Our latest trip took us to a tiny island, two and a half hours into the middle of the Atlantic by the name of Faial. Part of a group of volcanic islands known as the Azores this tiny island is only 173 square kilometers with approximately 15,000 inhabitants.
ONE OF THE WINDMILLS FOR WHICH FAIAL IS WELL KNOWN
I chose this as a good opportunity to write one of my articles for Manfrotto, knowing that a piece would find me when I arrived as is often the case. My article focuses on the contrast evident around us every day in contemporary life, and the way this is presented through photography. The cabin we stayed in had all the modern conveniences, lots of land including an orchard and a remote control electronic gate to drive though. We had a fruit grove with lemons, limes and bananas and were two minutes walk from clean secluded beaches. The mix of almost tropical foliage in a European island combined with the beautiful ocean is truly stunning.
MY WIFE ENJOYING THE VIEW FROM OUR PROPERTY OVER TO THE NEXT ISLAND
So, where is the contrast? Two minutes from our accommodation was a wooden shack, loosely termed at that. Basically a couple of squares put together with old planks, plastic sheets and bits of trees and breezeblock. In here lived a family; father and approximately four children of around eight to seventeen who were often left unsupervised for days. The father was a collector of horses which he kept in a field next to the ocean, all of which were emaciated despite the island being extremely verdant. The horses had no water, and half a rusty oil drum, which we ended up filling with fresh water (from a public tap two minutes from the field) Other examples of contrast were houses partially destroyed by volcano eruption in the 1950’s sitting side by side with modern apartments in the town center, and one farmer stepping out of a very new Mercedes and proceeding to use cattle to plow his fields.
THE SHACK HOUSING A FAMILY OF FIVE
So, the photographic context? Well it opens up several potentially volatile sets of questions, for example ‘How do I feel about this?’ ‘To what extent does my informed knowledge justify my opinion?’ ‘Am I sensationalizing something by recording it and sharing it?’ ‘Am I judging, and if so what right do I have to do so?’ By capturing images of such contrast and sharing them, photography removes my opinion from the table and leaves it bare for the viewer. Simply put a two dimensional fact with emotive content, for you to view and feel about as you choose. As animal lovers, my wife and I saw several things which we found upsetting: One example is the fact that all cattle were staked to the ground with about a bodies length of rope to move, and were moved as the grass went down. One cow with her calf had the rope attached to her face by a chain, so tight that it had permanently scarred her. My camera is nonjudgmental. It allows me to record facts and present them as they are, and although it is possible for me to influence the interpretation of an image, the real choice is down to the viewer. As a photographer, the skill lies in presentation of facts. Before pressing the shutter release the most important question to ask is ‘Why?’
SOME WELL FED GOATS FROM THE HERD ON OUR LAND
I mostly shoot in manual, not due to some purist mentality, I am just a bit of a control freak where my images are concerned. Plus in an area which often has a dark foreground and a bright background, you have to be able to control your exposure. A good habit to get into is to check your histogram. Generally when shooting a landscape or a subject where I do not have access to foreground lighting and the background is very bright, I will underexpose by a couple of thirds of a stop or so depending on the light. Check your histogram for ‘clipping’ – if your histogram is touching the left side, you have lost detail in your blacks which will be hard/ impossible to retrieve. If the opposite is true and you have ‘clipping’ on the right side then you have detail lost in the whites (also known as being ‘blown out’) for either of these circumstances, simply reframe and re expose accordingly. The histogram is a great tool in photography, especially when bright light hinders you from a good view of your image display. I also always shoot in RAW, as this gives me the greatest versatility in post production if necessary.
THE MOTHER COW SHOWING HER CHAIN SCARRED FACE – A CULTURAL OR EDUCATIONAL ISSUE?
I travel with a Lowepro slingshot camera bag, in which I carry my beloved Nikon D600, my Nikon SB700 speedlight, a Nikon 50mm 1.8 prime lens, a Nikon 70-300 mm telephoto zoom and a Nikon 24-85 zoom. I keep my Hahnel shutter release cable in there for shots which require a low shutter speed (in darker settings, or settings in which I wish to blur motion) and no camera contact and pair this with my Manfrotto 709B mini tripod. My 055NAT and 128RC head are not for travelling with! I also keep spare batteries, and around 80GB worth of formatted high speed Sandisk memory cards. Hopefully this means I will never be caught short!
MANY CREW DOCKING IN HORTA PAINT A COLOURFUL INSCRIPTION ON THE HARBOUR WALLS, HERE ARE A FEW OF HUNDREDS
One last little tip – always be careful when changing lenses. At one point half way up a volcano, the dust and grit were blowing a storm. If you don’t need to change a lens – don’t. The less exposure your sensor gets to grit and dust the better – I think a prime lens is best in these conditions as it lowers the chance of dust getting in the revolving barrel on a zoom. When changing your lens, always face your camera body and current lens to the ground (with a good grip!) This reduces the chance of foreign bodies entering your camera when the lens is removed.
A LANDLOCKED BOAT BEING RECLAIMED BY MOTHER NATURE NEAR TO OUR BEACH