Capturing the Magic of Atacama Desert: A Photographer's Dream
Introduction: Every landscape photographer harbors the constant dream of discovering incredible locations. Among these, Patagonia and Atacama stand out, appealing to mountain and desert enthusiasts alike, especially those passionate about astrophotography. Merging these two passions, we embarked on an unforgettable 15-day tent expedition in the Atacama Desert, followed by a scouting mission with Weshoot in Patagonia.
Preparation and Challenges: Extensive preparations were paramount for this adventure. Months were devoted to meticulous planning of shooting locations and assembling necessary equipment. Picture spending a month away from home, facing temperatures plummeting to -15°C at night, and enduring scorching daytime heat—calling for gear suitable for both desert camping and mountaineering. This included harnesses, crampons, cooking utensils, camping stoves, photography equipment, and ample clothing for an entire month.
Doesn’t sound too complicated, right?
Well, in reality, it was. The last three weeks were a whirlwind of online shopping for last-minute essentials. Our trio—Lorenzo, Francesco, and myself—each carried over 100Ah of power banks, thousands of euros worth of photography gear, and all necessary survival essentials for challenging conditions. Departure day finally arrived, a truly awe-inspiring moment.
The Journey Begins: We convened in Madrid, Spain, where we had a layover before our flight to Santiago, Chile. The meeting was surreal, our dream on the cusp of becoming reality. The 13-hour flight from Europe to South America was well-utilized, balancing work and rest, well-prepared for my return to South America.
Upon arrival in Santiago, Chile, we set course for the Atacama Desert, renting a car in Calama and driving towards San Pedro.
San Pedro and Acclimatization: San Pedro, a mystical village nestled in the heart of the desert, welcomed us with its limited sustenance resources. We stocked up on 130 liters of water from a small supermarket, priming our bodies for the altitude. Positioned at an elevation of approximately 3,000 meters, with plans to ascend beyond 4,000 meters in the ensuing days.
The Initial Days: The initial days were a tad chaotic as I grappled to fully comprehend the situation and the tasks at hand. However, as my mind settled, I began to genuinely relish the experience. This time, I approached the desert with heightened awareness. Previously, I’d faced numerous challenges, partly due to the large group I was with. But this time, we were the right people, in the right place.
Exploring the Wonders: We ventured into renowned areas like the Rainbow Valley and the Moon Valley. These places perpetually enchant with their breathtaking beauty. Our maiden night was spent in a hostel, after which we loaded our pickup truck and set off into the unknown.
One of the most formidable challenges was the unyielding wind. The desert is notorious for areas with rocks highly polished by gusts exceeding 80 km/h. After visiting the well-trodden spots, we decided to venture into higher altitudes, reaching the Pacana region.
A Captivating Moment: In this zone, I captured an extraordinary photograph—a 360-degree star trail, augmenting my panoramic collection. Undoubtedly, it was the apex of the journey. Stepping out of the tent at three in the morning, with the moon illuminating the scene, felt akin to being on another planet. Profound solitude engulfed me, thoughts drifting to my mom, who passed away six months ago. It was a moment of introspection, demanding yet powerful.
Magical Lagoons and Reflections: In the ensuing days, we explored mesmerizing lagoons, photographing the Milky Way mirrored in these water and salt lake mirrors. I’d never beheld such awe-inspiring landscapes; they verged on the surreal. We slumbered near a flamingo-populated lagoon, perched at an altitude of over 4,700 meters. Thankfully, none of us encountered significant health issues, save for the occasional minor headaches and fatigue that accompany strenuous hikes. Witnessing the frozen lake reflecting the stars at night was utterly mind-blowing.
Exploring Natural Reserves at El Tatio Geyser: A Photographic Triumph
Venturing into the natural reserves situated around 4,000 meters near the El Tatio Geyser was a truly enchanting experience. While we were cautioned about potential dangers due to the presence of pumas, it added an element of thrill to our stays in these regions. Armed with the new Sony a7s3 camera, I seized the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream—capturing the ethereal beauty of the Milky Way and the moon in these pristine surroundings.
Conquering the Final Challenges:
The last leg of our journey proved to be the most demanding. With exhaustion setting in and minimal sleep, we mustered the determination to explore Aguacalientes—an unfamiliar terrain. As we arrived amidst a breathtaking sunset, I seized the moment to immortalize stars against a canvas of crimson clouds. It stands as one of the most awe-inspiring shots from our entire adventure. With tents pitched for the final time, we prepared to embark on the next phase of our expedition, heading towards Patagonia. It felt like a journey’s end, yet we were only halfway through. Returning to San Pedro de Atacama, we commemorated our odyssey with a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant, immersed in live music, savoring the last moments in the desert.
This narrative, while seemingly a typical photography journey, transcended that for me. It unfolded as an awe-inspiring experience, a testament to the remarkable synergy of passion and nature’s grandeur. In my forthcoming article, I will recount the tale of our scouting expedition in Patagonia—a parallel adventure enriched with mountaineering and camping amidst the majestic mountains. Join me as we dive deeper into the heart of breathtaking landscapes and photographic mastery.
Conclusion: In this brief account, what may seem like a typical photography journey was, for me, much more than that. It was an awe-inspiring experience. In my next article, I will share the story of our scouting expedition in Patagonia—an equally remarkable adventure, accompanied by mountaineering and camping in the mountains.