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Sunday, July 22, 2012



The object of this article is to share the sequence of events, that I undergo, to prepare photo-shoots and articles for this blog. The objective is to let the reader know how to program a series of activities, that will be conducive to be more productive, and thus, generate a series of articles and different uses of a the same files for multiple projects. The current assignment is to produce a series of articles on the geography, ecology and tourism potential of the Macanao Peninsula, and to document, the conservation the efforts of Provita, an NGO, that has been working to prevent the extinction of the Yellow Shouldered Parrot, which has disappeared from most of its range in the southern Caribbean.

The location for this digital camera adventure is a peninsula that is part of the island state of Nueva Esparta. Macanao is located in the leeward part of Margarita Island, where rain is scarce, thus making its landscape arid and desert like. It is covered by cacti, mesquite and plants that can endure extended periods of drought. The vegetation grows over sun baked soils, which make a palette of colors that range, from red clays to white sands and share great contrasts with the aquamarine waters and the blue skies, one would expect, from a luscious Caribbean island destination.

Prior to any shoot, I recommend the photographer to do some research on their location, and Internet is the best place to start. I do not know a better geographical tool on the Internet than Google Earth. It is very helpful to study, from the comfort of our home or office, what the landscape will look like in our job destination.

The pictures above were downloaded from the GE site to help me show my place of work. One can do screen captures to help us illustrate where in the world we work. On the top left, you can see the physical map of Venezuela on northern South America. To its right, one can see the country's eastern coast and just off the mainland, the small islands that make up Nueva Esparta State. On the lower left there is a closer look of Margarita Island and its famous peninsula Macanao to the left of the photograph. Finally, in the lower right, one can get a better view of Macanao, and the huge sandbar of La Restinga that makes the connection between de two pieces of land.

Google Earth has great tools that one can use before we make our exploration. One of them enables us to trace a route over a map which will render us a profile of the track with details on the different altitudes we may encounter during our visit. The picture above is an example. I traced a route from a southern viewpoint of the island, and GE rendered an image with the exact high and low points on it. As it gives you the length in miles or kilometers, one can determine the time it may require to walk from one point to the other. Knowing these facts is very important, as it will help you determine the logistics, costs, times of departure and arrivals, position of the sun, and any contingency that may arise by been on the field. Mind you, that the remoteness of a shoot increases its difficulty in terms of contingencies, and since hell is in the details, I cannot emphasize enough, the need of readiness required to photograph nature out of the beaten path.  

One of the most valuable discoveries, I made on GE, is the sunlight travel tool.
The picture above shows the northern a southern coasts of Macanao at dawn and dusk. Note the changes of the light and the shadows, now this is a great tool, as it will allow us to foresee how the light changes in a great scale. However, remember that satellite pictures are yesterday's data, and on a small scale, the location's light will change as one goes from one place to the other, thus, the tool is good to know where to be at certain time, but it does not beat a good scouting prior to the shoot.

I have placed pointers to the tools' location on the Google Earth's menu bar to encourage you to explore its uses. I am sure, there is more to GE that I can show you. For tutorials on GE, do a search on Youtube and you'll me surprised on how many tools there are that one can use to do research on the net.

Some of you may think, why go through all of this to take a picture. All I do, is go to the place I like, and shoot as many pictures as I please. Well, you are right! However, thinking your pictures ahead, planing the subject or pictures, giving oneself an assignment, will make a huge difference on the outcome of your picture making. If you have in mind making money from your images, making the most of your outings, by choosing themes to work on, will make you a more objective photographer and in time, it will pay off.

