Photography Makes Us Crazy

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Day 363: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

I don’t really like tours. I don’t know why but I already dread them. Maybe it’s the strict structure, the rush, or the feeling that we are cattle being herded.

But San Pedro de Atacama is reknown for its tours with the most popular being the Valle de la Luna at sunset when you can see the desert mountains change into shades of orange, pink and purple.

So when I met with Raymundo to discuss tour options at Tierra Atacama I was really disappointed that they didn’t go at sunset.

After all that’s what all the other travelers do.

That’s exactly why Tierra Atacama doesn’t do it.

After some initial sulking I sucked it up, how could anyone be a spoiled brat here. Instead I went to the spa for an amazing body scrub and washed away the spoiled princess I was quickly becoming.

Valle de la Luna - Moon Valley

The tour group was really small, only me and a really great Brazilian couple so we decided it was easiest for everyone to speak Spanish.

They told me they have two kids but always take time to travel as a couple to remember that they aren’t just parents.

I made a mental note of this should my ovaries not dry up and I die alone and childless.

Valle de la Luna - Moon Valley

And it turns out Raymundo was completely right. We arrived at Valle de la Luna and no one was there. We walked around desert sands through the valley and it was so silent we could hear the salt cracking from expanding in the heat.

I wish I could have somehow documented how special that moment was, but it remains in my memory.

As we stopped along many of the sites to take photos Raymundo shared that at sunset there are line-ups of tourists waiting to get their obligatory shot of the jewel toned mountains.

And then I realized something.

I didn’t get the photos with the beautiful shades at dusk but the experience was so much better. We were alone in the valley with no one rushing us forward, we took our time, we weren’t the cattle.

Sometimes I focus too much on getting the perfect photo and not being present in the moment. I’m not a national geographic photographer, and never will be. I need to relax and focus more on where I am than documenting it.

And when I returned home and saw the photos I realized I should have never doubted Raymundo. All along the way he ensured we had a great time and I still have great photos to show for it.


If you want tips on photography for beginners check out this great post by Hecktic Travels.


Join the Conversation

  1. Camels & Chocolate says:

    Wow, what a beautiful spot! I’m woefully undertraveled when it comes to South America. But I do know the photography-consuming-your-life-and-travels feeling all too well. Sadly, I fear we miss out on so many moments when glued behind our lenses!

  2. I definitely agree with this! Sometimes I am so focused with getting an amazing photo that when I return home and look through them all, whilst they look great, I don’t really remember the actual experience as I’ve spent the whole time behind a camera lens!!

    Having said that, your photos are stunning, I love the rich colour of the blue sky!

  3. Well, I don’t think you had anything to fear – your photos are stunning.

    I know what you mean, though, about being so obsessed about getting the “perfect” shot that everyone talks about that you miss out on the experience itself.

    I struggle with this regularly; I LOVE taking photos. But I have to remind myself to see things with my own eyes, too, and not just through my camera lens.

    (Though, when I do get the occasional awesome shot, it’s always fun to look back on it and remember where/when/how I took it…)

  4. I’m not a big fan of the tour either, but sometimes, I just give in and just enjoy being shepherded about.

    But Ayngelina, no one would ever consider you part of the herd!

  5. Katherina says:

    You’re so right – sometimes we focus so much in getting the perfect picture, that we forget about enjoying the moment. But I was wondering… can pictures get any better than yours? I mean, seriously – dusk may make for a nice sky, but imagine the pic filled with heads of other people! no way.

  6. Stunning photos, so glad you got them!! I know what you mean. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to leave the camera behind and just go with an experience, but so far I haven’t managed to be able to do that! Keep thinking I’ll get a little pocket camera, so I can take quick snaps for the memory, but not worry about exposures and stuff!

  7. Positively majestic pics Ayngelina!

    If that’s going crazy, count me insane right behind you.

    thanks for sharing,

  8. Hi Ayngelina,

    I know what you mean about putting down the camera and just taking in the experience. I love taking photographs and I was heart-broken when my DSLR broke at the start of my trip in India. For three weeks I had no camera because there was no Canon shop in the smaller cities in northern India.

    But it was a small blessing in disguise because I had no choice but to be in the moment.

    And the travellers I was with were kind enough to share their photos with me, and take photos of me during that time, so things worked out anyway. πŸ™‚

    – Lily

  9. Christine says:

    Regardless of when you went, your pics still turned out beautifully.

  10. Dont say you will never become a NG photographer… who knows maybe one day you will.

  11. yeah, you DEF got some awesome pics! i also get a little crazy when it comes to trying to get that perfect picture. I have to remind myself that it’s good to actually soak in what I am trying so desperately to get the pic of, otherwise, i might as well have just stayed home.

  12. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ says:

    Well said Baconator. I try to do the same. Enjoy my experiences because I get wayyy to wrapped up in photographing every moment of it. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my camera on the wrong setting and not realized till after haha = no photos at all.

