Exploring Vallehermoso in La Gomera
It's March. It's cold. Hanne, my partner in crime, suggests we go to explore a warm place. I personally wouldn't mind going to Lofoten again, so I figure - why not combine both? And thus, many hours are spent googling for places that include mountains and beach in the same search query. Guess what - the only result you get is still Lofoten.
Lastly a friend suggests Tenerife, and being shy and kind of misanthropic, I decide to check out a nearby island called La Gomera instead. I am hoping to avoid tourists and populated areas, so I can get landscape photography done in peace and solitude. Some scouting in satellite view on google maps reveals a valley next to the ocean, surrounded by steep mountains. It is called Vallehermoso, and a quick googling suggests that it actually is a trekker's paradise. Some online commentary even mentions that a tolerance for heights is surely an advantage. I don't have that advantage. But it seems I finally found my southern Lofoten.
We go to La Gomera by boat from Tenerife. It is a pleasant wavy ride. The following taxi trip from the harbor to Vallehermoso is less pleasant, but equally wavy - the roads stretch and succumb in all directions like baby snakes which still are trying to figure out the physics of this world. The mountains rule this place. 50 minutes later we have arrived to Vallehermoso, greeted by a stormy dark sunset. It feels like it's telling a story of things to come.
Saying that I go on a "photography trip" is an oversimplified lie. I choose locations that have everything I like, and as little distraction as possible from what I like. I prefer going to places which start an adventure the moment I step outside whatever door I have been sleeping behind. I think good photography can't be done by technical skill and analysis of the scenery alone. Instead I think the photographer's relation to the scene, experience of its atmosphere and feeling one has for it, is what leads to a great image. That is also why I think purely commercial landscape photography and pop photography made to attract most viewers and likes on social media doesn't offer much, appears quite boring and predictable. Creating a personal relation to the scenery around you will automatically make you spend a bit more time to find an interesting composition. Later when you are back home between familiar walls, a nostalgic lingering feeling for that very place will make you spend more time processing it, resulting in a more thought-out and possibly unique photograph. Waking up in Vallehermoso, drinking a coffee while soaking up the fresh 9 AM sun and air while listening to some dark ambient music and enjoying the view sets a determination in my head and in my heart. I know today will be an adventure, an intimate conversation with a rugged path angling its way upwards, a whole life's wisdom shared by every mountain I pass, and somewhere along that journey an image will be created, which stands as a result of collaboration between me and all these timeless elements. Or maybe it won't! Instead it may result in an image the following day, or the day after. But one thing is certain - there will be an image. And it will not be for me only. It won't be for the viewers alone either. It will be for the nature and conversations we have had.
We spend the following day exploring the nearby surroundings. I like to leave the photography equipment alone during this time, to let the scenery sink in and develop a feel for it. One thing is clear - if you are a photographer carrying a gazillion of equipment with you - you do not go to Vallehermoso unless you are in an okay physical shape (or would like to get into one). Nothing's quite like a great photo with a river of sweat and exhausted body to back it up with. If someone launches awards for sadomasochistic landscape photography, please let me know!
What can you expect from La Gomera and Vallehermoso as a photography trip? Awesome views from mountain tops and lots of green and blue colors to work with. The landscape is rugged and uneven with all sorts of vegetation scattered all over the place, but exploration will reward you with unexpected motifs like strange sand patterns, palm tree collections and of course CACTUS! There are hiking paths everywhere and they can also be used as leading lines in compositions, probably because their origins are pretty old and thus appear as a natural part of the scenery. Roque Cano is the highest peak of Vallehermoso, and was the lead character in many of my attempted motifs. Surfacing above layers of mountains, it like a boss of everything gazes down, a powerful massive boulder completely different compared to the surrounding scenery.
Every night I witnessed a game between the sun and the valleys. Just one hour before sunset, heavy clouds would start rolling in from the west, completely blocking the sun. This is where the sun comes out to play. I think that shiny ball up there is a gambler. Completely unpredictable scenarios would form. Let's say you have climbed a steep path, prepared for a good sunset shoot, you find a good spot and set up your gear. You relax, have a sip of water and contemplate on how much better this feels than spending time on something as absurd as social media. Or taxes. As soon as your thoughts start drifting over to even darker themes like the abrupt realization that you forgot to buy coffee for the next morning, the foreboding grey clouds erase any sense of light in the sky. You already are in a somewhat abyssic mood so you mentally prepare for some dark landscape accompanied by the feeling of doom. Sun rolls a dice, which says "engage RAY mode" and you face endless valleys bathing in unexpected light, their contours perfectly defined. It can often disappear before you manage to react, because the clouds always blew fast. This playfulness between the elements would often result in motifs of what I found fitting to call "pretty doom". A landscape photographer's beauty and the beast.
I searched various places on the infinite Internet and to my surprise I found very little photography from La Gomera. I think the island is way above average in what scenery it has to offer, and with interesting play of light that comes every sunrise and sunset (and the golden hours) there is a seemingly endless display of motifs to explore.
Lastly, I want to sum up with a few things I have learned on this trip:
- I am still afraid of heights.
- I am still irrationally afraid of big dogs.
- I hate waking up early.
Which poses a realization that doing landscape photography is a self destructive choice I for some reason have made in my life. Go figure. A quick note on dogs though - why is it so that every damn guarding dog feels its highest priority task is to threaten a kind photographer passing by within the range of 5-100 meters? I wish I could just bark back and make them shut up, but that just seems to annoy them even more. So don't do that, for future reference.
Now being back in Norway and finally seeing the snow slowly melt away, April and May are perfect months for coastal photography with and without long exposures. So that is what's next on the menu amigos and amigas!