29 January 2013

Being in the right place at the right time

Landscape photography is mostly that, right? But even if we happen to be on the right place and things, nevertheless, still look dull, we can always sit down, relax and enjoy the view. The right time may happen at any moment.
Fog bow (or glory) near the Pico Ruívo Mountain Hut. Fog bows are similar in formation as the common rainbows, however since the water droplets that reflect the sun light are much smaller than the ones on rainbows, they always have weaker colours.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and Nikkor AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED  VR kit lens. Post-processing (increasing saturation and contrast, slightly underexposing) in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

28 January 2013

Sunset in a romantic belvedere

The belvedere close to Montanha Restaurant, East of Funchal, is a cherished place for lovers and photographers alike. From it, we have one of the most magnificent vistas to the South coast of the island...
... and the sunsets over Funchal bay are, most of the times, memorable:
Both pictures taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor DX AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.01.

27 January 2013

The shape of the Earth

Galen Rowell once wrote that he liked to take pictures to treeless landscapes because the absence of vegetation allowed him to see the shapes of the Earth.
Although I would love to totally agree with him, I have to refrain my enthusiasm when I think about Madeira.
The forest fires that seem to become a Summer a habit since three years ago are allowing us to see the island's geological shape. That's a fact.
But at what cost? Desertification?
I guess his opinion is valid to the desert planes and high mountain massifs of the world. Actually it's valid to every region in the planet where the forest cover was never a part in the natural equation. At least during the most recent geological Era.
But in my island this does not hold true. Since its origins, Madeira was always a luxurious place, rich in water and vegetation.
Then in come the people and, as Lee Marvin wisely sang in "Paint Your Wagon",  gum it up good.
So... do I like to see my island's natural shapes? Yeah. But sometimes I miss her trees.
The shape of the Earth, as seen from the mouth of a tunnel, in the Levada do Folhadal, near the Encumeada Pass.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap Panasonic Lumix 14-42mm kit lens. Post-processing in Adob Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

Funchal old town

Once a bad neighbourhood, the Funchal old town is now a central reference in the city's nightlife and cultural movement.
The cobbled narrow streets are cleaner. Commerce shops, restaurants and bars abound. And there's plenty of tourists walking around, giving the place a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Much like being in Lisboa's Bairro Alto. Only smaller.
The painted doors are one of the attractions in this charming city quarter, with the artists competing amongst themselves for the most original idea or just for showing their unique vision.
Believe it or not... this is a door.
Pictures made with Nikon D300 and Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX Macro DC HSM. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

Ship's crests

Among the various kind gifts we, sometimes, receive from the ship's Captains as a token of appreciation for a pilotage job well done, the ship's crests are, in my modest opinion, the most important ones.
Material value apart (these pieces are basically the ship's coat of arms - either made of metal or plastic - glued over a wooden shield plaque), their symbolic value is quite important: they are the ship's highest symbol and, for that reason are reserved only for official ceremonies, such as offerings between ships or between ships and shore institutions (namely port authorities and Pilot corporations). This normally happens on the vessel's inaugural call in a particular port. In both situations the ceremony assumes a generic form where crests are exchanged between both intervenients.
Therefore, this gift to an individual person is very rare. Personally speaking, in almost eight years of pilotage life, I received this kind gesture only once: in a docking manoeuvre of the M/V Oceana, in the port of Funchal, a few months ago.
In the maritime heraldry, the ship's crests occupy the highest rank. It's the ship's "visit card" by definition. Similarly to the noble families of the medieval times, it gives us, in a glimpse of an eye, an idea of how proud she is about her name.

24 January 2013

Sirui T005 - The ultimate travel light tripod?

