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| Patagonia |
Recently, I traveled to Patagonia to photograph and make a first (of many) expeditions to scout the area's peaks, weather and more. I spent 25 days there, rented my own vehicle for flexibility and guided myself around, which proved somewhat interesting especially considering my complete lack of any Spanish. Aside from a few minor mishaps, like accidentally entering Chile illegally (a long story in and of itself), the conditions I found there were everything I expected and more. I saw some of the greatest light I've ever been fortunate enough to capture on nearly half of the days the entire trip, among other things! I came back with a large collection of images that varies between new takes on some classic scenes and viewpoints of the landscape I've never seen altogether. My next trip there will be considerably more adventurous, as I will return in mid-winter of next year and get into more remote areas, but I felt good after this first foray went smoothly enough.
My favorite thing about Patagonia was the weather, and in particular the violence with which windstorms will come through. I experienced a few such incidences during my stay, and I also experienced some amazing light. Despite the region's reputation for being stormy, I can say for certain I've never had three weeks of shooting before anywhere with a greater abundance of vibrant magic-hour shows. Fortunately that great light went along well with the region's dramatic landscapes, for which it is so famous. The combination of these two inspire my decision to post this particular collection from my trip here, which is all about the big views.
I appreciate any commentary you may have on these. All images were taken with a Nikon D800E and various wide angle lenses. Further descriptions follow:
#1 - "The Other Side": This was my attempt at a unique take on a classic view of Torres Del Paine, Chile's signature mountain peaks. The waterfall and cascades below are the famous Salto Grande, a raging, glacial-fed waterfall splitting two enormous lakes. On the Other Side of the falls, is a parking area, path and classic viewpoints. The only problem with those is they don't offer the photographer a very cohesive compositional approach. On this side of the falls, which took me two days of completely off-trail, up/down backpacking through dense, thorny brush to reach, I feel the view leads the eye into the peaks better. Fortunately, the light was great as I experienced many times here and I was able to capture this scene with a 15-second exposure, slightly softening and simplifying clouds and water. The misty middleground comes as a result of a clearing rainstorm catching the light.
#2 - "Boom": Like I said, my favorite thing about Patagonia is the windstorms. Very few places have I ever felt such power and energy in nature as I did trying to capture shots of these events along the lakes. At times, wind speeds hit with such fury they blew waters out of the lakes and spray through the air for over half a mile! Winds routinely hit 60mph and in one case I'd estimated the gusts I couldn't even stand in to be nearly 100. This type of wind triggered massive waves, even on smaller lakes. In this case I was looking at some swells big enough to dwarf a surfer blowing up 50ft high or more on the rocks next to me. The camera and I took a beating, and in this case I was only able to get off 5 shots before being totally leveled by a big one, and deciding I must find other places to photograph. In one instance, the winds carried my entire 15 pound camera bag off it's position and nearly over a cliff! These were such memorable times, and I made every attempt to record some of that action as best I could.
#3 - "Rise": While on the Argentinian side of things, I was privileged to have been able to camp near the base of Mount Fitz Roy, which has one of the world's largest and steepest alpine faces, at nearly 10,000 feet of vertical relief upwards from the lake shown here. At the peak of fall color in the region, I also found some nice subjects in their red colors to contrast the powerful blues of the glacial lakes and cold peaks. I rendered this image on a high slope far off the trails at sunrise, which turned out to be a beautiful show.
#4 - "Golden Towers": Chile's famous Three Towers are photographed from the moraine lakes below by thousands every year who make the 15-mile hike in to see them. Although it was my first visit to the area on this day, I had long suspected my favorite perspectives of them would be found much higher, off trail, near the glaciers thousand's of vertical feet above. To obtain this sunrise view from that position, I hiked and scrambled up the moraines and over the cliffs in the dark by headlamp, knowing where I was going only by topographic map. When I hear the thunder of waterfalls and the terrain eased a bit, I headed back down towards them. As the dawn unfolded, it became on of those wonderful lighting events the area is know for, once again.
#5 - "Kingdom of the Wind": In the case of this image, I offer you only this excerpt from a personal journal I wrote during my trip, describing the experience of being out there on this afternoon and making this exposure.
"I arrived and thought they’d missed the forecast a bit as the skies were indeed going very, very dark and a heavy rain moved in, but little wind. It can all change in an instant here though – So fast that if you had not experienced such places before, you’d have a very hard time believing it. Around 3 it happened.
The skies started breaking open and furious squalls, the like of which I have very rarely seen, in a lifetime chasing such things, moved in upon me. On the drive up, the car was being hit by rocks plucked off the gravel roads with such fury it damaged the windshield. I picked up the pace, driving towards one of the region’s enormous peaks. Trying to stay on the road, I could see the lakes with 6-8ft high rolling waves crashing some 50ft high or more some of the most exposed rocky shores. I could see areas over the water where white walls howled across the surface, mini-vortexes of swirling spray hurled violently about. At least it had stopped raining!
I made my way as fast as possible down near the shore and had the time of my life. The best photography was to be done right at the water’s edge on an leading outcrop of large triangular boulders, a prime seat in the middle of the action. I jumped right in, getting hit thigh-deep every third wave and blocking the camera with my body, which was of little use. The camera repeatedly got soaked but I had stuffed my Gore-tex pockets with an enormous supply of absorbent cloths which took all the focus I could muster to use often enough. Three fourths of all the shots would be lost to spray but I took hundreds, taking a vicious pounding in the process (some might say the ruined shots tell the story better). After 10 minutes that seemed like hours, holding onto my tripod to keep my balance, a particularly dense one of the huge white walls moved in on my position. I’d taken a few strong gusts previously I’d estimated at around 65-70mph while grasping the tripod for balance, but this one was much stronger. The last visible pictures show a few rocks up close and nothing but blurs and white. I was knocked clean off my rock into an indentation in the adjacent rock, filled with 2-3ft of water, still cradling the camera at the chest and landing on my knees. I kept the camera out of full submersion somehow (the camera is weather-sealed, but not THAT weather sealed) and took my bearings. It was a deafening roar, I would have to say close to a 100-mph fury that lasted not just for a gust but swirled around me in tornadic fashion for what seemed to be 20 seconds or more. It was the the strongest wind I could ever recall. Years ago I recorded a 91mph gust with a wind gauge on a ridge high above Glacier, and this felt stronger.
After that incident could not contain my exuberance and enthusiasm, yelling to the wind, soaked with adrenaline. Soaked also, head to toe, I dried the camera thoroughly and headed back for the car. As I was nearly back, another such gust caught me and I first leaned my back into it, then simply sat on the ground, as the full brunt of it passed me."