Landscape and Travel Photography - Cabo De Gata, Spain

Landscape and Travel Photography - Cabo De Gata, Spain

A short trip to the South of Spain was a good occasion to push myself out of my comfort zone and create some new work. While I'm usually shooting my travels in a documentary fashion with a small camera, I decided to try to shoot more deliberate with my medium format camera and even a tripod. The end results on such a trip are less important than learning new things and that's what this post is about. 

 Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/1600 - f/8 This shot was taken during our 3 hour drive from the airport to our final destination. We went off the highway to get a coffee and something to eat and ended up in this middle of nowhere hotel/restaurant. My GFX is usually a camera that I use only in controlled situations to get the most out of that medium format sensor. But what I really like about this camera is that it's ergonomics and features allow it to be the highest end point and shoot camera. I shot this in auto ISO and aperture priority, just like I often shoot with my X-series cameras. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/1600 - f/8
This shot was taken during our 3 hour drive from the airport to our final destination. We went off the highway to get a coffee and something to eat and ended up in this middle of nowhere hotel/restaurant. My GFX is usually a camera that I use only in controlled situations to get the most out of that medium format sensor. But what I really like about this camera is that it's ergonomics and features allow it to be the highest end point and shoot camera. I shot this in auto ISO and aperture priority, just like I often shoot with my X-series cameras. 

Cabo de Gata is a rugged and wild area in the South of Spain that isn't very touristic compared to other nearby regions. In fact, we found it to be pretty much deserted to the point that it sometimes was a challenge to get a cup of coffee. It's clear that in the warmer months this area is busier but when we were there in the middle of March, the eclectic collection of retired RV dwellers and hippie vanlifers had the place to themselves. 
The area is pretty divers with beautiful beaches, rolling hills, desert, and steep peaks. Unfortunately most of the flat areas are the home of huge greenhouses made of plastic. These create environmental and social issues and it's rather sobering to see where our vegetables come from. The documentarian in me would have liked to explore this industry more but that would have asked for a lot more time than we had. 
The weather wasn't great when we were there. The temperatures were fine but during our stay the constant stormy winds made it feel a lot colder. 

Our first outing was to the desert.

 Stitched pano with the GFX50S and the 63mm, handheld. When you don't have a wide (enough) lens, you can always stitch multiple images together to achieve a wider view. Stitching over twenty 50 megapixel images together in Lightroom, proved to be quite a task for my  Microsoft Surface Pro . It took the Surface about an hour to create this panoramic picture. 

Stitched pano with the GFX50S and the 63mm, handheld.
When you don't have a wide (enough) lens, you can always stitch multiple images together to achieve a wider view. Stitching over twenty 50 megapixel images together in Lightroom, proved to be quite a task for my Microsoft Surface Pro. It took the Surface about an hour to create this panoramic picture. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 10" - f/32 - VariND filter I shot this rock formation with a variable ND filter and a tripod, to create a longer exposure so the clouds would become more interesting.

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 10" - f/32 - VariND filter
I shot this rock formation with a variable ND filter and a tripod, to create a longer exposure so the clouds would become more interesting.

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/800 - f/8 This desert was used as the location for many films like Sergeo Leone's spaghetti westerns and Lawrence of Arabia. Some of those sets (and bad remakes of them) are used as tourist attractions these days. A look from the outside on these theme parks was enough for us not to pay the pretty steep entrance fees. It all looks very fake to be honest. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/800 - f/8
This desert was used as the location for many films like Sergeo Leone's spaghetti westerns and Lawrence of Arabia. Some of those sets (and bad remakes of them) are used as tourist attractions these days. A look from the outside on these theme parks was enough for us not to pay the pretty steep entrance fees. It all looks very fake to be honest. 

