Fashion phographer turned landscape photographer for a month

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

What drives us as photographers? For me it is a constant curiosity and development. So I decided to give myself a challenge to try something new: to completely go in to photographing landscapes for a month!

Those of you who know me already know that I started photographing concerts many years ago, but today I mostly do fashion photography and portraits so this landscape photography thing is really new to me. Sure, I’ve been hanging around with Patrik Larsson on our photo trips in Iceland but in addition to that – I haven’t done a lot of landscape photography.

I already knew from experience that if I do this fully, I can’t stay home in Sweden. Too many distractions. I really need to focus on my mission and the best thing is to travel to another time zone. Where I don’t get new e-mails every waking hour. Where there is hardly even any Internet connection.

South America has been on my bucket list for a long time and I had never been there before when I began to research the trip. The first week was devoted namely to planning, researching and acquiring the right stuff. Is there anything I have learned, it is that perfect landscapes are not usually accessible via chance. It takes a lot of time and investment in landscape photography.

For research I began to follow all the landscape photographers on Instagram. I googled. Looked at photos of specific locations. Asked my assistant to help me with the research. Checked out each location if it was best to photograph in the sunrise or sunset. And how did you get to the right place? Could you drive there or did it require a hike for eight hours? Which route should I go? Where can I stay? How do I do with food? And so on.. 

I made a schedule where I would spend 12 days in Patagonia (Chile and Argentina) and 10 days in the Atacama desert and salt desert in Bolivia. In addition to arranging air travel, car rentals and accommodation I also made a plan for exactly what I would photograph each day and the exact place I would be. After much research I decided to rent a car and drive on your own in Patagonia and camp there to really get close to subjects, while I hired a driver for the Atacama and Bolivia (which was pretty smart considering the nonexistent roads there) and stay in hotels that part of the journey. It felt a bit too risky to camp in the desert at 4500 m altitude without access to electricity, water, mobile coverage or service.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Fog on coming down from the Mirador Torres.

Happy with my plan, it was time to start thinking about packing. I realized pretty quickly that my backpack would not fit everything so I upgraded to a 88 L which quickly became full. Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mats, clothing packed in waterproof bags, kitchen, kitchen accessories, I bought a pair of hiking poles, water bottles, ten bags of dried food, towel, hiking shoes, light shoes, clothing, hat, gloves, sunglasses, first aid kit. The bag was super full and I had not even packed down my camera gear yet. I had to sort out things like mosquito nets, gaiters, rain poncho and all unnecessary clothing. Had to content myself with a base layer and two sets of workout clothes. Somehow managed to fit a tripod on the outside of the bag if I strapped it tight. I chose the lightest tripod I could find in the studio. Perhaps not optimal, but really had to think about the weight. The 22 kg bag and then I had no camera, water or gas. I didn’t really have a good plan on how to solve it, but thought that it would be all right, and packed down my Canon 5D Mark IV 24-70 f / 2.8 and a filter (4 stages) in hand luggage including a spare battery, charger and two additional memory cards.

I understand that my camera equipment might not be the optimum for a landscape photographer. But it was really no position to prioritize that. Because of the weight and location, I could not bring more. And 24-70 f / 2.8 is my favorite lens. I use it for everything. It might not be a landscape photographer’s first choice but for me it was obvious. I am also very glad that I did not choose something more wide. I’m also used to “get by” on a few things and I usually have few equipments when traveling.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Sunrise over Lake Pehoé.

I have to admit I jumped the gun on this project a few weeks earlier by going to the gym and go the maximum uphill on the treadmill with 20 kg in a backpack on my back one hour per week to prepare myself physically for the challenge to come. Something I am extremely grateful for is that I previously climbed mountains completely unprepared and it led me to become totally exhausted afterwards. And then there have been only day trips. Now I’ll be out for almost two weeks in Patagonia. And is there anything else I’ve learned when it comes to landscape photography, it’s that you can not be lazy. If the best spots are up there on that hill and it takes an hour to get up there, it’s what you do. And I’m very used to shooting my pictures quickly. When shooting concerts, you get to photograph the first three songs and then it’s over. When taking portraits during an interview, you have like one minute. But with landscape photography you must not be restless. It takes patience. And I must admit that I’m not used to that kind of “slow” photography yet. So in addition to physical exercise it also requires some mental training to adjust. I know myself. I will be restless. I feel that it is an effort to get up on that hill. Go up before sunrise. It will even sometimes be an effort to go out of the car (you can just wind down the window and get a good enough picture?). So I need to change my mindset. I need to be a landscape photographer full on out. Not just change my subject when I photograph.

So I think of what other landscape photographers said. As Serkan Günes who never has his camera in hand, but always in the bag. That the power and energy he invests in an image must be truly worth it. And this with a tripod, how important can it really be? Patrik Larsson would probably go crazy with that question because he says you always have a tripod as a landscape photographer. What is actually the difference between the aperture to shoot 8 or 11? (Though Patrick says you should shoot in aperture 13 and I understand why – because when you zoom in on the image it’s quite a big difference in depth, how far the sharpness is extending in the picture).

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Alpacas on the way to Argentina.

