The Bright Side of the Moon

This is a short piece about a photo walk I did this morning, near my house in Carcavelos. Since it was the day before being full, the moon would set a few minutes before sunrise. This is always a good opportunity to photograph the moon as part of the landscape, with some early natural light in the sky. It permits a better balance between the moon’s brightness and the rest of the composition. Furthermore, the moon is closer to Earth than normal, by about 27,000 km, which makes it a little bit brighter than normal – a so-called “super moon”. In practice, and with the naked eye, the difference is barely noticeable, so forget the social media hype; it is worth it to go out and photograph even when the moon is not “super”. Oh, and “blue moons” are more common than people think.

I left the house about 1 hour before sunrise, with the plan to head for the coast, near the beach of Carcavelos. My plan was to photograph our satellite as it descended towards the ocean in the horizon. I was hoping for clear skies, and I was happy to see that there were only a few wispy clouds; also, the usual fog bank coming from the Serra de Sintra was further away than normal, which was good news.

For these photos, I used the Fujifilm X-T4 camera, Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 lens (I wanted a short telephoto lens) and tripod. During the first few shots, the sky was still dark, creating a large brightness contrast with the moon; even with a negative exposure compensation of 5 stops, it was a challenge to try and preserve some detail on the moon. Still, I made some interesting photos, by including passing cars.

By the side of the road.

As the eastern horizon started to slowly brighten, so the light began to change very quickly, entering the blue hour period.

Blue hour.

Even though I was paying attention to the moon, on my back the light was becoming increasingly golden, and the clouds were reflecting this light, with pink and orange colours. I was in the middle of the transition between night and day.

Sunrise panorama.

Turning my camera back to the west, I framed the moon between some rocks, adding interest and context to the composition. The moon and the surrounding clouds were now also reflecting this golden light. I was feeling lucky, because the clouds were adding interest in the sky, but they were not obscuring the moon.

On the rocks.

As I said, it was fortunate that the fog bank was really far away, so I could follow the moon almost until it disappeared in the distant horizon. Once the moon was gone, I packed up and went back home for a well deserved breakfast. I always enjoy these photo walks very much.

Approaching the horizon.
Soft touch.

Note – the title of this article is my homage, with an obvious twist, to one of my favourite albums, that turns 50 this year.

Along the coast near Cabo Sardão, SW Alentejo, Portugal

It is often said that photographing regularly in the same place, or area, can result in boring and repetitive photos. For sure it has happened to me several times, with the resulting frustration. Such is the case of the SW Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, where I have been photographing regularly for 30 years. One of my favorite locations is around Cabo Sardão, near the village of Cavaleiro; whenever I can I go there, even if it is only to walk and admire the landscape. The dramatic interaction between the tall rocky cliffs and the constant pummeling of the waves below, give rise to a wonderful natural show.

Adding to the beauty of the area is another factor, which is its geology, composed of folded and compressed strata that is 300 million years old. It is this geology that has controlled the formation of the landscape; in the numerous secluded beaches and small bays, it is possible to see the results of the unimaginable tectonic forces that have shaped the region. Today, even a non-geologist is amazed by the tightly folded layers of different colors that outcrop along the littoral. And all these aspects can be seen in a small area like the one indicated in the map below.

Map of the area between Cavaleiro and Cabo Sardão, showing locations A and B.

When I go to this area, I usually end up near location A, in the top of the cliff. From here, it is possible to look south and see the tall scarps jutting into the ocean. You can also walk along the sandy path to the north, where there are beaches of difficult access. It is possible to go down into them, especially during low tide, when they are more exposed; but be prepared to negotiate some tricky passages and hang on to a few ropes that have been fixed by the local fishermen.

Thus, try to plan your visit during the golden hour and low tide, for the best conditions. I was lucky to get some nice clouds in the sky for added interest. During my visit, I carried two cameras and two lenses, a wide-angle and a short telephoto. And the obligatory tripod and 10-stop neutral density filter for some nice long exposures.

Secluded beach. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens. Long exposure.
Panorama of 10 images. Fujifilm X-T4 and 56mm f/1.2 lens.
Orange consolidated sands. Fujifilm X-T4 and 56mm f/1.2 lens.
On the rocks at sunset. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.
The van. The place is popular with campers. Fujifilm X-T4 and 56mm f/1.2 lens.

The next two photos show location B, where I decided to go the following day, also at the end of the day, to benefit from the low-tide. There is a trail that descends the cliff face and allows access to the beach. The folded nature of the rocks is quite distinct.

From above. Location B is the beach at the base of those cliffs. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.
Folded. Fujifilm X-T4 and 56mm f/1.2 lens. Long exposure.

Fast forward 24 hours and I am back at Cabo Sardão, walking along the trail that will lead me to the beach at the base of the cliffs and location B. I had walked down there a couple of years back, but the tide was high at the time, so actually going to the beach was new to me. Which leads us to the old adage that even in familiar places, it is possible to find new things to visit and photograph. The path reaches a small valley where a narrow creek runs through; following its course, it is easy to arrive at the beach.

Small pond covered with algae along the creek. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.

I spent the rest of the late afternoon, until sunset, exploring the area. The geology is spectacular, but as I said before, you don’t need to be a geologist to admire all the incredible details and surrounding landscape. Being on the beach and looking up the cliffs, will leave you speechless. Because the tide was so low, I was able to walk along the rocks a considerable distance, which was nice.

Panorama of 6 images, showing a general view of this location. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.
Convoluted. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.
Endless folds. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.
View of location A, which is up there. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.
Pure geology. Fujifilm X-T3 and 16mm f/1.4 lens.

After this wonderful visit to this new location, I am certain I will come back many times, as there are so many things to explore.

Rural landscape black and white photos, Longueira, SW Alentejo, Portugal

I have recently spent a few days in my house in Longueira, that I normally use as a base to explore and photograph this coastal region. Today I am sharing some photos of the local landscape, which is dominated by rural fields. The first ones are from a couple of trees that are isolated in the middle of the landscape. I had gone for a late afternoon stroll, with my camera and lens, in this instance a short 56mm telephoto lens in Fuji’s X system APS-C format. I selected this focal length based on my previous knowledge of the subjects; I wanted to isolate the trees, while including some of the wispy clouds above. I decided to convert some of the Raf files to black and white, using an Acros preset with the red filter enabled.

Tree and cloud #1. Fujifilm X-T4 and Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 lens.
Tree and cloud #2. Fujifilm X-T4 and Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 lens.

The following day I woke early for my morning jog, and when returning home I noticed a farmer in his tractor, working in the sweet potato fields by the side of the road. I quickly went home and grabbed my camera, this time with a 35mm lens, and made a few photos as the first light of the day illuminated the landscape. Similarly to the tree photos above, I also converted these Raf files to black and white using the same Acros plus red filter recipe.

Working in the fields. Fujifilm X-T4 and Voigtlaender 35mm f/1.2 lens.

Close by there is also an interesting abandoned farm house, that looked interesting under the early morning light, with the clouds above it. I made a few photos of it before returning home on time for breakfast. Quite often, it pays to get out of bed before sunrise, as unexpected photo opportunities might present themselves.

Old house #1. Fujifilm X-T4 and Voigtlaender 35mm f/1.2 lens.
Old house #2. Fujifilm X-T4 and Voigtlaender 35mm f/1.2 lens.

Night sky in the SW Alentejo coast

About one week ago I was in the village of Longueira, in the Alentejo coast. I had planned a photo session of the night sky during the new moon phase, when the sky is at its darkest. I chose a coastal location, at Foz dos Ouriços, near Almograve. Even though there are slightly darker places in the region towards the interior, the coast here is still dark, featuring a Bortle class 4.

Foz dos Ouriços sky brightness map, Bortle class 4.

In terms of gear, I brought with me for this session the Fujifilm X-T3 camera and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens, plus the tripod. I like to do star trails, using exposures of 30 sec. at f/2 and ISO 1600. From my experience, these settings work quite well. After focusing the lens manually on a bright star, it is simply a matter of setting the intervalometer in the camera, fire the shutter, lie down, relax, and admire the sky.

The first framing was towards the northwest, to include part of the beach below and the sea. The total time in the final image was 45 minutes. I use Sequator to stack the exposures (star trail option), it is a nice and simple software.

Star trail #1 – 90 images stacked, 30 seconds each.

For the second trail, I selected a framing towards the north, to obtain the classic view of the concentric star trails around Polaris. For this framing I chose 120 exposures of 30 seconds each, resulting in a total time of 1 hour. In both cases I also shot a couple of dark frames, to help with noise reduction during the stacking process.

Star trail #1 – 120 images stacked, 30 seconds each.

Following the star trails, I made a few photos of the Milky Way, also for later stacking in Sequator. Given that I did not want the stars to trail, I used exposures of 15 seconds, and shot 20 images in total. After stacking in Sequator (with the accumulation option), the result for the 20 images showed a nice Milky Way, but the land part of the composition had trailed; this was expected, because I had a total time of 5 minutes. The best way to avoid this is to mount the camera on a dedicated tracker, but I do not own one.

Milky Way – 20 images stacked, 15 seconds each. Total time of 5 minutes. We can see that the land part shows trailing.

After a few extra runs in Sequator, I decided on an image stacking 4 exposures, which gives a total time of 1 minute. This still gives nice detail in the Milky Way, while reducing the land trailing.

Milky Way – 4 images stacked, 15 seconds each.

If you can, summer in the northern hemisphere is an excellent time to be out at night and photograph the sky. With modern cameras and software, it is quite easy to obtain good results.

Rising Moon at Cabo Sardão, SW Alentejo Coast, Portugal

I like to photograph the Moon one day before it is full, because it rises a few minutes before sunset. During that small amount of time, there is still some natural daylight that permits to photograph the Moon in a nice way. After the sun sets, and with the increasing darkness, it is more difficult to photograph the Moon over the landscape and avoid it becoming overexposed.

One location where I sometimes go to take such photos is Cabo Sardão, in the Alentejo coast. As the Moon rises in the sky, it crosses behind the lighthouse, making for interesting compositions. I arrived about 1 hour before sunset, and took a few photos of the area. I had only brought my telephoto lens, a Fujinon 70-300mm, plus a tripod. The warm light was basking the cliff rocks in great golden tones.

Golden rocks.
Earth’s history.

This coastal area is well known for the white storks, that come here to nest. At the end of July, they have gone away, leaving the nests empty. I found one nest where a lonely feather had remained; others are now occupied by seagulls.

Opportunistic seagulls.

Soon the Moon appeared above the horizon, and I took some initial photos. A few moments later, the lighthouse keeper turned on the light, and I shot a series of frames for later assembly into a panorama.

Rising Moon.
Panorama of 6 vertical frames.

I continued to shoot, changing my position frequently, so I could frame the Moon behind the building. I wanted to play with the concept of having both lights in the same picture.

Two lights.

I also wanted a photo where the beam of the lighthouse would be (apparently) hitting the Moon. This was more challenging, and required a precise timing, as the light would be spinning around. After a few tries, I got the image I wanted.

Batman signal?

I made a few more shots and then called it a day, or rather, called it a night? It was another enjoyable photo session, in this beautiful region.