I've taken some decent landscape pictures over the years but mostly when I just stumbled upon a perfect scene with all the pieces of the puzzle already in place. It's a different thing when you have to actively search for good shots. All the theory about camera settings, light direction, ... are familiar to me but that didn't always translate into good shots. 
The reason why I wanted to make high resolution landscape/travel images on this trip is that one of my clients asked me if I had any good shots that they could use to print crazy big as decoration for their facilities. They ran some tests with pictures shot on my X-series cameras and although they print big very well, the resolution wasn't enough for this project. You see, this client is in the printing industry so they want huge prints that can stand up viewing them from up close too. 
When I go on a trip I usually set myself a photographic goal or at least a general direction. So I figured I might as well see if I could make some images within the requirements of this client. Mind you, this wasn't a commissioned trip, I just tried to make some images that would fit this clients' requirements. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 125 - 1/200 - f/8 This image certainly didn't fit the client's need. In most of my work that contains scenery, the landscape is just the backdrop, not the actual subject. So it's probably natural that I gravitated to looking for subjects within the landscape, like our rental car. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 125 - 1/200 - f/8
This image certainly didn't fit the client's need. In most of my work that contains scenery, the landscape is just the backdrop, not the actual subject. So it's probably natural that I gravitated to looking for subjects within the landscape, like our rental car. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/1400 - f/4.5 Car rental in the South of Spain is cheap ... until you pick up your car. The rental companies in this area are notorious for inventing a truckload of extra charges As far as we could find out, there are no exceptions to this local "tradition". The big international companies are no exception. In our case, they forced a pretty expensive "optional" all risk insurance on us. It's a scam but if you don't take it, you run the risk of paying even more when you return the car with a tiny scratch (even if you didn't have anything to do with it). Since we had that all-risk insurance we figured we might as well take some of those risks. Sketchy gravel tracks, here we come. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/1400 - f/4.5
Car rental in the South of Spain is cheap ... until you pick up your car. The rental companies in this area are notorious for inventing a truckload of extra charges As far as we could find out, there are no exceptions to this local "tradition". The big international companies are no exception. In our case, they forced a pretty expensive "optional" all risk insurance on us. It's a scam but if you don't take it, you run the risk of paying even more when you return the car with a tiny scratch (even if you didn't have anything to do with it). Since we had that all-risk insurance we figured we might as well take some of those risks. Sketchy gravel tracks, here we come. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/480 - f/8 The human figure adds scale to a landscape picture. I also like taking pictures of my girlfriend ... and it's an excuse for not focussing on the landscape as the subject. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/480 - f/8
The human figure adds scale to a landscape picture. I also like taking pictures of my girlfriend ... and it's an excuse for not focussing on the landscape as the subject. 

Maybe I'm spoiled by my visit to the Dubai desert only a couple of months ago, but I wasn't blown away by the Spanish desert to be honest. And I believe that you have to be impressed by what you shoot in order to make a picture that evokes emotion. You shouldn't try to photograph what a place looks like but rather how it FEELS. My general feeling throughout the day was that the area was "nice". At best, that translates in just "nice" pictures but nothing that can trigger an emotional respons from the viewer. 

It was only when we took our rental car up a dusty track to a higher vantage point and a gentle warm breeze accompanied the setting sun, that I felt extremely privileged to be in this space. I call these moments, my split seconds of pure happiness. These are the moments I live for. Breath those moments in and (if you want) try to translate that feeling into a picture. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 320 - 1/250 - f/8 Finally, a pure landscape. It took a full day of driving around, trying lots of different things to shoot a landscape picture that I was happy with. I keep being amazed by the detail and the dynamic range that the GFX can capture in a single file. These files are so rich and a dream to process. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 320 - 1/250 - f/8
Finally, a pure landscape. It took a full day of driving around, trying lots of different things to shoot a landscape picture that I was happy with. I keep being amazed by the detail and the dynamic range that the GFX can capture in a single file. These files are so rich and a dream to process. 

While in the car we noticed some kind of white structure on a mountaintop in the distance and decided to check it out. With every bend in the long winding road up the mountain, the temperature dropped and by the time we got to the top we went from 16°C to below 0. The wind was fierce too, so getting out of the car in our spring attire was challenging to say the least. 

20180311_cabo-de-gata_036.jpg
  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/600 - f/8 I wanted to get the Jeep on the left and the structure in one picture. Unfortunately my only lens wasn't nearly wide enough. So I quickly fired of a series of 7 or 8 shots and stitched them together later in Lightroom. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/600 - f/8
I wanted to get the Jeep on the left and the structure in one picture. Unfortunately my only lens wasn't nearly wide enough. So I quickly fired of a series of 7 or 8 shots and stitched them together later in Lightroom. 

