2017-05 - Capturing Benagil Cave - Doorway to Heaven - Journey In Photos

When researching the Algarve region, I stumbled upon pictures of Benagil Cave, also known as . Considered one of the world's top 10 caves, Benagil is arguably one oft he most beautiful places on earth and can only be reached by sea. You either have to rent a sea kayak or swim the 150 meters of open ocean around a point to get there. On the day my wife and I planned to photograph Benagil, the seas were too rough for sea kayaks with 3-5 meter waves. Thankfully, we then found Christoph's blog on how to swim to the cave with photography equipment (link below).


To prepare, we went hunting for a dry bag to secure the camera equipment. Luckily we finally found what we needed at a local scuba shop. 2 dry bags and 2 boogie boards later, we were ready to go.


Dry bags are not 100% reliable, and I didn't want to put my Sony A7R Mark II at risk. So, I put the camera into a plastic grocery sack and then into dry bag #1. I wrapped the first dry bag in a beach towel and then sealed the entire package inside dry bag #2.


Later this day my amazing and very beautiful wife and I pull up to the parking lot. Walk down with our gear only to find a big red X on the beach, very few people in the water and waves that appeared to be about 10 feet tall. We thought to ourselves, our plan is probably ruined. We waiting a few minutes and talked about it. At this point we had invested about 2 days of mental energy into making this trip. The swim seemed doable! The water was cold! The waves were a problem though. We decided to error on the side of caution and swim out past the cliffs about twice what we would have to do in better conditions, because with 9-12 foot swells you don't really control where you are going...and crashing into the cliff wall is pretty much certain death.


After 20 minutes in the water we both made it to the beach in the cave. We took a bunch of photos over the next 15-20 minutes. We started getting concerned about getting how we would get back out. So we packed everything back up and decided to get out of the cave while we had day light and before the tides got worse. The swim back to the beach was one of the hardest things I have done, but it was worth it. We then cleaned up and started back up to the car. Oddly enough, I see a couple at the top of the hill, the guy had a camera around his neck. They wanted to go to the cave themselves, he was using 2 - 3 trash bags in his backpack to keep his camera dry...but the coast guard had cleared the beach earlier in the day and said the cave was closed. I guess that is why no one else was in the cave and explained the big red X on the beach.


Lessons learned: #1 If you go, get the widest angle lens you can. Even if it is slightly fish eye, but 24 mm even with a full frame camera isn't enough. #2 big red X's usually mean something bad. #3 make sure you are in good shape to make the swim, I wished I was in better shape. #4 It was WELL WORTH THE TRIP! I'd go back again, talking my wife into it again might be a different story.


The results speak for themselves though. Captured using my Sony A7R Mark II with the FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS lens. ISO 500 at 24.0 mm and the Aperture at f/4. HDR photo edited in Aurora and Lightroom for color correction. This is when I realized that without a wide angle lens, no photo of this cave can do the beauty justice. I ordered the Sony 12-24mm when I got home from this trip.

For another perspective go to Christoph Papenfuss's blog and read about his adventure. http://sftwins.com/ . I found a great deal of value in reading his post and suggest you do the same if you are brave enough to make this trip.

Glorious Benagil Cave & Cathedral

View from Benagil Sea Cave - Doorway to Heaven

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