Experiencing Malta: A Travel Documentary

For several years I have had a great desire to visit Malta after hearing from friends about the rich culture and kind people of this small island nation. Coupled with this is the fascination I’ve had since my childhood of man’s relationship with water, especially with seas and rivers.

The Mediterranean climate and food are very close to my heart, so when I was asked to choose a destination for a winter travel photo-essay testing the Panasonic LUMIX GX8 and LUMIX G VARIO 12-60mm lens Malta was a rather obvious choice for me. It was also really important to get the right geographical location for my photographic journey. Not only does Malta offer many sunny days due its location below the northern coast of Africa but, as my work relies on closely interacting with the local people, I could use English with the local people due to it being an official language alongside Maltese.

I had less than two weeks to stay in this beautiful country so I wanted to experience as much of Malta as I could in such a short period of time.  One of the biggest challenges I faced were my own physical limits.  I wanted to be in as many of the places that interested me as possible at the right time and to take part in the life of the Maltese people. I had to struggle with increasing fatigue but, among other things, this is why I love photography and taking good photos requires persistence and pushing your own boundaries.  That’s when I feel that I am living my life and own photographic journey to the fullest.

From the time of its settlement in 5200 B.C. fishing and agriculture have been the main sources of food on this small, rocky island and what I really wanted to capture, since beginning my photo-essay in Malta, was the work of the fisherman.  The fishing village of Marsaxlokk gave me the opportunity to do this and I have good memories connected with a young fisherman, Jonathan Carruana with whom I went to the sea.

While we were on his boat it was already the twelfth hour that he had been working in full sun. I was impressed with the strength and skill with which Jonathan worked with nets. My favourite picture from this day is a portrait of Jonathan relaxing as he steered the boat. I also like semi-silhouetted photograph that I took during his work with the net. The Panasonic LUMIX GX8 did a great job with its superfast autofocus and high-speed burst function. It made my work much easier with the ability to shoot very fast RAW files during the intensive work of the fisherman. The LUMIX G VARIO 12-60mm lens was also very helpful. Thanks to this zoom, which gives very good image quality, I was able to go from tight portraits to general landscape scenes on a very small boat and didn’t have to waste my time changing prime lenses that I usually use.

Jonathan Carruana, fisherman from Marsaxlokk

I also have very nice memories from working on the streets of Valletta and Rabat. I like to photograph on the street because the results are unpredictable. You have to be completely open up to the unknown. As a photographer you can control the light and frame but you do not know what is going to happen in the frame. These surprises can be really wonderful. Hunting on streets forces you to open your mind and increase your vigilance.  It sharpens the senses and it’s a great feeling.  I really enjoy being able to strike up a conversation with someone I’ve just photographed.

 

Marsaxlokk, fishermen village in sunrise, Malta. Camera: LUMIX DMC-GX80 Lens: 12-60mm Exposure: 1/1250 Aperture: F8 ISO: 200

I remember one sunny afternoon when I stopped by pennants curled up on Republic Street, the main street of Valletta.  I thought it was a good setting and I waited in this place, ready with my camera, for about half an hour until I noticed a family with children walking in my direction. Everything for a photograph worked perfectly at that moment. The father of the girls stopped on the right side of the frame and the children with outstretched hands were running past him. Not even one of them looked at me, it was a magical moment and I knew that I had captured the kind of photograph I wanted. I turned and walked over to them.

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They were pleasantly surprised when I told them that I had captured a great family picture.  The man was a Libyan permanently residing in Malta with his wife and daughters- Amna and Aya Allafi. Here, too, the LUMIX GX8 did a great job in burst mode swiftly producing many RAW files to work on later.

On the Island of Gozo, the second largest island of Malta, I was very lucky as during my two days there was a fantastic storm on the sea with a backdrop of beautiful sunny weather.  A strong wind and huge waves crashed on the rocky wild shore of the island as well as on the waterfront of the fishing village of Marsalforn. Here the LUMIX GX8 really amazed me with its water resistance.  On the island I took landscape pictures in situations where big waves were crashing just a few meters away from me, spraying both my camera and me with huge amounts of water. I was really experiencing the true Malta during those moments and I was very pleased with the resulting images. Two pictures of the crashing waves are among my favorites in the whole photo-essay. Even though I had to go back to my hotel in Marsalforn and change my clothes because everything was wet, I’m pleased to say that the camera and lenses worked all the time. It really surprised me that the camera gear was able to withstand the amount of salt water it faced.

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The most intense event that I photographed in Malta was the carnival on the island of Gozo which came at the end of my stay. I spent two days and two nights photographing beautiful dancing women, costume competitions and finally a spontaneous, crazy carnival in the village of Nadur. I really enjoyed the raging, dancing crowd of colorfully dressed people. Carnival in Nadur is famous all over Malta. It is an annual event eagerly awaited by many young Maltese. I loved the energy and joy that emanated from them which is something I often look for in photography and the very essence of life.

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In my photographic journey in Malta I couldn’t miss pictures of the old capital of the island, Medina. The most striking but also the most often photographed building in Medina is the Cathedral of St. Paul. Early in the morning I left Valletta where I stayed. After arriving in Mdina I wondered how to photograph this place in an original way. So I went along the road outside the city walls to look for interesting shots. First, my attention was drawn to the flowering pale pink almond bushes. It took me a lot of time and energy to reach these shrubs. To get to them I had to climb on a loose, very steep hill, densely covered with cacti.

I started to photograph the cathedral with Almond flowers in the foreground. However, I was not very happy with the result. The image was not sufficiently clear and the clouds caused that either the flowers or the cathedral was in the shade. After about an hour of shooting I went further down the road towards the town. At one point I saw blooming yellow flowers in the meadow by the road. I took a few pictures and I liked the effect. I started to compose images more accurately. Just at that moment, both the flowers and the cathedral were lit up. I was very lucky because when I was composing, stronger wind started to blow and the flower in the foreground bent perfectly over the cathedral, creating an interesting and elegant composition. Sometimes a fortuity is a reward for efforts and frustration while working on earlier shots.

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Mikolaj's Hints & Tips

What is you tips for working with the Panasonic LUMIX GX8?

The LUMIX GX8 is quite a technically advanced camera so before you go out with it for the first time, take some time to get a good understanding of all the functions that you’ll need in the field and where they are in menu. When you have a good understanding of the camera and its features everything will be intuitive and it will work as one with your hand and eye.