With its cliffs, spectacular mountains, and moody forests, Madeira is a dream destination for landscape photographers. It's a relatively small volcanic island, and you can drive from one end to the other in about an hour. So, wherever you stay on the island, you'll have various photo spots within reach. In this article, I show you five of the best.
Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal and lies a few 100 miles West off the coast of Morocco. To travel there from the US, you have a few options, including a direct flight from New York with Azores Airlines. An attractive option for photographers is to fly via Lisbon, which also has a lot to offer, which we will tackle in a future article.
If you're based in Europe, you can get to Madeira even quicker. There are various direct options or again the flight via Lisbon. For other regions, you'll find connections either via New York or Europe.
On Madeira, you should rent a car to be flexible, and there are various options, including Sixt, Enterprise, Europcar or local car hires like Analodges, which is where we got our car. When renting a car on Madeira, opt for a smaller vehicle to be able to navigate the often narrow roads. But make sure it has enough horsepower to get up the steep mountain roads. Our Fiat Panda was a bit weak in this department, and I found myself driving in second or even first gear quite often.
What you'll not need on Madeira is an off-road capable car. The road system is well maintained with various major roads that connect the different parts of the island. The mountain roads are smaller and can in parts be a bit bumpy, but nothing to be worried about.
Throughout the island, you'll find many viewpoints and hiking trails with adjacent car parks, which makes it easy to find a place to park your car when you're heading to a photo spot.
Five of the Best Photo Spots
Now, what are the best photo spots on Madeira? With so many views, trails and waterfalls, there are a lot of options, and it's not easy to narrow it down to just five. But unless you have the luxury of spending several weeks on the island, you'll have to get the most out of the often-changing weather conditions. That's why the selection I made below will provide you with something to photograph in any weather.
Ponta de São Lourenço
If you love dramatic seascapes, you'll love Madeira. And if you want to photograph the arguably best coastal views on the island, you have to visit Ponta de São Lourenço. As I learned during my visit in November, this peninsula offers great photo spots for both sunrise and sunset. The most popular view is conveniently marked as Sao Lourenco Photo spot on Google Maps, so you'll have no trouble finding it. I went there first for sunset on a scouting mission, which quickly turned into a photo session as a double rainbow appeared at the horizon.
What Ponta de São Lourenço is for seascape photography, the Fanal forest is for woodland photography. It's part of the ancient Laurisilva forest of Madeira, and as such, contains some of the most gnarly Laurel trees you'll find anywhere. If you encounter fog on the mountain plateau Paul da Serra, which houses this forest, you'll experience a landscape photographer's heaven.
To my surprise, though, it took me some time to encounter fog there. Although most photos of this place you'll find online suggest that there's a fog guarantee for Fanal, make sure to dedicate a few days to this region. This is how you increase your chances of getting photos like the one I got on my sixth visit to Fanal.
In the video below, I show you more of the Fanal area and give tips on photographing it.
Above I already mentioned the changing weather conditions on Madeira. Rain on one side of the island can be sunshine on the other side. But especially in the winter months, the entire island is often engulfed in thick rain clouds, and if you are looking for a place to photograph in such conditions, I recommend the 25 Fontes waterfall.
During my second visit to Fanal, the weather could not have been worse. The heavy rainfall combined with wind made photographing Fanal no option. With 25 Fontes just a 20-minute drive away, I found the perfect alternative. Heavy rain not only turned this runnel into a waterfall, it also kept the hordes of visitors that usually explore this place away. With huge ferns occupying a steep rockface and water trickling down from all sides, this makes for a great photo spot in said conditions.
Ponta do Sol
You won't always get spectacular light or fog on Madeira. Sometimes, you'll have to make do with a featureless sky and relatively flat light. Such conditions lend themselves perfectly to photograph some of the coastal towns, in particular, Ponta do Sol. This town makes a great subject during blue hour. Once the street lights turn on, you can capture a beautiful color contrast between the deep blue sky and the orange lights with the raging sea in front of the town. You can either capture the breaking waves with some shorter exposures of 0.5 to 1 second or turn it into a mist-like surface with exposures of 10 or more seconds.
Writing an article about great photo spots on Madeira without including the mountains wouldn't be right, and with Pico Ruivo and Pico Arieiro, you have two very accessible peaks to explore. Both offer great views during both sunrise and sunset. The easier peak to get to is Pico Arieiro with its car park right next to the peak and Miradouro do Juncal just a five-minute walk from there.
Easier doesn't always mean better, but here, it certainly also doesn't mean worse. With deep clouds covering the peaks of Madeira for most of our stay, the weather made the decision about which peak to photograph for me. Up on Pico Arieiro, you'll find a webcam that'll tell you when the view clears up. Often, you'll then only have a relatively short window of time until new clouds move in, so being able to get to the photo spots without much of a hike is a plus.
As you can see in the video below, it still took me three attempts to get my photo. Also, because of the conditions, I wasn't able to do proper scouting, so there was a lot of guessing involved when I chose my photo spot in the morning. But I was very happy with Miradouro do Juncal. Although, in the end, I opted to photograph from there with a long lens, there are quite a few foregrounds to be found in the area, and if you plan in some time, you can certainly make some wide angle compositions work up there.
Have you already been to Madeira? If so, what were your favorite photo spots? Let us know in the comments.
It looks kind of like Europe's Hawaii but somehow these islands still seem to fly under the radar for most travelers. Lovely images.
Madeira is beautiful island, there are more Photo Spots. Balcoes or Pico Ruivo for example..
Madeira without photographing the levadas? Unthinkable.
Yes the Levadas are great. There are so many and I explored a few of them.