 

So after all these preparations have finally come to the part when I leave. I spent ten days in New York and then jump on a plane that will take me from New York – Lima – Santiago – Punta Arenas, a trip that takes about 24 hours. I checked in my backpack (I had to wrap it in plastic when I had to tie a pair of shoes on the outside, fasten my sleeping bag, tripod and three water bottles and rods for everything to fit), and taking my small backpack as hand luggage where I have camera with accessories and my computer.

Another interesting thing about this challenge is that it’s the first time I’m traveling on my own. I have traveled a lot but then there have always been others on the trip. Someone in the team, one’s buddy, participants on a photo trip. But it just feels exciting. One more thing that is new. I am not afraid in any way. And it feels good to travel on my own, I will really be able to focus on my mission. Nothing distracts. No one to adjust to. I can live as a landscape photographer full on out.

The flight goes smoothly. I watch a few movies, try to sleep as much as possible. When I land in Santiago my luggage is gone. Because I was told that I would get it there and check it again. Almost no one spoke English and I don’t speak Spanish so it is difficult to communicate. “Go on to Punta Arenas, it will certainly be there” they say to me and I think it’s best to do it because I don’t want to miss the plane. So I go one last lap around luggage straps to see if my backpack is there somewhere before rushing on to my connection.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Torres Del Paine.

 

When I arrived in Punta Arenas my luggage was still gone. But I wasn’t moping over that, it would be okay!

So I analyzed the situation – I had my camera, computer, car and the clothes I traveled in the last 24 hours. The bag would surely come tomorrow, so I was really only needing some hygiene products and I would be fine. I went past a little store and got a few things and then checked in to my hotel. Then I had a list of things that I needed get: Gas, bars, snacks and water. So I went into the city and found an outdoor store immediately. I took the opportunity to get to know the guy who worked in the store as well to get some local tips on beautiful places to photograph nearby, good restaurants to eat at, and general tips for the area.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Wooden pier in Punta Arenas, photo by a Japanese tourist.

 

The first evening I explored Punta Arenas. If I’m gonna be honest, I think it’s a crappy town and there was not much interesting to photograph. I had seen an old wooden pier in the water on a 500px picture so I looked it up and took a few pictures. Here I really wanted to have my tripod. I tried to put the camera on a dustbin to get a little slow shutter speeds at sunset but the angle was not what I wanted it to be so it was not a great idea. I found a Japanese tourist who I asked to take a picture of me out on the dock to my Instagram. It was obviously closed, but I climbed over the fence and went out on it anyway. No risk, no fun, right? As a landscape photographer you must take certain liberties I intend to get the best picture. But at the same time with reason and respect. One should not expose themselves or others at risk. Or destroying nature.

The next morning I went out to the airport to check the status of my luggage. They had no idea where it could be but it would probably show up within 24 hours. One more day! It felt very sad that my plan was crushed because my baggage was gone, yet I could not go without it. I had all my things in my bag. Having been a bit down about it, I decided to take the new tag and adapt to the situation. I had to book a new hotel room for a night, and then I checked on Google Maps in satellite mode to see if there was anything that looked interesting nearby. If I can not go to Torres Del Paine (6 hours away so once I go there I did not have to go back again) so it must be something else nearby. Time to discover!

Jumped into my car (a Toyota Rav 4) and put on a playlist with good music and started driving. I had two lakes that looked cool on the map. The area around it was namely very flat and rather dull. After only a half hour I saw an alpaca at the roadside. So cool! But I could not stay because there was traffic behind me and nowhere to park the car safely so I continued. I think that if I see one this quickly, there must surely be more. 

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Alpaca in Patagonia.

I knew that the Internet wouldn’t work at all outside the cities so my plan was to do it all “the old fashion way” with an analog map. Which felt fun and exciting when I otherwise just use Google Maps for everything. I had tried to memorize the places I wanted to drive to and I had Google Maps even if I couldn’t follow a route directly I could still see where the roads went. It was a dull dirt road and there was nothing exciting outside the car window. Everything was just flat and dull. After four or five hours, I was back in Punta Arenas again without having taken a single picture! Some of the lakes I never got to, it was simply too far away from the road. There was nothing that was worth photographing. At least not if you have high expectations and was set on spectacular scenery. My first day as a landscape photographer was a fiasco. I could not believe I had wasted time on this.

I went back to my newfound friend in the outdoor shop and told him about my disappointment and he advised that I could photograph the penguins. Perfect, I thought! Penguins are cool.

It turned out that they were on the other side of the water from Punta Arenas. A tour of the like that 10-12 hours of driving time or if you took a boat that was once in the morning and once in the evening. I had no opportunity to catch that today. 

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Waterfall in the sunset with a view over Torres.

 

The next day I went to the airport again in the hopes that my luggage arrived. It was still lost. But it should come within 24 hours! They have been informed about it from the LAN in Santiago. So it should come tomorrow. This information makes me think. On the one hand it’s amazing if it shows up. But on the other hand, I don’t really think it will. They told us that 800 bags disappear every day only with LAN in Santiago. It’s like a joke. 

I feel really really sad now that I still haven’t gone away on my trip, and the time just goes by and I can’t do anything. I’m stuck in an intermediate position. But I decide that if my bag doesn’t come in the morning before lunch, I’m going anyway. Time to look for penguins! There is not time to go to the other side and the boat has already gone but I saw a billboard on the way from the airport “Penguins 5 miles” so I start driving. The exit is closed. Hm. Perhaps there is another way. I check on Google Maps in offline mode. Yes! Found another way. Starting to dive. After two hours on a dirt road: Closed! There’s no way to reach the penguins. I’m considering some offroad driving around the boom but it is quite impossible so I give up on that after a while.

I go back to the hotel and call my insurance company and check the situation. I get $200 in compensation. I try to explain the situation: That I can not do my job and they reasonably ought to replace my things for me to be able to work. But no. This is standard in these kind of cases. It is designed so that you can buy the essentials to get by a few days, not replace an entire bag. $200 is not even enough for a pair of sensible walking shoes. But I have to leave this dump now. So I go back to the outdoor store and buy the minimum of what I need to survive the next day: Cover pants, hiking shoes, underwear, sleeping bag, water bottle, sleeping mats and hats. I will not be able to camp, which almost makes me the saddest. I had really been looking forward to the experience. But I get to sleep in the car! I’ve done it many times before in life as rock photographer. Now I am in any case ready to go tomorrow if my luggage did not show up!

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Electrical wires in Punta Arenas.

 

Of course, my luggage hasn’t appeared. At the airport, they don’t understand why and say they don’t have any idea where it is. Okay, lets face it,  I will not get my luggage and my memory card only has pictures of a wooden pier at sunset, twilight photos of some power lines and close-ups of lupins (don’t ask). I’ve wasted several days waiting for my luggage and money on extra nights in hotels. I’m out of here!

Starting to drive to Torres Del Paine with James Blake in speakers and it already feels much better. Finally, I’m going! The adventure can begin!

I make a stop in Puerto Natales to send a postcard (which never arrived) and for lunch. I haven’t got any food anymore as it was in the luggage. Just a bag full of bars and some snacks. I think to my self that it will be okay, there are hotels with restaurants in the park.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Torres Del Paine in Chile.

After paying the entrance I go to hotel Torres. That is how far you can drive with your car if you’re doing a hike to Mirador Torres (the place to photograph the three towers that might be one of Patagonia’s most famous landmarks). My plan from the beginning was to camp on the very last camping (1 hour hike from the viewpoint) the night of Christmas Eve to photograph the mountains at sunrise on Christmas morning. If I’m on the other side of the world all alone on Christmas have to do something spectacular on a day like this. But since I don’t have a tent it’s not working out for me. My new plan is in place: to go from the hotel up to Torres during the night so I’ll be there in time for sunrise. That’s when you get that great light on the mountaintops. The classic picture. And although I’m not always the fan of the classic picture, I realize that perhaps it is where I will begin. I haven’t come so far in my development as a landscape photographer so maybe I need to take the classic picture before I can move on and develop my imagery. I also think that’s why I like to return to some places. To take a new picture of a subject previously photographed in a more classic way. In order to develop. I tend to think that if I don’t like the pictures I took before, it’s because I’ve developed as a photographer.

I park in the parking lot a kilometer from the hotel. The guy that controls the boom where it determines who gets to drive all the way to the hotel or not says I should probably count on a 4-5 hour hike up to the lookout point. I don’t dare to tell him that I’m going alone in the middle of the night. It’s not allowed. But what do you do for a good picture? I’m landscape photographer now. Then you have to do that. I eat two slices of my pizza I brought from Puerto Natales. This is my Christmas present to myself. Eating pizza for breakfast on Christmas Eve at the Mirador Torres. Then I blow up the mattress and crawl into my sleeping bag. 9:33 pm, two and a half hours of sleep before I have to start walking. The sun rises around 4:50 am.

When I wake up it’s pitch black. I’m starting to regret it a bit. Should I really do this? Go all night? Should not I just sleep a little? It’s so nice and warm in the sleeping bag. And I’m so tired … I fall asleep for a minute and then wake up and say to myself that I need to do this, I’m landscape photographer now. I get dressed in the light from my cellphone. Pack my backpack with a few bars, camera, water, cola and pizza. I put on the headlamp and then I start walking. It’s really dark and I can’t barely fint the hotel at all. Shit, I can’t even find where the trail starts and I do not have time to go the wrong way. I should of course have checked this before when it was light out there, but when the choice was to get some sleep or go a few kilometers extra and look for the way it didn’t feel so difficult.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Before sunrise at Torres Mirador.

Headlamps! I see several other people coming towards me. I ask them for directions and they explain in detail how wide the path is, what material it has, how many bridges I’ll go over and there are orange markers along the trail. Perfect! Now it’s no problem, despite that the light from my headlamp only lights up a few meters of the path in front of me. I pass the bridges and then it’s uphill on a trail. Everything is going well. It is not even scary to go there alone in the dark without having a clue about what’s around me. I have a mission. I can’t panic now. And even though the scary thoughts return again and again during the night I manage to be strong and keep my calm. I’m proud of myself. Not only is it an accomplishment to go five hours in the middle of the night. Doing it mentally is probably an even bigger part, when you go all by yourself.

Sometimes it’s steep. Sometimes I go in the water. Sometimes it’s a forrest. When I started to get up on the mountain, which is the last passage, I suddenly lost my self off the trail. I can’t see any more marks no matter how much I look and therefore take a chance on where I should go. Obviously, I go the completely wrong way and climbing over large rocks and loose gravel of the steep uphill in the dark. This can’t be right. This is dangerous. But I have the experience. I can do this anyway. Stones fall under my feet. But as long as I’m going up, it can not be completely crazy. Somewhere far away I see a glimpse of another headlamp. When I reach the top of the mountain, it begins to brighten. I notice that I kind of ended up on a mountain above the viewing deck. Below me I see several headlamps and I’m alone at the top. “Whatever I get a unique angle”. I intend to look at the situation positively. To get all three peaks I need to walk across a narrow edge with loose gravel on the sides. I sit down and take a breather on a big rock. I did it!

While waiting for the sunrise, I eat my pizza and drink some Coke. It feels luxurious! But there will be no spectacular sunrise because there are clouds everywhere and I can barely get a picture of the three peaks. Such bad luck! I’m waiting for almost an hour and photographs at regular intervals as the clouds and the light changes the shape. I then decide to go down to where the other people are. But how the heck am I going down? Eventually, I decide: Find “fixed” stones in the loose gravel as I can land on and then kind shuffling between them. It takes me half an hour of effort to come down but I succeed despite several rather scary parts. I think I really need to be sure to find the right path on the way down. 

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
After my five-hour hike in the dark.

I ask a couple from Germans if they want me to take a picture of them in front of Torres and then take one for me. I think that’s nice because you never know when you are in that situation when you actually want that image as memory. There are many times I have regretted pictures I have never taken but very often I regretted pictures I have taken. After that, I start to go down. But all the other people are already gone and although I found the beginning of the trail so I soon lose my way again. So what is this? How difficult could it be? I realize that walking in the night is not optimal. 

I climb over rocks and try to make my way down. Suddenly a fox is standing in front of me. Will it attack me? I make myself big and try to play confident. Grab a rock in my hand, just in case. The fox begins to walk away. I stand there for a while until it disappeared from sight. But soon it reappears. I don’t feel scared. So I start to follow the fox. This feels good! Now I have a goal in any case. Lol!

The fox didn’t show me the way. It led me rather in the opposite direction. I realized when I saw some other people far away. I’m pretty tired by now that I understand that I need to climb 45 minutes the other way over the rocks to get back to the path. Just do it. I’m a landscape photographer after all. 

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Well deserved rest after my 10-hour hike. 

When I’m back at the hotel again at 10 am. That means it was a 10 hour effort for one picture (which is not even as good as I imagined because of the clouds). It’s tough to be landscape photographer! Despite my preparation in the gym before the trip, I’m exhausted when I get down so I go into the hotel and order a drink, take off my shoes and lay down on the couch in the lounge. It’s still Christmas Eve! After lunch, I go back to the car and sleep for a few hours. My body feels completely destroyed after the night’s adventure. The hotel has a spa, so I book a massage. Since I’m totally exhausted, I feel that it’s enough pictures for today and eat a three-course Christmas dinner in the restaurant and spend the rest of the evening reading Susan Sontag on the sofa in the lounge. Since I sleep in the car outside the hotel.

When I wake up on the 25th, I feel slightly stressed. On the 26th I must be in El Chalten in Argentina to climb (I think that’s a good skill for a landscape photographer?) So I have to go there now. I peek at my analog map and select a few places to take photos on the road in the park before I take the eastern entrance out to go towards the border. One of the locations was a tip from outdoor store guy but it turned out bad. In contrast, a few km before I found a great vantage point where you could shoot Torres without having to walk for eight hours of having to do it. Along the way there were also very many Alpacas! I stopped several times to jump out of the car and shoot them. But every time they ran away. Photographing animals is not easy! They never are at the angle you want. Or in the right place. I get most pictures on them from behind, far away, running away. Nothing of value directly. So I continue to drive.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
On my way to El Chaltén, Argentina.

6 hours later I am there. I had seen a picture that some Instagram photographer had taken on the road with the whole massif of Mount Fitz Roy and felt thatI also wanted to take that picture. Long road and then the mountains in the background. As I drove along the road I felt a little too lazy to stop the car and go out and shoot so I slowed down (there was no other traffic), drove in the middle of the road and photographed simultaneously. I know that’s not how you should do it! But I was so very tired. Most of the drive was on a bad dirt road and after yesterday’s effort and irregular sleep I was exhausted.

When I arrived to El Chalten I parked outside another outdoor store. Went in and started checking the postcards. I took the prettiest I could find and asked the guy at the counter where I could find these places. He explained to me but I just listened to half of it because I was so tired. So I didn’t really know where I would go. In order not to appear completely weird I also asked if he could recommend another hike to a good vantage point if you wanted to shoot some more nice picture. I bought a map and he pointed at a couple of different places. It’s always good to be friends with people who work in outdoor shops because they know this kind of stuff. I realized it was three hours before sunset and I could catch up to one of the lookout points! There is no time to lose. My tiredness was gone and the enthusiasm for the possibilities of good sunset pictures were high!

But I needed to eat something before so I went to the cafe next door. Big mistake to sit down! Reality caught up with me and I was too tired. I realized that it would be foolish to embark on an unplanned and stressful hike on some five-hour round trip right now. I had to admit my defeat. So I went back to the outdoor store and asked the cashier to explain again where I’d find he postcard place (it would only take an hour so it felt like a more reasonable task for the evening). Then I also asked about good restaurants in El Chalten, because I do not really trust TripAdvisor and similar sites, and I was more looking for the local, genuine. 

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Mt Fitz Roy at dusk.

So I decided to photograph Mt Fitz Roy like the sunset postcards from the site. A relatively short but very steep hike. Loose gravel again. My legs were burning. Breaths short and rapid. But I must hurry to catch up before the light disappears. At the top, I have a great view. But the clouds means that there will be no spectacular sunset. When I realize that it will not get better, I choose to rush down before it gets too dark.

I probably would not have believed beforehand that it was necessary to “hunt” so much when doing landscape photography. I thought maybe it was the same. Head to a beautiful place and you’re done! But Patrik Larsson says that if he gets one good picture from a trip, he is satisfied. Then maybe his bar is a bit higher than mine. But so far I don’t feel that I got a picture that is “wow”. Many mediocre. Conditions have not been as perfect and as I lost lot of time waiting for my luggage at the start of the journey, I don’t have the ability to stop and wait for the perfect conditions. As Ansel Adams could do. Be at a place in the weeks and not shoot unless the clouds were perfect.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
100 meters up on a cliff in El Chalten.

The next day was devoted to rock climbing all day and we photographed some pictures but it was mostly Roberto, my guide who photographed because I was busy trying to keep myself on the wall so I could not really hold a camera too. But I think that in the future, when I get a little better it makes it possible to get unique pictures as a landscape photographer. When I see Max Rives pictures I think about his skills as a “mountain photographer” and how he gets the unique angles of his pictures as he can get to places no one else can. He climbs up on the mountain and it inspires me. I also want to be a photographer like that. I do not want to be a comfortable photographer. So when I’m halfway up on a six-pitch multi-point fall and hit myself in the mountain it becomes a mental battle, to get to the top. But I do it. And the experience and the strength I gain from it is something that can only be good for me as a landscape photographer. Knowing that I can do it.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Pierto Moreno glacier i El Calafate, Argentina.

 

It’s December 27 and I leave El Chalten for El Calafate. I would have stayed longer but time is short. On today’s schedule is photographing glacier Pierto Moreno. It takes 4 hours to drive there. I arrive just in time before they close the park at sunset because I prioritized to do some work in the morning from a cafe with wifi. I felt I needed to do more research for the rest of my time in Patagonia. I was getting a little stressed because I had not done so much as I hoped for. The glacier is incredible. The coolest glacier I’ve ever seen. So powerful. But it’s hard to get it in one picture. I’m still pretty happy with the pictures, and when the light is gone I drive back to El Calafate. And as soon as I wake up the next morning I go back to Chile and Torres Del Paine again.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Dead trees in Torres Del Paine.

 

My plan is to explore as much as possible in the park. I go around to lots of different places and take pictures. It is the first day that I really miss the stand when I want to photograph waterfalls at sunset. I put the camera on a rock and balance it with another stone. That will do! I find lot of dead trees that I really like. I would like to shoot fashion right here!

I have a different picture in my head that I have seen on Instagram, shot in the sunrise over the mountains to Lake Pehoe in the foreground. So I park the car in the middle of the storm (yes it’s so windy) to wake up super early in the morning and capture the picture. The light is perfect. For one minute approximately. You really need to have everything ready for that moment. Partial, angle settings. Because when the light hits the peaks it will disappear almost as quickly as the sun rises. It is cold and windy but I deal with it. For one does when one is a landscape photographer. I should not complain too much. I have my windproof jacket and my new cover pants. Good stuff. It becomes unbearable if you freeze too much.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Sunrise over Lake Pehoé.

 

Then I realize that I have to get gas. And I can’t do it in Torres Del Paine. This can only be done in Puerto Natales, far away from there. So tough, but if I will be able to explore more of the park, I need more gas. So I go to Puerto Natales again to fill my car. I feel that I want to treat myself after this morning’s effort, so I look up the most luxurious hotel I can find, The Singular and go there and eat breakfast. Then I sit and work a little in their lounge before I drive back to Torres Del Paine. Looking through the pictures and do some editing. To catch up with editing during the trip is really an advantage because I never have time when I am back again, and then the pictures are just lying on a hard drive somewhere. What I like most about editing images is that it is an opportunity for a personal imagery. You can put your personal touch on your photos. I like a little darker, dreamy, analog tone. Not too much contrast or too colorful. After lunch I go back and it’s really a great day. I get a little spontaneous and decide to hurry back up to the Mirador Torres again to get another chance at the nice pictures of the towers. When I arrived at the guard and the chain I say to him that I’m going to have dinner at the hotel and get to drive all the way. I fly up the mountain in just three hours (and find the right way this time).

