Twists and Turns

The Story

Taken in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, on March 11th, 2017 while on assignment for the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye lens.

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High Plains Drifter

High Plains Drifter

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Taken in the high desert near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, on April 5th, 2017.

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Perito Moreno Petito Panino

Perito Moreno Petito Panino

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Taken at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina on March 2, 2017.

In early 2017 I was on assignment for Nikon, creating sample images for their brand-new 8-15 mm fisheye lens. While I was a little perplexed initially about how best to use the lens I soon uncovered some of its secrets in regards to landscape photography. One of the coolest things about the lens is it provides a 180° circular field of view at 8 mm. When zoomed to 15 mm the FOV is still nearly 180° corner-to-corner, meaning you get around 150° across the frame. For those not familiar with the technical details of photography, allow me to simplify: 150° across the frame is insanely wide. It’s so wide you have to struggle not to accidentally include your feet in the bottom of the photo when shooting vertically.

It’s also so wide that it means you can shoot panoramic-style photos in a single frame. No stitching required, no panoramic ball heads, and no nodal point calculations. In this case it meant I could shoot this panoramic view of the extraordinarily massive and breathtaking Perito Moreno glacier in a single shot.

For this particular photo I visited the glacier three separate times, mostly under gray and rainy skies. But on this day I finally got a break in the clouds, a little atmosphere, and a little nice light on the glacier itself. Perfect conditions to make a nice little pano shot of the glacier, or a Perito Moreno Petito Panino.

See more beautiful Argentina photos here.

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Miñiques

Miñiques

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Taken from somewhere in the Atacama Desert, Chile, on April 7th, 2017.

The Atacama Desert is one of the most surreal, entrancing landscapes I’ve visited. It’s incredibly stark and dry, and in some areas there is literally zero plant life. In many ways the folded earth and giant salt pans vividly remind me of Death Valley in California. But just when it starts to feel familiar the Atacama will throw you for a loop.

First off is the elevation. Instead of being low and hot like Death Valley, the Atacama is high and cold, with elevations ranging from 7,000 to 19,000 feet. There are brightly-colored flamingos that inhabit mineral-rich lakes that are toxic to humans. And of course, there are the volcanoes. A chain of enormous volcanoes runs north-south, roughly along the Chile-Bolivia border. Each of them is snow-capped, hulking, and surrounded by a landscape that is inhospitable to all but the hardiest plants and animals.

One of the mightiest of these is Miñiques, which towers above the landscape at nearly 19,400′. It’s an enormous complex of peaks, craters, lava domes and lakes that is visible for miles in any direction. While out exploring the landscape south of the town of San Pedro de Atacama I spent the afternoon wandering around the attraction of Las Piedras Rojas (the Red Rocks). But getting on toward sunset I spied lenticular clouds forming on the lee side of the Miñiques volcano and knew it could make for an interesting photo.

Gunning the rental sedan down the rough and bumpy road I drove to a vantage point where I could get the volcano, the clouds, the moon, and the scrubby landscape all in one frame. As the sun dropped below the horizon it lit up the lenticulars a gorgeous shade of fuchsia and I was able to capture this photo.

See more beautiful Chile photos here.

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Heads in the Clouds

Heads in the Clouds

The Story Behind This Photograph:

Taken in the Cocora Valley in Colombia on April 22, 2017

The wax palm is the world’s tallest species of palm tree. Amazingly, they spend their first few decades on the ground, building a crown of fronds that lifts barely a few meters from the earth. But once they reach their teenage years the trees rocket skyward, reaching as high as 200 feet. In the Cocora Valley, where the trees have reached almost legendary status, thunderstorms and humidity reign. There is often a lingering mist of clouds sweeping down off the mountains through the valley, blanketing the trees in a thick of cloud. But like thunderstorms everywhere those in the Cocora Valley often begin to lift and evaporate around sunset, allowing the beautiful tropical light to drizzle in.

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Los Cuernos

Los Cuernos

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Taken from the Lago Grey area of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, on February 26, 2017.

