Despite it being the back half of November, we were largely cursed with beautiful weather in Portugal. I say “cursed” because in most respects featureless blue skies are challenging to deal with as a landscape photographer. It is generally a lot easier to exploit a parade of interesting clouds that continually migrate across the sky. It’s not all bad, however, because you don’t have to worry about inconveniently-placed clouds on the edge of the frame, etc. Nor is there any need to rush to get set up before an amazing cloud drifts out of the ideal spot. And, of course, clear skies imply no rain, so it is at least comfortable.
This day in particular (Wednesday, November 22) there was nary a cloud in any of my photographs, excepting a few thin high wisps that (thankfully!) caught some light from the setting sun at the end of the day. In part to avoid harsh shadows, I spent a fair amount of time photographing up close to the cliffs. The light in the shadow of the cliffs was very soft and the light was an interesting color. I always set my camera white balance to “daylight,” regardless of the light itself, because (a) it gives me consistency when I initially look at the pictures and (b) I can adjust the white balance afterwards without penalty (since I shoot RAW). I often find that changing the white balance to “shade” even when the picture really was in the shade is too extreme and doesn’t look right (or good). In the case of these two images (above and below) the light in the scene is from a combination of the cool blue sky and the warm sand—not just the sky—and a little more than halfway from the original camera setting to “shade” looked best to me. Since these images don’t have anything that really shows off an objectionable color cast (like skin tones) there is a bit of “season to taste” at work here. You could make an argument that both of these could be a little warmer and I may make that change in the future, but I like them as they are at the moment.
Moving out of the shade, I spent a fair amount of time photographing the creek below as it flowed across the beach. The receding tide had smoothed the sand and, as was our practice, we were always checking with each other to make sure everyone nearby was done with the patch of sand we were about to walk across. When the beach was pristine, we also tried to follow the footsteps of others to keep as much of the beach tidy as possible. This obviously works best with a falling tide where there hasn’t been a lot of time for other beachgoers to (rudely!) mess up the pristine sand. So, in this case, I started further up the creek and slowly worked my way down, photographing different patterns as I went. These images were a great use for my longer (85mm) tilt-shift lens, which helped keep the whole scene in focus from front to back. In the scene below, I liked the way that the sand was so golden and the reflection of the sky in the water was so blue, so I tried a trick that I thought of long ago but may not have ever actually tried: I took two images, the first with the polarizer set to eliminate the reflections on the water (and off the wet sand) and the second with the polarizer set to emphasize the reflections. In the first, the sand looks nice and golden; in the second, the water looks nice and blue. I then blended the two exposures in Affinity Photo to use the stronger blue reflections on the top of the frame. (If you are curious, I boosted the contrast in the blue channel and used it as the starting point for a mask.) I would like to try this basic technique some more in the future.
In the next image, the sun was getting lower in the sky and striking the already-reddish cliffs with warm light. It would have been nice, I think, to have taken this shot a little earlier, before the shadow had crossed the sand and reached the cliff. But you can’t be everywhere at once (an annoying reality). To add some interest to the dark foreground, I positioned myself so the two little
puddles tidepools were each reflecting a different color:
Perhaps I have seen too many Allstate commercials and religious paintings in my life, but when I saw the rock formation below on the cliff I immediately thought “hands”:
Some of the rocks around the beach were covered in vibrant green algae. One of the biggest problems I have with photographing algae—or at least during the processing afterwards—is trying to keep the algae from looking fake because it is so green. This is a bit like the problem I had with Arizona sunsets: they were often so insanely vibrant that they looked fake. (One of the problems is that everyone in the world thinks that they have seen the sun set, but unless they have spent any length of time in Arizona, they really haven’t.) In the image below, since much of the algae is in shadow, the green is not overpowering. Here I chose to focus-stack two images—one focused on the foreground and one focused on the arch—which gives good sharpness throughout the rocks. I don’t really care about sharpness in the sand beyond because it’s not really where I want people to look, anyway. In fact, one of the aforementioned (rude!) beachgoers had tramped through the sand sometime earlier and it took a bit of careful cloning to obliterate signs of their passage.
Eventually, the sun set down the beach to the southwest and the opposite sky (up the beach to the northeast) picked up the beautiful magenta colors shown below. The wet beach reflected the colorful sky nicely and the scattered dark rocks add some nice bits of contrast. I took a number of images from this basic spot, but liked the one below best that showed the surging foam rushing up the beach. I like the dynamic nature of this image, the way the white line of foam leads off into the scene, the vibrant reflection, and the contrast between the streaky water on the left and the smooth beach on the right. I think it could use a little more processing on the left side, but this one could well be wall-worthy.
The images above are actually from two different beaches on the same afternoon. As was typical with this stretch of the Silver Coast, there was great diversity in the available subject matter on these beaches, as these seven images show. As a photographer, it was very fun indeed. Next week, I will do the final beach-oriented post of this series. Like this one, it will have images from two beaches that I haven’t featured yet. After that, things will transition to more waves-crashing-on-rocks areas of the coastline, and I will toss in a few buildings for variety.
It’s going to be another month before I am done with Portugal, so I hope you like them! If you do, and haven’t yet subscribed, please do so below. I am thinking about periodically sending out some perks to my subscribers, such as a quarterly screen-saver, so if you don’t want to miss out on that when it comes, do subscribe!