Madeira has a lot more to offer than whale-watching, as was to be expected. Most people go off on hiking-tours and we did so as well, when we visited the Risco-Waterfall. Apart from that we toured to the extreme west of the island, to the Ponta do Pargo for a spectacular sunset and Sao Vicente for the vulcanic caves. In a later post I will write about Funchal and Porto Moniz.
For most of these outings I brought my Olympus OMD Em10 Mark II and the 25mm f1.8 (50mm, f3.6 equivalent), a simple, light and effective kit, which is surprisingly flexible.
a view over Sao Vicente. In the foreground the entrance the grotto’s multimedia-experience
Sao Vicente is a small village with about 3000 inhabitants in its district and is probably most famous for the Grutas, the volcanic caves that can be explored as part of a guided tour.
a look inside a side-tunnel
The tour is quite short, though, as it covers only about 700m, but it ends on a multimedia-experience in which the genesis of Madeira is explained, which is quite nice. Through the caves runs a river of pure water that was filtered by the vulcanic rocks, which is drinkable. The small stream forms lakes underground which are very nice to look at.
a small -artificial – lake inside the caves
Outside of caves, you can find some nice restaurants and of course the extreme cliffs that are part of every coastal town in Madeira.
a vista from Sao Vicente
From Sao Vicente you can go along the coastal roads, which for a large part are not tunneled, which is an amazing experience in and of itself. You drive high up the cliffs along meandering roads and you’re sometimes able to catch a view over a valley and the landscape or the open sea.
a view to the south from Ponta do Pargo
At other times, the road leads you straight through a forest. It’s scenic, it’s wonderful and uplifting. I need to go back in order to get some images to prove the beauty of the northern coastal roads.
sunset at Ponta do Pargo
After a lenghty lunch at Porto Moniz, we went to Ponta do Pargo at the western-most point of Madeira and thus the perfect spot for a spectacular sunset. There is a lighthouse, which is still in use and only some other tourists were around for the view.
sunset at the lighthouse
The temperatures in Madeira are mild day and night, so we spent some hours there before and after the sunset, exploring the small space near the lighthouse photographically. Apart from the other people there were only some curious goats that alternatingly viewed us as interesting and fear-inducing.
the goats cannot decide what to do about me
I surely hope you enjoyed this small blog, today. Ahhhh, I think I can throw in just one more picture as an extra. Enjoy!
As I wrote recently, I was tipped-off about the beauty of Madeira, especially in terms of whale-watching there. So I stayed in Calheta, located in the south-west of Madeira, where the Lobosonda team organises whale-watching tours. As Madeira itself is a huge volcanic rock protruding high from the Atlantic ocean, there are no slopes falling gently towards the beach.
in the region of Calheta
Au contraire: the cliffs rise almost directly from the waterline to hundreds of meters and then some. From there you can go even higher towards the centre of the island where you find forests in the clouds with numerous waterfalls you can go visit. I did. There, my camera and flimsy tripod fought with gravity on a bridge across a gorge. They lost. It’s another story.
Back to Calheta.
We stayed at the very affordable yet highly comfortable and spacious Bela Vista Apartment overseeing the mountains to the west, giving us almost perfect sunsets. (In all honesty, they gave us no sunset at all, because of the pastoral mountains… does that amount to „almost perfect“? I do not know, there was a cow in the valley below, so that was nice.)
Booking two tours at Lobosonda gave us double the chances of not only seeing dolphins, but also larger whales like sperm whales or fin whales. The whales did not accept to the invitation to be spotted, though, but we saw lots and lots of bottle-nosed dolphins and Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella). The former do not seem to care for whale-watchers so much and just follow their route through the sea, but the Stenellas circle the boat out of curiousity or some other reason. The two trips were on two different boats, too. First the „Stenella“, named after… the Stenellas, a speedboat, and then an old fishing boat.
the Stenella speedboad
Both give two very different experiences. The Stenella is a fast and low boat with which you can easily follow every spotted school of dolphins.
a school of dolphins
The Ribeira Brava on the other hand is a more comfortable ride, gives you a longer line of sight, because you sit higher above the sea level, but you are not as flexible when taking pictures, because if things happen on the other side of the boat than the one you sit on, you actually have to walk over, find a stable seat and then make your images. That doesn’t work, dolphins are fast. Still, it is much more communicative and I would recommend it if you want your trip to be more social and less pragmatically focussed on „getting the shot“.
There are a couple of possible sightings, as I found out. More often than not, you simply see the fins of the animals as they swim towards their destination. That is quite impressive and is obviously also an opportunity for the animals to breathe.
an Atlantic spotted dolphin coming up to breathe.
