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.

Night sky near Sabóia, Odemira

This is a small essay about a recent photo session I have carried out to photograph some star trails and the Milky Way near Sabóia, in the municipality of Odemira. I had recently visited this same location, taking some photos of the countryside and the hay bales along the fields. I wrote about it here:

During this previous visit, I thought the place had potential for some night sky photography; being far away from any important village, it would probably be very dark during a new Moon period. I have thus made plans to go back, which I did a few days ago. I arrived well after dark, and set up my tripod and camera in order to frame some of the interesting foreground, including some hay bales and machinery.

Technically, I have used my wide angle lens (Fujinon 14mm f/2.8) wide open, and a shutter speed of 30 seconds, at ISO 1600. Using manual focus, I carefully focused on a bright star. I have also shot in Raw format, setting the intervalometer of the camera to 80 photos. This would result in a total of 40 minutes total exposure time. Later on, I have used the Sequator software to stack the resulting images into a star trail.

Resulting star trail.
Example of a single photo used in the final stack.

After finishing the series for trail stacking, I made a couple more series of shots, this time of the Milky Way. The first series was made with the wide angle lens, and consisted of 20 photos. These were later stacked also in Sequator.

Milky Way – wide angle lens.

The second series was made with a different lens, the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4, set at f/2 aperture. For this series, I made 10 photos, and also used Sequator for stacking.

Milky Way – standard lens.

In terms of image processing, I have followed the general guidelines as outlined by Roger Clark in his website:

https://clarkvision.com/articles/astrophotography.image.processing2/

Being out in this isolated place, admiring the immense field of stars that surrounds us was a very nice experience. Now that the summer is approaching, I will repeat these sessions whenever possible.

Santa Clara-a-Velha in the Spring

The Santa Clara-a-Velha dam, in the municipality of Odemira, is one of my favorite places to visit in the region. In fact, between 2019 and 2021 I have already written 4 essays about it. But I never tire of going back during different times of the year, as every season imparts its own particular character. Thus, just a few days ago I had the chance to spend a weekend in Longueira, and I planned a late evening visit to Santa Clara. The weather was wonderful, and the air was filled with Spring; the fields were turning from green to golden, and here and there covered with flowers.

During my last visit to the dam, last January, I had noticed a few tree trunks coming out of the water near the northern part. The water level has been lower than usual, revealing several submerged trees. In that occasion I was walking one of the local trails, and when I passed through this location I had no time to walk down to the water. So I made a mental note to come back; unfortunately, soon after Portugal entered into a rigorous Covid – 19 lockdown period, and 3 months elapsed before I could go back.

I always enjoy the drive between Longueira and Santa Clara, as the road winds between the gentle rolling hills. I hardly pass by another car, and the surrounding quietness is complete. After arriving, I parked the car and walked along the trail to the northernmost part of the dam, where I had spotted the trees poking out of the water. The sky is a deep blue with wispy white clouds. After a couple of kilometres I need to leave the trail and descend the steep incline towards the water. The terrain is covered with thick shrubs, so I have to struggle to make my way. I make some photos of the many wild flowers.

Springtime brings lavender and other flowers.
Pink.
Small flowers.
Delicate.
Overview.

I walk along the margin for a while to reach the area where the trees are. After scouting the place, I start to make some photos, checking for interesting compositions. Near one of the trees, a boat lies under water.

Tree and submerged boat.

The silence is only interrupted by the wind, bird song, and bees buzzing around. For this outing I had with me my two Fujifilm cameras and two lenses, one wide (14mm) and one short telephoto (50mm). I continued to photograph, mostly using the wide angle lens; sometimes I used a neutral density filter to smooth out the water, enhancing the quietness of the place. I also ended up converting some photos to black and white, as a way to further convey the stark character of the landscape.

Branching.
Alone.
Listening to the wind.

On my way back to the car I ended up stopping at the southern part of the lake to make a few more photos. The light was nice, with the sun starting to go down behind the western hills.

Wide view looking north.

After leaving Santa Clara I made one other stop, near a field where the hay was starting to be rolled up into bales. These days the hay bales are mostly covered by white plastic, but in some fields they are still left uncovered, which makes for more interesting photos. Along the region, one can also see some abandoned farms and the typical cork oak trees.

Abandoned.
Landscape in black and white.
Old cork oak tree.
Rural landscape.
Working the fields.
First hay bales of the season.
Lines.

I noticed that the tall hay was swaying in the wind, almost like waves, so I used the neutral density filter to achieve long exposures of around 20 seconds. This was a trial and error process, as the wind would come in bursts of varying intensity. I had to start the exposure around the same time as the wind would pick up, hoping it would last for a few seconds. In the end, I was quite happy with some of the photos I got.

Swaying fields.
Windblown.

It was already after sunset when I arrived back home, but I was glad to have returned to such a beautiful area.

A short walk in the Almograve dunes

Almograve is a small coastal village in Alentejo, that is known by its nice beach. In the summer, it is quite busy, but during the rest of the year it is a quiet place. This is when I prefer to visit, away from the crowds, when it is possible to enjoy the area in the company of Nature alone. During springtime, the coastal sand dunes are full of colour, thanks to the many wildflowers that are in bloom. Due to the recent rain, the landscape and atmosphere looks and feels fresh.

Colourful sand dunes.
Fragile.

There are several nice and easy walks around this area, but this time I chose the trail between the beaches of Almograve and Foz. This is a short walk, but it takes you along the sand dunes, with the ocean as a constant company. The littoral is characterized by the contrast between the golden and rusty sand dunes and the blue ocean water, with the dark cliffs in between. This coast is well known by its geologic features, notably the numerous folded rocks that are easier to see at low tide. The weather was a mix of sunshine and brooding rain clouds, with numerous heavy showers.

Geological textures.
Springtime in the dunes.
Sometimes the sun will shine.

The golden light of the low afternoon sun was illuminating the landscape, enriching it colours. The wind was moving the clouds fast; one minute I was drenched by a shower, the next I was photographing a wonderful rainbow. I also spent some time photographing the many flowers around me, framing them with a little bit of the background to provide some context. The dramatic light was available, and I was making the most of it.

Foz beach at low tide.
Catching the sun.
Folded rocks in Foz beach.
Double rainbow. Assembled panorama with 3 photos.
Low tide along the coast.
Long exposure of the coastline between Foz and Almograve beaches.
Moving sea and clouds.

I stayed in the area until sunset, photographing the seascape under the fast changing light conditions. I had with me a wide angle lens and a short telephoto lens, and I used both to frame a bit differently. In the horizon, the dark clouds and heavy rain showers were passing quickly, adding a bit of drama to the scene.

Passing rain.
Sunset.
Approaching clouds.
Soft sunset.

I walked back to the car park near Almograve beach already at night, but I was glad to have visited this location with such interesting weather conditions. No matter how many times I return to this area, I often come back with some new interesting photos. And if not, I always enjoy walking along these dune trails.

The Vicentina coast in Spring

After a (second) long period of confinement, from January to April, the Portuguese government has started to ease mobility restrictions a little. As a result, I was able to spend a few days of vacation in my house in Longueira, in the Alentejo coast. As you know, this is one of my favorite regions in Portugal, and I often spend time there with the family, hiking, photographing, or merely resting.

The coastal area between Sines and Sagres is part of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, as illustrated in the figure below. During this trip I wanted to go back to a few places that I have not visited for several years, namely in the vicinity of the town of Vila do Bispo. This entire coast has many beautiful and wild beaches, some of difficult access, requiring driving through dirt tracks.

Simplified map of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park. Several places of interest are numbered.
On the way to Vila do Bispo, it is worth to stop in the village of Rogil.
Windmill at Rogil.

The geomorphology of the area is characterized by a high coastal plateau, a remnant of the latest deglaciation period, when the sea level dropped significantly, exposing the very old Paleozoic rock formations to erosion. The result is an almost flat and uplifted terrain, with gentle hills, here and there deeply cut by small rivers that flow towards the Atlantic ocean. There are many hiking trails that belong to the Rota Vicentina network; they are the best way to explore the area in detail, allowing magnificent views over the landscape.