The widest native lens I have for my GFX50S is the 63mm f/2.8, which can be compared to a 50mm on a full frame camera or a 35mm on the X-series and other APS-C sensor cameras. I always state that you can shoot pretty much anything with such a lens and I stand by that. But for landscape photography, it's definitely more of a challenge than with documentary, street or portrait. This lens offers a natural perspective which makes the pictures look more like what the human eye sees, but it's harder to express the feeling of scanning around a broad horizon with this lens. Lens choice is one of the tools we have as photographers to express ourselves and I admit that on this trip with landscapes in mind, not having other lens options made me feel limited. Usually I'm perfectly ok with traveling with one lens, but in this case a wider one would have probably been better. I like the challenge of shooting with one lens, it makes me see better but maybe I challenged myself a bit too much with the limitations this time. Not only did I have just one focal length to my disposal (and not exactly the obvious choice for the job at hand) I was also shooting subject matter that I'm not that confident with, in challenging situations and mostly on a tripod. But like I said before, on trips like this it's not about the missed opportunities but about learning how to avoid them next time.

The limitations of a single fixed lens became even more clear when we went exploring the coast. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/240 - f/8 There were plenty of lines, textures and shapes to be found around this rugged coastline. But it was hard work to find some decent compositions within the frame of my 63mm lens. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/240 - f/8
There were plenty of lines, textures and shapes to be found around this rugged coastline. But it was hard work to find some decent compositions within the frame of my 63mm lens. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 13" - f/32 - Tiffen VariND filter While the sun was setting, I saw the light quickly changing on these rocks. Anticipation is an art to master in many genres of photography and landscape photography is no exception. It's about seeing the picture before it happens so you can get your camera ready to capture the shot at the best moment.    

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 13" - f/32 - Tiffen VariND filter
While the sun was setting, I saw the light quickly changing on these rocks. Anticipation is an art to master in many genres of photography and landscape photography is no exception. It's about seeing the picture before it happens so you can get your camera ready to capture the shot at the best moment. 

 

I love simplicity and flexibility when it comes to my gear. It's not just easy to travel with, it's also cheaper and you can stay focused on the picture rather than the gear. If you want the best possible picture in all circumstances, you will need a couple of assistants following you around with a truck full of gear. Not only would that ruin me, it would also prevent me from enjoying the moment. So I always try to get a gear package together that is easy to carry around and yet offers me flexibility. 

If I was an all out landscape photographer, I would definitely invest in a full filter system but for my occasional outing in this field of photography I try to make it work with whatever gear I have. So for longer exposures I took my Tiffen Variable ND filter. I bought this filter mainly for video in combination with my XF16-55mm but with a cheap adapter ring, it fits the GF63mm as well. A variable ND filter is not nearly as good as a one piece ND filter: you can experience some colour casts, the image quality is slightly degraded and it doesn't take away the same amount of light as, let's say a Lee Big Stopper. 

