Behind the shot: Bay of Caldeirinhas

If you don't want to read the story and just want to see my final image, scroll down the page past the first picture.

In April 2017, I visited Faial for three days to shoot Capelinhos, the volcano at the very end of Europe.
During the last day of my stay, I knew I was going to take the ferry back to Pico before sunset and therefore decided to simply wonder around and scout for future shoots.

Below you see one of the pictures I took of the Baía das Caldeirinhas in harsh, unflattering light.

Bay of Caldeirinhas - snapshot

There were two things I very much liked about Caldeirinhas:

1) The water in the bay was so transparent that I could see the seafloor in its shallows, a characteristic I knew I could greatly enhance by using a polarising filter at sunset. Why at sunset? Because the bay faces South and the sun sets at 90° to it - i.e. West. In case you did not know, you get the maximum effect of glare removal with a polarising filter when the sun is 90° to either side of your lens.
On the other hand, the effect is very small or zero when the sun is right in front or behind you. 

2) The Baía das Caldeirinhas is a no-access Marine Protected Area, giving me extra motivation to portrait its beauty through my photography.

I started to plan my sunset shot of Caldeirinhas as soon as I got back to Pico.
Of course, any day with a potential for a nice sunset could have worked. However, I thought it would be a good idea to also try to shoot the Milky Way above the horizon, which requires dark skies (no moon or no much of it, basically).
Due to several factors, such as bad weather, too bright skies and being busy with other things, I only went back to Faial on the 24th July 2017.

The weather forecast looked nice but, as soon as I boarded the ferry from Pico to Faial, it started to rain. The sky cleared during navigation and, when I arrived in Faial, the weather was even too nice: not a single cloud in Caldeirinhas, which was a hit to my hope for a nice sunset shot.
I knew I should not worry too much, though. The weather in the Azores can change so quickly that you should better be quick at complaining about it :-) 
Indeed, after a short drive to my location, I found myself again in a light drizzle.
Fortunately, it did not last long and around 8pm I got set up, ready for the golden hour to happen.

I knew already I was going to shoot at 18mm. Since I am an APS-C shooter, it is the full frame equivalent of 27mm. Furthermore, I knew I wanted to shoot lower than in the snapshot above, especially in case I had a nice sky, so that I could include more of it.
Last, but not least, I wanted the water to be very smooth and I therefore planned to use a 6-stop neutral density filter, along with the polariser.

This is the shot I got. Click it to see the picture on my portfolio website:

Baía das Caldeirinhas - final shot

I must say that I am happy with my image.

I shoot this exact scene for almost 4 hours, all the way from before sunset to complete dark. I did that because I knew my final shot was going to be a blend of at least two exposures:
1) A long exposure for everything but the sky, so that I could get very silky waters (6-stop neutral density filter + polarising filter)
2) A second, much shorter shot to expose correctly for the sky (no filters).

There is a time when you first think of a picture you would like to take. At the beginning, it is just in your mind. Then you start planning the shot and, if you are lucky, one day you will capture the image you dreamt about for so long.

When that happens, it is hard for me to describe the feeling of accomplishment and it is definitely the aspect of photography that motivates me the most.

Later on that night I tried to shoot the Milky Way. I knew its Galactic Centre (the brightest part of it) would appear above the horizon from about 11pm. But this is another story...


Top Photo Award on GuruShots

I am pleased one of my Lake Bled pictures was awarded Top Photo Winner in the Vacation Destination challenge on GuruShots!

Click the image or the link below to access and learn more about my achievement:

Somewhat unexpectedly, rather than being a sunrise or sunset shot, my best performing image of Bled (Slovenia) was taken during the day.

I am going to publish a Behind the Shot post soon, but there is something I want to share with you right away: the use of neutral density filters in harsh light (or, in general, daylight) has taken my landscape photography to the next level.

In this case, I used a big stopper - i.e. a 10-stop ND filter
That allowed me to increase the shutter speed to 63 seconds and get a very nice, smooth reflection of Bled Island on super silky waters.
Try that out if you haven't yet ;-)

The image is available as wall art, print or digital download on my portfolio website.
My blog readers can get 20% off on all print products by using the coupon code enricophotoblog2017 at checkout.


Shooting Capelinhos Volcano

What you see above is a shot I thought I would never be able to take.
The subject is Capelinhos, a volcano located on Faial Island in the Azores.
I have been there quite a few times but, as my pictures were never really satisfactory, I ended up thinking there was no convincing composition possible for that spot.

Of course, that was a silly thought. You know how it goes... you search the web for images of the place you are planning to shoot and, usually, you quickly find a whole bunch of amazing ones.
Well, with all respect, that was not the case for me with Capelinhos, giving me a second reason to believe the volcano was way more dramatic than it is photogenic.