This kind of behaviour is probably the most common to see, as most other behaviours like diving or jumping are either inappropriate for seeing the animals or simply very quick actions.
dolphins in front of a vista of Calheta
You can get these kinds of shots with almost any kind of camera gear. A 24-70mm (or equivalent) kit lens will go long enough and the f-stop almost does not matter as there will probably be enough light or the ISO does not interfere with the image quality, because you will not get fine details anyway (we should all be concerned with other things than ISO-grain, anyway). A shutter speed of 1/640 should also be sufficient. The picture above, though was shot at 1/1000th of a second at f8, ISO500 and 300mm equivalent. I shot with a fixed shutter speed of 1/1000th, and had ISO and f-stop on automatic, with a +.3 exposure compensation. If I had to do it again, then +.7 or +1 would have been better as I almost always had to up the exposure in Lightroom.
Another kind of image is the underwater shot, which you can get when the dolphins decide to swim by the boat. They have a different kind of quality to them, more abstract, but quite pleasing to the eye, I think.
a dolphin swimming by the boat
This one was at 86mm (equiv.), ISO400, f5.6 (equiv), 1/1250th with +.3 exposure comp in camera.
Then of course you want to get the dolphin in all its glory, jumping, showing its face and smiling, with a sunset in the background yet fully front-lit as if by magic, no less. Good luck with that. I guess I have to come back to Madeira soon to be more lucky. Still I got some nice shots that are similar, but do not expect those to come easy or be fantastic out of the camera with any kind of consistency. Once you realise a dolphin jumps, it’s almost over and I guess you need a lot of experience to figure out how long a dolphin will swim submerged (and how long of a distance it covers) once it has jumped. It’s a numbers-game, really. Every 50 shots there’s a keeper and every 200 shots there’s one I consider really good. Over my total of 1200 shots there was none that I considered „great“, but that’s wildlife, no one said it was gonna be easy.
almost fabulous, but very far away
The shot above sort of has its merits because there is background to include.
Atlantic spotted dolphin gets its face wet
Here there is good sharpness and a great dynamic to the shot, but who wouldn’t want to see its face?
Bottle-nosed dolphins mocking me
This one I like, but it shows an additional calamity: where to point your camera? Will the one below jump soon or should I stay on the one in the top of the frame?
Here I had a sequence, but at the end of the buffering speed of my automatic drive, i.e. the shot before this one showed almost nothing, and here, the face of the Stenella is already submerged.
now we’re talking!
I do leave you with this almost great shot of a bottle-nosed dolphin, jumping right away from us!
Back again at Hagenbeck’s Tierpark, there was quite a commotion because of four new Siberian tiger babies that even CNN cared to talk about. As I’m free at the moment, I could take the time to stand outside their compound for hours just to take some pictures. Perhaps interestingly, this caused me so much backpain that I had to have my vertebrae reset. Oh well. I think it’s not much compared to the attention the kittens had to endure. Apart from that I made friends with some other photographers there who I went with, which was a good amount of fun and some very expensive equipment got wheeled around between the three of us. But more on that later. First, it’s tiger-cuteness-galore. Enjoy.
All images with kind permission of „Tierpark und Tropenaquarium Hagenbeck“.
Yesterday I went to the „Weltvogelpark Walserode“, which is called the world’s largest bird-zoo, hosting thousands of individuals in six-hundred species. I attended the flight-show and some aviaries to try and get some good pictures. Alas, this time around I lucked out. When photographing birds in fight it’s all about shutter speed. a 1/2000s is preferred, so I dialled that in for a minimum aperture and an iso around 1250. That way I can control changes in light by simply dialling the shutter speed a bit up or down and a M4/3rd camera gives an immediate live-view of whether or not the exposure is good. There is no manual focusing with birds in flight, so I set my EM1 up in continuous autofocus tracking mode with high-speed sequential shutter. In doing so, the camera goes into phase-autofocus, theoretically focusing continuously on the subject I set my original focus on, so I could just follow it with my Oly 75-300ii, getting sharp pictures.
Theoretically. In reality I shot 1.800 images that way. Almost all of them utter, blurry crap. Utter, blurry crap. It’s a well-documented problem that micro-four-third cameras are not well-suited to bird or action photography but I could not believe how dire the situation actually was. That was a discouraging day-out. I’ll show some images that aren’t complete disasters here. The perching birds were shot through wires, so there are some additional problems there. Oh my.
Yesterday I went to visit the „Wikingertage Schleswig“, a really nice Viking-era/Medieval family event. It was filled with extremely nice people, shops, magic and warfare events and everything that you might wish for in such an event. You can learn more about the fair here:
My summer vacation this year took me to Laboe, Schleswig-Holstein. It’s a small vacation-spot right at the Baltic Sea. My hotel is located right there, near the Marine-Memorial. On this first day I took stroll along the beach, taking in how relaxed everyone was. I shall be relaxed one of these days as well. A special treat is that my parents stay only some kilometres away taking a regimen. So here you see them, smiling quite contently at Laboe’s harbour.