On the trail with the Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR lens

I recently added the little Fujinon XF 16mm f/2.8 R WR lens to my photo kit, to be used for landscapes and travel. This lens offers a lot of quality (both optical and build), and it barely gets noticed when mounted on a camera. This is great for trekking and hiking. I have just returned from a weekend on the Alentejo coast, my usual “get away” place, where I had the chance to use the lens on a couple of walking trails: one along the coast near Cabo Sardão, and the other in the interior, between Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia. For both trails, I mounted the lens on the Fujifilm XT-3 camera and was good to go.

This wide-angle lens is part of the Fujinon set of lenses that are small and have a tapered design, in many ways like lenses available for rangefinder systems. Other lenses from Fujifilm similar to this are for example the 23mm f/2, 35mm f/2, and 50mm f/2. For those that prefer to use prime lenses, these make a very nice set. Fujifilm also make a 16mm f/1.4 lens, which is very good, but it also more expensive, larger, and heavier. If you don’t need the extra stops of light, the small 16mm f/2.8 makes a lot of sense.

My first serious session with the lens was along the trail between Cabo Sardão and Zambujeira do Mar. This part of the coast is beautiful, especially in the late afternoon and during sunset, when the light turns the cliffs a golden hue. I also had my tripod, so I made a few long exposures along the way. Just before sunset, the clouds turned into wispy swirls in the sky, adding a lot of interest to the photos.

The next morning, I went with my wife to walk a 13km trail between the villages of Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia, in the interior of Odemira municipality. Last year we walked the same trail, but we liked it so much we wanted to repeat it. It is really a nice contrast between the coast and the interior regions; the latter are characterized by gently rolling hills, with several farms, where cattle and agriculture are the main economical contributors to a sustainable income. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a lot of fog, which can make for an interesting change in the landscape. I knew of a particular farm that has several cork oak trees that would be interesting subjects in the fog. I wrote about this place here:

So, when I arrived there, I stopped the car, and proceeded to make a few shots of the trees surrounded by fog. After a few minutes of walking through the dew laden grass, my trousers and boots were completely wet, but the photos turned out quite well. When processing the Raw files, I decided to convert them to black and white using the Fujifilm Acros profile. I think that the black and white enhances the moody feel of the place in this particular morning.

From this place, we then drove to Santa Clara a Velha, and started the trail. Spring is arriving, with the fields filled with green grass and flowers. Seems like it is going to be a good year for the local farmers. Near Sabóia, the landscape was dominated by the green of the land, and the blue of the sky. A few wispy white clouds and yellow flowers completed the picture, and who can resist a cliché? I took a photo using a polarizer filter to enhance the vibrancy of the scene.

At the end of the day, after completing the walk, I was quite happy with the experience of using the new addition to my photo kit. The lens delivers very nice images, with plenty of contrast, the usual Fujifilm colours, all in a small and robust package. I am sure it will accompany me in many more occasions.

Planted fields near Cabo Sardao
Cliffs near Cabo Sardao
Cliffs near Cabo Sardao
Cliffs near Cabo Sardao
Sunset near Cabo Sardao
Field in fog
Field in fog
Field in fog
Springtime near Saboia

Brejo Largo beach, SW Portugal, with the Fuji XH-1 and 16-55 f/2.8 lens

It is nice to be able to visit the same location several times, be it within 1 year, or several years. In any case, there are many opportunities to record the seasonal effects in the landscape, together with the differences imparted by varying weather conditions. During Christmas and New Year, while taking several days off from work, I had the chance to (re)visit one of my favourite places – the beach of Brejo Largo, located only a few km North of the small village of Almograve.

It is possible to reach the beach by car, via a dirt road that starts a bit inland, in Longueira. However, since many years ago, my preferred way is to simply walk there, either from Longueira, or from Almograve. The first time I went to this beach was more than 30 years ago, with my brothers. Driven by “word of mouth” from some German tourists, we ventured from Longueira (our family Summer vacation spot) towards the coast, finding our way through rural paths, pastures with cows, and coastal sand dunes.

