Post confinement

Under the current health crisis, many governments have implemented states of emergency, where confining people to their houses to break the infection chain was required. In Portugal that state of emergency lasted for 6 weeks, from mid-March to end of April. Thanks to this, we had success in curtailing the spreading of the infection and are since 4th of May slowly reopening some economic activities.

In early March, just before the lockdown was put in place, I managed to make a short trip to my house in the southwest coast, in Longueira. I wrote about it in this article:

After 2 months, and with the lifting of restrictions, I was able to return with my wife to Longueira for a weekend. The local municipality, Odemira, has only 5 reported cases as I write this. This is not strange, because Odemira is the largest municipality in area, and the one with the lowest population density. This is a trait common to the entire province of Alentejo, where social distancing is already the norm, due to the large distances between villages.

It was good to go back and travel a bit in the area; all the restaurants and small cafes are still close (they will reopen 0n May 18th), and there was hardly anyone on the streets.  But at least it was possible to enjoy this “new freedom” while admiring the views in Milfontes, Almograve, and Cabo Sardão, for example. After being at home for 2 months, it was great to be out in one of my favorite places.

Of course, I took my photo backpack with me, ready to go on a photo walk, should the opportunity present itself. That was the case one afternoon, where I spent a few hours near Cabo Sardão. I have photographed this area so many times, it has become a challenge to obtain different photographs. This afternoon, the weather was quite unstable, with many showers and the occasional sunshine spell. I parked the car at the end of a dirt track, near the cliffs, and just admired the view and the feel of the place. I was thankful for my family being healthy and felt blessed for being able to be back here, enjoying the salty wind in my face and the crashing of the waves below. I could not think of a better place to deconfine.

Wind patterns in sand
Over the cliffs
Sea stacks

After some minutes of simply “being there”, I started walking along the coastal trail, paying close attention to potential photographic subjects and elements. We are in the middle of Spring now, so there are many flowers around, some of them quite small, others clinging to the rock fissures, all buffeted by the strong winds. These winds keep shaping the consolidated and rusty colored sand dunes into small canyons and plateaus, where rounded pebbles have found their resting place. The surrounding landscape seems to strike a balance between the erosional forces of the sea, wind and rain, and the resilience of the rock cliffs.

Natural flow
Resilience
Erosion

In my pursuit of finding new angles for familiar subjects, I often ended up lying flat on the ground photographing small flowers, sometimes isolated, other times as foregrounds for the receding cliffs and sea. I have also tried several long exposures, with the idea of conveying this feeling of perpetual change, showing the relationship between the natural elements of water, wind, and rock formations. During the afternoon there were a few showers, but even then, they helped to keep the atmosphere clear and bright. I kept shooting until sunset time, simply enjoying being out in such beautiful surroundings. Hopefully, this health crisis will pass sooner than later, and we will emerge from it stronger and better human beings.

On the edge
Spring in the dunes
Spring in the dunes
Small flower
Small flower
Clinging
Small flower
Tidal flow
Dune flowers
Cabo Sardao lighthouse

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