THE MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY: Now this is true. The pictures above show just that. However, GEOTAGGING is another fabulous tool that brings added value tour our photography. The Google Earth map helps me, show you, where I was standing when I made the photo sequences to make the panoramas you see in the collage. The map shows us two small bays, a hyper saline lagoon, the coastal region, the distribution of the vegetation and how the wind moves the clouds from the windward to the leeward part of the island. One cannot predict the whole shoot from maps, but it sure makes it a lot easier if you plan ahead. Getting the latitude, longitude, altitude, and the location (North, South, East and West) of one's photos included in the metadata is very valuable information. GE gives you the precise location before you get to the place and it allows you to include it in your GPS, if you have one available. 10º 57.43' 73" N and 64º 21,03' 60" W is the location of the pictures above. Go to Google Earth and place the coordinates on the finder, press GO, and you will be able to see where I was working when I took those pictures! Now, that is one great way to show a colleague how to get there.

Context and subject: No one will argue that a photo used to document an event does not have to be beautiful, in fact, most people click on beauty, and of course, drama, tragedy and so forth are intrinsic in life, and there are photographers that work in these areas successfully. However, in nature, beauty can hide drama, in fact, nature is blunt, it just is, it has no adjectives, it is just there, and it is us, who may o may not interpret its beauty or lack of it. So getting the picture is a matter of who makes it.  However, getting THE BIG PICTURE (context) and getting close to an specific (subject) are great challenges, and I find them equally gratifying and interesting to document. The panorama below shows us the big picture. It was made to show how the sea, land and the sky work together to make a beautiful landscape and the small house near the coast, plays an important role in showing how unpopulated the region is. The vegetation in the foreground and within the picture indicate the desert like conditions of the area and places into context the ecosystem where I was working.

By just shifting the view to the foreground, all changes. Now the details of the vegetation, the ground where it grows, its composition, and even the stage in which the columnar cactus is, come into evidence. The Cardón a columnar cactus found in this area, was flowering. One can barely see the budding flowers on the plant in the right side of the picture (subject). This photo documents with more detail the components of the picture above.

Furthermore, by placing oneself in the shoes of future customers, who will have a different view of your files. One should take advantage of your current work and its locations to make a greater variety of photos that may fill the needs of other editors and clients for future publications. This has to be done, without jeopardizing the outcome of your current work, maintaining a good work ethic and having your current clients knowledge for future publications. It is good practice, that if you are working with a publisher that is your main provider of work that you suggest more articles or things to do with the files you are making.

Using local wisdom can help place things in context. I really encourage photographers to talk with the local people, as hearing their stories, understanding their believes and learning the unwritten history of their homeland, will enrich your picture taking by providing you with new subject matter.

When I was told that the hyper saline lagoon of Boca Chica was magical, I imagined it surrounded by different types of mangrove, whose foliage would play with the light creating sparkling spots which struggled with dark shadows as one explored its coastline. Well, it was not as I pictured it. I should had known better, but the struggle between light and shadows was in large scale, as cotton  like bright clouds placed dark spots, in the form of shadows, over the hills and the ocean. As it turns out, the locals say that the lagoon is below sea level and by looking from afar, one can hardly agree with them. So coming close to the lagoon, provided me with a different story. Boca Chica means small mouth. In high tide, water from the sea filters through the small dam that separates both bodies of water and mixes with runoff water that gets into the lagoon during the rains. Then, as the sun evaporates it, day by day, the salt crystals appear. To document the effects of this occurrence, the use of subject photos help us tell the story.

To finish this article, these four pictures show how the evaporation of water
leaves behind a froth filled with tiny salt cristals. The details show us how the salty soil can restrict the growth of vegetation, which salt tolerant plants, like these portulacas, take the advantage of, thus avoiding competition and thriving in very unlikely places. And at last, but not the least, the presence of shells and deer horn coral skeletons talk of ancient times, when the sea covered the whole area and other living things made this place their home.

I hope, you like this chapter, and follow the next one that will cover the struggle to save the Yellow Winged Parrot (Amazona barbadensis) from extinction.

I like to thank PROVITA'S staff for inviting me to this outing into the island desert of Macanao. its land, wildlife and local people brought me a new understanding of the wonders of the natural world and all that I missed during my previous visits to Margarita Island. Thank you all for a wonderful experience.

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1 comment:

Adela said...