The Algarve region on the southern coast of Portugal is well-known for its extensive network of highly eroded limestone cliffs, caves, towers, and arches. The beaches that are found among these structures are extremely popular, so it can be difficult to find time to explore this area photographically without finding the most interesting scenes filled with people. As with most interesting landscape spots, the solution is to go early in the morning.
I was visiting friends who had newly relocated to the Algarve, and they took me on an early morning walk along the cliffs that generated a large number of interesting photographs. In the process, I became enamoured of using long exposures to completely calm the sea. I found it especially interesting to do this here, as it brought out the color of the sea, exposed underwater features, and, most of all, created a marvellous contrast between the glassy sea and the contorted structures rising from it.
There was one place I wanted to visit that was far from their home, so I made plans to go there by myself early on the day of my departure. This place was Ponta da Piedade, an area of cliffs, caves, and coves highly concentrated in one place. I had not actually seen it, so I really did not know what to expect.
Beachcombers in Portugal tend to be late risers, so I arrived at the parking area early in the morning to find it completely deserted. From this vantage point, I could see nothing of special significance on the coast and wondered if this would be a big disappointment. But it took only a short walk to reveal what lay below, and I was absolutely staggered by the scene. Aside from being as wild as had been described, the cliffs are very high and steep, and it is frankly terrifying to walk out on some of the tiny viewpoints that measure only a few feet across and fall away abruptly in all directions. I do not like heights, and I had to contain my fear while carefully setting up a tripod and camera to record some of this. Because of the steepness, getting right to the edge of the cliffs is essential for the best shots.
I was able to work for almost an hour as the sun rose, trying different exposures and viewpoints. The sea was calm, and I found that 15-30 seconds exposure gave me the effect I wanted. I used a wide-angle lens to emphasize the height and bring as much of the scene into the image as possible. I knew I would later have to apply keystone correction that would shrink the view, so I deliberately put as much of the subject as reasonable into each shot. I stayed for a few hours overall as people began to arrive. When I left, I was amazed to find that there were now hundreds of cars parked in every possible spot – a very far cry from when I arrived.
This shot was one of my favorites. I took quite a few of this scene to ensure I had at least one tack-sharp image without much plant movement. The sun was still low enough to bring definition to the stone but high enough to light the water and bring out the undersea features. A large version of this now hangs on the wall at my friend's house as a thank you from me.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor