Photography Fail at the Salar de Uyuni
“Don’t start in Uyuni,” people told me. “Start in Tupiza. That way you finish with the salt flats, the main attraction.”
There are two main starting points for salt flat tours in Bolivia: Uyuni and Tupiza. Uyuni is closest to the flats, so you visit them on the first day. To some people, it’s like eating dessert before dinner.
That didn’t bother me. What bugged me was people saying I should do it differently, when I was already committed to starting in Uyuni and Tupiza was completely out of my way. We all get the dessert at some point, people. It doesn’t matter.
And the Salar was brilliant. We should all have dessert first.
Our first encounter with the salar were the salt pyramids. Rows of man-made salt hills were scattered about, all dingy grey from tourists tromping all over them.
“Is this it?” we whispered to each other. “I expected it to be…whiter. And more vast. With less people.”
Luckily, that wasn’t it. Our driver, Hector, sped across the salt to a spot where all of the other tourists faded away. The ground was naturally divided into hexagon-shaped sections of salt, all blindingly white against the solid blue sky.
This is where I was met with a personal conundrum.
You may have seen them. People take these crazy perspective photos on the salt flats – it looks like they’re crawling out of Pringles containers, or crushing their tiny friends, or being attacked by towering dinosaurs.
I wanted these pictures, too, but I lacked the drive to create them.
Initially, I was more enthusiastic. I grabbed the dinosaurs our driver had provided set them on the ground. T-Rex immediately fell over. I picked him up and lay on my stomach with my camera.
“Okay, now you stand behind them,” I told Jared.
“Here?” he asked, from several feet behind the dinosaurs.
“I guess so,” I shouted. I assumed that the magic happened through the camera lens and was not visible to the naked eye. To me, it just looked like Jared was standing behind two plastic dinosaurs.
The magic failed to materialize.
“Maybe come closer?” I said.
The T-Rex fell over again.
Finally, I understood.
“Alright, walk back.” I could sense Jared’s patience waning. “Keep going,” I called. “Waaaaay back. Now lay down and do something.”
Well. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
After lunch I had the energy for one more attempt. I removed one shoe and placed it on the ground.
“I’m going to sit in my shoe,” I explained to Jared, and started walking.
“Okay, there,” he yelled. “Sit down.”
“A little to the left.”
I scooted to the left.
“Nope, too far. Go back.”
This went on for way too long.
“It’s not really working,” he said. “Just come back.”
At this point, I gave up.
Others in our group were more persistent, willing to undergo a process of trial-and-error to achieve exactly the right shots.
Some of them weren’t so successful:
Others were almost there, but not quite:
And then, finally, results:
Whew. So there you have it: Photography magic doesn’t happen all on its own. It takes patience, common sense, and time.
Oh – and a pinch of salt.