I have brought my sleeping bag to spend the night up there. You’re not allowed to do that but I decided to try. When I talk about my plans for a Canadian older man I meet along the way he tells me that three people who did that last week was thrown out of the park. But it feels tough to go back down after the sunset and if I stay up there, I get additionally another shot at sunrise image so I still want to take a chance!

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Sunset at Mirador Torres.

 

The sunset is okay, a little cloudy and not super spectacular light yet so much better than the last time I was up there. I feel very happy with the decision to have made the effort to go up again. I also try to think about when you shoot landscapes, you want the eye to be able to move across the picture when you look at it. A landscape composed of many eye-catchers, and that is precisely what defines a landscape. How the different objects and elements in the picture relate to each other. Once the sun was gone I put out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and fall asleep almost immediately. Wake up after an hour and there is a starry night as I photograph some constellations with the camera, leaning on a stone before I fall asleep again after having felt a bit worried about “mountain lions”. I saw a mountain lion along the way earlier in the day when I was driving. But try not to think too much about it.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Before the storm, alone on the mountain.

 

Around 1 am I wake up that everything is so wet! It’s pouring and I don’t know how long I have slept under the open sky in the rain but I crawl under a rock for cover. It helps little but it pours and drips everywhere and then I don’t have a better option so I stay there. I don’t know if I sleep more or if I only exist. It feels like I’m in Survivor. But I am still never unhappy. I’m landscape photographer! It’s just a little rain. And sleepless nights, cold and icy winds of Patagonia. Did you know that the harsh winds have a special name in Patagonia. They say that winds like these don’t exist anywhere else. I have still managed to find a rock that provides decent shelter. I eat a proteinbar. Waiting for sunrise so I can get those STUNNING pictures.

But when it gets light the rain clouds are so heavy over the mountains that you can’t see anything. So I give up and start walking down again. Such a shame!

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Stars over Mirador Torres.

 

Two hours later, I was back down again and spend the rest of the day exploring and photographing other sites in the park. I Spend a lot of time chasing alpackas without much success. Still miss that perfect picture of an alpacka. I’m no Annelie Utter.

After another night in the car I wake up and begin to drive back to Punta Arenas. The flight to Santiago and Calama  leaves early the day after and I would love to be back the night before. I arrive just in rush hour traffic the day before New Year’s Eve. It’s chaos. I think I hate this city. I have booked a hotel to sleep out, shower and be able to do some work properly. They have the worst room service I ever had but at least comfortable beds. Should I really allow myself a hotel and room service as landscape photographer? It feels like I should stay at a lodge and cook up a noodle soup for dinner? I think about those 10 days I slept in the car and decide I deserve this.

I go out to the airport again that night to see if my luggage arrived and it has! After so many days without it. So happy!

The day after I leave Patagonia. It’s been an awesome adventure where I really challenged myself both physically and mentally, with great success. Although the images may not have been the most amazing, largely because of light and weather conditions, I feel happy and proud of myself. I devoted myself to really be a landscape photographer and went all in. I walked for hours up the mountain to capture images, hunted animals and explored. I overcame fears and had lots of new experiences.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
On my way to Torres Del Paine.

 

But so far we’re only halfway through this project and the next part of the trip was very different.

I have always planned and performed my trips myself. But maybe it was because of lack of time, maybe it was because I was scared when I saw all the warnings about driving alone in the desert there that made me choose to take the help of a travel agent for this portion of the trip. A travel agent who not only are experts in South America but also organizes Bruce Percy’s workshop. I talked to them a month earlier and said that I was a photographer, and very interested in going to these places and photograph and wished that they arranged something like Bruce workshop for me. And when I got there I didn’t really know what was going to happen.

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New Years Eve in San Pedro The Atacama.

 

I was picked up at the airport and got a ride to the hotel. It was New Year’s Eve and I arrived at 8 pm and went to the jacuzzi before the New Year’s dinner at the hotel. It was a bit special to celebrate New Year on your own like that. The tables were very festive with fun hats and other stuff. So I sat there with my party hat and ate a five-course and got a little drunk on wine the whole time served while I laughed at myself and entertained myself by chatting with friends around the world in different time zones on Whats App. Still quite a nice evening!

Although I traveled alone for over a month (with the time in New York) I never really felt lonely. Not for a second. Not even when I didn’t have wifi for several days in the desert.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Central San Pedro The Atacama.

 

The following day it was time to begin the adventure in the desert for real. The hotel I was staying at arranged guided tours that the travel agent recommended and I did some research and chose with care. My first tour was the that afternoon so I borrowed a bicycle from the hotel and explored San Pedro in the morning. A real desert city made of sand and clay. On this particular day it looked catastrophic when I rode into the main street just before lunch. It was noticed that there had been a New Year celebration the night before and no one had cleaned. But it was still exciting to be in an environment so different from what you are used to.

I love desert and mountains. These places are so special. Deserted. Powerful. Could it be that landscape photography is an excuse to get to be in these amazing environments? Many times we use the camera as a tool to get close to something we are interested in. It was for me when I photographed concerts. I had a very big interest in music so that access to see my favorite artists from the best location and sometimes even backstage and go on tour was the incredibly luxurious.

