Tag Archives: Bay of Biscay

The Gate Of Knowledge, Bay of Biscay

Asturias is a region that continually rewards travelers. The contrast of the area’s rich green coastline as it reaches the deep blue of the Atlantic is breathtaking and the Picos de Europa — a little-known mountain range — is profoundly beautiful. Every day seemed to reveal another hidden treasure to me and I hated the thought of leaving.

The Gate Of Knowledge, Playa La Vallina in the Evening, Asturias, Spain
March 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 21 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 141 seconds, ISO 64, ND 10-stop filter, tripod.

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One of these treasures was Playa La Vallina, one of the area’s least occupied beaches. It’s a pebble beach and reaching it requires a bit of a trek. There are no amenities at Playa La Vallina and tourists are scarce, which made it an even more attractive subject for photographs.

The walk from the car park to the beach was something of a hike. I walked a long way through a eucalyptus grove and that distinct aroma permeated the air. Along the way, there were several waterfalls — more hidden treasures — and since I was in no hurry, I stopped and swam in one. Before I even made it to the beach, it was one of the best days I had in Spain.

By the time I got to the beach, it was well into the afternoon and the sun was low over the horizon. The isolation of Playa La Vallina and the characteristic rock formations of Spain’s coast made it a great place to shoot. I found what I think was the most remarkable rock formation along that stretch of coastline — a jagged, triangular slab of rock that reminded me of the Delta character from the Greek alphabet which is widely used in math and physics. I began to think of it as the Gate of Knowledge.

After a leisurely, eucalyptus-infused afternoon, I set up my camera as the sun began to set. A fine mist was emerging from the water’s surface and pink tendrils of sunlight hung gently over the sea. It was the end of a memorable day and I think the photograph captures what I felt at that moment — complete peace and contentment.

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No Man’s Land, Bay of Biscay

My travels along Spain’s northern coast continued with Asturias. Here, the lush green hills of the area sloped down to the sea, where time and the Atlantic carved the coastline into rocky coves and curious formations. It’s a remarkably picturesque part of Spain, where the Picos de Europa Mountains form a backdrop for the coast.

No Man's Land, Playa de La Gueirua in the Morning, Asturias, Spain
March 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 26 mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 122 seconds, ISO 64, ND 10-stop filter, tripod.

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As I traveled along Spain’s coastline, I was drawn repeatedly to the rock formations at the sea’s edge. I was continually amazed by what nature was capable of and the power that the Atlantic could exert on the landscape.

Here, I was particularly entranced by the Playa de La Gueirua, one of the more remote beaches in the area, but also one of the most photographed. It took some effort to reach the spot, but it was worth the time and trouble — the rock formations here are particularly striking and it came to be one of my favorite locations along the northern coast.

The rock formations here are remarkable. Beautiful but somewhat menacing, the jagged spires seem to guard some unwelcoming kingdom beneath the sea. I wanted to capture just the right mood here — both the beauty of the place, but also the suggestion of danger and the sense of something ominous beneath the waves.

I tried several different compositions to capture what I felt at Playa de La Gueirua, but ultimately, I decided the best way to capture the coastline here was to photograph it in early morning. Early morning was a particularly magical time along the coast — I didn’t have to share the space with tourists and with the last of the night’s mist still in the air, it felt mystical, as if I had stepped into a distant world.

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The Gate of Math, Bay of Biscay

I found myself becoming more and more charmed by the northern coast of Spain with each day that passed. It was an unexpected kind of place — not the sunny, languorous Spain of the Mediterranean coast, but a jagged, slightly forbidding place that felt very different than the Spain I’d imagined for years. It felt remote, as if I were standing on the edge of the world.

The Gate of Math, Urro del Manzano Rocks in the Morning, Liencres, Cantabria, Spain
March 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 32 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 21 seconds, ISO 31, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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It’s a place where the Atlantic and the Bay of Biscay have, over millennia, carved the coastline into sharp, unlikely formations. It’s less well-known than Spain’s Mediterranean coast and the tourists here are mostly locals taking short holidays. The comparative lack of tourists just added to my sense of being alone at the rough edge of civilization.