For the first time I also took a pretty big tripod with me on a trip. This is a piece of equipment that makes sense if you want to get the most out of a medium format camera and use small apertures and long exposures. I've never been much of a tripod person but lately I've been using one a lot more, but that's something for another blog post. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 4" - f/32 - Tiffen VariND filter When I first started playing with long exposures a couple of years ago, it was like, the longer, the better. I found out that that is not always true. I tried different exposure times for this picture (and compensated for that with the VariND filter). If I went longer, the water became like a fog between the rocks. In this case I wanted to retain some of that wave action and 4 seconds gave me the right mood. This is a picture that I couldn't have taken with any previous camera I've owned without having to resort to HDR techniques. The amount of detail that I was able to recover from the shadows in this shot is just amazing. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 4" - f/32 - Tiffen VariND filter
When I first started playing with long exposures a couple of years ago, it was like, the longer, the better. I found out that that is not always true. I tried different exposure times for this picture (and compensated for that with the VariND filter). If I went longer, the water became like a fog between the rocks. In this case I wanted to retain some of that wave action and 4 seconds gave me the right mood. This is a picture that I couldn't have taken with any previous camera I've owned without having to resort to HDR techniques. The amount of detail that I was able to recover from the shadows in this shot is just amazing. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 3" - f/32 - Tiffen VariND filter I love making these almost abstract pictures that are all about light, texture and colour. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 3" - f/32 - Tiffen VariND filter
I love making these almost abstract pictures that are all about light, texture and colour. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/60 - f/4 It has become a bit of a family tradition to make a sunset selfie on every trip. The light was going very fast here, so with the camera on the tripod, I focused on Griet, hit the self timer, ran to my spot and got into a real model pose. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/60 - f/4
It has become a bit of a family tradition to make a sunset selfie on every trip. The light was going very fast here, so with the camera on the tripod, I focused on Griet, hit the self timer, ran to my spot and got into a real model pose. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 125 - 1/6 - f/2.8 Driving down from the lookout point I noticed how well the light of the headlights matched the remaining light in the sky. Shooting at 1/6 was not a mistake, I think motion blur is often underrated. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 125 - 1/6 - f/2.8
Driving down from the lookout point I noticed how well the light of the headlights matched the remaining light in the sky. Shooting at 1/6 was not a mistake, I think motion blur is often underrated. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 4000 - 1/200 - f/2.8 On the way back to our airBNB I spotted this scene. In the spirit of this trip, I should have shot this from the tripod at a low ISO setting. To be honest, at this point we were both exhausted and badly needed sleep. So I didn't bother setting up the tripod, I just jumped out of the car and grabbed a couple of shots. The GFX deals pretty well with high ISO pictures anyway. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 4000 - 1/200 - f/2.8
On the way back to our airBNB I spotted this scene. In the spirit of this trip, I should have shot this from the tripod at a low ISO setting. To be honest, at this point we were both exhausted and badly needed sleep. So I didn't bother setting up the tripod, I just jumped out of the car and grabbed a couple of shots. The GFX deals pretty well with high ISO pictures anyway. 

Some days, there seem to be great pictures around every bend in the road, the light is always great and you are in the flow. But on other days the photo gods take a break and however hard you try, you can't seem to get even an halfway decent shot. I used to fight those days but I've come to accept them. Definitely in landscape photography there are so many parameters that you don't control: weather, light, a dumpster truck blocking that perfect view, ... Good preparation and research can improve your chances a bit but I feel you can also over research. Sure a meticulously plan A, B and C will lower the risk of coming up empty. But over planning also minimizes your chances to be surprised. Photography to me is not just about the picture, it's also about experiences, exploring and being surprised. I've adopted this zen-like approach that if I want to experience the highs then I have to accept the lows as a byproduct of that. Every low is just an essential step towards the next high. Now I'm starting to sound like Mr. Miyagi.

If you don't get all frustrated on a bad day, you will often notice that when you least expect it, something good presents itself out of the blue.

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 15" - f/32 - VariND filter We had high hopes to take awesome pictures of this beautiful abandoned church in the middel of nowhere under the warm glow of a perfect sunset. By the time we got to that sacred place thick grey clouds had rolled in and it turned out that the church was now surrounded with the ugliest fence in the history of ugly fences. And then I rolled my ankle and had to use my tripod for support to keep walking.  And then I looked the other direction and saw that these grey clouds created mystery around the mountain tops, the blue hour started early and contrasted nicely with the red dirt road and the lush green vegetation. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 15" - f/32 - VariND filter
We had high hopes to take awesome pictures of this beautiful abandoned church in the middel of nowhere under the warm glow of a perfect sunset. By the time we got to that sacred place thick grey clouds had rolled in and it turned out that the church was now surrounded with the ugliest fence in the history of ugly fences. And then I rolled my ankle and had to use my tripod for support to keep walking. 
And then I looked the other direction and saw that these grey clouds created mystery around the mountain tops, the blue hour started early and contrasted nicely with the red dirt road and the lush green vegetation. 

When I read books, blogs or magazine articles it's often like there are only two hours in a day worthy of taking your camera out. Sure those golden hours often make for great shots but never limit yourself to only those moments. The in-between pictures may not have that same spectacular Instagram friendly mood, but there's still plenty to shoot. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/1100 - f/8 The harsh midday sun brings out all the textures and bold colour palette perfectly.