  13. Beautiful shots! I too hate going out on tours, but sometimes I regret passing on a “must do” for fear I’ll miss something spectacular. Over time I’ve learned that I’m happier experiencing things in small groups, I’m there to have my own experience, not everyone elses. Plus I think it makes the moment more special, even if there were 1000 people there 5 hours before!

  14. You just so missed out the perfect photo by not going.
    However, you can find that same perfect photo a thousand times on many, many travel sites.

    Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the documenting of a place than really experiencing it, breathing it in.

  15. Adrienne @Shenventure says:

    Lovely photos! I’ll have to remember this tidbit while traveling to actually enjoy and soak in the experience instead of being too preoccupied with getting the “perfect” shot.

  16. The pictures are amazing….like looking through glass….what an incrediable place..the blue sky is so rich, and the sand looks like it would warm you from your toes to your head. This area looks so untouched by people.

  17. You still got great photos! Getting too caught up in getting great photos is exactly why I haven’t gotten into underwater photography, as I want to ensure the experience. On one dive a French couple missed 85 hammerhead sharks as they were too busy photographing something else. That’s a lesson I haven’t ever forgotten.
    P.S. Somehow I don’t think you’re going to end up alone and your ovaries have a loooooong time before drying up πŸ™‚

  18. Cheryl Howard says:

    Sounds like you had an amazing experience. πŸ™‚

    Your photos are awesome BTW!

  19. The first pic looks like a lovely oasis of milk chocolate…

  20. I despise tours for the same reason. I am not cattle. But when I am on a tour or even just in a busy city, I get all pissy if someone is blocking my perfect photo. I am constantly reminding myself that it’s not just about getting the perfect shot and to enjoy the moment.

    P.S. I am still laughing about your comment about your ovaries… in a good way, not a cruel way πŸ™‚

  21. I can totally relate. Now that I don’t carry a camera, I feel so much more present. Having said that, I love your photos!

  22. So true! A tour is only good when youre not rushed and ecouraged to enjoy the moment, but its great when you experience your surroundings using every sense!

  23. Christy @ Technosyncratic says:

    We’re currently visiting a bunch of national parks in the southwest, and I’ve found a lot of literature that explains the best times to photograph certain areas or monuments.

    So we tried planning out our trip through Arches National Park based on these suggestions and just got so fed up. We like to take pretty pictures, but we like our sanity and flexibility waaaay more! πŸ™‚

  24. I know what you mean. We’re often frustrated because we don’t want to hire cars and tours never go when we want. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad experience. I think blogging tends to make us all crazy for good photos because that’s what is expected. Sometimes the blog gets in the way of our travels.

  25. Atacama looks so desolate and beautiful! I really must see this desert.

  26. Once I was in Grand Canyon trying to take a panoramic photo when this guy steps in the shot. My blood started to boil but then I suddenly realized he was just admiring the view while I was so caught up looking at it through a viewfinder. Crazy huh?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      As I read this sentence I could feel my blood boiling, I would be so mad too and then feel like such a jerk for being mad.

  27. I have to force myself to forget about blogging and pictures when I go somewhere extraordinary. needs to be done, you can only really enjoy free of any communications pressure.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Sometimes I catch myself writing a post while I’m at the location, a bad habit I am trying to break.

  28. Holy crap- that blue is amazing! It’s funny how when things don’t turn out the way we want them to, we stumble upon places or views that we love but would have never gotten otherwise.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yeah the sky was amazing every day, such blue skies to contrast the dry earth.

  29. Michael Figueiredo says:

    Gorgeous shots, Ayngelina! This place doesn’t even look real! I’d love to sled down that first hill πŸ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well they do offer sandboarding in some other areas of the valley although I didn’t do it.

  30. OK completely unrelated comment to this post but all the sand overwhelms me right now. I am putting in a patio and have 50 bags of sand I am pouring and sifting through. I am getting tired of sand! That aside, this is definitely unique and interestingly beautiful!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I don’t mind the offtopic comments, but you must say why you have so much sand! poolside beach?

  31. Jools Stone says:

    Well for what it’s worth I think both your pics and your text take me there very well indeed.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Jools I’ve learned that maybe I get too worked up over little things like this, even if the photos hadn’t turned out it was still a great day.

  32. I totally agree with you about tours, the cattle feel always annoys me. However, I went on an Ecotour with just 3 other people to an uninhabited island and the silence was amazing. I love your photos, great post!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Was this ecotour in Cordoba? We must talk!

  33. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    LOVED this post!!! I have felt like this in so many amazing spots around the world. Do you enjoy or take photos or both!?! I’m glad you took photos though, they are breathtakingly beautiful!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Somewhere there is a balance between taking a few photos but really learning to just enjoy the landscape.

  34. The colors you captured in the photos may be different than those at sunset, but they’re just as spectacular. And I’d rather enjoy it in solitude than with crowds any day of the week. πŸ™‚

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Hearing the salt cracking in the wind was amazing. Much better than any noisy sunset.

  35. Nomadic Chick says:

    I tend to get caught up in capturing details for a story rather than simply enjoying it.

    And whatever, the photos are astounding! I think it captures exactly what you were experiencing.