One of the more interesting rock formations along this stretch of the Cantabria coast is the Gate of Math, which I named so because of its resemblance to the symbol for Pi. Easily one of the most picturesque spots along a singularly beautiful coastline, I was determined to find the best angle to capture the formation.

After trying several different views of the rock, I settled on the most straightforward, with the Gate of Math centered in the photograph. A storm was coming in, and I focused the formation with the clouds in the background, with just the faintest suggestion of danger on the horizon. I used a long exposure and an ND 5-stop filter to smooth the water and waves in the foreground to minimize distractions.

I think the end result is striking — your eyes are drawn to the curious rock formation, which seems to hover just above the water, and the clouds on the horizon give a hint of something ominous.

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Dragonstone, Bay of Biscay

You might have seen this place before. This rocky outcropping on the northern coast of Spain has made appearances in Game of Thrones as Dragonstone, the ancestral seat of the House of Targaryen. The filmmakers, of course, used computer graphics to add the Targaryen castle at the island’s peak, as well as the occasional dragon flying overhead.

Dragonstone, Gaztelugatxe and San Juan Church in the Morning, Basque Country, Spain
March 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 242 seconds, ISO 64, ND 10-stop filter, tripod.

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But even with that modern technology and computer animation can do, I was unprepared for Gaztelugatxe, crowned at its highest point by San Juan Church. The island wasn’t my primary interest on this particular jaunt; I went with the intention of photographing the rock formations for which this stretch of coastline is famous.

But it’s impossible to be near this part of Spain’s coast and not be entranced by Gaztelugatxe. That’s the effect that the island has on people — it simply isn’t possible to look away. It isn’t difficult to see why the filmmakers behind Game of Thrones chose this location; perched on a jagged sliver of rock on the edge of Europe, it feels far removed from the modern world. It seems to exist in another place and time.

I photographed the rock formations but soon realized that the island itself would make the best photographs. To get this shot, I climbed 50 meters up an adjacent cliff. It was a vertiginous climb up a barely-usable path and it involved a certain degree of danger, but it was worth it. It was early morning and the last of the mist was burning away. The tourists and hikers had not yet arrived. From my vantage point, Gaztelugatze seemed to hover just above the water, ethereal and beautiful, tethered to the mainland by a ribbon of rocks and a manmade bridge.

I got the shots, packed my camera, and prepared to climb back down the cliff and back into reality.

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The Gate of the Winds, Bay of Biscay

The Bay of Biscay, located along western France and northern Spain, is regarded as one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water. It has long been notorious among sailors for its fierce storms and rough waters. But in my travels I’ve learned that incredible beauty is sometimes created from a combination of time and the elements, and this is especially true along the northern coast of Spain.

The Gate of the Winds, Praia das Catedrais in the Evening, Galicia, Spain
March 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 221 seconds, ISO 31, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Spain’s rugged northern coast has been pounded for centuries by the sea. And the result is a breathtaking — and often hidden — masterwork of nature known as Prais das Catedrais, or Cathedrals Beach. As if taking a cue from Medieval Europe, nature has carved this rocky coastline into a series of arches and flying buttresses not unlike those that grace Gothic cathedrals. And just like those cathedrals, the jagged formations along Prais das Catedrais inspire a sense of wonder.

At high tide, the water from the bay comes in with such force at such a volume that these rocky carvings are completely inundated. It’s possible to stand along this jagged edge of Spain and have no idea of the formations below the surface. But when the water recedes, it reveals contours seemingly carved by a craftsman beneath the water’s surface.

When I traveled to northern Spain, I hoped to be able to photograph these formations from the beach, since that’s the angle that allows you to best appreciate arches like the ones at Prais das Catedrais. But it wasn’t possible — the beach was under water for most of my trip. Instead, I climbed to the top of a cliff 20-30 meters above the water for my photographs. Even at that height, the Bay of Biscay was fearsome, and more than once both I and my camera were lashed by waves. Remembering that beauty is often created from time and the elements, I decided to let nature have its way with the beach and I exercised patience in getting my photographs. The result is a photograph that captures the rugged beauty of the Galician coastline, and the majestic arch that I call the Gate of the Winds.

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