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Monday, November 16, 2009

Into The Caves Of Patagonia

New camera technology comes to the rescue when one of the world’s pristine wonders is photographed

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The bright white marble formations, reflections, clear deep pools and weird blue light give a “through-the-looking-glass” effect at the edge of the caves. Canon EOS 50D.
So how do you capture a long panorama from a bobbing boat in contrasty conditions? ISO expanded to 800 is, again, a great help. A manual exposure should be preset to the brighter area of the total composition; if left on automatic exposure, the camera will compensate for changes in the brightness of the scene and yield a set of unmatched captures that can’t be properly composited. It’s important to work quickly. A visual reference must be maintained from one shot to the next, keeping the upper edge of the image as straight as possible. George says these views of the marble caves are the most complicated and difficult panoramas he has ever taken, requiring balance, speed and the ability to maintain a constant reference point in highly unstable conditions.

The Ethical Questions
With the relative ease of long-distance travel and the abundance of travel workshops to exotic photographic locations, there aren’t many places left for photographers to “discover.” But outdoor and nature photographers who do have the opportunity to explore and document lesser-known locations also must accept responsibility for an uncomfortable ethical dilemma when they consider publication of their stories and their images. While the marble caves of Lago General Carrera certainly aren’t unknown (they’re referenced quite accurately, for example, in Moon Handbooks’ excellent Patagonia by Wayne Bernhardson), they, and the surrounding region, are so remote that they’re relatively untouched by the pace and pollution that even moderate tourism would bring to the area. It’s not hard to imagine Lago General Carrera’s clear waters churned by power boats, slick with fuel and littered with beer cans and plastic water bottles, and the shoreline dotted with motels and marinas. In a horrible vision, I see the marble caves painted with graffiti, the veins discolored by smoke from campfires, the fragile columns broken and the delicate arches collapsed to rubble. Is that “progress” inevitable, and are we fueling it with this article?

On the other hand, how can we protect what’s unknown? Geologists tell us that the elevation of the marble caves, which were etched by pebbles carried by the lake’s surge against the marble cliffs that rise above them, suggests that the water level of Lago General Carrera has been stable for centuries. How will climate change affect the glacial fields that feed this lake? But the lake is challenged by an even more immediate threat. Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of the caves, the majestic Baker River, which flows indirectly from Lago General Carrera, is targeted by a major hydroelectric project that would place five huge dams in the region and transfer electricity between the Aysén region and central Chile via a 2,300-kilometer-long, 70-meter-wide transmission “highway.” The plans have drawn the attention of Chilean and international environmental organizations, and have sharply divided the people of the region over the universal question of economic progress versus environmental protection. How would the unspoiled beauty of Lago General Carrera be affected by such a massive development?

We don’t know what the future holds for the marble caves, but with so many competing demands, change in the region seems inevitable. So we’re sharing our visions of the caves and the lakeside landscape with you now, while their perfect, pristine, ancient beauty still survives.


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