Valle de la Muerte – Atacama, Chile
1/60s @ f/5.6 ISO 400 @ 75mm
The Atacama Desert of southern Peru and northern Chile is the driest place on Earth. Rainfall is almost nonexistent at less than 4-inches per every 1,000 years. The landscape is breathtaking, and is often compared to a Martian landscape. I was out photographing Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. yesterday afternoon/evening. This was one of the last shots I got at 6:30 p.m. as the sun was going down.
The sun was at my back, setting in the west, and cast its golden glow on the Andes mountains to the east (you can see volcanoes on the distant skyline). The foreground was already in deep shadow, but the sun’s dying gasp fell on the distant peaks. The lighting was ethereal and a beautiful pastel, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon at the same time of day. The light lasted only a few seconds (literally) as the sun quickly sank in the west. Snap, snap, snap—just a few quick shots.
I don’t carry a tripod while travelling, so this had to be a handheld shot. I shot as slow as I dared at 1/60s (Image Stabilized) at a focal length of 75mm. This resulted in an aperture setting of f/5.6 with an ISO of 400. If I had used a tripod I would have shot at f/8 to f/11 at ISO 100 and let the shutter take as long as it wanted. The depth of field isn’t as great as I would have liked, and I would have much preferred the image resolution ISO 100 would have given me—but, alas, I didn’t have that luxury.
The dramatic scene itself, and the magnificent colors, offset the image’s limitations I think (photographers are never satisfied). It will probably surprise many that this photo isn’t heavily Photoshopped: the photo is straight out of the camera (no cropping), I made a minor adjustment to the white balance, raised the shadows a tad, tweaked the blacks & whites, and adjusted clarity & vibrance, and finally added a bit of sharpening. The colors are completely natural (absolutely spectacular, huh?).
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II full-frame digital camera with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. Original image captured as a CameraRAW file, and converted using Adobe CameraRAW. Final edits completed in Photoshop Elements 11.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile