising heights towards the South, that culminate in the Monchique mountain at 900m of altitude.

Odemira dusk
Odemira windmill – the wind blows through the cones
Looking South, with the Monchique mountain in the background

Once I saw the Moon rising over the hills in the East, I started photographing it, with the camera firmly mounted on the tripod. I was glad to have a telephoto zoom with me, to provide compositional flexibility from my fixed location. Light levels go down very quickly, so keeping an eye on the exposure histogram is very important. Also relevant is to avoid exposure times that would blur the Moon, which actually moves quickly in the viewfinder!

Moon rise – first peak
Moon rise

During this period, I kept an eye on what was happening behind me, as dusk was coming over the village. I made some interesting photos of the windmill and the day-to-night transition.

Transition
Moon rise

After this good photo session, I called it a day and drove back home for dinner. Next step: wake up before sunrise to photograph the Moon setting in Milfontes. The following morning the coastal area was partially covered in fog. I wanted to photograph from the bridge over the river, as it provides an excellent view of the estuary and the village. Fortunately, the area over the river was not completely covered in fog, and the setting Moon was visible. I set up my camera on the tripod in record time, and started to shoot.

Milfontes Moon set
Milfontes Moon set
Milfontes Moon set

Towards the East, the river was still under the foggy shade of the mountains, enhancing the quietness of the place at this early hour.

Dawn coming
Dawn over the river

After such a good outing, I returned home for a well deserved breakfast. No matter how many times I photograph in this region, I never get tired of it. There is always something new, due to the changing light and the time of the year. Following the Moon in about a 12 hour period was a great way of showing the character of this singular region, from the interior to the coast.

Rural landscapes in the summer, plus comet Neowise

Summer in the southwest Alentejo natural park is usually a very busy season, with a large number of people choosing the area for vacation. The main attraction are the many pristine beaches that exist along the coastline and that allow a well deserved rest in a natural and quiet setting. This bit of coastline is probably one of the last “wild” ones in Europe.

I spent a short vacation in the region last week, and noticed that this year the number of visitors had dropped considerably. No doubt the result of the ongoing pandemic crisis. The impact on the local economy will be significant, as in many parts of the World where tourism is a large part of the local income.

For this trip I had no definite plans concerning particular photographic endeavours. Weather permitting, I was hoping to spot comet Neowise after sunset, and go out to photograph the rural fields dotted with the typical hay bales. One of the things I like best about this area is the sea versus land dicotomy that is always present: only a couple of kilometres inland from the coast, the landscape is dominated by rolling hills and rural farmland. If it weren’t for the sea breeze, one might be well within the interior of the country. A true surf ´turf of geographic and climatic nature.

I had previously spotted a few places with abundant hay bales, but I wanted to find a location where they would be complemented by the native cork oak tree, to add a bit more of interest and context to my photos. I found such a place near the island of Pessegueiro, between Milfontes and Porto Covo. After parking the car, I started to walk around looking for potential frames in my mind. I had about 1 hour before sunset, so I was in no rush to start shooting. I normally take my time before setting up the tripod, just familiarizing myself with the surroundings and the light.

Pessegueiro island. There are Roman archaelogical remains (fishing station), plus a ruined late XVI century fort.
Endless.

The light had a nice golden quality to it, thanks to the approaching sunset; shadows from the bales were long, complemented by some soft wispy clouds. For some photos I used a polarizer filter to enhance the sky and define the clouds a bit more. I kept moving around and trying different angles, to include the farm houses, the trees, the distant hills and some wind turbines.

Bale and cork oak tree.
Farmland.
Paired.

Besides using a wide angle lens for greater depth and context, I also used a telephoto lens to isolate the subjects a bit more. Like in the previous photo, and the following ones.

Leaning.
Power lines.
Rural energy.
Sunset.
Sunset.

What about the comet? I went to a dark area after dinner, at around 10.30 pm. I knew it would be visible to the northwest, just below the Big Dipper. It was actually easy to find with the naked eye, and it was a great experience seeing it with binoculars. I set up the camera on the tripod and took a few shots, testing the shutter speed to avoid star trailing. There was some atmospheric haze (the day had been very hot) that affected the visibility, as the comet is not very high above the horizon. But overall I am happy with the results, and above all I felt privileged for being able to witness such a spectacular visitor.

Neowise.
Neowise.

I was glad I went out for the comet that night, because for the next 2 days the entire coast was covered in fog!

