The weather in Patagonia seemingly changes by the hour. I know you hear this said about many places, but in the southern Andes it’s absolutely true. The one weather characteristic you can pretty much count on is the wind. The wind is always beating on you – hard. It disfigures the trees, forms eerie lenticular clouds in the afternoons and evenings that make it appear as if an armada of spaceships are invading planet Earth, and it whips the lakes into a frenzy of ocean-sized breakers.
This ever-present wind is the result of a phenomenon called the Roaring Forties. These westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere spin wildly around the globe, between approximately the 40 and 50-degree latitudes, virtually unabated by any landmass except for the southern Andes of South America. The wind and the waves and the alien cloud formations make wild Patagonia an even wilder place. “Pehoe’s Fury” is the beneficiary of the Roaring Forties by adopting the violent engagement of water and rock as a compelling foreground for the image.
Now, on to the continuation of the Mailbag
Tuesday on Facebook and Twitter, I invited my followers to submit questions to me about photography, travel, nature and wildlife, or anything else they were curious about. I received over 300 questions in less than 24 hours via Twitter, Facebook, and emails! I obviously cannot answer all of them here (some are redundant) but over the couple of days, I will attempt to tackle at least a portion of those I received. This is #2 of a 3-part series. Mailbag #1 was published here yesterday.
What steps do you follow when you are shooting a location you have never been to before? - Jeff from Draper, Utah USA via Facebook
Well, the Internet is a tremendous resource when scouting a place I’ve never been before. A simple Google or Flickr image search will turn up thousands of examples of what the place looks like or what the possibilities might be. Google Earth is another invaluable resource for scouting rivers, mountains, and other landforms and how they align with the sun at certain times of day. The danger, at least for me, with the image search route is that it is possible to form preconceived ideas and biases about the place that might hinder creative exploration when you get there. I always like to follow my inner emotional response to a new place and let it guide me to fresh ways of seeing it. I guess you need to strike some sort of balance there.
What’s your top three must photograph locations that you have yet to visit? - Payton from Raleigh, North Carolina USA via Facebook
Greenland, South Georgia Island, and Africa. I am headed to Africa in May (Namibia) and I’m working on the other two at the moment.
What is the most photogenic movie you ever watched? Favorite movie? - Art from Denver, Colorado USA via Facebook
First off, I’m not a big movie kinda guy. I catch a few here and there on flights but that’s pretty much the extent of it. But having been a long-time fly fishing junkie, I do love A River Runs Through It and it’s pretty damned photogenic.
I see that some of your images have an extended dynamic range which suggests that you shoot multiple exposures. Do you do so and if yes, at what EV difference between the exposures? Do you then do a manual blend or do you use any particular software package to blend them. - Robbie from South Africa via Email
If what you mean by “multiple exposures” is bracketing, then yes. Almost all scenes with an extended dynamic range (a range of tones that exceeds the camera sensor’s ability to capture in a single exposure) are bracketed and +/- 1 stop is usually plenty. There are some exceptions where I need to go more but they are pretty rare. The histogram will tell you whether you need to go more or not. If the highlights in the darker exposure are in check and the shadows in the lightest exposure are not blocked up, you know you’ve got everything.
I use Photoshop to manually blend these exposures into a high dynamic range composite, which looks much more natural than the results from automated HDR programs. I have 5 or 6 different blending techniques that I will use depending on the scene.
How can I get to do what you do? - Brenda from San Diego, California USA via Twitter
I’m assuming your talking about photography, right? As a career? Are you insane? Please read it.
With all of the traveling you do to remote locations with bad weather and dangerous animals, have you ever felt in any sort of mortal danger? - Craig from Adelaide, Australia via Twitter
Aside from a few scrapes such as flipping my truck on a snow covered I-40 in New Mexico, being charged by an aggressive brown bear in Alaska, and an attack from a super aggressive alligator in a South Carolina swamp, most mishaps are just mild annoyances. Being cold, lost, lonely, sleep-deprived, dealing with faulty equipment or unruly border guards is all part of the deal for which I signed up. I don’t take many reckless chances anymore, I guess that’s a part of getting a little older. But I do push the proverbial envelope when and where appropriate after weighing the risks against the rewards and factoring in my physical abilities. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way which help me make good decisions out there.
What did you want to be when you grew up? At what point did you have the ah ha moment that put you on this amazing path? - Suzn from Wilmington, Delaware USA via Facebook
As a kid, I wanted to be a big league baseball player. Preferably a pitcher. Deciding to become a photographer didn’t come as an epiphany or Damascene Road style conversion. It sort of snuck up on me. Once I decided to do this, however, there was no stopping me. I didn’t have a choice. The passion was in me and it took over my life.
Hi Richard, I want to know: If you were kidnapped by aliens and you had the chance to take one picture you’ve taken with you to show all the extraterrestrials an example how beautiful planet Earth is, which photo would you show them? - Stefanie from Munich, Germany via Facebook
I love this question – it’s a GREAT question – but I really don’t like answering it. In a roundabout way, it’s almost like asking me which of my images is my favorite, and I don’t have a favorite. Besides, beauty is a strange concept. What we think of as beauty – as it relates to the natural world – is an evolved ideal of what meets our elemental needs. An image with a snow-capped mountain with lush forest and crystal clear lake would be perceived by us as beautiful because it contains water (very necessary for survival), shelter (very necessary for survival) and probably game and food. Elemental needs. An arid, featureless, desert plain might not register with us as being beautiful, not for its own sake but because it lacks water, shelter, and probably food. It’s hardwired into our biases and prejudices of what beauty actually is. Our extraterrestrial friends may not share those biases so it might be pointless.
More Mailbag tomorrow!
Enjoy this post? Please leave a comment or Subscribe to Earth and Light!