Short story for those who do not want to read it;
It’s easier to get good shows when you rent a car a never hesitate to stop, go out, take a picture. Weather is weird in Patagonia, never hesitate to take a picture when the sky is clear. Camera settings are at the end. For those who have time to read, enjoy!
The famous Fitz Roy Mountain towers the Los Glaciares park mountains near El Chalten in the Argentinian Patagonia. The not-Argentinian-sounding-at-all name was given to the mountain by its first explorer Francisco Moreno in honour of Robert Fitz-Roy, captain of the HMS Beagle, you know, the captain of no less than Charles Darwin himself. Thank you Wikipedia for making me sound smart. Even if it’s not that high (3 405 m), it’s considered to be one of the hardest mountains in the world to climb due to its extreme flat granite face. Nope, I haven’t climbed it, in fact, I’ve barely even seen it after this shot was taken.
We were driving from El Calafate to El Chalten on the famous National road 40 when I took this shot. The sights from the road are stunning and it’s difficult not to stop every two minutes. Stopping by itself and getting out of the car is also a difficult task considering the extreme wind in this region of Argentina. When we rented the car (a very dashing Volks Gol, yes, it is Gol without the “F”) the renting guy asks us if we were heading to Patagonia and if so, to be very careful when opening the doors as the wind often tears them off when people don’t restrain them. That was a good start. We managed to keep all the doors and even the car but he was right, the wind is impressive!
Having a rented car gives the possibility of freedom. Freedom to stop when you see something and allowing you to take all the pictures you want. If I had been in a bus, this picture would not have happened. Even then, you have to make choices because consistently stopping can dramatically increases the duration of a journey and stopping somewhere often means that you will be able to stop one less time further on considering the light may not be at its best then. It really is a strategic decision, stopping or not. Overall, it’s better stopping too often than less often; more photo opportunities means more potentially good images. You do not regret those times you stopped for nothing but you could regret the times you stayed in the car.
For this particular image, light was getting pretty beautiful and from where we were some of the Patagonian landscape was nicely adding to the mountain to give a feeling of the whole countryside. I was thinking that I could get better shots from closer for a closer frame but I still liked the idea of a wider view. That was a good decision cause it turned out to be my best shot of Fitz Roy and of Patagonia.
To put things in perspective, I’ll be honest, I wanted to beat the shot of the Lonely Planet, which is extremely good. For that, I wanted a closer perspective, I also needed llamas but hey, that was something to deal with later. The problem is that, as Lonely Planet truthfully warned the foolish myself, weather changes a lot and very quickly in Patagonia, often not for the best. This image shows my first sight of Fitz Roy which is supposed to be often out of sight, in the clouds. I naively thought that this was rubbish and that I would be lucky enough to see the mountain all the remaining 5 days, plenty of time to get close by hiking, hire some llama extras and finally best the LP picture. Thing is, Lonely Planet was right, as usual and I have not seen Fitz Roy peak ever after that day, not even after the 8 hours hike to the Laguna de Lost Tres which was supposed to provide an amazing view, nada.
You surely understand how glad I was to have stopped the car and snapped. That would be the thing I want to tell in this post, never hesitate to stop, to spend more time, to make a detour for an image. It may not be worth it but it could very well be one of your best shots. Most of the time, the greatest shots are not planned and are not even the ones you thought at first.
This is a pretty straightforward shot, light was good and plenty, the hardest part was coming from the important wind making it hard to frame. 2/3 of the image is the foreground; the hills showing the sparse vegetation of Patagonia, bathed in the yellowish light and the upper third is the main subject, in the background; Fitz Roy with its peak slightly off-center on the right vertical third to give dynamism to the image. As you can see in the before-after process, the initial image is more exposed than necessary, this gives more latitude in dynamic range from the sensor to get more details, better colors and less noise. Always try to overexpose slightly if possible. The clouds caught some of the yellow light which gives more contrast and vibrance to the overall image.
ISO 100 f/8.0 1/250s handheld
Canon EOS 6D + Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L @62mm
Rent a car if you can
Never hesitate to stop to take a picture
Hold the car door firmly in Patagonia if you want to keep it
Stay one month in El Chalten if you want more chances to see Fitz Roy
Remember the rule of thirds
Low ISO, small aperture for landscape shots in good light
Slightly overexpose to keep more details, less noise and more colors, correct the contrast in post-process