I shot this photo in Matala, on the south coast of Crete, with a Canon 6D and a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L lens.
Matala is well known as the ‘hippie’ capital of Crete, a reputation it gained during the 1960s and 70s when hippies from all over the world saw the small seaside village as ‘a place to escape from it all’ and spent many months (or even years) living in the ancient caves carved into the cliff face above the beach. One erstwhile resident of these caves was Joni Mitchell, who’s song ‘Carey’ from her seminal album ‘Blue’ was written about her experiences in Matala in 1970, well and truly cementing Matala’s place in counterculture folklore. To this day, Matala continues to trade on its reputation as a hippie mecca, with tourists flocking to the colourful (and expensive for Crete) tavernas to soak up the chilled out atmosphere and admire the beautiful sunsets. They can even trek up to the famous caves, though only if they’re willing to pay an entrance fee to bypass the wire fence that ironically ‘secures’ these symbols of free living from the outside world.
For one weekend in late June, the Matala Festival allows the town to relive the halcyon days of the 60s and 70s, as Matala transforms from a sleepy chilled-out seaside idyll into a full-blown rocking party town. June 2014 was the first year I’d been able to visit the festival, and I wasn’t left disappointed by the experience. There was live music, ‘hippy’ arts and crafts stalls and a great atmosphere of bonhomie and fun. Entry to the festival was free, and tourists and Greeks alike flocked from all over the island to pitch tents on the beach and enjoy a great weekend of live rock music. It was a photographer’s dream! There were loads of colourful characters to capture in an absolutely extraordinary setting as the windswept Libyan sea crashed against the shore and the sun melted below the horizon. Armed with my camera, two lenses, a flash, and several beers, I just went crazy!
I can distinctly remember taking this shot as it was one of the last frames I made before I left. I’d been shooting for over seven hours, and I’d managed to cover almost every inch of the village and beach! There was a lull in the festival, as the day visitors began to leave and the hardcore all night party animals stocked up on supplies from the supermarket to keep them going until dawn. My camera was wrapped in gaffer tape to keep the sand and sea spray that was whipping around out, but the wind in from Africa (thanks Joni!) had caked the end elements of both my lenses in dust and salt, and I could hardly see a thing when I pointed my camera at a bright light. I saw this woman set her cigarette rolling tin down by this light and start to roll a cigarette while she waited for a friend in the supermarket. I loved how she appeared so calm in the throng of people surrounding her, and she was so absorbed with the task of rolling her cigarette. The light cast a lovely diffused glow on her face, and I knew if I exposed for her hands or forehead I could achieve a nice chiaroscuro effect of her face softly and the light, with the rest of the frame in darkness. My camera was in aperture priority mode, so I pointed my metering zone at a brighter part of the scene, locked the exposure, and took the shot. I then took a couple more photos and went home. When I downloaded my card I was absolutely gutted, as this photo was horribly underexposed. I’d obviously locked my exposure on a meter reading from a really bright part of the shot (the lamp) rather than a softly lit area. It had been so dark outside and my viewfinder was so covered in dust that I hadn’t read the shutter speed correctly – it was 1/2000th! Much to my relief though, there was enough data in the raw file to bring the exposure up by 1.8 stops in Lightroom to save the photo. I was so grateful for modern digital camera sensors and photo editing programs that day! I also really liked the ‘effect’ created by the dust and salt gunk on the end of my lens – it softened all the bright lights in the scene and gave them all a nice ‘dreamy’ look. I never even noticed the bright pink straw protruding from the central light globe when I took the photo, so that was a real stroke of luck, and to have it pointing towards my subject as well was amazing. This shot was actually one of my favourites that I took during that day of the festival because it was so different to the rest of the crazy energetic ‘festival’ photos I took – it’s very moody and calm. This photo taught me two things too. The first thing it taught me is that it’s always good to keep your camera out and keep taking photos until the bitter end of an event, even when you’re tired – sometimes the fact you know you’re leaving soon will prompt you to change your mindset and make some more experimental shots. The second thing I learned was to take more care with my settings. I now mainly shoot in manual to slow me down a little – had I been doing so with this shot I would have paid more attention to my shutter speed jumping up to 1/2000th, even with a grimy viewfinder. With this photo though, my luck held out!