The white storks of the Vicentina coast

As mentioned in my previous article, today I will write about a unique species of white storks in Portugal’s southwest Alentejo and Vicentina coast. Between Vila Nova de Milfontes and Sagres, this beautiful and still wild coastal region hides another interesting “secret”: it is home to only species of white storks in the world that nest in the coastal cliffs.

Since the 1980’s biologists have been studying and monitoring these colonies of birds. Today, there are over 40 occupied nests. One of the best locations to observe them is in the cliffs near Cabo Sardão. From the car park beside the lighthouse building, it is only a short walk to the edge of the cliffs. There is one nest right in front of the lighhouse´s direction, and another one just a bit towards the south.

Scientists have concluded that most of the couples are still migratory, returning at the end of the Winter. Often the nests are very damaged, and the birds spend a lot of time repairing them. They have to do so in preparation for the birthing of the younger ones in the spring and Summer. Observing these unique birds (plus many other species, of course, like the rare coastal eagles) is a great experience, particularly for the beautiful surrounding seascape.

The best times to observe the storks are during the early morning and late afternoon, when there is more activity relatedto finding food and bringing it to the young ones in the nests. I prefer observing them in the late afternoon, close to sunset, when the light has a magical golden quality. The photos below were taken during a couple of recent visits. A tripod and a telephoto zoom are recommended, for some more close-up compositions and more stability of the gear in windy days.

Sheer drop
White stork nest
White stork nest
White stork nest
White stork nest
White stork nest – caring for the young ones
White stork nest – lift off

For sure I will return to observe these unique birds. Like them, it would be great to be able to fly and soar above these seascapes.

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.

Post confinement

Under the current health crisis, many governments have implemented states of emergency, where confining people to their houses to break the infection chain was required. In Portugal that state of emergency lasted for 6 weeks, from mid-March to end of April. Thanks to this, we had success in curtailing the spreading of the infection and are since 4th of May slowly reopening some economic activities.

In early March, just before the lockdown was put in place, I managed to make a short trip to my house in the southwest coast, in Longueira. I wrote about it in this article:

After 2 months, and with the lifting of restrictions, I was able to return with my wife to Longueira for a weekend. The local municipality, Odemira, has only 5 reported cases as I write this. This is not strange, because Odemira is the largest municipality in area, and the one with the lowest population density. This is a trait common to the entire province of Alentejo, where social distancing is already the norm, due to the large distances between villages.

It was good to go back and travel a bit in the area; all the restaurants and small cafes are still close (they will reopen 0n May 18th), and there was hardly anyone on the streets.  But at least it was possible to enjoy this “new freedom” while admiring the views in Milfontes, Almograve, and Cabo Sardão, for example. After being at home for 2 months, it was great to be out in one of my favorite places.

Of course, I took my photo backpack with me, ready to go on a photo walk, should the opportunity present itself. That was the case one afternoon, where I spent a few hours near Cabo Sardão. I have photographed this area so many times, it has become a challenge to obtain different photographs. This afternoon, the weather was quite unstable, with many showers and the occasional sunshine spell. I parked the car at the end of a dirt track, near the cliffs, and just admired the view and the feel of the place. I was thankful for my family being healthy and felt blessed for being able to be back here, enjoying the salty wind in my face and the crashing of the waves below. I could not think of a better place to deconfine.

Wind patterns in sand
Over the cliffs
Sea stacks

After some minutes of simply “being there”, I started walking along the coastal trail, paying close attention to potential photographic subjects and elements. We are in the middle of Spring now, so there are many flowers around, some of them quite small, others clinging to the rock fissures, all buffeted by the strong winds. These winds keep shaping the consolidated and rusty colored sand dunes into small canyons and plateaus, where rounded pebbles have found their resting place. The surrounding landscape seems to strike a balance between the erosional forces of the sea, wind and rain, and the resilience of the rock cliffs.

Natural flow
Resilience
Erosion

In my pursuit of finding new angles for familiar subjects, I often ended up lying flat on the ground photographing small flowers, sometimes isolated, other times as foregrounds for the receding cliffs and sea. I have also tried several long exposures, with the idea of conveying this feeling of perpetual change, showing the relationship between the natural elements of water, wind, and rock formations. During the afternoon there were a few showers, but even then, they helped to keep the atmosphere clear and bright. I kept shooting until sunset time, simply enjoying being out in such beautiful surroundings. Hopefully, this health crisis will pass sooner than later, and we will emerge from it stronger and better human beings.

