Photography Travelogues: Black & White at Rio Fitz Roy, Argentina
April 19, 2012 9 Comments
One of the best aspects of landscape photography is the opportunity to visit some amazing places and to experience nature on your own. And it’s funny that even in the most majestic and photogenic locations, what takes our eye are the little details tucked in a corner. This is a classic case of all the elements coming together in an unexpected way.
Now, admittedly I might love this photograph more than you do. After all, it comes attached with lots of emotional baggage when I look at it, whereas other people may simply see an oddly shaped rock sitting on the edge of a stream.
The Patagonian trek above El Chaltern in Argentina reveals some incredible vistas, but you’re reliant on the weather cooperating. On this particular day, the cloud was thick and low, the temperature cold. We had woken at dawn and crunched our way along a frosty dirt track, heading towards the edge of a glacial lake at the foot of Cerro Torre. We could see the near edge of the lake, but not the far shore, nor the towering peaks behind. It was a white out.
However, just being in this location was reward enough and if there weren’t big vistas, perhaps there were more localised opportunities. I started exploring the river where it left the glacial lake and began its descent to the valley floor below.
I stopped to take a few images, using a neutral density filter and a long exposure to blur the water as it flowed along. Each exposure was around two minutes, so while I was waiting for the exposure to finish, I would keep my circulation going by hopping around and clapping my hands together for warmth. And then it started to snow.
Now, for someone who lives in the snow, this was probably not a remarkable or even interesting occurrence, but for an Australian who rarely sees snow (unless travelling, of course), it was a memorable experience. Huge flakes, twice the size of a 1 Euro coin, floated gently down and at one point, it was difficult to see the rock I was photographing because the flurry was so heavy.
As the visibility reduced, I became very aware of the sounds around me – or the lack of sound. Apart from the river itself, there was nothing else. Just me.
The snow flurry lasted less than a minute, but the experience has remained for many years and every time I look at this photograph, I enjoy reliving it.
Whether your photos are visual masterpieces or happy snaps doesn’t really matter.
There were two photographs from this session which I loved, and this one I chose to turn into a black and white. As you can see from the original exposure (below), the file is relatively flat as you would expect under a low, overcast sky.
I find when creating black and whites that I get the best results when I start with a good quality colour file. Turning this original capture into black and white without also developing the tonal range would not create a satisfying result.
In fact, compare the colour photo below with the black and white image at the beginning of the article – both have the same series of local adjustments used to enhance the trees, the stream and the rock, and to darken the background and foreground.
I think both versions work quite well, but which one do you prefer? The colour or the black and white? Or, has talk of the snow flurry put you off the photograph completely?
Peter Eastway is a professional photographer and photography magazine editor based in Sydney, Australia. To see more of his photography, visit www.petereastway.com. Peter also offers an online Landscape Photography MasterClass. Details can be found at www.betterphotography.com.