Chile’s most famous national park is Torres del Paine, which means The Blue Towers. And although those specific towers are striking -gigantic monoliths of rock jutting thousands of feet into the sky- they are somewhat inaccessible. Most people will only ever see them from far away, from a viewpoint miles and miles and miles away from the towers themselves. In contrast, Los Cuernos del Paine (The Blue Horns) are omnipresent in the park. The most famous, the most iconic views of Torres del Paine all involve Los Cuernos. And with good reason: these enormous columns of rock erupt over 6,000 feet from the shores of the lakes below. Their craggy nature give them an incredible character and aesthetic, and they are surely some of the most well-known and iconic mountains in the world.

Being mere miles from the western Chilean coast, this sub range of the Andes is also subject to a battering by the severe weather of the southern latitudes. Ferocious winds, blustery squalls, and intense downpours can spring up out of nowhere, mingling with perfect sunshine in a frustrating display of fickleness. But that same weather, when it hits Los Cuernos, often dances and plays with the light and atmosphere in a way that is a delight for photography.

On this particular day, after a beautiful morning exploring the Lago Grey region of Torres del Paine National Park, I was driving back toward my campsite as the winds picked up and began howling over the peaks. That led to the formation of incredible interlocking lenticular clouds over Los Cuernos, all of which basked in the afternoon sunlight.

Key Learning Tip:

It’s easy to over-complicate composition. In those moments where I’m not sure how to compose a scene I tend to fall back one of the simplest “rules” of composition: the Rule of Thirds. The rule states that you divide your frame up into an imaginary Tic-Tac-Toe board and place important objects in your photos along the lines and intersections of that grid.

In this image you can see I’ve done exactly that: the sky gets a third of the photo. The grass and forested hills at the bottom of the photo get a third. And the mountains in the middle get a third. So simple, yet so effective. Also notice where I’ve placed the most prominent tower in the scene: its most eye-catching, sunlit section is placed on the upper-left third intersection point. It’s a power point in the image and your eye goes right to that tower.

So the next time you’re stuck trying to figure out a decent composition don’t be afraid to fall back to the tried-and-true Rule of Thirds.

See more beautiful Chile photos here.

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Montaña Colorada

Montaña Colorada

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Taken somewhere in remote southern Bolivia on April 9, 2017.

Southern Bolivia is a land of extremes: altitude, dryness, vulcanism. It’s a weird and marvelous place full of natural wonders. In a sub-range of the Andes, somewhere down there, there is a mountain cascading with minerals. Each mineral is a different color, and when the sun strikes the hillside they light up in a peacock-esque display of color.

Key Learning Tip:

In landscape photography it is hammered into our heads that we should only ever take photos at sunrise and sunset. But the truth is that there are certain kinds of landscapes that work very well in bright, direct sunlight. For example, high contrast black and white photos can be great in direct sun. Or intentional panning shots. Or macro photos. Or, as in this case, intimate images of landscapes with smooth curves and flowing lines. Think rolling agricultural land like the Palouse, sinuous sand dunes in Death Valley, or the beautiful mineral deposits of Montana Colorada in Bolivia.

In fact, this photo works better because of the direct sunlight. The neutral color of daylight brings out the colors throughout the whole spectrum, not just the reds or blues. And because the sun was directly behind me as well it eliminated the shadows of the landscape, allowing the shapes and colors to take center stage.

Remember, the best light for any scene is light that enhances the features of the landscape that you want to emphasize. So if direct sunlight is working for your scene then use it and shoot!

See more beautiful South America photos here.

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Ice See You

Ice See You

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Taken in a ice tunnel on the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina on March 2, 2017.

People are drawn to glaciers in a powerful way. I think it’s because there’s almost nothing so foreign from our daily lives as a strip of ice miles wide that slowly and inexorably slides through mountain valleys, carving them up, and depositing ice and rock in the landscape below. I too am drawn to glaciers and I relish every chance I get to explore on top of one. During my visit to Perito Moreno I went on a guided excursion that explored a tiny part of the glacier, probing some of its fascinating features, including moulins, crevasses, surface rivers, and impossibly blue ice. But one of the most mesmerizing features we explored was a 3-foot high ice tunnel that provided fantastic views of the snow-capped peaks ringing the valley. To me it seemed like nothing so much as a gigantic frozen eyeball looking out on the world.