On the edge
Spring in the dunes
Spring in the dunes
Small flower
Small flower
Clinging
Small flower
Tidal flow
Dune flowers
Cabo Sardao lighthouse

Close to home

Here in Portugal, as in many other countries, we are under a “state of emergency” to combat the pandemic. This means that all non essential personnel was sent home. Some manage to keep working from home, and all schooling is also home based. People can only go out for specific reasons: work, groceries, pharmacy, and local walks. Always keeping a safe distance and avoiding gatherings. So far, after 1 month, the results are encouraging.

Of course, one of the things that I miss is going out and making photos, so I thought about planning a few outings within a reasonable walking distance of my house. I live very close to the beach in Carcavelos, one of the most popular ones on the coast near Lisbon. It is a place I regularly visit to photograph all year round, especially at sunrise. But, as part of the current measures, all beaches and walkways have been closed. My first planned outing was to Carcavelos beach, but this time I would have to choose a different viewpoint; I normally would go to the beach proper at low tide to make photos, which was impossible now. The path that exists along the beach front is also closed.

I then decided to try and scout a few places and viewpoints on the sea side of the road, especially over the rocky outcrops that exist along the coastline. These are quite safe to walk on, and before sunrise, I was sure of not finding anyone else, so all was fine. With this plan in mind, I left the house about 1 hour before sunrise, with my photo backpack and small tripod.

Weather was good, with a few clouds and the Moon still high. My first stop was near a cross that exists by the side of the road, on a dangerous curve of the road, where many accidents used to happen in the past. Today, a traffic radar and lights moderate driver’s speed. I managed to make a photo of the cross with the Moon in the background, under the predawn light. I actually made a few more photos around this location, some long exposures of the sea and waves hitting the shore. Some of the rocks resembled ramparts and castles in my imagination.

Cross and Moon
Water and rocks
Castle rocks and Moon

After getting some interesting photos in this spot, I walked back towards the beach. I decided to try a few shots and compositions from various places, including the nearby rocks descending into the sea, the fort in the distance, and the interesting sky. It was around 7 am by then, and even this early, normally Carcavelos is already busy with surfers and joggers (I usually jog in the beach). Since the beach is closed, there was an eerie feeling over the area. Below are some of the photos that have resulted from this session. As you can see, the light was changing fast, and I had to work quickly. The colours were transitioning between the blues typical of pre-sunrise, to the warmer pinks and yellows of sunrise.

Slow morning
Receeding tide – I like the black and white version
Pool reflection
Fort

In the coming weeks, my idea is to continue to explore these beaches around my house, from a less conventional perspective. Always abiding to the safety measures, of course. As an hobbyist landscape photographer, I am used to be out of the house when most people are sleeping, so from this angle, things have not changed (much).

Keep safe everybody.

Into 2020 – fireworks in Vila Nova de Milfontes

Finding myself on vacation in Longueira, 10 km south of Milfontes, I managed to convince my wife to enter 2020 on the beach, while admiring the fireworks display planned for midnight. This was a challenge, because it meant leaving the warm house and venturing into a cold night. In the end, it payed off with a nice show over the river Mira estuary.

I wanted to make some photos, of course, so I packed my camera and lens (Fujifilm XH-1 and 16-55 f/2.8 lens), plus the tripod. I had a fully charged battery in the camera, and another one in my pocket, just in case. I was going to use longer than usual exposure times, between 2 seconds and 20 seconds, experimenting a bit. Photographing fireworks is always a trial and error exercise; registering one or more bursts can result in interesting results.

We chose to go to the south side of the river, opposite the fireworks launching area. This side of the river would be less crowded, and we would be able to see some good reflections on the water. After arriving, I set up the gear on the tripod, and did a few test shots; the view towards Milfontes is actually quite nice from this river bank: the old castle and houses were illuminated, with the light reflected on the water.

River reflections

At midnight, on time, the fireworks started, and lasted for 10 minutes. That kept me busy changing exposure times and focal lengths, trying to register different bursts and colours. I managed to do so, and was happy with the results I got.

Fireworks start
Two bursts
Single burst
Colours
The end

I wish everybody a Happy 2020.

Seasons come and go

Going back to the same place as the seasons change can be rewarding and an interesting experience. In the last few years I have driven across this farmhouse many times, normally on my way to Santa Clara a Velha damn, near Odemira, in the Alentejo province of Portugal. The land inside this farm is cultivated for cattle feed and has some excellent examples of the typical cork oak tree dotting the landscape.

There are several interesting compositions and framings, but the one that has attracted me the most in this place is placing a tree in the foreground, and the house at the top of the hill in the background. The two can then be connected visually by the farmland in the middle, which makes for a natural link between them.

