When I started planning for how I would put the new OM-D E-M1 Mark III through its paces, I knew I had to travel somewhere that offered varied conditions, big views, and a wealth of photography opportunities. When Madeira was suggested, I immediately said yes. From what I knew about the little island in the North Atlantic Ocean, it would be the perfect place to trial the new camera and the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm F4 Pro lens. We only had four days, so I planned a packed itinerary with four sunrise shoots that were certainly going to be challenging, with a lot of walking and driving in between.
The first of the 4:50 a.m. alarms came around quickly, and within the hour, we were hopping over volcanic rocks on the northeast of the island in the dark. The rock pools of Porto da Cruz were the subject that morning and some lovely early light left me with a smile on my face. Next, we headed off for a 10 km hike around Rabaçal in the west of the island. The walk was stunning, with sweeping valley views, beautiful vegetation, and huge waterfalls. It was quite tough at times and the portability of my Olympus kit was certainly appreciated. The Live ND feature, which I had mapped to a function button on the camera, came in really useful for an opportune grab shot of a rainbow created in the spray of a waterfall, enabling me to instantly lower the shutter speed to smooth the water out.
Alarm number two promised a hike followed by a road trip around the entire island. For day two of the trip, I pretty much used the camera exclusively handheld – from the huge vistas across Ponta de São Lourenço, to the beautiful lush vegetation on the north of the island and back to the pebbled beaches of the south. Throughout the day, Handheld High Res Shot became my favourite new feature.
At 4:50 a.m., alarm three of four rang. It was starting to be a bit of a struggle now, but the knowledge that we were heading to the 1850 m for sunrise gave me that extra boost I needed. As we drove through the dark up the side of the mountain, I looked to the east and could not see anything apart from fog. Then suddenly, we were above the clouds and there was a beautiful glow on the horizon. The sunrise that unfolded before our eyes was truly beautiful. The early pinks, purples, and reds in the sky changed to the golden glow of the early morning sun above the clouds, catching the tops of mountain ridges all around us. The strong winds meant that the tripod was not much use, but I was really happy with the results from the Handheld High Res mode. We stayed for a while and just enjoyed the views before heading back.
For the last sunset of the trip, I really wanted to capture the view across the capital. We set up at the beginning of golden hour, enjoying the views, the sunset light on the clouds, and then seeing the city lit up at night. Once again, I turned to High Res mode, this time both handheld and tripod mounted, to capture as much detail as possible across the city below.
The final 4:50 a.m. alarm was hard, but having enjoyed the previous day so much, we returned to the top of Pico do Arieiro in the hope of a repeat of the previous day. It was once again a wonderful experience, but sadly the wind was really against us this time – there were gusts strong enough to knock you sideways. However, we watched the sun come up above the clouds and got some lovely golden hour shots as the clouds dissipated below. Experiences like these make all those early alarms worth it.
Author & Photographer: Tom Ormerod