Today I just want to share some photos that I made this last weekend in one of my favourite regions, the Southwest Portugal Coast of Alentejo. I am talking about the area that roughly goes from Milfontes in the North, to Zambujeira in the South, along the coast; and also, goes inland towards the hills of Odemira. The purpose of this weekend was not photography, but simply relaxing and taking care of Spring planting in my backyard!
Still, you cannot be a photographer and go on a weekend without carrying a camera, right? In my case, that was the wonderful small and highly capable Fujifilm X100T, and a small travel tripod for good measure… my wife, being a wonderful and understanding lady, came along for the trip, and only returned to the car at Cabo Sardão (our last stop of the day for sunset shots), because of the cold winds.
It is wonderful to travel in the area at this time of the year, without the presence of the many tourists that flood some locations in the Summer. The fields are turning green with the approaching Spring, flowers are popping up, and there is an overall quietness that makes life happy. These were the feelings that I was experiencing while making the photos in Milfontes, Odemira, Longueira, and Zambujeira.
As always, the trusty X100T performed very well, the focal length is suitable for my subjects. Plus, its Macro mode is very useful for the occasional close-up of flowers.
Whenever I find an interesting and new location, I always plan to visit several times. This was the case with a famous shipwreck near Milfontes, in Portugal’s southwest coast. For more than 20 years, there is a Dutch cargo ship being pounded by the waves in a small rocky beach. This makes for a picturesque subject, set against a scenic coastal background. This time of the year, without the summer crowds, this stretch of still pristine coastline is well worth visiting.
I visited the place for the first time in October last year, to get a feel for the location, and to scope potential viewpoints and compositions. With the sidelight from the approaching sunset, I grabbed a few interesting photos of the now-rusted ship. These are some photos I made back then, including a panorama of Milfontes.
I made a mental note back then to return during the winter, at the blue hour before sunrise. The occasion arose last Sunday, on a very cold January morning… the small beach is easy to reach, within walking distance of the small lighthouse of Milfontes, where the path starts. I was carrying a small backpack with my Sony A7II and FE 24-70 f4 zoom lens, a light and versatile high quality combination. Sure, the zoom lens is not bitingly sharp in the corners like the Loxia or Batis lenses, but then, it provided the advantage of not having to change lenses with frozen hands… a big plus in my book!
Thanks to my early visit, I could set up the tripod quickly in selected vantage points, and started shooting some long exposures. The first one, after some calculations, was about 7 minutes long; plus, another 7 minutes for the in-camera long exposure noise reduction. So, I had about a quarter of an hour to check the news on my mobile.
From then on, it was smooth shooting all along, trying different framings of the pebbly beach and the shipwreck. I was packing to go back to the car park, when I noticed a fog bank developing at the river Mira estuary; this seemed like a fantastic and unexpected opportunity, so I hurried back along the dunes. Thankfully, the fog lasted for another 30 minutes or so, and I could grab some more interesting photos!
Almograve beach, Alentejo coast, around 5.30 am. I woke up early one August morning to photograph this beach at sunrise. After Milfontes (previous posting), this time there was no fog, but the quietness was similar. In a few hours, the beach would be bustling with people, but for now, I had it all for myself. Well, apart from the seagulls and a couple of fishermen trying their luck during the low tide.
In recent years, this beach has seen a significant increase in sand in the intertidal zone, which has covered numerous rocks. This has completely changed its profile, and opens new opportunities for photography. In a way, I wanted to document this new character of a beach that I have known for 40 years.
I started by taking photos of the full Moon setting over the sea, with the bonus of some wispy clouds providing added interest to the scene. I tried several exposure times, in the end I decided to keep the 30 seconds one. I knew I could recover the highlight detail on the Moon, and the resulting cloud movement worked out nicely.
From those initial shots, I went down to explore further, making several compositions featuring the rocks, the vastness of the sand at low tide, and even some star trails. The clouds lit by the early morning sun, with some seagulls flying, also resulted in interesting photos. Indeed, there were no lack of interesting things to photograph.
Once more, it really paid off to wake up early and go out in this session. I came away with some keepers, and experienced this beach in its full potential, when it is deserted. And I arrived home just in time for breakfast with the family.
What do you do if you wake up at 5 am one August morning, with the plan to go out and do some pre-sunrise photography in a nice place, but then everything is covered in thick fog? This happened to me recently, when I wanted to go to the picturesque small village of Milfontes, in the Mira river estuary (Alentejo coast in Portugal), in order to try and get some good landscape photos. Early in the morning is always mandatory for some good and interesting light, and the summer one more reason to go out this early: avoid the summer crowds on this popular beach destination…
I bit the bullet and went out anyway, despite the fog. My plans of framing the village, bridge and houses, against the rising sun, with the beach as a backdrop, was gone. So I quickly came up with plan B, which was to focus more on some studies featuring the sand patterns, the calm water, and a couple of small piers. The difference between the hustle and bustle of the beach during the day, and the calm that was now everywhere, was really big. All I could hear in the near darkness was the slow flow of the water lapping against the margin, and a few seagulls that were probably waking up.
