# 100 Patagonia’s “carrera austral”, so much beauty for so few…. (1)

By philberphoto | News

May 02
  1. Background

When my friend Boris said that he would be going to Torres del Paine, and would I like to join him, I was both delighted and embarrassed. Delighted because he is one of the finest non professional landscape photographers, and also a first class chap. But I had to ask: where is this “Torres-thingy” and what is it? Boris started to tell me about the beauties of Patagonia, on both the Argentinian and Chilean sides, and how this was possibly the world’s most spectacular national park.

But, alas, over Christmas, a careless tourist ( if you ask me, a criminally, insanely, irresponsibly, brain-deadly stupid tourist) set fire to the vegetation, the park burned for weeks, and it will be decades until it is fully grown back. I so informed Boris, who was then shooting the Ruwenzori area.

He decided to change the trip into a road trip down the Carretera Austral, the road that goes down the Chilean coast of Patagonia, from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas.

Patagonia does not give itself away freely to visitors. You need to want it, deserve it, and work at it. First, it is not so easy to get to. Fly into Santiago de Chile, and onto one of three airports. Boris, who planned this trip with a thoroughness, determination and sense of organization that would have made Bismarck look like a dilettante, chose the middle airport, Balmaceda, close to Patagonia’s capital, Coyhaique. Balmaceda airport is just that: an airport, in the middle of nowhere. Getting there from Santiago, renting a 4×4 truck, the only vehicle solid enough to weather the gravel and potholes that are grandly called Carretera Austral, and to a cheap (50€) “hotel” half-way to Coyhaique (40km away), and the first day was gone.

The next day, like good photographers eager to take advantage of first light, we set out at 6:30 am. But I had messed up the time difference with Paris, which was only 5 hours, and not 6, so it was still night. First light came an hour later, when we were in a place called Cerro Castillo, and the great vista was stunning. We broke out our gear, and shot with relish. And had our first fight, but not the last, with “too high contrast”, as Boris put it.

2. The roadrunners

Boris had come well armed: two Leica M9, plus 18 Super Elmar, 21 Super Elmar, 24 Elmar, 28 Summicron, 35 Summilux, 50 Summilux, and 90 Makro-Elmar. Plus a high, solid Gitzo 2540 tripod and Acratech head, and many ND and grad filters.

I had come much armed. Because I had bought a Canon 5D III only days before, I also brought my 5DII as backup. And because I wasn’t yet sure of my NEX 7, I also brought my trusty 5N. With the Canon bodies, 4 Zeiss lenses, ZE 25 f:2.0, 35 f:1.4. 50 f:1.4, 85 f:1.4.

With the Sony pocket rockets, Zeiss ZM 18, Leica 24 Elmar, Zeiss ZM 35 f:2.0, Contax G45 and 90, Leica R 60 Makro Elmarit. A Velbon Sherpa Pro CF 540 tripod with Gitzo ball head, and some filters. My bag was probably twice the weight of Boris’…..

Boris likes his photography brilliantly, wonderfully, ruthlessly, mercilessly clear, detailed, and descriptive, like the German engineer he is. He routinely sells pictures, has a Website, an understanding wife and daughter, and just won a major competition prize. His pictures can be seen on his Website: Boris’site Though, at the time of writing this, while he has published his pictures on a joint thread, he hasn’t put them up on his own site yet.

I, on the other hand, am only 4 years into photography, still feeling my way, and by far not as intense as Boris. So I came as his Padawan, to learn about the light side of the Force.

My contributions to the trip: sharing the cost of the car rental and the rooms, speaking some Spanish, which really helped, and keeping Boris entertained with a steady stream of bad jokes.

It also became clear as we progressed that Boris and I do not quite see photography the same way. For him, photography is the art of the uncovering, the revealing, the exposing. For me, I would rather that it evokes, suggests, tells a tale, and that it remains as close to what I saw as possible. Which means that, on average, Boris’ PP is much more intense than mine, which I tend to like like good make-up: unnoticeable.

Still, we were on our way, and ran into a typical Patagonian condition: windy, as can be seen hereActually we passed that spot 3 times, and never with less than 80-100 km/h winds. Lightweight tripods beware!

As we drove down towards Caleta Tortel, the beauty of Patagonian vistas began to unfold The first evening, we slept in a village called Caleta Tortel. Boris’ guide said it was fascinating because it had, instead of streets, aerial passageways made of cypress wood -no less! So I had visions of a miniature South American Venice…

Whereas Caleta Tortel is a dump. Sad to say, but true. Sad, gloomy and desperately poor.

Not that the rest of Patagonia is rich. Not by many means. And not that a poor village does not lend itself to interesting pictures

After Caleta Tortel, the southernmost part of our trip, we started driving back North towards Puerto Tranquillo and the fabled Valle Exploradores, and, again, were fascinated with the sheer beauty of this land. Unfortunately, one element too often stood between us and good photography. Most fields along the Carretera Austral were fenced, and fences don’t usually make good pictures. On one of those above, you can see electrical wires, something Boris absolutely refuses to shoot, and fences are just as much of a no-no for him. Fences like this, where the barbed wire seems to be giving us the finger:To be continued…

  • Barry Timm says:

    I so look forward to your stories…you have a wonderful way with words. Thanks!

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