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.

Sunset walk with the Fujifilm X100V

I recently wrote about the latest iteration of the X100 series of cameras in the article below.

I have been using the camera whenever the opportunity arises, in short walks, or even on long trails. One of these recent short walks in the beach near my house, Carcavelos. Since June I have been working under a mixed regime, one week in the office, one week at home. Thanks SARS-COV-2… anyway, one of these afternoons, after work, I went for a sunset stroll on the beach. The little Fuji X100V is a perfect companion for such occasions, so I took it along.

The weather forecast included some rain showers and clouds, courtesy of storm Alex, so things were looking promising in terms of potential photographic interest. Looking through the window, there were indeed some clouds, but also occasional sunshine. Upon arriving at the beach, the weather was great, with golden light that with time turned to the typical post-sunset blue hour. I simply walked along the surf, making some photos here and there.

Golden beach.
The loner.
Sand, sea, and sky.

There were several surf schools operating at the time, and they always signal their position with flags. One of the attractions of the X100V is the fast f/2.0 lens, so I tried a close shot of one flag with the lens wide open, so the background would melt away. It’s nice to have these options in a small camera. This camera is small but quite responsive, so this type of unplanned photography on the go is easy to do. The fact that the X100V looks like some old film camera also helps in being unobstrusive when among people.

Surf school.

I stayed in the beach until after sunset, as the sky started to show magnificent colours. I did not have a tripod with me, so I had to raise the ISO more than I am used to, but even so, the quality of the RAW files was quite good. At the end of the day, it was an enjoyable and relaxing walk, and I was able to make some interesting photos with this nice Fujifilm camera.

Gone for the day.
Trio.

Next time I will write about my experience with it when hiking on a trail along the Vicentina route in southwest Portugal.

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!