In the end, I was happy with the results I got, and above all, happy with the experience of tranquillity that I had, with a long stretch of nature just for myself. As I was packing up to go leave the place, I met two other early birds, a couple that were starting they daily trek towards another beach. This is what I like about this region: even in the middle of a busy summer season, it is possible to experience the place fully.
Technically, the photos were taken on the Sony ILCE-7 and the Zeiss Batis 25 f/2 lens, all on a tripod. With the low light levels, I was of course using a tripod and Bulb mode with a remote release.
With the advent of digital photography, black and white (B&W) photography is quite popular these days. Almost every camera has a B&W mode, and there is even one camera (from Leica) that has a dedicated B&W sensor. In my film days I used to shoot a fair amount of B&W film, that I would drop in a respectable lab in Lisbon. Then I would scan the negatives, for digital archiving and web publishing.
Of course today things are a lot simpler, but, some may argue, not necessarily better. I do not wish to embark on a discussion of what is better for B&W, film or digital. I am only concerned about what B&W can bring to my photography, and some choices thereof. For landscape photography, B&W can add interest and drama to a scene, distilling the subject to its basic lines, shapes, and textures. No more colour to distract us.
One thing that is important to understand is, it takes a lot more than converting a file from colour to B&W, to achieve a good B&W photo. Timing, lighting, subject, and composition, have to be there from the start. Also, it is important to learn how to “see” say a landscape, or your subject, in B&W tones. When I am out in the field, I often think and previsualize how the scene would look like in B&W. With many cameras today, it is even possible to set the B&W mode, and the LCD will display in B&W. As I wrote above, it has never been simpler.
Using the example below, of a long exposure I took recently near Cabo Sardao, southwest Portugal, I thought at the time that it would make a good B&W: the streaks in the clouds would be enhanced compared to the colour version, while maintaining the texture in the cliffs and water. But I also like the colour version, I like the contrast between the golden cliffs at sunset and the blues of the sky and water. In the end, both versions work for me, for different reasons. Converting this file was easy, just a few moments in Silfer Efex, a really nice and powerful software.
So, next time you are in the field, think about how a scene could be improved by using B&W; it could be by eliminating coloured distracting elements, by enhancing textures or contrasts between elements, or a combination of other aspects.
All landscape photographers know that the best time to be out shooting is during the blue hours and golden hours. This is when the light is at its best, with golden hues and long shadows to lift even a normal scene to another level. But how about going out shooting well after the sun has set? In the last few years I have been doing a series of individual “projects” (for lack of a better word), going out into the field at night to photograph some landscapes, and see what comes out.
This is a lot easier to do with digital sensors, than it was with film. And the results can be both good and surprising, especially with the latest generation of sensors, that have low noise during long exposures, and benefit from techniques such as “long exposure noise reduction” (where a dark frame is taken with the same exposure time of the actual one, to subtract the noise in-camera). Of course a good tripod and ball head, plus some sort of remote release, are necessary, as we are dealing with Bulb exposure mode. On the gear side, a so called full-frame camera (with a sensor the size of what 35mm film used to be) helps a lot in the noise department, but smaller sensor cameras are also improving all the time, so do not feel restricted about it.
Recently, during my holidays, I went out to a favourite location of mine, Cabo Sardao, in the Alentejo coast, Portugal. I wanted to try some landscapes under the full moon, or “moonscapes”. I know the area very well, which helps in planning and selecting some interesting locations. This type of long exposure is a bit of trial and error, but again, much easier to do than before. It is possible to raise the ISO to the maximum, just to fire off a few shots and verify exposure time and composition. Then, once satisfied, just lower the ISO and adjust the exposure times accordingly. You can do the very simple math in your head, or get some sort of app to help you out. In the end, you will be reaching multi-minute exposure times quickly, so why not take some time, relax, let the gear work its magic, and enjoy the surroundings?
As enjoyable as the photos is the experience of being out there in the middle of the night, in a secluded place, admiring mother Nature. Try it out some day, summer is great for this type of photography in the Northern hemisphere at least, with warmer nights. It is a literally eye-opening experience, as the camera “sees” in the dark much better than your eyes.
This year I had a special birthday (the 50th), atop Portugal’s highest point, the mountain of Pico, in the Azores island of the same name. At 2351m above sea-level, the volcano rises majestically from the ocean, being the third highest in the Atlantic to rise from the ocean bottom. The idea to go up the mountain was my wife’s, and I am grateful to her for such an incredible experience.
We planned everything in due time, since July is a busy month in the Azores. We wanted the event to be a family one, so my son and daughter also went with us. After some research, we decided to book with Tripix, a recently established adventure company. Everything went smoothly, the guide was very good and knowledgeable. The company is also ecologically sound, as it provides wooden poles, not metal tipped ones; the latter end up eroding the lava rocks, which is bad, especially with the increasing number of trekkers. We went up on the afternoon of the 19th, camped inside the crater, and came down the following morning.