Today, the path has changed a bit, due to alterations in the land occupation, but it still retains the same characteristics as before. Some parts of it, especially near the coast, are signposted, as they belong to well established walking trails. You can actually make a nice circular trek of about 8 km, connecting Longueira, Brejo Largo, and Almograve. I never tire of walking in this area, appreciating the local tranquility and beauty. In this late December time, some of the fields still have unpicked sweet potato, but not many; no doubt they will be picked soon, as this is an important produce for the local economy. Other fields are used as pasture for cows and sheep, or planting corn.

In several isolated pine trees, it is possible to see nests with storks – gone are the days where these birds would migrate to Africa to spend the Winter time in fairer climates. There is even an unique species of stork that nests in the sea cliffs all year round. From Longueira to Brejo Largo the distance is around 4 km, an easy walk. After about 2 km you will pass the last group of houses, and the path will continue between a small pine tree forest. The terrain will also become sandy, as it enters the coastal sand dune system.

The sound of the sea and the waves is quite clear, brought by the wind. It is a sunny but cold December afternoon, with a clear and blue sky. I am thinking that such sky conditions will not be very interesting for photography, and will have to adjust accordingly: limit the sky area in the compositions, and make the best use of the side light. I am now hoping for some mellow light filtered by the sea spray, right at sunset time. We shall see.

Photographically speaking, I only took my Fujifilm XH-1 with the Fujinon 16-55 f/2.8 zoom lens, plus the tripod and Neutral Density filters for some long exposures. All in my small backpack, plus water and snacks. I have also packed another jacket, as I will be back only after nightfall, and I know the temperature will drop significantly by then. By now, after using this system for 1 year, I am so familiar with it, that it feels like second nature. Being weather resistant also helps to provide some degree of confidence when using it in the beach. There are lighter combinations in terms of camera and lens, but I really like this one: both camera and lens are robust, and perform really well. I am almost always in Aperture Priority mode, and low ISO, on the tripod.

When I arrived at the beach, the tide was rising, with the waves reaching almost to the bottom of the cliffs. Thus, I decided not to descend into the beach, and stayed at the top of the cliffs. Looking at the light conditions from the clear day, and with only about 1 hour until sunset, I had to work quickly. Being familiar with the area, and already with several framing ideas in my mind, i quickly entered into my shooting routine. I tested a few long exposures, and saw that the sea was giving nice results; in the northern part of the beach, there is a large geological dike intruding into the schist, which makes an interesting subject. This dike runs parallel to the coast, but unfortunately it was already covered by the incoming tide in the beach proper.

I made a few more shots looking south, and then quickly walked the rest of the way, to photograph the beach in the opposite direction. I was completely alone, with the exception of a couple of walkers that were doing the trail. In the summer, the place will be busier… Keeping an eye for the sunset, I noticed the light changing very quickly, becoming softer and more “golden”. I found interesting foregrounds along the cliff edges, including the typical low lying shrubs buffeted by the wind. It was an interesting colour combination composed of the dark rocks, the greens and goldens of the vegetation, and the hazy blues of the ocean and sky.

I remained on the beach until after sunset, and then slowly made my way back to Longueira. About half way through I saw a good possibility for a few more photos, as the Moon and Venus were already bright in the blue hour sky, and the fog was starting to cover the low lying parts of the landscape. There was a horse roaming about, which I managed to get into one of my photos. I arrived home well into night time, but it was well worth it. As a final bonus, the windmill in Longueira had its Christmas decorations on, so I took a photo of it, as a final frame for this session.

Brejo Largo beach – volcanic dike
Brejo Largo beach – looking South
Brejo Largo beach – mellow light at sunset
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – cliffs
Brejo Largo beach – wind blown
Brejo Largo beach – sunset
Brejo Largo beach – after sunset
On the way back – Moon over fields
Fields, fog, and horse
Fences and fog
Christmas decorations – Longueira

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

 

Night photography in Santa Clara a Velha

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to carry out a night photography session in a reasonably dark area near the village of Santa Clara a Velha, in Odemira municipality (southern Portugal). A few months ago, when I walked a trail between the villages of Santa Clara a Velha and Sabóia, I passed through a ruined windmill at the top of a hill. The place afforded a clear and nice view to the North, over the rolling landscape. At the time, I made a mental note about returning to the location during the Summer, for some start trail and night shooting.

