Salar de Uyuni: Where bokeh is the enemy

I love my camera. The Nikon D40 with a f1.8, 50mm fixed lens has, at times, been my sole companion during this trip. From a sunrise boat ride on Lake Titicaca to daily hikes to and from Gato’s cage in the Amazon jungle, it did not let me down. While I didn’t always call upon it, I knew that I it was there, prepped and ready to accompany me during any breathtaking moment. I’ve been quite happy with its ability to speed up for scurrying monkeys, slow down for sunsets, and blur the background for a striking butterfly. In fact, bokeh (or the quality of the blurred background in a photograph) is one of my favorite aspects of the camera/lens. All of this is why I don’t blame it for taking absolutely crap photos at one of the most spectacular places on earth.

I arrived in Uyuni, a dusty ghost town of sorts, from Sucre and immediately signed up for a 3-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni and surrounding lakes and volcanoes. The highlight of the trip would be a chance to take photos at the Salar de Uyuni, a great white expanse of salt flats resulting from dried-up lakes from millions of years ago. Because of the miles of completely flat terrain, it is a fabulous place to take perception-bending photos where objects appear smaller or larger than they actually are. Folks sitting in a shoe the size of a car or fighting a life-size action figure were just two shots that I had seen before my visit. However, as soon as I snapped my first attempt at a Danish girl kicking a giant tampon (her idea), I realized that my camera was not up for the task. Even with a f16 depth of field either the object or person were horribly out of focus. After many attempts to eradicate this, I came to the conclusion that the girls’ $90 Sony camera was far superior in this scenario. After just one attempt, there I was, standing stop my beloved Nikon. Perhaps this all happened for a reason as this was the first time that my travel partner and I were photographed together; something that seems fitting in a place where taking radical photos is the whole point.

Once we left the Salar and were on to more “traditional” scenery, D40 was back in action. I have posted photos to show the striking stops along the tour which included lakes spotted with flamingos and a 6am trip to the most wonderful natural hot springs. Quite the experience.

On a different front, I also learned the lesson that “you get what you pay for” during this tour. At 680 Bs (about $90), it seemed like a solid deal; quite cheap but not ridiculously so (at least in my opinion). This price included a “guide” (read: driver), “cook” (read: driver), “driver” (see previous), and a space in a Toyota Land Cruiser where the speedometer was out of order (probably for the best).  While other groups of 8 utilized two vehicles and three separate support staff, our group of 6 was in one vehicle with our “do-it-all” man Elario who would pull up to a lake, volcano, etc. and say something along the lines of: “This is <such-and-such site>. It is <this many years old>. Go take pictures.” Oh, and this was all in Spanish, which was a major disadvantage for the two girls who specifically signed up because the company promised English speaking guides. Alas. Thankfully, the scenery in this bizarre place speaks for itself. Elario and his lack of information and front teeth have simply become part of the story that I’m sharing now, which I will surely look back upon and laugh about down the road. In fact, I’m laughing now. No surprise there.

1 comment

    • Liz's friend Shannon on December 3, 2011 at 8:06 am
    • Reply

    Ali – you’re blowing my mind with your beautiful photography and awesome blog. So cool. Not to mention you’ve sold me on the Nikon. Any chance you’re going to be in central america in december? I’m there the 6th – sometime after xmas. guatamala, el salvador, nicarugua, and honduras.

    wonderful travels to you!

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