Despite having lived in Portugal for around 17 years I've spent almost no time in Porto, and as one of my plans for this year is to spend more time shooting different parts of my Portugal Teresa and I decided to spend a few days between Christmas and New Year in the second city.
I wanted to pack as light as possible, and this meant taking a minimal amount of photography kit. Fortunately with the X Series it's really possible to travel light as with my old dSLR system just a camera body and two zooms (a wide angle and telephoto) along with a tripod would already start to take up a lot of space and add a fair bit of weight. I took the X-T1 body instead of the X-T10 because of its weather resistance as I expected rain and also planned to do a sunset on a local beach.
Travelling with the X series cameras really is great because it's not just the cameras that are smaller but the lenses too and it also allows me to use a smaller tripod than the Gitzo Mountaineer that I've lugged around for the last seven or so years. I took a Gitzo Traveller Series 1 with a Really Right Stuff Ultra Light ball head with me to Porto. It fits in a tiny suitcase and the combined weight of the tripod and ball head is just 1.1kg! I've also discovered that the X-T1 works fine with a Joby GorillaPod flexible tripod, and while I wouldn't use it for serious landscape work it's great for night shots or traffic trails. When wandering around a city at night I wouldn't normally want to be carrying a tripod but the Gorillapod just drops into a small messenger bag along with the camera and a lens and I barely know it's there. I took the traffic trail shots below using this set up.
This for me is another example of how using smaller, lighter cameras like the Fuji X Series has put a lot of the fun back into photography for me. I haven't shot traffic trails for years, probably since I first started playing around seriously with photography, but having a system that is small and light enough to carry with me everywhere means I'm much more likely to experiment and play around with different things. I didn't even need to have my cable release with me for these long exposure shots, I just used the wi-fi trigger in the Fuji Cam Remote App on my iPhone.
One night when we were walking around the city there was a night-time marathon that departed from the city centre really close to where we were staying. I'd just dropped the camera with the Samyang/Rokinon 8mm Fisheye into my bag that evening, and played around with some longer exposures of the runners as they passed a church. It's a fun lens to use and it's super fast aperture makes it great to use at night.
There was a lot going on in terms of colour with the different runners and the yellow lighting on the church in the background so I switched to a Black and White film simulation and the shots above are JPEGS straight from the camera.
I also walked down to the Ribeira and took some images of the bridge at night, which can be crossed by foot on both levels so it's easy to walk across and shoot it from bot sides. I also shot the view from the south side of the river next to the Serra de Pilar monastery
High on my list of places to shoot was Livraria Lello & Irmão, a famous bookshop which was voted the third most beautiful bookstore in the world, and was also supposedly a place where JK Rowling would go for inspiration while coming up with the idea for Harry Potter when she lived in Porto. It's very firmly on the tourist trail and photographing such a crowded place creates a few problems which I've attempted to explain in another blog post on the bookshop.
The other location right at the top of my list was Capelo do Senhor da Pedra, a chapel perched on rocks between the beach and ocean a little south of the city. Porto has a fantastic public transport system and getting to the beach was just a matter of catching a small urban train/tram which takes you across the bridge and gets to the town where the chapel is in about 20 minutes. Arriving on the beach and seeing the chapel for the first time was fantastic, it's a location I've wanted to shoot for years and seeing this rocky outcrop in the ocean where someone decided to build a chapel was really cool.
During the our 3 days in Porto of the Christmas period I'd planned to spend a late afternoon/evening there in the hope of getting a nice shot. I was very lucky with the weather as for all the time we were in Porto we had almost non stop rain and overcast skies, but on this particular afternoon we got sun, great light and a few whispy clouds.
So, to shoot the location the first thing I'd done was made sure my time there was at a time when sunset coincided with high tide. The chapel looks a lot better with waves and water surrounding it than it does at low tide when the ocean moves away down the beach.
The next step was finding a composition. This proved relatively challenging as the sun was off to my left which meant before the sun had set I had to shoot along the beach and the edge of the sea with the bright sun outside of the edge of the left of the frame. The problem with this was that it meant including more of the beach on the right that I wanted. As it was high tide, this was a sandy part of the beach which was full of footprints and the occasional person who wandered down to the chapel to take a photograph. The best solution was to actually get into the sea and fill the foreground with the rushing waves and rocks, which meant I could was no longer left with lots of unattractive sand in the image. It's a basic fact of seascape photography that the best compositions ALWAYS involve getting wet so it's better to go prepared with appropriate clothing and footwear, or failing that, with a change of socks and shoes.
It also means getting your tripod wet and standing the legs in wet sand which is liable to move as the waves wash over it. This can create problems with long exposures but usually if you fire the shutter just before the water hits, then it should be OK. For this type of shots I use the live view on the rear LCD almost exclusively as this allows me to constantly see what the waves are doing, which is much more difficult when I have my eye pressed against the view finder.
I wanted to have some movement blur in the water which meant using slightly longer shutter times of around half a second or a second, and as the sun was still pretty strong when I started I used a Lee neutral density filter to block out a little light and slow down the exposure, and a graduated neutral density filter to control the highlights in the sky, which were pretty bright on the left side of the frame where the sun was.
As the sun went down I could change my composition slightly and move my camera a little to the left and cut more of the beach out of the composition, and then as the light levels got lower and lower, I was able to change composition completely and shoot the chapel from directly in front with water on both side, a composition that had been impossible before because it would have meant shooting straight into very strong light. I waited for waves to move around the front of the little island and use the glistening reflective wet sand and water as a foreground.
Sadly, it was just a short trip but enough to get a taste for Porto and what the city had to offer. As we were leaving I took the opportunity to capture a few images of the iconic interior of Sao Bento train station with the fisheye lens again. Apart from the evening when I photographed the Capela the weather was almost exclusively bad, yet the X-T1 still gave me some punchy images of the city and I'd barely been aware I was carrying a complete camera kit with me while we were there.