Near Vila do Bispo, the Algarve coast reaches its highest altitude, at 156 m above sea level. Due to the strong and shifty winds, care is recommended when approaching the cliff’s edges. My first stop was at the Cordoama viewpoint, which is reachable by car. From here, looking North, one can see a series of beaches, like Cordoama, Carrapateira, and Arrifana. Looking towards the South, the magnificent beach of Castelejo lies down below.

As I wanted to try some long exposures, I walked a little bit downhill to get some protection from the wind. I then proceeded to set up my tripod as low as possible, and made several photos. The weather was nice, sunny but with some fast moving clouds; these beaches are very popular with surfers, which looked quite small when seen from this vantage point. For this trip I carried my Fujifilm kit, consisting of a couple of cameras and lenses.

The small village of Bordeira.
Cordoama beach.
Cordoama beach.
Castelejo beach.

One of the consequences of the constant wind is that there are hardly any trees near the shore. The land is covered with shrubs and small plants that are able to resist the climate. The rain quickly escapes towards the deeply cut creeks, leaving the soil dry. This leads to a normally bleak landscape, but during the Spring the hills come alive with myriad wild flowers of various colors. I spent some time photographing this colorful landscape, dotted with yellow, pink, purple, and white patches.

Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Old way of life, Vila do Bispo.

After leaving Cordoama, I drove north and stopped near the villages of Bordeira and Carrapateira. These are only separated by a couple of kilometres, and along the road the fields are covered with flowers, including red poppies, one of my favorites.

Spring fields.
Spring fields.

In Carrapateira, the beach is large and very sandy, located at the estuary of the small Bordeira river. Again, the (windy) view is wonderful and I spent the rest of the day time photographing, before driving back home to Longueira. There are so many things to see, photograph and experience in this region, that many more days are required to explore it fully. After the confinement, I was just happy to be able to return to the region, even if only for a short visit. This is truly a special place.

Carrapateira beach.
Carrapateira beach.
Carrapateira beach.
Carrapateira beach and village.
Carrapateira beach.

Pego das Pias in the Spring

I recently had the chance to revisit another favorite place of mine, Pego das Pias, in Odemira. I wrote about it before:

My previous visits were made either in the Summer or during early Autumn, so the Torgal river was mostly dry, with no flowing water. However, this time I visited in early April, after a Winter with abundant rainfall. My expectation was to find the river bed with plenty of water, and I was not disappointed. This small river runs along a narrow valley surrounded by high hills; in the Spring, the vegetation is luxuriant and green, with many cork oak, pine and ash trees, among others. After hiking a few hundred meters along the trail, the only sound comes from bird song and the wind blowing through the trees.

After a while, another sound becomes perceptible, and that is of running water. I head to the river bed, which is surrounded by trees and ferns. Setting up the tripod, I start making some photos, framing the small river and its banks. The weather is overcast, which is good to tame the scene’s contrast. There are also many flowers along the way, covering the schist terrain: rock rose, marigolds, and many others.

Along the river bed.
Spring time greenery.
Lush greens.
Fresh flowers.
Reflections.
Tree roots.

I finally arrive at the large pool of Pego das Pias, having found no other person along the way. The sense of isolation and being only surrounded by nature is quite dominant. The large quartzite rock that lies in the middle of the pool casts its reflection in the quiet waters, which makes for a nice photo. The river here becomes trapped between the quartzite rocks, that have been cut by water over millennia.

Pool reflection.
Waiting.
Small flowers.
Inside the canyon.
Flowers and rocks.
One of the “pias”, an erosion feature (lower bottom left).

I walk a bit further upstream, where several rocks have created a few small rapids. The water is fresh and clear, a perfect habitat for the elusive otter, that only comes out at night. I make more photos framing the river, and playing with exposure times to achieve different flowing effects in the water. Before heading back, I simply sit down overlooking the pools and relaxing. This is indeed a wonderful place, and I am glad I could see the transformation brought on by the presence of abundant water and Spring.

Flowing water upriver.
Rushing.
After the rain.

In terms of photographic gear, I only carried my two Fujifilm cameras and couple of lenses, one wide angle and one telephoto. Plus the tripod, of course.

Spring is here.
Pink bell flowers.
“Esteva” in bloom.

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.

