Posts tagged ‘Atacama’
About a year ago, thirteen months to be precise, I wrote about my ‘need’ to return to the Atacama Desert and the Bolivian Altiplano. To grossly summarise that article: I went there two years ago, before I’d started making images in any way which could be described as ‘serious’. Then I learnt a lot more about photographic image-making and felt that – it being an entirely spectacular location – I needed to return armed with my new knowledge about things photographic. To some extent I meant that in terms of technique but, far more importantly, I shall return with a different and, I hope, improved vision.
So, I booked myself a trip which will take me to all the same places that I’ve been to before, but with the specific, primary intention of capturing images, rather than general tourism. Not only that, but it’s in winter, so things should be different (notably, about 50C colder, it seems…. ). That trip is now imminent and, over the last couple of months, I’ve had a few fears of the journey failing to meet my expectations; I’ve had doubts about what I can bring back from South America in terms of images.
I’m pleased to say that those feelings are now resolved; at least, they’re not noticeable, so either I’ve resolved them or they’re now reassuringly suppressed :-) This article is about how I removed the anxiety.
So what was the problem?
When I went to the Altiplano a little over two years ago, I was just wandering about playing with my then-new, first, dSLR camera. I was merely travelling, looking at things, and pointing a camera at them. Yes, I was certainly trying to point the camera at interesting things and operate it properly, but essentially I wasn’t ‘a photographer’ at the time, simply a tourist with a camera. This time, I’ve set myself up to go there as ‘a landscape photographer’, with the specific intention of making images which improve on the first set I captured.
Not only that, but this time I’ll be using a better camera and lenses, I’ll be on a trip designed for photographers, and I don’t expect to see anything, in the big picture sense, that I haven’t seen before. All of that can add up to a combination of high expectations and a modicum of self-induced pressure to ‘perform’.
My niggling concern – I’d not go so far as to give it the title of a real worry, but it was certainly something which had come to nag at the back of my mind over the last few weeks…. my niggling concern was that I’d come back with the same shots, or even shots which aren’t as good as the first set. Bolivia from the UK is a fairly long way to go to reproduce something you’ve done before ;-)
And how did I resolve it?
Let’s assume that I have resolved the issue and that I’m not simply suppressing it. I’m sure the latter wouldn’t be a good thing, though that knowledge admittedly comes from watching films and television where ‘suppressing stuff’ is generally not seen as desirable!
The best aspect of this is that I sorted out my worries by re-reading a few of my own blog items!
Firstly, I read the Altiplano one to remind myself why I’d been so committed to going back. It re-established in me the feeling of just what a spectacular place I’m visiting. In that context, I actually don’t care if I fail to produce any new images: even if I had no camera, I’d still be more than happy to go on the same trip and watch the light change in those stunning locations. This time, I’ll be in the same places as before, but at dawn and dusk; the light will be different from last time, and it will change (unlike the previous visit, when it was effectively bright, unmitigated sunshine all the time, with very few exceptions). I’m entirely happy to sit and watch varying light in beautiful surroundings, whether or not I also use it to make images. That said, if it’s as cold as it might be then it’ll be more of an ‘experience’ to be there, rather than unequivocal ‘fun’, I suspect!
Secondly, I read my several Lofoten and US South-West desert ‘Locations for photography:…’ articles. For each location, I was reminded that I came back with shots which were, for the most part, markedly different from those I’d expected. True, I’d not been to either of those places before, but the point is that, once you’re in a place, what you see is generally different from your expectations and is affected by all sorts of factors; things like your mood, what you’ve seen photographed before and how it’s been photographed, the particular weather conditions, the time of year, and doubtless many other things. I’m confident that ‘vision’ is one of those factors, and since my vision has developed, so should the images I make from the Atliplano landscape.
Thirdly, I read a handful of my own ‘musings’ and could see how my thinking on image making has developed in the last couple of years. I’m not the same person now, in terms of my attitude to capturing light and making images from it, as I was in Chile and Bolivia in March 2010. Whether those changes which have occurred are for the better or not is irrelevant: I’m different as a photographer now and hence what I see in the landscapes of the Altiplano and Atacama can safely be expected to be different too.