I knew beforehand that a guided tour would not be the same as to explore on your own. But how bad could it be? We will go to these amazing places I wanted to shoot at. First the tour would go to the Moon Valley. A dramatic desert landscape with mountains and sand. I had seen the incredible pictures of the full moon from there (although this time the moon was narrower than I’ve ever seen).

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Moon Valley.

 

It turns out that a guided tour is really bad if you are a photographer. It is not at all suited for photography. We did not stop at the places I wanted to stay on, you were not allowed to leave the group and go freely, and when the light was at its best at sunset we had to leave. You see the actual landscape as a photographer, this is unsustainable. And then you have to control the situation. I sucked up to my guide’s place at the front of the bus so I could shoot from the car. When we would go on a little hike 10 minutes up a sand hill I went as fast as I could so I shook off all the others, which meant I had to “own time” up there where I could do what I wanted before I had to connect to the group. And when it was time to leave the place at sunset I found three Brazilian guys with a drone that I became friends with instead, so I dropped out of the tour and hung out with them instead.

We stayed and photographed the incredible night sky until midnight before they drove me back to my hotel. And just this kind of experiences. For a landscape photographer to sit in the sun with my feet dangling from a cliff overlooking the Atacama desert to then get to see the most amazing starry sky you’ve ever seen. It must be one of the very best things about landscape photography. All these moments you get to experience.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
The sunset from the viewpoint at Moon Valley.

 

Patrik Larsson will probably hate me now but I had no tripod with me so I had to photograph the night sky with the camera leaning against a rock again. It was not great. I think it was my lens. I needed a more wide angle. So the images became mostly a dark sky with a lot of stars who were white dots. It was no shape to it. The Milky Way was not visible. I had to borrow an 14 mm from one of the Brazilian guys, but it did not work at full frame camera so it didn’t help. I was not depressed too much of the situation. I had, after all, a really nice constellation from Patagonia earlier.

The next morning, the alarm went off at 05 am. Everything to catch the best light as a landscape photographer. I’m really not a morning person but I looked forward to today’s tour to Taito Geysers because I had seen pictures of that and it really was a place I wanted to shoot at. I was a bit worried when I jumped into the minibus that would leave at 05:30 when they said it took 1 hour and 40 minutes there. Wouldn’t the sun already be up there by then …?

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Taito Geyser just before the sun rises over the mountains.

 

When the car finally was parked, I was super stressed. It was perhaps ten minutes left before the sun would light up the whole field and the light would change from soft to hard and contrasty. I had to hurry. Ditch the tripod and just run! I made it as far as my first geyser before the guide stopped me and explained that I had to be with the group. I made an indignant pose with arms out and questioned the whole time we were in a restricted area where there were perhaps 50 meters between each geyser and paths you had to go on. There was not much room for something to go wrong. I was actually very upset about the whole thing and thought it was super ridiculous. I’m a grown woman. I can manage to walk between these geysers in a limited area. My inner landscape photographer was tortured. All I could do was to photograph in one place. When the group went on to the next, the light was already gone. I sat and sulked all the way back to the hotel in the car. Sad that something that could become so magical was completely destroyed. I had wanted to be there an hour earlier to shoot. And move freely. Something that is so very important when shooting landscapes. To find my own angle. Not having to shoot from the same place as all the tourists.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
A fox in the Atacama desert.

 

The same evening I had signed up on another tour, where we would make a hike through Death Valley. The first thing I did when I got back to the hotel was to cancel it. No more guided tours! It simply does not work when you are photographing landscapes. Instead, I steered a private driver who took me around the Moon Valley again. But this time I was able to photograph the sunset and stay in all places where I wanted to stay. My guide spoke no English so he sure wondered why I asked him to drive in indefinitely on a dirt road out nowhere instead of photographing the famous stones as everyone else photographed. But that’s just because when I find myself in a place I have two choices: Either I try to take the same picture as everyone else is already taken, and do it better than the large amount of images taken. Or so I try to find something new. Something own. Photographing any other way. And then you have to explore outside the convenience. Outside the excellent photo locations on the map.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Moon Valley at sunset.

 

Pleased with the evening’s images, I went back to the hotel. The day after, I had a private tour booked already by the travel agency which I really looked forward to.

However, I was a bit concerned when I realized that the time for the tour was 9-16. Not the optimal time for a photo tour. When you miss both sunrise and sunset. When the guide and the driver came and got me so I asked what the plan was. They began to tell us that we would visit a small village, an old church and two lagoons. I was just like “no no no”. No church, no village. I wanted to photograph the spectacular scenery. I tried to explain that I was a photographer and that interested me. They didn’t understand at all but the guide said we could skip the church and village, and he knew a fantastic forest in the desert. It sounded very exciting as it would be our first photo stop.