Fast forward in time, and I went back on the night of 30th August, during New Moon. I arrived at Santa Clara a Velha around 8 pm, parked the car, and took the trail up the hill, to the windmill. I had packed a small chair, plus a light dinner and a flask of hot tea, which proved nice to have a few hours later, as the night settled in. I wanted to arrive at the location before night fall, to facilitate setting up the tripod, camera, and lens. I had with me the Fujifilm X-T2 and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens, plus a head lamp. At sunset time, I took a few nice photos of the village down below, and even happened to catch a lone biker coming up hill in his mountain bike. Other than that, it was a very peaceful night from then onwards, with only the sound of birds and crickets as company.

I proceeded to find the North and frame the ruin of the windmill in the lower right hand of the composition. My plan was to have a nice rotating star trail around the windmill, centred on Polaris. I manually focused the lens, set at f/2, and left it untouched for the remaining of the night. The plan was to use the interval timer plus T mode of the camera, to shoot about 1.5 hours total exposure time. This means 181 photos at 30 seconds each. Finally, my ISO was 1600. To me, part of the fun to do this type of photography is being out in the Nature at night and enjoy the star rich sky in a dark location. In the meantime, as the temperature was dropping, I took a few cups of hot tea.

After shooting the star trail, I also took a few series of shots of the Milky Way: 10 in total, for later stacking. I was packing up my gear when I noticed the Pleiades rising on the East, so I took another series of photos. There was some light pollution, coming from the nearby villages and a main road in the distance, but I was happy with the results. After a good session, I was confident that I had some good images to work from, so I returned to the car. Before leaving the village, I made a few night shots of the church, which was illuminated. On the way back, I also stopped at the train station of Sabóia; the place had an eerie feeling about it, very different from the daytime.

In terms of image processing, I have used Sequator to stack the photos. In the past I have used Star Stax, a good programme too, but Sequator has a couple more useful options, like the ability to separate the “land” from the “sky” part of the image.

Location
Location

Lone biker
Lone biker

Dusk over Santa Clara a Velha
Dusk over Santa Clara a Velha

Night time
Night time

Looking up
Looking up

Star trail
Star trail

Church
Church

Eerie
Eerie

Attention
Attention

Too late for passengers
Too late for passengers

A day in Constância with the Fujifilm X100F

During the summer months in Portugal, a good alternative to avoid the crowded beaches on the coast is to head out to the interior. In recent years, the popularity of fluvial beaches in the interior of the country has increased, as they offer a nice experience to those that look for the quietness of a rural setting. Far from the busy coastal beaches, it is possible to combine a visit to a historical village with a cool swim to mitigate against the summer heat.

One of such places is the village of Constância, that I have visited recently with my family, simply to spend a nice and quiet day surrounded by nature. This village is in the Central area of Portugal, and sits atop a small peninsula, nested between the rivers Zêzere and Tejo. Constância is rich in historical and cultural heritage – the first Iberian inhabitants have settled here, followed by Romans, Visigoths and Arabs. One of the greatest Portuguese poets, Luís de Camões, author of the Lusiadas, has lived here between 1547 and 1550. In more recent times, the metal bridge over the Zêzere was designed by Gustav Eiffel, of Parisian fame.

The fluvial beach is a nice spot to spend the day, swimming in the clear and fresh waters of the river or resting in its forested green margins. Before leaving, we decided to stroll around the village in the late afternoon. The village has many points of interest, from its pelourinho to several medieval churches and chapels. Consequently, there are many interesting details to notice and photograph, wandering around the narrow streets. It is well worth it to walk up the village until the top of the hill, from where a broad view of the Tejo river opens to the east.

For this day trip I only carried the small Fujifilm X100F camera, the perfect tool for such occasions. It was entirely suitable to take a few obligatory family snaps, plus the required documentary shots. I also quite like the Acros B&W film simulation, which I have applied during RAW conversion. I think it suited the historical feel of the place nicely.