  36. I find myself in the same predicament all the time. Should I experience or document? As much as I love snapping the shutter, there are also times when I want to participate in life’s moments and not just observe.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Sometimes I wonder if we spend too much thinking of good Facebook statuses and not enough time just being in the moment.

  37. Christine says:

    Really good points and gorgeous photos! And I like the wisdom of the Brazilian couples/parents–sometimes it’s important to step out of the roles we create for ourselves!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I loved that about them too, they had been together a long time and said that it was absolutely necessary to keep the relationship alive.

  38. Mark Robertson says:

    “to get their obligatory shot of the jewel toned mountains” <–love this comment. You're so off the gringo trail that you know the big skinny on a Martian landscape like Valle de Luna.

    We have a great Valle da Lua in Brazil (did the couple mention this)?

    Cross-continental abraços/abrazos,

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      No Angela didn’t mention it but looks fabulous. I must keep a file of things I need to see in Brazil.

  39. I’m SO glad you shed your inner princess and embraced this adventure. πŸ™‚ I LOVE the photos you captured. The silence and happy camaraderie are so worth any missed photo op.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      The silence of it all really made the experience, I wouldn’t trade it.

  40. I loved this post. Sometimes we have to be reminded to be in the moment and to not hold on to expectations. Those lessons can make our travel experiences that much richer. Your photos were so beautiful, too.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I really should have known that a place like Tierra Atacama knew what they were doing. I’m far too stubborn sometimes.

      1. Aren’t we all? πŸ™‚

  41. You captured some great photos! Looks incredible

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Cam, the area is really so beautiful. You guys would love it.

  42. wandering educators says:

    i, too, try to go at off times, without people. we took a tour of the gap of dunloe (ireland) and were with another couple – they took care of our daughter in a huge rainstorm, on the other side of the boat. it can be the kindness of strangers that mean more than any photos.

    speaking of, yours are fantastic!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Jessie, I have to say a lot of my best moments were never captured as a photo either and I am okay with that.

  43. Wow, nice pix!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Jason, in the end I was happy with them.

  44. Jilianne @ Cotswolds Cottages says:

    If you’re alone, tours can be really boring especially if the guide is not doesn’t have humor.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know and you feel like you have to make conversation but then you just give up. Painful.

  45. These photos are amazing. The blue sky reminds me of the type of color I’d get from using AGFA 50 speed slide film so long ago. These are brilliant.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I was constantly amazed by the sky in the desert, the blue was so intense.

  46. I’m pretty sure you wont dry up and die alone. You can come live with us and I’ll find you a nice fella.

  47. How funny. I just made that comment earlier today. “I need to take pictures at around sunset. It is golden hour!”

    I LOVE those moments that are completely yours. I have a few of those.

  48. Jen Laceda says:

    Ayngelina, these are some amazing photographs! BTW, I’m also making a mental note to travel with my husband as a couple. I know firsthand how easily we can get swept away by the stresses of daily living. Hope u are enjoying BsAs now.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      But Jen I love your photos, they really remind me to start taking more crowd shots in the city, really inspires me.

  49. What a gorgeous place! The thing I find the hardest is wanting to experience the moment while I’m still IN the moment but I also want to take photos so that I can have something to remind me of that special moment/experience in the future and to share with friends, family, etc. I have found that it’s possible to do both and you clearly show that you can do both as well! Stunning pics, as always!

  50. Gorgeous pictures! I’m not sure I could’ve skipped seeing it at sunset, even with all the other people around. But I totally get what you’re saying about being in the moment more. I love the deep blue of the sky in your pictures!

  51. I completely agree. I have to tell myself this sometimes, when I get so caught up in taking photos that I forget to soak in the moment.

  52. Absolutely gorgeous. πŸ™‚

    I think people focus so much on trying to get that perfect moment and perfect shot that they don’t realise those perfect times come when we least expect them.

  53. Seattle Dredge says:

    Wow, beautiful shots! What a nice place. I totally know what you mean about not being present. That happens to be quite often, as I am always attached to my camera. Great post!

  54. Rizalenio says:

    Indeed, all your photos are stunning. Me, I made sure to enjoy both – the moment and capturing the best moment.

  55. Justin Hamlin says:

    That is precisely why I have never done a tour. As someone who loves photography, there are plenty of good times to take photos of a certain area/monument/etc., not just the “best” times that a tour guide company decides.

    Glad to see you enjoyed yourself, oh, and washed the spoiled brat away LOL

  56. Girl, you did a wonderful job on these shots. I know what you mean when you want to take that perfect shot. I always try to focus taking pictures and forget to really enjoy the place I’m visiting. Sometime I notice the shot that wasn’t prepare for came out the best looking too.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Means so much coming from you, thanks Sarah.

  57. Erin in Costa Rica says:

    I’m a total photo addict. And my memory sucks, so if I don’t photograph it, I’ll forget it!
    Your photos are amazing, especially that first one. I love the contrast in textures and colors!

  58. Your photos are stunning and I whole-heartedly agree with you. Sometimes the best memories are the ones not captured by the camera and I totally don’t mind!

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