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/1100 - f/8
The harsh midday sun brings out all the textures and bold colour palette perfectly.

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/200 - f/5.6 Details sometimes tell the story better than the big picture. This weathered no parking sign is proof that the gentle Mediterannean coast can be pretty rough too. The little sticker on the sign is a bonus. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 100 - 1/200 - f/5.6
Details sometimes tell the story better than the big picture. This weathered no parking sign is proof that the gentle Mediterannean coast can be pretty rough too. The little sticker on the sign is a bonus. 

I have visited the Alhambra in Granada many years ago but Griet had never been there so we decided it was worth the long drive. Well, it wasn't. Despite the fact that their aren't many tourists around this time of year and the parking lot of the Alhambra was virtually empty, they said there were no tickets available anymore that day. I was still having issues with that rolled ankle so a stroll around town wasn't an option. So we had a coffee and drove back, accepting defeat. We went off the highway through the Sierra Nevada a couple of times but always ended up in uninteresting spots. In the end we tried one last detour and at least found a great place to have lunch on an empty cosy terras ... until a group of loud Dutch business people emerged out of the blue and ruined the atmosphere. We drove back to the coast, hoping to get at least a couple more pictures on our last day. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 500 - 1/250 - f/8 This is probably the most Bert-like picture of the set. It's not a clean landscape but a bit gritty, imperfect. At the same time it sums up our way of traveling and exploring better than any of the other pictures. It's more about the road then the destination. While I loved doing a kind of photography that is unusual for me on this trip, it's also good to realise what it is that makes my pictures mine. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 500 - 1/250 - f/8
This is probably the most Bert-like picture of the set. It's not a clean landscape but a bit gritty, imperfect. At the same time it sums up our way of traveling and exploring better than any of the other pictures. It's more about the road then the destination. While I loved doing a kind of photography that is unusual for me on this trip, it's also good to realise what it is that makes my pictures mine. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 200 - 1/1800 - f/5.6 The snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada were impressive but it was hard to get a good angle on them. There are very few roads in the whole mountain range. This was the best I could do without spending a couple of days there. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 200 - 1/1800 - f/5.6
The snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada were impressive but it was hard to get a good angle on them. There are very few roads in the whole mountain range. This was the best I could do without spending a couple of days there. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 200 - 1/200 - f/8 Just a herd of white goats on a dark mountain

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 200 - 1/200 - f/8
Just a herd of white goats on a dark mountain

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 50 - 2" - f/32 - VariND filter Throughout our trip the wind was fierce but on the last evening it turned the volume up to 11. At moments it was even hard to stay upright while enduring being sandblasted. To make sharp images I had to force my tripod legs 10cm into the sand and lean on it with all my weight.    

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 50 - 2" - f/32 - VariND filter
Throughout our trip the wind was fierce but on the last evening it turned the volume up to 11. At moments it was even hard to stay upright while enduring being sandblasted. To make sharp images I had to force my tripod legs 10cm into the sand and lean on it with all my weight. 

 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 50 - 2" - f/32 - VariND filter These aren't easy or comfortable conditions to work in but at the same time I enjoy feeling the overwhelming power of nature more than a perfectly calm day. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 50 - 2" - f/32 - VariND filter
These aren't easy or comfortable conditions to work in but at the same time I enjoy feeling the overwhelming power of nature more than a perfectly calm day. 

  Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 50 - 2" - f/32 - VariND filter "The Frog", the kind of image I had in mind when we started this trip. 

Fujifilm GFX50S with the GF63mm f/2.8 - iso 50 - 2" - f/32 - VariND filter
"The Frog", the kind of image I had in mind when we started this trip. 

Some of these images will find their way into presentations, maybe one or two will end up being printed big on my client's walls. But I doubt than any of them will still be in my portfolio a couple of years from now. That doesn't bother me a bit. These pictures will always be good memories of a great trip with my girlfriend and they will be stepping stones towards evolving and changing my style and the quality of my work. 

 Picture by  Griet  of your hardcore landscape photographer, complete with tripod and backpack :-)

Picture by Griet of your hardcore landscape photographer, complete with tripod and backpack :-)