Chile is one of South America’s most prosperous nations as a result of its economic and social stability, its low level of corruption and democracy. It stands out as a safe country, with the lowest murder rate in the Americas after Canada. As a place to visit, especially for Europeans, it is not in the first rank of tourist destinations. But that is a great pity because, along with its enviable stability and prosperity, Chile is also one of the most beautiful places you could visit. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Back in 2019, I travelled to Patagonia and the Atacama desert. Although I had visited Chile several times both for business and pleasure this was my first visit to Patagonia. I was aware of this vast region from my school days and the many articles and photographs that I have seen since but was in some respects unprepared.
Travel to this region is normally straightforward by air to Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas with regular flights operated by LATAM, flights to Punta Arenas being the more frequent. On this occasion, the flight was somewhat less than routine and as we approached the airfield the flight was, to say the very, least bumpy. Many air sickness bags were in use.
As we descended it was clear that this was to be an interesting landing, we were approaching the runway badly skewed by strong side winds and immediately we touched the runway the two Pratt and Whitney engines roared and we took once again to the air. Two further attempts were made before the decision was made to divert to the next nearest airfield until the winds abated. Thirty minutes later we were on the ground in Rio Gallegos, but as this was in Argentina and a military airfield with no immigration facility we were unable to leave the aircraft.
After an hour on the ground, there was an opportunity to take advantage of a lull in the winds and we were very quickly in the air again. A further two attempts were made with the second being successful albeit not very comfortable. On the ground, the pilot was to explain that this was not a common occurrence and in the interests of safety it was policy after three attempts to divert. Once or twice a year with a second attempt normally being successful was routine.
Following a further five hours by road, we arrived at our lodge overlooking Lake Sarmiento and the Torres del Paine. Built from mostly sustainable materials to blend with the surrounding landscape and designed by Chilean architect Cazu Zegers the lodge blended seamlessly.
Despite its remote location it operated as a five-star hotel with exquisite food and superb wines manufactured by the local Estancia and provided an array of adventures including walks, horse riding, cycling by boat to the Grey Lagoon. I was to take advantage of all of these in pursuit of some photography.
I had read on many occasions that irrespective of the time of year you could experience all four seasons in one day. This proved to be an understatement as most days this was experienced before breakfast. The ever-changing light offered many photographic opportunities before even leaving the lodge.
As was my usual routine my camera choice was a Leica SL with 24-90mm and 90 – 280mm lenses and a Leica CL with 18 – 56mm and 55 – 135 lenses as back up.
In view of the chosen modes of transport and often wet and windy weather, I opted mostly for the CL and its kit lens which could be easily protected from the elements by my waterproofs. As a result of the images from this trip, I have since travelled with only the CL and three lenses. 18 – 56mm, 11 – 23mm and 55 – 135mm. This is an excellent kit for travel as it is not too heavy and is quite compact
You have no doubt seen many images of the Torres del Paine and although impressive I elected to attempt to capture the true spirit of this wilderness with majestic mountains and incredible vistas. To achieve this I needed to be prepared to venture out in all weathers and by whatever means suited.
As always I tend towards simplicity with my photography I shoot mostly in shutter priority, daylight or occasionally AWB and centre weighted metering. Post-processing is in Photoshop CC mostly with minimal use of the available adjustments to keep faithful to the scene as I remember it.
Three weeks prior to my visit Chile had experienced much rainfall and flooding even in the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on earth. This provided for further adventure getting to the Grey Lagoon as the landing jetty was no longer and travel to the boat was by Zodiac and boarding by rope ladder. Other modes of transport were less adventurous with the exception of horse riding. The Gauchos had referred to the horses as being largely fat and lazy but this in my case was more appropriate to the rider with the horse being both wilful and a bit quick off the mark for a novice. We did, however, develop an understanding, as I had spurs!
Warts and all
Whether walking, cycling, on horseback or boat the photo opportunities were endless. From the outset, I set out to capture this vast wilderness warts and all rather than the usual shots of the Torres del Paine, impressive as it is. This meant often photographing in the rain or near gale force winds and to add to the mix it could be quite cold in the mornings. The ever-changing weather conditions and light added greatly to the charm of this vast wilderness.
Photography aside Patagonia has a wonderfully diverse landscape ranging from jagged mountain peaks to vast lakes, glacial valleys and ice fields. All home to indigenous wildlife including the Condor with it’s near three-metre wingspan. Pumas and Rias, an Ostrich-like bird.
Patagonia for me rates as one of the most iconic destinations in Chile, indeed in South America, along with the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. With its topography, ever-changing weather and light render, this is one of the great photography destinations in the world. It also offers superb local cuisine and a remarkable range of both red and white wines. I will, I hope, be able to return soon to savour more of this remarkable region.
About the author
Dennis Anguige is a Fellow of the Royal photographic Society and is passionate about photography, this combined with the privilege of travel affords many photographic opportunities combined with a few tales to tell.
Dennis is a frequent visitor to South and South-East Asia and rates Kolkata as one of his favourite cities in the world. More recent travels have included South America, along with the Azores, Morocco and Europe.
For his sins, Dennis is also the membership secretary of The Leica Society based in Britain but welcoming members from around the world. If you are a Leica photographer, joining TLS is a wonderful way of meeting and interacting with other enthusiasts. You can take part in photographic competitions, attend the annual weekend general meeting and meet members on other occasions.
In past years there have been annual visits to Leica’s UK headquarters where Jason Heward and his team outline developments at the manufacturers. You even get the opportunity to borrow one of the latest models for a special street-shooting session with photos judged usually by the Leica Akademie’s Robin Sinha.
The Society maintains regular contact with members by means of a high-quality quarterly magazine full of interesting articles, reviews and some wonderful photographs.
Why not join?
Membership, with all these benefits, costs a very reasonable £30 a year (or £45 for two people living at the same address). Overseas membership costs £53.50 (approximately US$70, €60, AUS$100). Can you afford NOT to be a member of The Leica Society?