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Photography tips


Any budding photographer or serious amateur will have a field day traveling around Chile with a camera at hand. The scenery is absolutely stunning, so you won’t be able to help snapping away at those spectacular mountain vistas. Besides the famous landmarks like the peaks of Torres del Paine, Chilean nature provides beautiful opportunities in the macro world, so do not forget to take close-ups of ferns, dew drops or other patterns when hiking through forests. If in luck when wildlife-watching, you may also be able to take home good shots of penguins, whales, condors or vicuñas. No doubt you will also be photographing lively arts and crafts markets or colorful houses, like the cabins on stilts on the island of Chiloé. In short, the photo ops are endless, so come prepared.

Basic equipment

If using a silver-film camera, bring lots of rolls of film, some slow (100 ISO) for bright sun and some faster (200 or 400 ISO) for lower light conditions. Although there are Fuji and Kodak shops around Chile processing and selling old-fashioned film, it may be harder to get by (or expired) in remote areas, especially slide film. If using digital, bring an ample supply of memory cards. Unless you are carrying a laptop and can download your pictures regularly, you don’t want to have to restrain yourself for lack of space. For a start, it allows you to shoot in higher resolution (wouldn’t it be a shame to be forced to cram those once-in-a-lifetime memories into tiny, low-res files?) and for another, you will lose fewer photos if a card is lost or stolen. Doing back-ups of your most meaningful shots in an online storage space is not a bad idea either.

Serious amateur equipment

If you want to bring home more than just basic holiday snaps of you and your friends, you may want to invest in a little extra equipment which will greatly improve your shots. The simplest is a UV filter, which eliminates haze and produces sharper pictures, while a polarizer reduces glare and improves contrast. Both can be useful in places with very bright light, like the sunny northern coast or in the Atacama Desert. A lot heavier to haul around, but useful if you are going to shoot in windy places, is a tripod. It is also necessary to support a long telephoto lens if you plan a wildlife photo safari. Needless to say, keep an eye on all that gear. Chile is relatively crime-free, but expensive items may prove tempting if you leave them lying about.

Protecting your gear

Climate conditions vary widely between regions in Chile, so you need to protect your equipment against its worst enemies: sand and humidity. It is best to always store your camera in its bag when at the beach or anywhere rainy – anywhere along the Carretera Austral, for instance. Also watch out for dust, like in the Atacama Desert, when changing lenses or memory cards, moves best performed indoors and quickly! If you travel south to Patagonia, you may find yourself taking photos in very cold conditions. Try not to expose your camera to brutal changes in temperature: you are better off brushing a little snow off a cold camera than tucking it under the warmth of your coat, which risks creating condensation on your lens.

Handling the light

Of course, weather conditions also impact heavily on light conditions – an essential aspect of landscape photography. As a rule of thumb, the light most conducive to quality shots is early morning or late afternoon light. Also remember that the light changes all the time in Patagonia. So if you see a beautiful scene, don’t think twice about it, shoot it. Don’t wait to “catch it on the way back” or until you stop for a picnic. By then, the clouds will have rolled in, the wind will have ruffled the surface of the lake or the light will have disappeared – and you will have lost the shot.

Portraits and sensitive subjects

When taking photos of people, unless they just happen to be present in a street scene, it is basic courtesy to ask permission, especially with indigenous people, who tend to be camera-shy. Also avoid taking photos of navy ships or army buildings, it could get you into trouble.

Last but not least, do not look at Chile merely through the viewfinder, focusing only on finding something to photograph. Traveling and bringing home great memories is first and foremost about living beautiful experiences; so enjoy your trip, then you will have something to photograph and images to share back home.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: When To Go, Safety, When to Go to Villarrica, When to go to Calama, Disabled Travelers, Safety in San Pedro de Atacama, Safety, When to Go , Safety and Major Health Problems.

01 Jul 2009

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