Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Six Days in Spain

Spain is a magical country, with fantastic people. I had the pleasure of spending six days in Spain. The country and people captured my heart, but it's my camera that I wish was still there.
I was charmed by the Spanish even before entering the country. My itinerary required a layover at Heathrow, and a transfer from British Airways to Iberia. Stepping foot into the Iberia plane set the stage for the Spanish way of living. Where British Airways refused to allow me to use Bose noise-canceling headphones because "airline policy requires you to use British Airways headphones," Iberia played upbeat Spanish music and offered drinks on the tarmac while the pilot mingled with the passengers. Iberia treated me like an adult, and let me do adult things like use my own headphones. The plane cruised from London to Madrid in an intentionally lazy pattern, and landed with a flamenco move. I have no doubt that a track of its course would have appeared quite close to Picasso's The Bull.

Stepping into the Madrid airport, I was first confronted with impressive architecture. At customs, I was confronted with pleasant efficiency. Walking into the Spanish afternoon, I was greeted with a mid-day version of l'heure bleue cushioned with beautiful clouds. These were trends throughout the trip.
Spain is a country of many smaller towns and a few big cities. The towns remain medieval. Separated by stretches of open countryside and farmland, towns tend to be walled, with tight centers connected by narrow passageways. Residents walk within the towns, and driving a car is only for the skilled or those with a very low insurance deductible.


Spaniards are very laid back and grounded. Spaniards are very relaxed about photography—more so than even in the United States—even though seeing someone with a camera is an exception. The Spaniards were either unconcerned, or flattered to have their picture taken. I did not encounter a single instance of hostility or resistance when taking pictures (unlike in Paris). Spaniards are proud of their country and themselves, and give the impression that it's only logical that someone would want to take pictures.


Because of Spain's architecture, wide angle lenses are very handy: large structures in small spaces and narrow streets can't be captured from a distance. Even with an ultra-wide, some structures are so immense that an image can't do them justice. Placing size references in the frame helps. I primarily used a Canon T4i on this trip. I shot with a 17-35mm EF L, and a 10-22mm EFS. Because of the T4i's crop factor, the 17-35 became an effective 27-56mm, and the 10-22 became an effective 16-35mm. (Won't it be a great day when lenses and sensors match again?)


Shooting with Canon gear is always a pleasure. The T4i (since replaced by the T5i) has an 18 megapixel sensor which produces lovely images. Spain is one of the few places where I selectively shoot color. One failing of the T4i is that it does have some chromatic aberration. In some images, there is a noticeable colored outline at high magnification. Converting to black and white (which I almost always do), this isn't an issue. And in the case of the 17-35mm EF L, it's likely a function of using a lens which wasn't made for digital imaging.
Using the incredible Casa de Carmona as a base, over the course of six days I drove more than 1,100 miles and visited nine towns in the southern part of the country, from Madrid to Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz, and points in-between. Spain is ideal for this kind of travel. The highways connecting the towns are very new and well maintained. (Speed cameras abound, however, as I learned from the stack of mail I had when I got home.) It's easy to get from one town to the next. Towns are all navigable by foot, though the walking is demanding. Many towns are built on or in the hills, and the weight of camera gear will help wear down your shoe soles. Even carrying just a few lenses and one camera body wears on the shoulders. Even with space-age plastics, DSLRs are heavy. Large lenses have a lot of glass, which is heavy.




But the sights and vistas will keep your mind off the joint pain. Around every corner is another scene worth capturing. Spain has only one problem: there are so many pictures to be made, but the coffee and food will pull you off the street. All things considered, though, it's a conflict worth enduring.

Spain is steeped in rich history, amazing architecture, fantastic light, and great people. If you're trying to narrow down your list of where to travel next, I'm happy to simplify the process: put Spain at the top of the list and start booking accommodations.