I have now photographed this place in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. This small project has happened subconsciously, and only recently have I realized that I had collected a seasonal portfolio of this location. What changes the most in the land, whilst the tree and the house remain as more fixed elements in the landscape. During Springtime, the land is lush with greenery and flowers, which wane and dry out in golden hues come the Summertime. During Autumn and Winter, the fields are cultivated again, thus initiating a new cycle.

I like how these changes mark the passage of time, while the old trees are almost like guardians of the land, witnessing the endless seasonal cycle of life. Seasons come and go, but some things never change, which is comforting. So, give it a try, and run your own small project like this one, documenting the seasonality of a landscape or other theme that attracts you. Results and images are bound to be interesting and rewarding.

Spring 2019
Spring 2019

Summer 2017
Summer 2017

Autumn 2019
Autumn 2019

 

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

 

Returning to familiar places – a challenge

What to do on a Sunday afternoon on a rainy day? Get out of the house and take a photo walk – even if you end up in a place you have visited many times before! This is what I did recently during a weekend in my quiet little house in Longueira, Alentejo coast. After lunch and some lazying around with my cat Jonas, I decided to pick up my photo backpack and head out to the coast. The weather was not very inviting, but I am always optimistic and hoped for some respite and clearings close to sunset.

I often head out without any pre-determined goal, ending up being rewarded with some nice surprises and good photos. So why not this time too? I decided to make it simple and only packed my 2 cameras (Fujifilm X-T2 and X-H1) and 2 lenses (16 f/1.4 and 90 f/2) – this is normally my go to kit for landscapes and exploring around. The wide angle suits the way I “see” landscapes, and the telephoto allows me to isolate details in the cliffs and some nature close-ups. Added a small tripod and a few filters for long exposures, and I was all set.

I parked the car at the small fishing harbour of Lapa de Pombas, and started my walk from the sign post indicating the Vicentina Trail, towards the South. Regardless of how many times I am in this area,  I always enjoy being close to the sand dunes, the sea, the cliffs, in summary, unspoiled Nature. I snap a few shots here and there, looking for new angles in familiar subjects. As we are in mid-October, the days are already noticeable shorter, with sunset around 7 pm. The cloud cover starts to dissipate, and some clearings start to appear. This allows me to take a few shots of the low angle light hitting the cliffs and the fossilized sand dunes, with their erosional patterns and textures.

In one of the locations, the sand dunes are covered by  craggier rock formations that have been eroded into sharp corners, so it is necessary to pay attention while walking. The rustier colour of the land perfectly complements the blue azure of the sea and the white foamy waves. Several sea gulls float around carried by the soft breeze.

The last time I walked this part of the trail was earlier this year, in January (https://blog.paulobizarro.com/?p=693). At the time, I wanted to make some photos for my May exhibit (https://blog.paulobizarro.com/?p=752), notably a photo from a rock arch that is located along the way. Then, I only had a 23mm wide angle lens, and even though the photo turned out fine, I wanted to come back and use a wider angle. The best place to frame the arch is right at the edge of the cliff, so the room to maneuver is not much. Of course a zoom lens would have worked too, but I prefer primes.

Keeping an eye on the light conditions, I noticed the Sun would probably come out soon, as it was descending towards a narrow clearing between the clouds – I literally scrambled down the sand covered rocks of the cliff, set up the tripod and proceeded to make several shots, both with and without a long exposure setting. I had to work quickly, because the Sun was indeed playing hide and seek with the cloud cover. For a couple of minutes, it burst through, illuminating the cliffs and sea, which was perfect. I was confident I had managed to get some interesting photos.

As a bonus, as I was climbing back to return to the trail, I noticed a small snake basking in the sunshine. I approached carefully and used my 90 mm lens to make some close ups; later on I found out that it belongs to the Rhinechis scalaris species, which is common in Portugal.

On the way back to the car, I simply enjoyed the walk along the trail, making a few more photos of the sunset and the coast line. This is simply a magical place, and after the Summer bustle, even better to visit and enjoy.

Small fishing harbour - Lapa de Pombas
Small fishing harbour – Lapa de Pombas

Small fishing harbour - Lapa de Pombas
Small fishing harbour – Lapa de Pombas

On the Vicentina trail
On the Vicentina trail

Rusty dunes
Rusty dunes

Small fig trees in the cliffs
Small fig trees in the cliffs

Along the trail
Along the trail

Oceanside
Oceanside

Eroded dunes
Eroded dunes

The Arch
The Arch

The Arch
The Arch

Cabo Sardão far away
Cabo Sardão far away

Small cove
Small cove

Small snake
Small snake