For us, outdoor photographers, a tripod is not a luxury. It's a necessity. However finding the good perfect one is, probably, impossible. Let's see what is, normally, for us the definition of a perfect tripod: it has to be, simultaneously, light, small, stable, durable and... cheap.
A piece of equipment that unites all these characteristics still has to be invented. So we diversify. Any person that is a little bit serious about photography will end up acquiring at least two tripods: one, normally heavier, when maximum stability is paramount, and a lighter unit when (as Galen Rowell wisely pointed) it's better to take a light tripod than no tripod at all. Normally the latter is the problematic one. Until now my lightest tripod was a Manfrotto 190XDB that I used with their lightest ball head (the ProBall 308 RC). However, although stable, this combo is still heavy for a person that likes packing light and in most mountain trails it's already on the limit of what we can, comfortably, transport on our hands. In mountain trails, on steep terrain, if we need both our hands to help the progression, the last thing we need is one of them occupied in handling a tripod.
In those circumstances (quite common in Madeira, actually), we might choose one of three possibilities: leave the darn thing behind, strap it to the rucksack or use a tripod strap and pass it over your shoulder. Since I don't wear a rucksack (on daily hikes I enjoy very much my Lowepro Inverse AW200) and in my modest opinion the use of tripod straps is a good way to compromise your equilibrium in more technical steps, I went shopping for a tripod light enough to strap to my waist pack without damaging it and at the same time sturdy enough to allow for some sharp pictures. Galen Rowell used to talk about two which he considered as good options: the Gitzos 001 and 026.
Sadly the prices of Gitzo material are anything but accessible, so I tried to find a cheaper alternative.
And, in this particular case, it appeared as the Sirui T005.
The tripod comes in aluminium (in a choice of three different anodized colours: black, blue and red) and in a carbon fiber version. I bought the version shown in the above picture and one thing I can tell you: it's really light.
It's Gitzo look-a-like construction is visible particularly on the rubberized twisting leg-locks and the quality construction is patent on the machined parts of all the structure. With the legs (five sections!) fully extended, opened in minimum angle and with the center column not extended (as shown in the picture) this light piece of kit has the head's base plate at 1.20mts from the ground. With the additional extension of the center column (it's a telescopic one) we gain an additional 17cms in height, positioning an attached camera at about 1.38mts from the ground. Not bad for an equipment that retracts up to 31cm when fully closed.
Two of the legs have leg warmers, however that rubberized material seems a little delicate for intensive use. Certainly not in the same league as the ones on my trusty Manfrotto 055 NAT3. I think they will wear out quite fast. Have to start looking for spares.
The standard ball-head that comes with the equipment (called C10 by the maker) is well machined and with a smooth movement, having both a ball lock knob and a panning base lock knob. However the max load allowed for this rig (4kgs, according to the constructor) seems to me a bit optimistic. This is an equipment clearly aimed to a consumer DSLR kind of camera with a light kit lens and not for the weight of a professional product, such as the Nikon D4. Or even for a D300 or D700 with a heavier Nikkor lens. So you can imagine my surprise when I read on the SIRUI site that this particular ball head has a max. weight load of 15kgs (or 33.1lb). Now... that's optimism.
One thing annoys me, however: you cannot lower the center column. It's fixed on the tripod's base plate. and you will always have those 21cms of metal between the tripod base plate and the head you choose to put on top of it. I think it was John Shaw who once said that a raised center column turns a tripod into a three legged monopod. I'll see in the future how it works under windy conditions. Granted, there's a retractable hook on the tripod's base plate. You can always suspend some weight on it for additional stability, but... come on Sirui... all you needed was to drill a hole and place on it one more twist locker, pretty much similar to the ones on the legs.
By the time I'm writing this, their website is already showing another version of this tripod. This time, without its center column. But it would be more interesting that the center column was there. And that we could use its extension at our own discretion.
After testing it in the field, I'll update this small review. Meanwhile, a small tripod is better than no tripod. And this small buddy seems to be quite alright for the task. Keep on shooting...

20 January 2013

MV Arion

On the past Friday, a manoeuvre in the port of Caniçal took me very fast to my past career, when, in a vessel much like this one, I was tramping all over the North Atlantic. Sometimes, I really miss the sea.
The M/V Arion alongside the North terminal, in the Caniçal port, on the same day's morning.
Picture made with Panasonic DMC-FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

Pilot Card:
Ship's name: M/V Arion
IMO number: 9177868
Type: General cargo ship - coaster
LOA: 89.71 mts
Beam: 11.65 mts
Summer displacement: 3643 MT
Max draft on manoeuvre: 4.50 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engine, one fixed-pitch propeller, gear-box, total propulsion power: 1500 KW
Rudder: 1 - Balanced
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 194 KW)
Stern thruster: N

The elevating bridge of the M/V Arion photographed at sunrise, on the past Friday morning.
Picture made with Panasonic DMC-FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

On my way back home, after the past Friday morning manoeuvres, I photographed the tuna fleet of Caniçal in dry hibernation, in the port's shipyard, waiting for the next fishing season.
Picture made with Panasonic DMC-FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

02 January 2013

Volcanic heaven

Although the Madeira archipelago is no longer volcanically active, it's telluric origins are no surprise to those who visit this, presently, calm and sub-tropical paradise.
In fact, the old age of the islands, associated with the dramatic erosion forces of nature, shaped the islands in a way that is now difficult to find a large geological accident stating its origins, like a common volcanic cone or crater.
However, there are still a few curious examples all over the island reminding us of those violent birth days, some five million years ago, such as the S. Vicente lava tunnels.
The area where these formations (unique in the archipelago, as far as we know) are located is now an interpretation center and allow us a visually staggering and sensory voyage to the inners of the Earth.
Experiencing a sensory voyage to the Earth's core, on the Volcanism Center of S. Vicente.
JPEG Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100, in the High-ISO  (12800)- Low Light Mode and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0.