The climb is not a technically difficult one, but it still requires relatively good physical shape, due to steep inclines, and some loose ground near the top. Our group consisted of 8 people, plus the guide. The Pico volcano is integrated in a natural reserve, and provides amazing views over the central group of islands of the Azores archipelago, like Faial and São Jorge. It took us about 5 hours to climb up from the starting point at 1200m altitude, and about 3 hours to come down the following day.
Of course I wanted to do some photography, and it is always a challenge to decide what to take on the backpack; especially when also carrying a tent, sleeping bag, food, and some extra clothing for the colder night. In the end, I decided to carry my two Sony A7 cameras, one with the Zeiss Batis 25mm lens, and the other with the Sony 55 lens. Plus, a small but robust Manfrotto table top tripod for long exposures at night. This light kit fitted nicely inside a small 22 litre backpack.
It just happened that the night of the 19th was a full moon, which was a good opportunity to photograph under special conditions at night; also, the weather was clear during the sunset and the sunrise, so I managed to get some interesting shots of the moonset and the shadow of the volcano. We stopped a few times going up, which allowed for some picture taking time of the great views. In the morning of the 20th, we woke up at 4am to climb the Piquinho, the small volcanic cone created by the last eruption in the year 1718. From there, we watched the blue hour developing, and after that the sunrise. The volcano is still active, with some fumaroles smoking through the vents.
In the end, this was a memorable experience, that my family enjoyed very much. And I came away with some unique photos for my portfolio too. The Sony kit performed really well, never missing a beat.
This post is more or less a continuation of the last one, in the sense that the photos were taken during the same trip to Muscat, Oman. However, this time I want to describe how I came about making these images, and how they ended up like this, in black and white.
The first two photos were taken just outside my hotel, in a seaside walk that is flanked by some trees. On a late night walk, I noticed that some trees were in bloom (the frangipanis), and I imagined that they would make some interesting subjects at dawn. So I planned accordingly, and the next morning I woke up early and went out shooting. As a bonus, the sky was stormy and the light soft, providing and interesting background. I immediately thought that I had good material for black and white images. I ended up with a composition showing the whole tree, and another one showing branches “reaching” into the sky, and into each other. Some quick adjustments in Silver Effex, and all was done.
For the next pair, the story was different. These were taken in Wadi Bani Kharus, during a geological field trip in the mountains. I was excited to be back in an area that I know very well, having lived in Oman for 7 years. In terms of landscape, the Oman Mountains provide some of the most picturesque and rough scenery, almost primeval in character. It was late afternoon when we parked our vehicles near a small village. The houses hugging the mountainside, and the ridges against the sky, made for a very typical shot. On the way out, we caught the last rays of sunshine filtering through the haze, and silhouetting the ridges; to somehow enhance the primeval feel of the instant, I opted for an antique plate effect for the black and white conversion.
Looking at the images, they remind me of what it felt like taking that morning stroll, or being inside the mountain range.
For this first post of 2016, I want to share some photos taken in one of my favourite places, the Brejo Largo beach, in Portugal’s southwest Vicentina Coast. One can reach it by walking (my favourite way) or via 4WD through off-road tracks. I have photographed in this beach for about 20 years, and it never disappoints me: the beach profile is always changing, due to the action of wind and sea, and the light is different through the seasons.
Winter light, on cold and stormy days, is particularly attractive, with the low sun providing long shadows and some warmth. Couple this with low tide near sunset, and the result is wonderful. This is what happened during this visit, where I have used my ZEISS Batis 25 and Batis 85 lenses, to shoot some seascapes. This focal length duo has long been a favourite of mine, with the 25mm providing wide vistas, and the 85mm allowing for some tighter compositions.
In my opinion, ZEISS has some real winners in these lenses, they are really good and a joy to use in the field. Performance with smoothness, I would say. I also continue to experiment with the Big Stopper filter from Lee Filters, which allows the use of several minutes’ exposures, rendering the sea and sky in special ways. One has to try several times, in order to achieve the intended result, as the result changes constantly, with the sea and clouds always moving.
Notice your surroundings. This may seem obvious, but how many times, as photographers, we do not pay enough attention to our environs? Even when you do not have a camera, take mental, or written note, of potential places to photograph.
This is what I did recently, when travelling by coach between Lisbon and Milfontes, on Portugal’s southwest coast. The driver took a different than normal route, and I was soon noticing some interesting places before arriving at the village of Cercal: there were the typical rolling hills of Alentejo, golden from the summer, with plenty of majestic “sobreiros” (the tree from which bark cork is made), small farms with hay bales, and even abandoned schools. I took note, and in a late summer afternoon last August, I drove there to explore the area.
Cercal is just about 20 km from the coast, but the feel is of a true “interior” village, making a living from farming and agriculture. From there, is a short drive to the even smaller villages of Espadanal and Fornalhas, with many interesting stops along the way. I took photos of characterful trees, abandoned farm houses and schools, empty roads, and hay bales in the hills.
The light was a bit challenging, with the late afternoon sun playing hide-and-seek… but the clouds made for some interesting long-exposure shots.
Of course the coast and the beaches beckon, but if you visit the region, make an effort to stop and appreciate the countryside also, it is well worth your time.