As a professional travel photographer, I am constantly faced with unpredictable challenges: unwanted cranes, historical buildings swaddled in scaffolding, hordes of tourists and, above all, inclement weather. Weather dominated my recent trip to Madrid: unusual Arctic weather blanketed half of Spain with snow and producing freezing temperatures. High winds disrupted my shooting plans but meant that dramatic black storm clouds alternated with sunny spells.
My first destination was Retiro Park, one of my favorite urban parks in Europe. I arrived to find large portions of this green oasis closed down by the police due to 90 kph gusts of wind. I just managed to shoot a few photos before screaming sirens announced a cavalcade of ambulances and police cars in response to a falling tree hitting a passerby. Retiro Park was definitely closed. Changing plan, I shot some pretty views over the majestic Royal palace from one of the beautiful surrounding gardens. I headed on to a little known metro station, closed for over 50 years and recently transformed into a museum. I crossed the city to discover the station too was temporarily closed due to restoration work.
Back downtown, I shot some typical street scenes but freezing winds continued to thwart my plans: by the afternoon, all the gardens and public parks surrounding the Spanish Royal Palace were closed. As the wind lessened to a freezing Siberian breeze, I headed to one of the popular rooftop bars to catch sunset over the Madrid skyline. At the elegant entrance of the historical building a young security guard stopped me: lo siento, el bar esta cerrado por el viento. The rooftop bar was closed because the wind.
Mentally screaming in frustration, with sunset coming on I needed a Plan B – and quickly. I headed to the Gran Via to photograph this iconic street with its elegant Metropolis art nouveau building. Street lights were turning on as the golden light faded. The sky over the large avenue looked like a dramatic painting with red and orange cirrus clouds sailing above Madrid. I knew that the best view of the Gran Via was from a nearby bus stop wide enough to allow the use of a tripod without bothering all the passengers getting on and off the buses. But to my horror, four other photographers each armed with a tripod, were already positioned in my bus stop! Gran Via street seemed to have morphed into one of those honey-pot locations for landscape photographers like Mesa Arch in Utah, or the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall in Iceland.
I squeezed in amongst the other photographers and positioned my tripod ready to shoot the urban twilight. I started talking with the photographer next to me, something I tend to do when I am in one of those famous locations in the world full of photographers waiting like me for sunset or sunrise. The passengers getting on and off the buses bypassed all the tripods and us photographers without a complaint. I love the Spanish! My new photographer buddy, was from somewhere in southeast Asia. His obsession was photographing twilight skylines wherever he goes. We started sharing stories about our photographic experiences around the world and the future for photographers. After only a few minutes chatting we looked like lifetime friends. Once twilight slipped into night we finished shooting, and together headed off for a drink. After a challenging day it was time to enjoy Madrid’s intense and vibrant night life.