River Zêzere
River Zêzere

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância - church
Constância – church

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Constância
Constância

Location map
Location map

My experience with Fujifilm X system

I normally do not write (much) about photo equipment, but today I would like to share my experience about transitioning between systems. In order to do that, I need to go back 6 or 7 years, when I started to phase out from the DSLR world into the Mirrorless world. Back then, I had been using Canon EOS (film and digital) for nearly 20 years, so that was a major decision; mirrorless systems were starting to gain traction, and in particular two brands caught my attention: Sony – with the “full – frame in a small size” proposition of the A7, and Fujifilm – with the APSC X camera series and their retro look and ergonomics.

For a while I tried Fujifilm X (X-PRO1, X-E1), just to test the waters, while watching Sony closely. I shoot a lot of landscape and travel, sometimes in very low light and playing with long exposures (think blue and golden hour with neutral density filter). For that, the Fuifilm sensor technology was not yet good enough in terms of noise handling; mind you, I am not too bothered with noise, but back then the results were not fully convincing to me. So, I tried the Sony system, with the A7 and A7II, and used them for 4 years, with very good results. It had what I wanted: excellent quality in a smaller and lighter package, much more trekker – friendly.

However, I always kept an eye on the Fuji X system, and how it was developing. There was something that Fuji did better than the Sony, in my opinion, of course, and that was operational control (dedicated old-fashioned knobs), and the sensible choice of lenses. Shooting often in the dark, or near dark conditions in the field, it is very helpful to be able to set the camera and lens controls from a set of dedicated knobs and dials. Thus, by mid – 2018, I was trying the Fujifilm X system again, and this time around, the sensors were excellent for my type of photography.

Fast forward to today, and I am fully back in Fujiland, with two cameras, X-H1 and X-T2. As for lenses, after more than 20 years, I have learned to be sparse and pragmatic, so I mostly use a Fujinon 16mm F/1.4 and a Fujinon 50-140mm F/2.8. This is my core landscape and hiking kit, that I carry with a travel tripod in a small Lowepro backpack. I use the 16mm lens with the X-T2 off a tripod and reserve the X-H1 for the larger zoom lens; the X-H1 is wonderful to use the bigger Fujinon lenses, thanks to the higher mass, more robust construction, larger grip, and better balance overall. The X-T2 is also a joy to use, lighter and smaller, and hardly weighs down the backpack.

Talking a little about the lenses, I have to say that I am favourably surprised with the 16mm F/1.4 lens. This lens handles, and feels, like a bigger brother to the classic 14mm F/2.8, which used to be my go – to landscape lens. The 14mm lens is a tried and tested superb lens, sharp into the corners, with no discernible barrel distortion. As I shoot a lot of sea and coastal landscapes with the horizon, very low barrel distortion is one of my requirements. There were a couple of nuisances I had with the 14mm lens, namely the loose aperture ring; it was too easy to change it inadvertently. The 16mm lens just feels tighter all around, no loose aperture ring for sure. It also keeps the optical character of the 14mm lens (sharpness, contrast, no barrel distortion), but of course the field of view is not as wide.

In the end, I chose the 16mm F/1.4 lens, despite a slightly narrower angle of view, because those 2 mm of difference were not significant to me, and I got a lens faster by 2 stops. This last factor is important when shooting the night sky and star trails and can open more creative opportunities when shooting wide angle close ups.

I struggled a bit when deciding to go with the 50-140mm F/2.8 zoom lens: it is larger and heavier, so would I be using it that often? After a few months of use in the field, the answer is a resounding “yes”. I used to shoot with a Canon EOS 1V and 70-200 F/2.8 zooms (almost 3kg), and that is something I don’t want to repeat today. Albeit large and heavy in terms of Fujinon lenses, the 50-140mm F/2.8 zoom is perfectly manageable. Fujifilm have a few excellent telephoto primes, like the 56mm F/1.2, 90mm F/2, or the 80mm macro, all very good options for those that prefer primes. To me, the advantage of the zoom is flexibility in focal length when in the field, for landscapes and hiking. And the zoom performs very well from wide open. I also like to shoot close-ups in the field, and the zoom allows me to use my old Canon 500D close up diopter with excellent results.

I wanted to leave to the end the camera that brought me into Fujifilm in the beginning, the X-100 series. I had the original one, today I have the X-100F. This little camera was the reason why so many photographers started noticing Fujifilm around 2010 and 2011. Its upsides (and downsides) are well known, and with each iteration (currently in its 4th one), the concept has been perfected. Today, the X-100F is the camera I carry with me when I don’t want to carry the other gear. The lens is fixed, of course, but it sports a traditional angle of view, and a fast aperture. With the traditional controls and the hybrid viewfinder, it is an instant classic.

