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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Along The Amazon

Adventures astride the largest river on Earth

Targets Of Opportunity. We had an up-close and personal look at a masked caiman one day during a lunch break when he hauled himself up on the shore not far from us. This, admittedly, is much more my speed for photo subjects! True, I can’t coach him, but at least he’s moving with a reasonable lack of speed. It was no strain to get a frame-filling headshot with the 70-300mm.

It’s a fact about deep forests that the sunlight that manages to penetrate the canopy is severely mottled at ground level. And mottled shade and sunlight are just an anathema to the dynamic range of both our digital chips and our film. So on each and every hike, no matter how bright and sunny, a Nikon Speedlight SB-900 flash rode along in the D90’s hot-shoe, ever ready to provide shadow-filling goodness. Even if it’s overcast and you have nice even light on the forest floor, the flash is going to help you add a little sparkle to close-up subjects.

On a boat-based trip, you always face the problem of getting pictures of the boat moving because you’re usually on it. On stories I’ve done about windjamming the Maine coast or cruising in French Polynesia, it often has taken a lot of doing to get a smaller second boat to shoot the main vessel underway.

But because we were constantly offloading into the smaller skiffs for our explorations, we had plenty of opportunities to get shots of La Amatiste underway. She’s a very atmospheric-looking craft, and the dining room was so beautiful that I wanted to capture it in all its glory as well. I didn’t have a lot of lighting gear with me, so I decided to wait until twilight so I could shoot on a tripod and get views of the inside and the outside at the same time. Sure, you can do this with HDR, but if you wait until twilight, when the light levels outside are the same as they are inside, you can do it in one shot.

These days, my storytelling involves audio as well as visuals, and I was thrilled that our naturalist guide Jorge took us out on a couple of night wildlife-spotting trips on the skiffs that involved turning off the boat engines and remaining perfectly quiet for five minutes to appreciate the “jungle symphony” as he called it. This gave me a nice stretch of ambient sound of the crickets, croakers and critters that populate the night. For my sound-gathering, I used the small Olympus LS-10 recorder. It has very
good mics and picks up subtle sounds.

One last pitfall for shooting in steamy jungle conditions involves the very thing that makes it comfortable enough for most of us to do, and that’s air conditioning. It’s great for making your nights tolerable, but it also cold-soaks your gear, and that means the first 15 to 20 minutes of every day will be spent watching your viewfinder and lenses fog up.

There are two ways around this. Years ago, I bought a very small hair dryer to take with me to the tropics. I haven’t needed a hair dryer for my hair since my early 30s, but it’s a great way to quickly warm up your gear before you go from air-conditioned quarters into steamy humidity. I spend a minute or two warming up the gear, and, voilà, no condensation.

The other choice is to leave the gear in a non-air-conditioned environment. In the case of La Amatiste, I could put the camera bag in the bathroom and close the door, sealing out the air-conditioning and letting the bag stay warm enough to avoid condensation. It’s important because when you’re in an environment as beautiful as this, you don’t want to be in a fog.

For a schedule of Bob Krist’s workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the “Teach and Talk” heading. For more information on Amazon cruises, visit International Expeditions at www.ietravel.com.


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