Sometimes you get to choose your holiday destination, sometimes circumstances choose it for you. I’ve had quite a lot of the latter over the years. Whenever my wife (a university professor) has a conference or research trip somewhere interesting, she tries to keep my wanderlust satisfied by tagging a holiday onto it. This was the case for our second trip to Chile a few weeks ago, though with the added bonus of visiting Argentina as part of the trip. I’m usually happy to revisit scenic places, since you’ve then got a more idea of which places are interesting, and what places you could shoot better.
And on this occasion the primary camera had changed to the Nikon D850, with my D800 now officially the second body. Having said that, I was delighted with the results produced last time, and I was more than happy to share the results with fellow Photography Life readers in this article.
Although the D850 was nominally ‘first’ camera, I tended to just grab whichever body had the appropriate lens on it. The only time I would specifically reach for the D850 was when I wanted to try focus-stacking (you’ll have to wait until another time to see the results!). The experience of the previous trip helped my selection of lenses. My choice was Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art (the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR I used last time just wasn’t wide enough), Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art (last time the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 was rarely used between 35 and 70mm), Sigma 50mm Art, and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II – since I knew we’d be doing a brief rainforest tour. I also used my wife’s Panasonic LX100 for the occasional shot. The rest of the gear was my trusty Benro tripod with RRS BH55 head, and a pair of Solmeta GPS units (a Geotagger Pro, which has a very useful remote trigger, but lousy connector which keeps falling out, and a GMAX which has a much better connector, but no remote – unless you count the smartphone app, which I never got to work).
Enough nerdy stuff, on with the photos! We visited a couple of the same towns and locations in the Atacama and Andes as our previous visit, but made a real effort to see new places as well. From Copiapo, up into the Andes, for this:
(And a quick dose of altitude sickness, having spent the night around 13,000ft – the Solmeta GMAX also records altitude!) We needn’t have worried about repeating ourselves. The salars (salt lakes) which we visited last time had changed. I’m guessing that each Spring when the snow melts, the water gathers (and dissolves salt?) in different places.
The Andes are more craggy and more obviously mountain-like in other areas, but what was striking here were the amazing colours (in the crystal-clear dry mountain air), and the soft contours. This often made it difficult to tell on the camera screen whether they were in focus or not! I wasn’t too worried since I’d had the same experience last time, but it wasn’t until I got home and transferred everything to the computer that I could be certain the cameras hadn’t let me down.
My wife commented that some of these shots looked ‘overdone’ in the editing, so I went back in CNX2 and turned off my ‘tweaks’ – but no, I was being pretty faithful to what was there. I also thought that some shots looked more like paintings, but again, with all the edits turned off, they still looked like paintings. That’s the Andes for you!
From our next stop, San Pedro de Atacama, we ventured further afield – a long drive to Salar de Talar (aka Salar de Aguas Calientas), not far from the border with Argentina, which proved to be spectacularly beautiful:
I thought I would miss not having a polarizer on the Sigma 14mm (please, please Fotodiox? My 145mm filters are sitting here, waiting…), but the contrast of this lens is so good, the shots were fine without (and no time wasted trying to even out the blue sky!). Once again, the mountains ranged from proudly volcanic, to the carefully polished and dusted with colour:
Laguna Chaxa in the Salar de Atacama had also reshaped and recoloured since our previous visit:
The next stage of our holiday was across the border into Argentina. After being suitably fortified by a day touring wineries, our next step was an overnight stay in the rainforest of the El Rey National Park. I wasn’t expecting too much photographically. Previous (limited) experience of rainforests has taught me that you often hear far more than you see. Still, I captured these guys fighting at our campsite:
And these guys & gals enjoying their own meal:
After the greenery of the rainforest, back to the scrubby altitude of the Andes, but from the Argentine side. Our base was Purmamarca, nestled against a rainbow of hills and rocks:
From here we drove up to over 4200m (13,500ft):
And then down to the spectacular Salinas Grandes. I’ve had a yearning (which landscape photographer hasn’t?) to see the amazing Salar di Uyuni in Bolivia, but have been put off by the difficulty of getting there, the problems of personal safety in that country, and the myriad stories of dishonest/unreliable guides. My hope was that if Salinas Grandes was as stunning as images on the web suggested, my lust for large, gleaming white salt flats would be sated. Luckily, Salinas Grandes delivered:
As a farewell to the region, we drove down the Quebrada de Humahuaca, in a rush to get to the airport, but making time for a couple of shots on the way:
I realize we’ve only seen one part of Chile, and a tiny corner of Argentina – a good excuse to head back soon.
Final thoughts on gear: I could have left the Sigma 50mm at home and saved the weight. For the few occasions I needed between 35 and 50mm, I could shoot at 35mm and crop.
The LX100 is a great little camera, but you have to get exposure perfect when you shoot. Once you open the shots in an editor, you realize you have pretty much zero room for manouvre. There has to be some penalty for using such a small sensor.
My Vanguard backpack turned out to be not the best choice for this trip. Maybe if we’d been doing more hiking, a backpack would have made more sense. For schlepping around airports, where I had other things over my shoulders, I ended up having to carry it, which was back-breaking (no-one said those Sigma lenses were light!). Far more sensible would have been a suitcase-style pack, with wheels and extending handle – say hello to my birthday present, a Lowepro RL150!
If you’re interested in seeing more of my images, see my Flickr gallery.