As a personal conclusion, I can say that today I am very happy with my Fujifilm system, it delivers all I need in terms of quality, camera ergonomics, and lenses. Currently, when virtually any camera system can deliver the quality most people want, it is very difficult to choose from so many options. To me, Fujifilm offers something different, combining traditional controls and ergonomics with top quality modern image results.

Image from Fujifilm
Image from Fujifilm – X-T2

Image from Fujifilm
Image from Fujifilm – X-H1

Image from Fujifilm
Image from Fujifilm – 50 – 140mm f/2.8

Image from Fujifilm
Image from Fujifilm – 16mm f/1.4

Image from Fujifilm
Image from Fujifilm

The Santa Clara – a – Velha Dam – 50 years old

During the first half of 2019, I have been photographing a lot inside the area of Odemira municipality in Alentejo. This is a region that combines a beautiful coastline and beaches, with more interior plains and hills. Thus, it is often described as a “different Alentejo”. Several reasons have contributed to these photographic endeavours: doing several of the various trekking paths; assembling a portfolio for an exhibit; attending more local events; or simply taking more weekends off. There are many highlights in the region of Odemira, and you can get a very good idea from this institutional video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0ZqjNZ8o7w

One of such highlights is no doubt the Santa Clara – a – Velha dam, located about 50km inland. Simply getting there from the coast is a wonderful drive, best negotiated in a leisurely fashion. This is not a land to be appreciated, and understood, at a social network pace. From the coastal road that stretches south from Milfontes, simply follow the directions to Odemira, Boavista dos Pinheiros, until you reach Sabóia. Along the way, you will pass rolling hills and farm country which, depending on the season, will be covered with fresh green grass and trees, blooming flowers, or golden and dry hay. Dotting this landscape, you will notice the conspicuous cork oak trees, some of them very old and majestic, plus grazing cattle.

Now and then, a road sign will seemingly point to nowhere, but by investigating more carefully, you will often arrive at a small village, with just a few houses. It is a great opportunity to spend some time with the locals and witness old and traditional ways of living. In Sabóia, the train station has a couple of beautiful painted azulejo panels depicting the nearby scenery. We are very close to the transition between Alentejo and Algarve provinces, but such border is smoothed by a succession of increasingly higher mountains to the south, culminating in the second highest peak in continental Portugal, Monchique (900m altitude).

After Sabóia, it is a short drive until the quaint little village of Santa Clara – a – Velha. It is worth visiting the small church, with its traditional blue and white facade, and walk slowly towards the river Mira, which winds its way under large willow trees. This village is the starting point of two circular walking trails, each about 12km long. One of them goes to the east, towards the dam, so it is a good choice when the weather is pleasant. Otherwise, it is another short 3km ride until the dam.

The Santa Clara – a – Velha dam was inaugurated in May 12, 1969, so this year marks its 50th anniversary. It was the largest dam in Portugal until the more recent Alqueva was built. It reaches a depth of 83m, with a total capacity of 485,000,000m3. The lake is a true haven of peacefulness and quiet, and a respite in the hot summer days. The only sounds that disturb the quietness are the ones coming from the wind rustling the trees, and the birds singing. It is amazing how quiet it gets. And dark too, which was one of the reasons I visited recently. Coincident with a new Moon, I shot a star trail over the lake. Having previously scouted the area, I set up my tripod with camera and lens facing north; the plan was to shoot for a total of about 1 hour exposure time, to obtain a nice star trail around Polaris.

Many other photographic subjects of interest are available, from the mountain scenery, to some of the infrastructure of the dam. Sunrise and sunset are particularly good times to photograph, as the light is more interesting. For example, sunrise is quite nice looking to the east, as the light is reflected from the calm water. At sunset, it is worth to relax in the balcony of the local hotel, while admiring the view; in this occasion, the warm day was coming to an end, and the golden light was filtered by the haze, bathing the hills in a surreal atmosphere. Visiting this dam is no doubt an enjoyable experience, as it provides a stark contrast with the coastal region.

