As I mentioned in the last post, Photographing Cabo de Gata, I’ve just returned from a week long walking expedition, photographing the Picos de Europa. Suffice to say it was an absolute blast, the weather cooperating to provide all of the conditions I’d hoped for and none of the ones I’d feared!
The Picos de Europa (“Peaks of Europe”, also known as the Picos) are a mountain range extending for about 20 km (12 miles), part of the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. The range covers parts of Asturias, Cantabria and Castile and León. The highest peak is Torre de Cerredo 2650 m (8,690 ft).
The range consists of three major massifs: Central (known as Urrieles), Eastern (Ándara) and Western (known as the Picos de Cornión). The Central and Western massifs are separated by the 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) deep Cares Gorge (Garganta del Cares), which we visited on Day One of the trip. (Part Two of this post).
The area provides safe haven for Brown bears and Wolves though we saw no trace of either, Vultures and Eagles of which we saw dozens.
We walked several very long hikes to get to planned destinations. In this post I’ll cover the second half of the trip, two long hikes, the kit that I took with me and some photography tips that might be useful for us all to bear in mind!
Table of Contents
Refugio Collado Jermoso
Collado Jermoso´s refuge is located miles from any human habitation in the central massif of the Picos de Europa at 2064m. We used the cable car at Fuente de to access the plateau and then hiked for around eight miles across occasionally challenging terrain to get to the Refuge before dark.
Climbing up the hill, you can see the best sunsets over the western massif of the Picos de Europa. As you can see, the summit is a hotly contested vantage point!
As the Picos have become more widely known, several refuges have converted into basic but nonetheless very welcome inns, where overnighters are thrown together in dormitories regardless of gender, sharing showers and lavatories with up to thirty other people and eating delicious mountain stew for dinner. Miraculously this works, I have no idea how!
Refugio Cabaña Verónica
Refugio Cabaña Verónica is a space age pod where water and allegedly, beer can be found. This small refuge is located at 2325m, near Pico Tesorero and Collado de Horcados Rojos, in the Central Massif of the Picos.
The original function of these refuges was to provide shelter, food and drink in an emergency for hikers lost in inclement weather in the mountains. As lovely as the weather was for us, these places are potentially deadly in the winter, miles from anywhere and very little mobile phone coverage.
The trails are well marked, but occasionally challenging. The climbs are long and steep and you need to be fit to tackle them.
After struggling with multiple bottles on previous hikes I tried my newly acquired Camelbak 1.5L bladder to store water inside my F-Stop Ajna 37L bag. This worked well, the only drawback being that you can’t see how much water you have drunk, but it means you can sip while you are in motion, much more often than you do stopping and unhitching a water bottle. Weirdly this resulted in drinking slightly less water, overall. I suspect the reason for this is that when I used to stop and drink, I’d stop less often and consequently drink more.
I’ll admit, I was slightly concerned about storing 1.5L of water in the same bag as €7k worth of camera equipment, but the bladder is robust and physically separated from the cameras by a stitched in sleeve in the bag and the ICU containing the camera gear. In the event there was no hint of a leak.
Regarding the F-Stop bag the Ajna is my favourite of the three that I use regularly. It’s the perfect size for someone of my size (5′ 10″) and fitness. Every day I carried:
- 2L total of water
- Waterproof rain jacket
- Top layer in case of cold
- Down filled Gilet in case of more extreme cold.
Plus Camera gear…
- Canon 5Ds
- Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II
- Feisol CT-3442 Tripod
- Acratech Panoramic Head & Levelling Base
In addition, like the other bags I own the Ajna is very comfortable. I did four consecutive days of pretty demanding hiking and came out without any back or hip pain. At the age of 67 this is somewhat unusual!
Always take a ‘safety shot’ of your subject before changing lens. The case in point is the picture of the Chamois deer at the top of the post. I had a 24-70mm lens on the camera, the deer were perfectly silhouetted and catching the light, but too far away for that lens. I had a 70-200mm in my bag that would have made a much better composition possible.
Do you take the shot or change the lens?
Yes, take the shot. There is a big difference between landscape and wildlife. In this case the deer took to their heels about a second after I squeezed the shutter. I was left with a well exposed image that I could crop later on in post. It would have been better shot with the 70-200mm lens but if I’d changed it before shooting I wouldn’t have any shot at all.
A couple of people asked me about this. One of the ways I get separation between my subject and the background is to focus at a point in front of the subject. Generally, your depth of field where everything is in focus extends from one third in front of the subject to two thirds beyond. By bringing the focal point forward and adjusting the Aperture slightly, it is possible to throw the background out of focus, at a distance.
I’ve mentioned this in other posts. I used to bracket all of my landscape shots, going back ten years the dynamic range of my cameras was no match for what is possible now. These days bracketing is the exception rater than the rule.
Expose for the brightest part of the shot. Check the histogram – if you see that you have the whole dynamic range with no crushed blacks, then you don’t need to bracket. If you have crushed blacks, then you’ll need to take another shot, exposed to the right by one stop and continue until you see the blacks are not crushed any longer.
In post, you can combine the shots, combining the well exposed parts from each image either by using the Merge tool in Adobe Lightroom or by stacking and using masks in Photoshop.
Photographing the Picos de Europa – Conclusion
This trip was by far the best photography trip I’ve been involved with. The scenery is pure “Game of Thrones” and I managed to get some fantastic shots. I’d like to do a workshop next year in the Picos, with less hiking and more photography!
If you’re interested in finding out more about that and other workshops I’m planning for next year, then chrck out my article mountain photography in Spain and sign up to my mailing list below. In the meantime, look forward to Part Two of this post which will cover our time in the Garganta del Cares and a hike from Sotres to Tielve.
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