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.

Down by the river

As I wrote in my previous post, in early June I have spent a few vacation days in my house in southwest Alentejo coastal region. I took the opportunity to visit several places and make dedicated photo sessions. This essay is about a pre-dawn visit to Vila Nova de Milfontes, where I wanted to photograph along the river Mira southern bank during the low tide.

After arriving, as I started walking along the beach, I noticed that the Moon was providing some light on the still dark landscape. I set up my tripod and started making some photos towards the East, where the pre-dawn light was slowly increasing. Because of the low tide, the wet sand was exposed, showing the small water rivulets and textures. I have also tried some longer exposures using a neutral density filter.

Moonrise.
Pre – dawn tranquility.
Almost rising.
The tide.
Pier.
River bank.

Looking West, towards the sea, there were also interesting subjects, such as the patterns in the sand and the boat pier. The sand was very wet and soft, so I had to push the tripod legs into it, and wait a little bit for the tripod to become stable before shooting.

Crossing point.
Low tide.
First light.

As the sun was cresting the hills in the East, I wanted to photograph the Furnas beach, so I walked briskly to reach the sea. The tidal small sand dunes were exposed and illuminated by the first rays of sunshine, providing an interesting foreground.

Furnas beach.
Sand waves.
On the beach.

After the full sunrise, the light became less interesting, but a light haze covered the river. As I walked back to the car park, I made a few photos of this hazy atmosphere. It was quite nice to visit the river, enjoying its peacefulness. As for photo gear, most of the photos were made with the Fujifilm X-E4 camera and Fujinon 14mm f/1.4 lens.

Sunset at Guincho, Cascais

This short essay follows on the footsteps of previous ones, describing another “quick photo outing near home during confinement“. This time, after finishing my working day, I went to Guincho beach, a few kilometres after the town of Cascais. This beach lies inside one of the most touristic areas in the Lisbon region, because it is located between Cascais and Sintra.

After leaving Cascais, the road stretches along a wind-beaten coastline, where the strong ocean surf keeps eroding the limestone rocks. There are several dune fields, covered by low lying vegetation that clings to the ground. Because of the constant wind and strong waves, Guincho is very popular with surfers. Normal beach going people should beware the dangerous currents and strong sea.

This character is partly due to the beach being open to the westerly winds, but also to the presence of the serra de Sintra, a large geologic igneous massif that dominates the landscape to the North. This mountain creates a barrier to the humid air coming in from the Atlantic, generating an almost perennial cloud cover along the coast of the region. In clear days, from the beach, it is possible to see the Cabo da Roca lighthouse (the westernmost point of continental Europe) and the Pena palace.

Several years had passed since my last time visiting the beach, so it was nice to go back. After parking the car, I walked down to the beach to find a good spot and proceeded to make several photos. As the sunset approached, the light was changing very fast; for the last few photos, the light level was low enough to allow exposure times around 1 second, which smoothed the water a little. My photo kit for this little trip was quite simple, consisting only of the Fujifilm X-Pro3 camera, Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens, and a small tripod. Once again, I felt thankful to be able to visit such beautiful places not very far from where I live, which helps to endure this pandemic crisis.

Stay safe everyone.

Crismina beach, just before Guincho.
Guincho and serra de Sintra.
Sunset.
Sea and clouds.
Smoother.

2020 – a year in images

As I remember 2020, it is impossible to avoid Covid – 19. One year ago, I was busy planning a family trip to the north of Portugal, specifically to the village of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, where my grandparents (on my father side) lived the better part of their lives. I had not been there for 20 years, and I wanted to go back; I have fond memories of childhood vacations spent there. In those times, just to get there it would take almost one day.

It was a wonderful trip, as we visited the region for 4 days, including guided visits to the Paleolithic Rock Art World Heritage sites; admiring the vistas along the rivers Côa and Douro, where decades of landscaping have resulted in another type of heritage, in the form of terraced vineyards. Standing on the top of a cliff, it is possible to admire the views of the river valleys, with the hills covered in vineyards, olive trees, and almond trees. In late February, the almond trees are in bloom, adding a feel of magic to the landscape.

Dawn over the river Côa.
Almond blossoms.
Paleolithic rock art, Penascosa site.

Then in early March the first cases of Covid were detected in Portugal, and the rest is history, as they say. During the first lockdown period between March and May, I managed to photograph near my place, in Carcavelos, where we have a nice beach. It was good to still be able to go out during sunrise and do some photography.

Pool reflection, Carcavelos at sunrise.

Even with all the strange conditions, there was a sense of (some) normalcy during late Spring and Summer. Not much time for travel or vacations, of course, but I can always find a little time for photography in southwest Portugal. It was interesting, after many weeks of restrictions, to be able to return to this area I know so well. I went back to some of my favorite places, like Almograve, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Odemira and Cabo Sardão, and came away with a refreshed spirit.

Geologic record, near Cabo Sardao lighthouse.
Milfontes moon set.

In early October, the second (and then) third waves of the Covid pandemic were still far away, so it was possible to walk some trails of the Vicentina route in the Odemira municipality. These are always great opportunities to get in contact with Nature and traditional economic activities in the interior of the region.

Green and blue.
Along the road.

Whenever it was possible, I would “escape” to my house in Longueira for the weekend, accommodating a little bit of time for photography.

Autumn sunset in Milfontes.
Cliffs at sunset.
Dawn in Almograve.

The year finished more or less like it had started, with a short visit to a cultural heritage site, this time in the land of the Templars in central Portugal – Tomar and Dornes.

Dornes.