The driver dropped us in the middle of nowhere and in the distance you could see some trees. Otherwise just desert. We started walking. After about 40 minutes we arrived at the forest. When the guide had gone wrong several times. The forest turned out to be a tangle of dead shrubs and some trees. It was disaster. Specially at midday with that contrast in the light. I explained it to the guide who was angry at me and walked ostentatiously in silence with angry steps back to the car where he put on his headphones and stopped talking to me for the rest of the day. But if a landscape photographer is someone who can bring order to the chaos and get us to see places in a new way, highlighting the beauty and with the help of the form to make us feel that the environment is exciting, I can say that success in where the so-called forest had been completely impossible for me.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Flamingos at Chaxa Lagoon.

 

Next stop was Chaxa Lagoon, a lagoon with flamingos. I barely had time to jump out of the car and take a single shot before the guide said we need to go further. What is this photo tour, really? Furthermore, when I asked to stop along the way to take a picture they said there was no time for that either. Once again I am reminded that landscape photo is not something you can rush in. It must take time.

We go on to a lagoon at high altitude. Here I get dropped off and must hike a trail, and when I get to the end of a new lagoon the guide says the tour is over and that we’ll go back to the hotel. I am so disappointed. Here I paid extra to have a private photo tour and I’ve only got a standard tourist tour. I realize that if you really want to get good landscape shots, you have to work with people who understand photography for it to be good. Or control everything on your own. Which I regret that I have not done now.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
High plateau lagoons.

 

I’m really disappointed that my time in the Atacama desert will soon be over. Felt that there was so much more to photograph, but the conditions were really bad and I find it difficult to accept this. Because it didn’t have to be this way. Had I just organized everything on your own it would have been so much better. But I have learned a lesson. And the rest of the evening I spend editing pictures at the hotel. I can’t afford to go on one more tour on my own and I didn’t have any strength to di it either. That disappointment I feel is as well placed as a mist over my inspiration and it drains me.

The morning after I get picked up by a new driver to take me to the border of Chile and Bolivia where another driver will give me a tour of Bolivia the next five days. Due to my time in the Atacama desert, I fear that the time in Bolivia will be as bad, and the first thing I do when I meet my guide/driver Alfredo is that with a very clear voice to explain my experience in Chile and that I hope that Bolivia will not be the same. Maybe I scared him but he promised to do his best to fulfill my expectations.

And he DID!

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
White lagoon in Bolivia

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Storm moving into the twilight of the salt desert.

 

Alfredo may not be a photographer himself, but he understands photographers. He let me take as much time as I want everywhere. He comes with suggestions of places to photograph and then lets me choose. He goes up well before sunrise to drive me to a location and he sits and waits in the car long after the sun goes down. He cooks me lunch in the middle of the salt desert. He drives me to the hospital when I get sick. He accompanies me when I want to climb a volcano at 5248 m although he does not have experience with it. He gives me candy when I need it most. And he makes sure I get all those amazing photos that I dream about.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Alfredo at Salar de Uyuni.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
At 4900 meters altitude on a volcano. Not far from the top!

 

We visit places that are more intense than I ever imagined and I’m in photographer-heaven. If this is what it means to be a landscape photographer, I love it!

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Volcanic area at 4800 meters altitude in Bolivia!

 

But it will never be more than a hobby for me. It’s been really fun to indulge in it and I will continue to do so occasionally, for fun. For the sake of the experience. For the adventure. But after a month on the road by myself I long for people. That’s the best part about photographing fashion and portraits. All these new, exciting, inspiring people you get to meet. And I’m probably not the perfectionist that you should be as a landscape photographer. There is a great emphasis on craftsmanship. There is as well no excuses for sloppy craftsmanship because there are few unique moments to capture which can be apologetic. I’m a sloppy landscape photographer regarding the craft. I do not take out the tripod. I do not use aparture 13 (only aperture 8). I do not care if the horizon is straight or crooked. I do not sit for hours with a single image.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Somewhere in the desert in Bolivia. The feeling of freedom here is fantastic!

 

But I leave this project full of inspiration, with a lot of new ideas and so many new experiences I’m really grateful that I received. And of course lots of pictures that I actually am very happy that I have. I really indulged myself. Fought for the images. Going all-in. And I’m very proud of myself. Although I might not use the tripod for anything more than a self-portrait in the bathroom at the hotel one evening when I was bored and wanted to take a “true” portrait picture of myself that was not playacting and posturing.

I think it’s great to sometimes do something completely different than what you usually do. It will give back more than you might have anticipated. It’s something I will definitely continue to do.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson
Flamingo at a lagoon. I really wanted to have a telephoto lens here!

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

It is impossible to drive on your own in the desert in Bolivia because there are no roads. So you really need to know where you are going. No signal. No GPS. No maps. I must admit that as a pretty hardcore driver I felt defeated here.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

 

Our hotel for one night, made of stone, perched on a small hill in a small village. There was only electricity at certain times of the day and the same with hot water. If the weather was bad there was none because the hotel was run on solar cells.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

 

Here we hiked for one hour to get a top view of a lagoon with flamingo.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

 

When it was time for lunch Alfredo set up the table this nice on the locations we were at.

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

Sunset in the desert in Bolivia. 

Foto: Emma Svensson/Studio Emma Svensson

To photograph the salt desert at sunrise I set the alarm on 04:30 am, and then waded out into a flooded desert for hours to catch the perfect light.

 

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