Lagunas Cejar y Tebinquinche, Atacama Chile

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Laguna Cejar – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

1/100s @ f/16 ISO 100 @ 24mm

Photo #1: Taken in the early evening about 1-hour before sunset. Facing east (towards the dark mountains and sky) the setting sun was to my back in the west. It illuminated the tall grass, which reminded me of wheat, with its golden glow, but left the sky and mountains dark & stormy. The wind was blowing the grass, but I elected a slower shutter speed of 1/100s to preserve my stopped down aperture of f/16 (for maximum depth of field) and low 100 ISO (for image resolution). I figured any motion blur in the grass would just add to the sense of movement. I loved the contrast between the sunlit grass and the dark background (Mother Nature was really cooperating).

Yesterday evening was PERFECT photography weather. Normally when you go on guided tour it’s in the middle of the day (the worst possible time for photographers), but last night’s shoot included the Golden Hour when the setting sun cast its golden glow on everything. I visited two lakes in the Atacama desert: Laguna de Cejar and Laguna de Tebinquinche. In addition to the soft golden light of the sun, the sky was also very interesting (a rarity in Atacama) with dramatic cloud formations and colors.

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Laguna Cejar – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

1/100s @ f/16 ISO 100 @ 24mm

Photo #2: This is a good example of the cloud formations I was seeing yesterday. I saw a few beautiful example of lenticular clouds (the one’s that are often confused with flying saucers), and other formations as well (but I’m not a meteorologist so I don’t know their various technical names). My camera settings remained the same, again preserving depth of field and image resolution. In this image the foreground looks a little blurred to me, but it’s not—viewed at 100% it’s tack-sharp. These images were all captured with my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens (a much maligned lens in my opinion), and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

We left the village of San Pedro de Atacama at 3:30 p.m. and didn’t return to our hostel until 7:30 p.m. (after sunset). It took us almost an hour to reach our first stop at Lagunas Cejar and Piedra, and the above photos were taken from about 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (about an hour before sunset). As mentioned above the light was fantastic, and what you see here is pretty much what my eyes actually saw. These photos have not been drastically edited in Photoshop. Our next stop was Laguna Tebinquinche.

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Laguna Tebinquinche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

1/100s @ f/11 ISO 250 @ 105mm

Photo #3: I took this photo, with the sun at my back in the west, at about 6 p.m. and it created a veritable pallet of pastel colors. I had to open my aperture to f/11 to maintain my shutter speed and a relatively low ISO of 250. As I was shooting into the distance, at 105mm, depth of field became less of an issue, it was more important to maintain a low ISO for image resolution. Again, these marvellous colors are not a product of Photoshop, but rather what my camera captured (and what my eyes actually saw).

We arrived at Laguna Tebinquinche at about 6:00 p.m. to watch the sunset, have some snacks, and drink some Pisco Sours: Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. Made by distilling grape wine into a high-proof spirit, it was developed by 16th century Spanish settlers as an alternative to orujo, a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain. It had the advantages of being produced from abundant domestically grown fruit and reducing the volume of alcoholic beverages transported to remote locations.

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Laguna Tebinquinche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

1/20s @ f/8 ISO 100 @ 24mm

Photo #4: I took this last photo sometime between 6:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. and the light was fading fast. You can see I had to drop my shutter speed to 1/20s and my aperture to f/8 to preserve an ISO of 100. I was shooting handheld (no tripod while travelling) so even with an IS lens I didn’t want to shoot much slower for risk of camera shake. I would have preferred an aperture setting of f/16 or f/11 for depth of field, but settled on f/8. Viewed at 100% the foreground isn’t as crisp as I would like, but for a web-size image it’s acceptable. 

Image #4 was the last useable shot I got. I continued to shoot until after sunset, but without a tripod it was impossible to get any useable images. Admitting defeat I joined the rest of the group for snacks and Pisco Sours, and enjoyed the last gasps of the dying sunset. Once the sun went down it got cold fast, and even with my down vest, parka, gloves, and beanie I started to get cold. We finally boarded our transport vehicle, and headed back to San Pedro de Atacama (and our hostel) over the rough washboard desert road.

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, World Traveller

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile 


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