My wife Ruth and I ventured into the Atacama Desert in December 2013 with John Paul Caponigro and Seth Resnick of Digital Photo Destinations. The Atacama is one of the oldest, driest and highest deserts in the world, spanning Northwest Argentina, North East Chile and Southern Bolivia. The Argentinian portion of the Atacama Desert is called the Puna and was to be our photographic playground for this trip. This section of desert made for a particularly unforgiving environment. The trek was very difficult, but the stunning beauty and surreal desolation of this desert made the effort worthwhile.
I brought my two Leica S (typ 006) bodies along with my Vario-Elmar-S 30-90mm f/5.6 ASPH, Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH, Summarit-S 70mm f/2.5 ASPH, APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 and APO-Elmar-S 180mm f/3.5 ASPH. Because of the dust, all lenses had a B&W F-Pro UV filter and both bodies and all lenses were protected by Storm Jacket Camera Covers. I made sure to perform all lens changing inside our four-wheel drive vehicles with the windows closed and the motor off. Rigorous cleaning and inspection took place each night on return from the field. Ultimately, I am happy to report that all bodies and lenses performed flawlessly in spite of the harsh environment.
The first highlight was the immense wind-cut volcanic pumice fields spanning 60 square miles. The individual stones, some up to 50 feet in height, were mind-boggling in both their awesome size and natural beauty. We spent several days and evenings wandering the fields and letting our creative imaginations fly.
The APO-Macro-Summarit-S 120mm f/2.5 and the Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH lenses were both exceptionally useful in these fields, but I found myself using the 24mm most frequently as the ultra-wide perspective really lent itself to the landscape.
There are several small and very remote villages in the desert, nestled in the mountainous terrain. We stopped in the tiny farming village of Autofagasta de La Sierra. Certainly a far cry from city life with a population of less than 700 residents, but quite photogenic.
The last part of our journey in the Atacama was to a series of vast natural salt flats. Argentina has one of the largest reserves of lithium in the world and the industry is quite robust. Fortunately, the mining operations have been careful not to compromise the striking beauty of this eerie landscape.
You can see more pictures along with an accompanying article in the LHSA Viewfinder (2014), Volume 47, pages 34 to 43.