Key Learning Tip:

One of the best tips I’ve learned about connecting your viewer to your scene I picked up from Pulitzer-prize-winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice. She told me that she loves the power of layering and framing to draw viewers into her photos. In her work you often see exactly that: photos of two men talking, viewed through the windows of a car. Or a baseball player greeting the press, viewed from the dugout. It’s an effective technique and it makes us feel as though we are participating in the moment being photographed instead of simply looking at it.

In this photo I used the same technique to photograph the distant mountains of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, as viewed through a tunnel in the Perito Moreno glacier. As a result you don’t feel separate from the landscape. Instead you’re immersed in the glacial ice, peeking out onto the gray, rugged landscape beyond.

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From the Clouds

From the Clouds

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Taken from a viewpoint of Cerro Torre on the trail to Laguna Torre in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, on March 8, 2017

The weather in Patagonia is notoriously fickle. Clear skies give way to thunderous downpours and vice versa. While spending a few days in the charming town of El Chalten in Argentina I was hoping for the latter. We’d seen rain, rain, and more rain. On this particular day the forecast showed the rain breaking up in the afternoon, and so I planned an overnight trip to Laguna Torre, one of the most famous spots in Los Glaciares National Park. 11 am came and the rain was till falling. Noon, and still the rain persisted. 1 pm, and the rain continued. Eventually I began to run out of daylight and so decided to start the hike regardless of the weather and packed up my backpack and camera equipment. I hit the trail exactly 2 hours before sunset with intermittent splatters of raining squelching down out of the sky.

The hike to Laguna Torre is just about 9 km, or around 6 miles. I knew I could hike that distance in two hours but it would be a hustle. Thankfully the trail is relatively flat and at low elevation, which meant I could cruise. The more I hiked the more the clouds broke up, and about halfway along the trail I came to a vista which provided a dramatic view of Cerro Torre, one of the most iconic peaks in the world. The broken clouds allowed sunlight to filter through, creating a dreamlike atmosphere through which the peak poked its craggy head. After snapping a handful of shots I set off down the trail and did reach the lake before sunset. Though by that point the clouds had come in thicker and rain was once again falling. I didn’t see Cerro Torre for the rest of the trip, making me happy I’d stopped when it was rising from the clouds.

Key Learning tip:

One of the difficulties I faced when creating this photo was the lighting. The scene was back lit, the clouds were incredibly bright, and the forest was quite dark by comparison. The challenge was to find an exposure that would allow me to hold detail in the both sky and the forest.

When faced with a scene that has extreme dynamic range (lots of bright highlights and deep shadows), you have a couple of options. I believe the easiest approach is to focus on maintaining detail in your highlights. My workflow 99% of the time in this situation is to continue to darken my exposure until my histogram and highlight warning (“blinkies”) shows no blown out highlights.

I know that my digital sensor will pick up tons of detail in the shadows even if it doesn’t show it on playback. Nevertheless it will be possible to recover those shadow details in post much more easily than it would be to recover blown highlights.

For this photo, you can see what the raw image looked like when I captured it in the field. I prioritized maintaining detail in my bright clouds. As a result the scene is very dark, and parts of the forest almost look black. But once I brought the raw file into Lightroom I was able to recover an incredible amount of shadow information in order to show details throughout the scene.

See more beautiful Argentina photos here.

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Non-Sequitur

Non-Sequitur

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Taken at Isla Incahuasi in the Salar de Uyuni on April 10th, 2017

“This is the weirdest place I’ve ever been.” During the few days I spent in southern Bolivia, this one phrase continually sprang to mind. This is Isla Incahuasi, an island covered with giant cactuses, sitting by itself, surrounded by thousands of square kilometers of salt.

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The Mists Are Rising

The Mists Are Rising

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Taken near Laguna Torre in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Just like Milford Sound in New Zealand, if you come to Patagonia and don’t get tons of rain and wind and cloud, you aren’t getting the real experience. Thankfully it’s pretty damn beautiful here no matter what the conditions are like.

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Frailejones

Frailejones

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Taken in the Frailejon forest of Los Nevados National Park, Colombia, on April 26th, 2017

Frailejon trees, a beautiful cactus-like plant, rises above the cloud forests of Colombia.

See more beautiful Colombia photos here.

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