It goes without saying that I was soon to change my mind. For my birthday this year, my wife Dania booked a 2-night stay very close to Capelinhos.
Guess what? Having two sunrises and two sunsets at my disposal made it a totally different ball game.
I know what you are wondering: - Why the hell did I keep shooting Capelinhos in harsh daylight before? -
Good question. The answer is that I always had to catch the last ferry to Pico after my shoots in Faial.

The important point here is not that the golden hour is a much better time for photography. We all know that.
What I am trying to say here is that light is absolutely everything for Capelinhos and I guess it has to do with its monotone colour in daylight.

Look at one of my previous shots there:

While the image above sells reasonably well locally as a postcard, I do not find the foreground nearly as interesting as the one I picked for my April 2017 shot. Yet, I had to include quite a lot of that foreground in the picture, since I needed to be far enough from the subject to keep both the volcano and the lighthouse in the frame.

As an alternative, I could have had the sky filling 2/3 of the frame from the top, leaving just 1/3 for the volcano and the lighthouse. But then again, the sky was not so interesting that day at 1pm.

Now, one year later, it is easy for me to criticise the composition above:

  1. I should have moved more to the left and include more water in the frame.
  2. I should have shot wider.
  3. I should have looked for a more interesting foreground, such as rocks and boulders (as in my best shot of Capelinhos).
  4. I should have shot lower (to make those rocks and boulders more interesting).

Easier said than done, right? But once again, light is absolutely everything for Capelinhos, no matter what composition you choose.

The place looks very dramatic and almost scary. You walk around and it does not take long until you realise that something apocalyptic happened there.
In 1957-1958 the volcano erupted for 13 months in a row. It all started with a submarine eruption and then involved lava bombs, pyroclastic clouds as well as lava streaming into the ocean.
A new island even emerged off the cape, which sank again in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after.
Although there were no casualties, thousands of people had to leave their homes.

In 1958, the United States of America helped through the so called Azorean Refugee Act, by authorising the emigration of 1500 people. Among the Congressmen sponsoring the act was a young Senator of Massachusetts named John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The first floor of the ruined lighthouse you see in my shot is still completely buried in ashes and sand.
Considering that Flores (the westernmost island of the Azorean archipelago)  lies within the North American plate, the volcano of Capelinhos can be considered the westernmost point of Europe.

Back to photography, apocalyptic landscapes and warm tones do not exactly go hand in hand.
Indeed, I do believe the best time to shoot Capelinhos is on the edge of the blue hour (for the non-photographers, it is the time after sunset when everything gets a blue colour cast).

The story behind this shot would not be complete if I did not mention that I actually had a big issue while I was there: I assumed that any of the long exposures I had taken would be long enough to have the dark foreground decently exposed. Well, I was mistaken!

After I exposed for the sky and bracketed two stops higher for the volcano and the rocks, I was ready to get my camera off the tripod and go home. Since I shoot raw, this is normally enough to have details in the darkest parts of my images.

What I did not consider is that I had never shot before as dark a subject as Capelinhos in twilight.
Luckily, I have the habit to double check the histogram of my shots before I wrap up a shoot and, sure enough, it was evident that I had constantly clipped the shadows to such an extent that I would not have been able to recover a clean, reasonably noise-free foreground from any of those exposures.

By that time the sunset was well over and it was getting very dark very quickly.
Drama! What to do? Give up?
Of course not. Landscape photography is all about surviving tonnes of frustration to rarely capture a milligram of magic.

In the end, it was not that bad and I managed to save my shot (and birthday!) with a 72-second exposure in increasing winds.
Although the picture did not look very promising on the back of my camera, I managed to pull off a nice foreground with just a couple of tweaks in Adobe Lightroom:

  1. Exposure: +0.70
  2. Shadows: +100 

Please see below the Before and After:


I am extremely happy I was able to get the best of both the golden and blue hour on the evening of the 16th April 2017. That made it indeed a very Happy Birthday!

Below is my final shot, which is a blend of two exposures followed by more post-processing (including setting the white balance, as it is completely off in the image above). 
The picture is available for sale as print, wall art or digital download. My very patient blog readers can get 20% off anything they buy in my portfolio website just by entering the coupon code enricophotoblog2017.

The volcano at the very end of Europe
Click the image to access it on my Portfolio Website.

What a birthday present Dania gave me. Once again, I must thank her for a shot I would not have taken otherwise.
Why 'once again'? Find it out here...


Capelinhos. (2017, April 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:02, April 25, 2017, from