The Fujifilm X-Pro3 – a (re)statement

It is very rare for me to write in any detail about photographic gear, for several reasons. The main ones being that in recent years, cameras and lenses are so good, and the choice is so much, that there are plenty of options for everybody who enjoys photography as a hobby. For the last 3 years, I have been using the Fujifilm X system, because it provides many right things that I find important for my photography. My first experience with the system happened around 2013, so it is not new to me.

The X-Pro series has always been a very special statement from Fujifilm, with its unique “old school rangefinder appeal” design: optical viewfinder in the corner (which is hybrid, meaning it can be used as an electronic one also), several buttons and dials for direct control, and robust construction, just to name a few. The camera was a success, and two more versions have followed, the most recent one being the X-Pro3. At the core, they all remain similar in their design as a tactile camera that is a pleasure to use. Coupled with some of the available small prime lenses, such as the 16mm f/2.8, 23mm f/2, 35mm f/2, and 50mm f/2, it is a camera that just begs to be used.

Classy camera (photos from https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/fujifilm-x-pro3-review).

I have been using the camera for a while, mainly around my neighborhood, given the ongoing Covid-19 confinement in Portugal. Sill, I live near Carcavelos beach, which provides excellent opportunities for interesting photos. Thus, the other day I picked up the camera with the 50mm f/2 lens, plus the tripod, and went to the beach. The weather was good, late afternoon with some sun and clouds. As usual, there were many surfers and some people simply enjoying a seaside stroll.

Cross.
The fort of Carcavelos.
Black and white version. Acros Red film simulation.

I used the tripod for most of the photos, because that is a habit of mine. It helps me to concentrate on the composition. The other aspect of the camera that I like is the way the screen operates; when not in use, it is hidden from view, and it may seem that is even missing. The screen is there, but it needs to be tilted down to be used, and that is the only option available. For the way I shoot, this is brilliant: when shooting handheld I do not need to see the screen, and when using the tripod, I merely fold the screen down. When the main screen is closed, Fujifilm added another extra classy detail, in the shape of a small screen that can mimic the slot where in film cameras people would place the little square with the film type reminder.

Walking near the sea, with the camera on the tripod, I simply kept shooting when I saw an interesting scene. Even with the (small) tripod near me, the camera and lens did not caught any attention from other people. I already had that experience when using the X100 (another retro design camera); people think I am using an older film camera. The focal length I had with me, 50mm, works out nicely to keep some distance between my and my subject, but not too much.

Carcavelos beach.
Strolling.
Surf time.
Surfers.
Waiting.
Beach and sky.

In the next few days, and with the rumors that the confinement rules will start to be lifted, I intend to use the camera a bit more. But so far, my opinion is that the camera continues to marry a brilliant design with a lot of technology, resulting in a mature camera that is quintessential Fuji. A design that (re)states its commitment to photography and photographers.

Close to home

After one month under confinement due to the third wave of the pandemic in Portugal, and with probably another month to go, it has been difficult to make any sort of photography. Compounding this, the weather has been bleak, with overcast skies and lots of rain. Still, I periodically check the weather and tide forecasts, for possibilities near my home.

Because I live near the coast on the outskirts of Lisbon, in Carcavelos, there are several beaches within walking distance of my house. A few days ago, I finally had the chance to make a small outing and take some photos during the sunset. The location is about 3 km from home, where one small creek reaches the ocean, with the water dropping off the cliffs. This is the ribeira de Caparide, and due to the recent rain, there was plenty of flowing water.

After finishing work, I simply packed my camera, lens, and tripod, and walked to this location. The weather was finally nice, with wispy clouds. The sea was still rough from a recent depression, with waves crashing against the cliffs. The coastline here has a rocky nature, which results in an interesting scenery. After reaching the place, I walked around a little, looking for possible places to set up the tripod. I tried some long exposures, but I also wanted to photograph the waves as they crashed against the rocks, casting out a good amount of spray.

It was quite good to be simply out of the house doing some photography. It helps me to keep my spirit doing these difficult times. As for gear, these photos were made with the Fujifilm X-S10 and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens.

Stay safe everyone!

Falling over.
Crashing.
Waves,
Sunset coast, with Cascais in the background.
Until tomorrow.
Flowing.

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.