Location
Location

Church
Church

Trail
Trail

Mountainscape
Mountainscape

Fluvial beach
Fluvial beach

The lake
The lake

Morning
Morning

View
View

First light
First light

Morning quiet
Morning quiet

Start trail
Start trail

Southwest Alentejo in June – part 3

This is the third and final instalment of a set of posts I wanted to make about my recent vacation in the area of Longueira, Odemira municipality, Alentejo. The first post talked about photographing the river Mira and the countryside near Vale Figueira, and the second post addressed the small fishing harbour of Lapa de Pombas, in the coast.

For this final piece, I want to take you to Milfontes, which is one of the highlights of the region. This is a village that is rich in history, from its colourful 16th century stories of pirates, to more recent “invasions” of peaceful tourists. From the three photographic sessions I wanted to carry out during this time – off, this was the one I had really planned: I wanted to photograph the interesting polygonal coastal rock formations at low tide during sunset. When the conditions are right, the water remains in small tidal pools and reflects the colours and light of the sunset, making for a truly spectacular scenery.

A quick research about tide, sunset, and Moon rise conditions, led me to reserve the evening of 15th June for this objective. There would be an excellent combination of a 70 cm low tide close to sunset at around 9 pm. The Moon would rise near full within that time period, perhaps providing more opportunities. The only thing that was more uncertain was the presence of dramatic clouds to fuel the interest during sunset; the only thing that was persistent during the day were some strong winds and clear skies… hoping for the best and keeping my fingers crossed, I pickled up my backpack and tripod, and made the short 10 km drive between Longueira and Milfontes, arriving about 1 hour before sunset.

I parked near the small lighthouse in the northern bank of the river mouth, which is not a bad location for nice views of the coast to the south, and the village proper, to the east. I spent some time making a few photos with the new Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens that I am testing (and that I have used for the photos in the previous two chapters of this essay). Even though this lens is larger and heavier than the 14mm f/2.8 lens (that I have used for years), after a few days of using it I was very comfortable – it basically feels and handles like a grown up version of the 14mm lens (same set of controls) – with the bonus of being more robust (it has Fuji’s Weather Resistant construction and labelling), and 2 stops faster (which can be handy sometimes). One other important change is that the aperture ring is a lot less “free rotating” in the 16mm lens, compared to the other.

Anyway, enough of gear talk… From the vicinity of the car park and after a few photos, I walked down to the beach, where the tide was already very low; I think that the combined effort of near full Moon plus the approaching summer solstice were contributing to such low tide levels. Even better for my plans. Walking along the sandy shallows and the rocks, I managed to reach a good distance away from “land”; this allowed me to make some photos that were completely new to me, which was excellent. In some places, the sand had consolidated into sharp – edged rock formations, so be sure to wear good shoes (summer – type flip – flops will not do!). There were plenty of interesting sand patterns, waves, and the view of Milfontes from this far away to keep me busy for a while.

As the Sun was approaching the horizon, I made my way back and entered the area that I was really interested in, featuring the above mentioned polygonal tidal pools. I took a few test shots to get a feel for the compositions, and finally decided on a location to set up the tripod. I already had a few filters ready in my pockets, as being prepared and ready helps a lot, especially if working over water – you don’t want to drop your precious Lee Big Stopper ND filter on the tide pool, or fumble in your backpack when the light is just great. My greatest fear – lack of an interesting sky – went away, because as the sunset approached, there were long and wispy clouds reflecting the light. This turned out to be a highlight of the session for me, and I was soon shooting frame after frame, as the light changed colour and intensity. I spent more than 1 hour in that place, shooting well after sunset. What a fantastic way to end the day, and I felt blessed to be able to witness this show of Nature.

Milfontes - location
Milfontes – location

Arriving view
Arriving view

It's looking good
It’s looking good

Estuary low tide
Estuary low tide

Sand waves
Sand waves

End of the road
End of the road

Erosion
Erosion

Tide pools - general view
Tide pools – general view

Tide pools
Tide pools

Touching
Touching

Moon bonus
Moon bonus

Colour harmony
Colour harmony

Stripes
Stripes

Exit
Exit

Two banks
Two banks

Spring has arrived

Spring has finally arrived, bringing with it longer days, more sunshine, and lots of flower covered fields. In my recent weekend visits to Longueira and Almograve, I have kept an eye out for one of my favourite Spring photographic subjects – poppies. This flower can impart a very special character to any area, sprinkling the fields with small red dots. Every year they seem to appear in different parts of the region, with stronger or weaker presence.