Given the very difficult year that 2020 was, and the challenges it brought, I am glad for all the photos I was able to make, and I can only hope that things will improve for everybody.

Stay safe and healthy.

Signs of hope.

First photos in 2021

As we enter the new year, it is clear that the Covid – 19 crisis is here to stay. Christmas and the New Year have come and gone, and I spent some days off of work at home, with the family. After that I decided to go to Longueira on the second weekend of January. I have a small house in that nice little village on the southwest Alentejo coast; it has been a sort of refuge on these dire times.

As always, I had my photo backpack ready, plus plans to visit nearby beaches and also walk an interior trail. It happened that on a very cold afternoon I went to one of my favourite local beaches, Brejo Largo. Looking at my records, last time I went there was at the end of 2019, more than one year ago.

So it felt appropriate to return and make some photos around sunset time. As I mentioned above, the weather was very cold for Portugal (still is today), with cloudy skies and a stiff northerly wind.

The small village of Longueira.

Even though it is possible to reach the beach using a four – wheel drive, I prefer to walk the 4 km between Longueira and Brejo Largo. It is a wonderful walk, crossing firstly cultivated and pasture fields, and secondly the coastal sand dunes covered with twisted pine trees and shrubs. Approaching the coast, one hears the sea before seeing it, as the the sound of the surf gets carried by the wind. After reaching the cliffs, there are two ways to go down, via rough steps excavated on the soft argillaceous rock: one set of steps on the northern end of the beach, and another one more or less in the middle. I chose to descend using the former, because it is also a nice viewpoint to start making some photos.

Arriving at Brejo Largo beach.

For this short photo session, I decided to keep things simple, using only one 23mm lens for my Fujifilm camera, complemented by the tripod and Lee Big Stopper filter. I am a big fan of long exposures, especially with such nice waves and clouds. As a bonus, the tide was low, so there were plenty of available rocks to use as interesting foreground subjects. The low tide exposes some interesting geologic features, such as long volcanic dykes that run parallel to the coast. Their lighter colour makes an interesting contrast with the predominant black schist.

Volcanic dyke.
Another volcanic intrusion.

I simply walked along the beach photographing the rocks, pools, and the beautiful scenery.

Rocks, sea and sky.
Intertidal.
Winter time on the beach.
Tidal pools.

When sunset arrived, the colours were incredible, with red and orange streaks permeating the clouds. This light only lasts for a few minutes, so I was very busy just shooting. The beach has a very flat and nearly horizontal profile, which results in good reflections from the sunset colours on the thin film of water. I walked back home after dark and bracing against the cold, but it was well worth it.

Near sunset time, colours become more alive.
Low tide reflections.
Fiery colours.
Peak colour time.
Beach at sunset.
Nature’s display.
Colours start to fade.
Almost night time.

Along the coast near Cabo Sardão, southwest Portugal

In the first week of December we had a few bank holidays in Portugal, so I drove south to spend some days in Longueira, on the Alentejo coast. During the weekend, depression Dora hit the country, with heavy rain and strong winds. Even under such conditions, there is always the chance to go out and take some photos. That is what I did during a Saturday afternoon, near the Cabo Sardão area.

From my house it is only a short drive to the lighthouse of Cabo Sardão. The weather was changing quickly, with heavy showers alternating with sun spells. I know the area quite well, so I decided I would walk along the coastal trail for a round trip of about 8 km, or a couple of hours. I simply grabbed the Fujifilm X100V and the tripod, plus a raincoat of course.

The coastal trail that passes through Cabo Sardão is part of the Rota Vicentina. From this point, it is about 20 km until the next village to the south, Zambujeira do Mar. The coastal region here is characterized by short vegetation and rocky Palaeozoic cliffs with many tectonic folds. A true natural haven, part of a protected area. Now and then the clouds would break, and a golden light would illuminate the cliffs and the sea. It was simply a question of sitting down and enjoying the quiet surroundings, with the land being buffeted by strong winds and crashing waves.

Rainbow panorama assembled from 3 photos.
During a break in storm Dora.
Cliffs at sunset. This light lasted for a few seconds only.
Saddle and arch.

It was a wonderful walk, graced with great but elusive light.

Pure light.

Some black and white photos

Black and white photography is as old as photography itself. With the advent of digital photography, it is increasingly easy to produce black and white images using various types of software. In my opinion what makes a good black and white photograph still has to do with light and subject. Sometimes colour can be a distraction, so by eliminating it, we can focus the attention on textural details, shapes, moods, and feelings.

On one of my recent trails in the Rota Vicentina of southwest Portugal, I made a series of photos of the rural landscape. You can read about it here:

The weather was very nice, with plenty of sunshine and white clouds. Some of the cork oak trees are very old in this region, and they make for interesting shapes against the sky and surrounding landscape. Some of the houses were also interesting, with the typical strong blue and white colours of the Alentejo province. In several photos, I used a polarizer to enhance the richness of the colours even more.

Even though I was quite happy with the colour photos I made on that trip, I thought that some of them might also work in black and white. So, when working on the Raw files, I tried several types of conversions. There are many ways to convert from colour to black and white, but I wanted to keep things simple. In this case, I used the Fujifilm presets inside Lightroom, deciding on either the Acros or Monochrome presets, with a touch of red filter to darken the sky and enhance contrast.

Following are some photographs that I converted and am happy with. Next time you are out photographing, keep an eye for interesting subjects that might be suitable for good black and white images.

Skeleton.
On the road.
Primary school, Monte da Estrada village.
Earth and sky.
Door and cloud.