Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Jon Cornforth returns from Patagonia after successfully capturing some long-sought images

When Jon Cornforth returned from three weeks in Patagonia at the end of January, he had the satisfaction of posting two images on his blog that he's been after for several years.

"Patagonia is a huge area covering the southern part of South America including much of the Southern Andes Mountains of Argentina and Chile, It features some of the most dramatic mountains on Earth, including Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and the Torres del Paine. Unfortunately, it also receives much of the world’s worst weather. Clouds obscure the mountains for weeks or even months at a time, making photography an exercise in monotonous boredom and disciplined patience. Over the course of my 3-week trip, I was only able to see the summits at sunrise on 4 days, 2 of which I did not shoot because I was back in town for the night exhausted and frustrated rather than camping close to my objectives.

I first visited Patagonia in March of 2007. During that trip, I experienced my only major camera failure in 10 years as a professional photographer. I had been shooting star trails the night before walking up to Laguna de los Tres with my old Pentax 67II and had drained the batteries. I was not worried because I always carry a spare set of batteries with me, but after weeks of waiting patiently for a clear sunrise, I discovered that my spare set was also dead! That camera failure has haunted me for the last 4 years. Knowing how few opportunities I would have because of the weather, I made photographing Mount Fitz Roy from Laguna de los Tres my main objective for my recent trip.

From the town of El Chalten, I backpacked up to Campemento Poincenot and established my basecamp. From there, I walked uphill over 2 miles and 1500 feet in elevation each morning to this spectacular viewpoint. I camped a total of 7 nights, waiting for the right conditions. Most of the mornings the weather was windy, cold, and wet, but I still dragged myself up the hill 4 times.

The image above is probably my favorite from the trip. I especially like how the dark clouds above the summits intensified the alpenglow illuminating the mountains. The light lasted for only about 12 minutes, which meant I finally had 12 minutes for photography after a week of travel! I created this image using my Canon 5DII and Singh-Ray 3-stop hard-step Graduated Neutral Density filter on a Carl Zeiss 21mm f2.8 ZE lens. This image required minimal processing using Aperture 3.

"West of Fitz Roy, in a border area that is disputed between Argentina and Chile, there's the Southern Patagonian Ice Field with a chain of four mountain peaks. Cerro Torre is the highest of the peaks at 10,262 feet. Each year, the summit of Cerro Torre eludes climbers from around the world mostly due to the atrocious weather. They most often spend weeks or even months tent-bound patiently waiting for the weather to clear, but it rarely does.

"My own experiences trying to photograph Cerro Torre have been equally challenging. Between my first visit in 2007 and 2 visits during my recent trip, I’ve spent 8 days attempting to photograph it. If I had been at the lake the day before I created this image, I might now be sharing a sunrise picture of the mountain surrounded by beautiful orange clouds and a calm reflection.

"However, I'm pleased to say my recent attempts were not totally unsuccessful, because I was fortunate enough to capture this wonderfully mysterious image. Though I could not see the summit at sunrise, an hour later the clouds thinned out enough to allow the summit to peek through a hole while Laguna Torre presented an almost a perfect reflection. This image captures the drama of the typically harsh weather conditions beneath this impossible spire more than any image I might have originally hoped to create. I am sure I will someday return to photograph Cerro Torre during a more ideal sunrise, but do I need to? I created this image with my Canon 5DII with a 35mm lens, Singh-Ray 4-stop soft-step ND Graduated, and tripod. It also required minimal processing using Aperture 3."

Living in Seattle, WA, Jon's used to waiting for the weather to clear. Somehow he finds time to regularly update his blog, his Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube pages, plus contribute stories to the Outdoor Photographer Blog. He also writes articles for Popular Photography, including his latest "Desert Song" in the March issue. And of course, you can visit his website to see more inspiring images and learn about his upcoming photo tours.

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