Last year, I remember sawing them in a good number quite close to Odemira. This year, the best area I have seen so far is just before Milfontes, where there are many red poppies among the lupine fields. I noticed it whilst driving past; there they were right next to the road. A large tract of land covered with yellow lupine and the conspicuous red splashes of the poppies. I was elated to see this view, because just a mere days before this field was empty of such colour. Such is Spring, whimsical and surprising.

I made a mental note to plan and come back for an early morning shooting session in the next couple of days. I knew that the light at sunrise would be great over this area, bathing the flowers in golden light. I also knew that I would have to return relatively quickly, because poppies are fragile – their petals do not resist stronger winds or showers, which had been abundant recently. It is a good thing that I do not mind (very much) to wake up well before sunrise…

Thus, one morning I packed up my photo backpack plus tripod, and off I went. It is a short drive from my house in Longueira, and I really like the time of day before sunrise – Nature seems to be waking up, and the morning was clear with some clouds over the mountains, from where the Sun would rise. Excellent conditions for photography, with some clouds adding interest to the sky. After arriving, I strolled into the fields looking for nice compositions, making the most of side light and contre jour conditions. I had decided to bring only a couple a lenses in my Fujifilm X system; the 14mm wide angle, and the 50-140mm telephoto zoom. The former would be able to frame the typical wide vistas of the landscape, whereas the latter would allow flexibility and some close-ups. To add a bit more versatility, I had also packed an old Canon 250D close-up lens, to use on the zoom. This significantly increases the magnification (up to around 0.25X), which is nice for semi-macro shooting.

I started shooting before sunrise, when the light was still low, just to experiment and explore the surroundings and subjects. The light became much more interesting when the Sun started to crest the mountains in the East; I started to shoot faster, trying to make the most of it. As I was close to the road, I must have made a strange spectacle to people driving past, lying low on the ground to frame the poppies against the rising Sun! At one point, an old farmer showed up with his dog, and we had a nice conversation, with me trying to explain how interesting his field of flowers was to photograph. As I always do, next time I am back I will give him a print.

After about 1 hour, I was confident that I had managed to capture some interesting photos, so it was time to go back home for breakfast. Looking back at the last year or so, I reflected how lucky I was to be able to photograph this beautiful region throughout the various seasons. Each season brings a different feel and emotion, and Spring is no different. I will be back in about a week, with plans to visit the fields near Santa Clara-a-Velha, more to the interior. I think that more flowers are waiting.

Sunrise
Sunrise

Poppy at sunrise
Poppy at sunrise

Sunrise
Sunrise

The fields
The fields

Towering
Towering

Red and blue
Red and blue

Delicate
Delicate

Red and yellow
Red and yellow

Transparent
Transparent

Close.up
Close.up

Fun with Depth of Field

While trying out a new lens for my system (a 35mm f/1.4), I went out to take some photos of some hay bales I had seen before, close to an old and abandoned house. I waited for sunset to have some good light, and off I went.

I tried some compositions, including the one below, catching the Moon and bicycle.

House and Moon
House and Moon

Having such a fast lens available, I then thought about using it at extremes of aperture range, in this case, from f/16 to f/1.4. The results are shown below, in the following order: f/16, f/1.4 (maintaining focus on the bike), and f/1.4 (focusing on the house).

Resting #1
Resting #1

 

Resting #2
Resting #2

 

Resting #3
Resting #3

Normally, when shooting such subjects, I tend to favour  a deep depth-of-field, so that both the foreground and background are acceptably sharp. However, later on, when I looked at the images, my favourite of the series was #2, focused on the bike, and shot wide open at f/1.4. In my mind, the bicycle and hay bale are given more prominence, while the house is still there, identifiable. All bathed by the warm and golden light of the sunset.

Talking about sunset, this is what it looked like that day. Wonderful.

Sunset
Sunset