Finally, it doesn’t really matter if I produce identical images. If I were professional, reliant on making new, saleable images to live on, then I think I’d quite rightly be somewhat trepidatious. I am, however, at a stage with my photography where I’m still very much developing the skills and attitude that are required: I can’t be certain of going to a place and making worthwhile images. Yes, I do expect to, but there’s no guarantee. Not that there ever is, but I suspect that many people can be more confident than I have a right to be at this stage!
And the point of this post really was?
This piece started out as a musing on performance anxiety (of a sort!), but my more significant, personal, learning point is that writing this blog is genuinely useful to me.
I said about eighteen months ago, when I first started putting my thoughts out in this form, that part of the idea was to have something to refer back to; to enable me to see how I’d changed. Re-reading those few articles I have, I can see that there are certainly developments over the period.
There’s more to it than that though: by reading my past thoughts I’ve been reminded of various things which have all fed into my experience as a photographer and which have proved specifically useful right now in allaying the minor ‘fears’ I had. Doubly useful then, and perhaps next time I go back and read some of this I’ll find another broad category of usefulness?
I’d therefore like to suggest that the activity of writing a web journal / blog, or even just keeping a personal diary of thoughts and attitudes to photography as you progress, is a really rather good idea, if only for the wholly selfish, but compelling, reasons that it can serve as reassurance, as reinforcement, and as a record of development. Only the last of those things was more than a vague concept when I started, and this is the best instance so far to prove to myself both that the original idea was valid and that there are other benefits too. And if anyone else finds value in these musings and location commentaries, then that’s even better!
The images in this article are, of course, from my first trip. I’m now looking forward to seeing how different the next set will be!
I feel almost as if this is an image which ‘got away’. It’s very close indeed to my pre-visualisation of it, but not quite there.
The shot was taken early in the morning, high up on the Bolivian Altiplano. What I’d envisaged was that the two clouds – virtually the only ones in the sky that morning – would drift at a rate which would cast their shadows on the very top of each volcano at the same time. It didn’t happen: in this finished image, the far cloud has already passed the peak, heading rightward. It did come close though, and I still very much like the composition as the shadow on the foreground cone is perfectly positioned; I feel I can live with the minor one being just a little less than ideal.
I mentioned pre-visualising above, which suggests some considerable degree of planning. In practice, I made this image only about ten to fifteen minutes after first seeing the volcanoes, let alone the clouds and their shadows tracking towards the peaks. I had been fortunate enough to come over a rise in the ground in the Land Cruiser I was sharing with three other tourists just as the clouds formed and began to move towards their positions in the image.
This was a five day trip from San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile, to the Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia. The way these tours work is that the drivers more or less follow a beaten path to certain places that they think people will want to stop at, which basically means ‘all of the lagoons, and a couple of impressively large rocks‘. It’s far from being the ideal situation for photographers, but I was fortunate that there was another, similarly-afflicted tourist in the vehicle who also saw this scene developing. We both asked the driver, very nicely, to stop. Then we asked him to drive back a kilometre or so to get the darkened area of desert into the shot as a leading line, mainly since, with our rather inadequate Spanish, the whole ‘stopping the car’ process had taken rather longer than might be considered ideal. And then we waited. Fortunately, it was a relatively short wait: the other two passengers would quite possibly have become impatient had we insisted on just sitting in the desert watching a couple of clouds move for more than a very few minutes! As it turned out these two non-photographers proved to be very tolerant over the next few days though, and our driver quickly became used to being the last of the group of vehicles to arrive at every place – without exception. We tipped him well at the end!
The light levels were remarkably balanced between sky and foreground in this composition, so I had no need to use any graduated filters. I also didn’t have a polariser on the lens at the time, though the colour of the sky might suggest that there is. The altitude here is around 4,300m. so even a sky which has not been deliberately polarised by using a filter tends to be visibly polarised to the naked eye, hence the very deep blue colour. I took this shot in both portrait and landscape and I preferred this version; partly since it fits the subject matter slightly better, but also since the landscape version at this wide angle shows radical variation in the blue from left to right, which is so extreme that it rather spoils the image.
As to the very wide angle (this is the equivalent of 15mm on a full-frame SLR) I used it partly since we were too close to the volcanoes to use a longer focal length, and also because it emphasised the foreground dark line in the desert, which I thought was an important compositional element to lead the viewer’s eyes to the two mountains.
I think I can safely say that the only thing I’ve learnt from this photo so far is that sometimes, you get lucky….