At 16, one of my prize possessions was my dark room. Well, it was really my mom’s laundry room that I commandeered with my trays, canisters and chemicals. I never was very good at taking and creating my own pictures but that never lessened my enjoyment of seeing something I created emerge on a paper. One of my favorite techniques was creating a picture by double exposing the photo-paper. These ghostly or unreal images gave me the feeling of creating something interesting, even if the photos were not that noteworthy. When I went away to college, I put photography as a hobby on a back shelf and didn’t pick it up again until this trip. It was pretty easy to convince myself that going around the world was justification enough to purchase some decent equipment and take photography a little more seriously. I am glad I did. Our photos of the trip will be the greatest part of Asher and Kieran’s memories when they get older. Even Dax and McKane embrace photo time on the trip. At first everyone would moan and complain any time I took the camera out. Now I have four little birds who often ask to have their picture taken with a certain building, landscape, or funny sign. They don’t even complain about the pyramid pictures and can get up in and out of the pyramid in about 5 seconds.
One of the most anticipated photo-ops of the trip has been the salt flats in Bolivia. For weeks other travelers had been showing our family their creative optical illusion photos. The salt flats are so monochromatic and the air so thin and clear that it is easy to lose your depth perception. This allows people to create some of the most creative pictures possible without Photoshop. As the family saw others pictures they started planning their own. They gathered props to use and planned out their different shots. The more excited they became the more worried I became. You see, I have a dirty little secret. All of our time in the many deserts, the many days spent on sand dunes, and an ill-advised cleaning attempt have speckled my camera’s sensor with a significant layer of dust and smutz. If I have my camera on the wrong setting, a picture of a polar bear will look like an angry, burly Dalmatian. Fortunately I know how to get around my camera’s limitation. For the last 4 months I have been avoiding wide depth of field and cheating to hide my filthy sensor, however, to pull off the pictures the kids were talking about, I would have increase the depth of field making the things in the foreground and the background both be in focus.
The more everyone talked about it the worse I felt. These kids were basically following us to the ends of the earth, braving frigid nights, and traveling hundreds of miles over dirt roads so we could see one of the world’s great natural wonders. I was going to let them down when we got there and there was little I could do about it. A few times before we got to the actual salt flats, I took some test photos to see if there was any way to pull this off. There wasn’t. I tried to explain beforehand and lower their expectations. To them it was all crazy talk. How could my expensive camera not pull off shots that people with their little point and clicks could do with no problem? There was no explaining; I just had to try my best.
We arrived at the middle of the worlds largest salt flats at around 10 am and were amazed by our surroundings. For 360 degrees you could spin and see a sheet of white extending tens or hundreds of miles. Small mountains in the distance were the only thing to break up the monotony of the white and blue. This was one magical place. In fact these salt flats are about half the size of England. We took our props–a Pringles can and a stuffed penguin–and started setting up our shots. Everyone had their own ideas of what they wanted and we struggled for about 30 minutes to take the first few shots. I was angry about my camera and it showed as I yelled at the family to get into position. Kieran decided he would rather not take direction from me and started setting up shots with his little $70 point and shoot camera. Any hopes I had about his camera replacing mine were quickly dashed. Unfortunately, his camera had its own problem. The picture you could see through his eyepiece was not the picture his camera took. Part of taking optical illusion photos is lining the subjects up appropriately, which would be impossible with his camera. It was going to be my camera or nothing.
I calmed down and everyone was much better about getting into position. We tried getting shots of kids jumping out of a Pringles can, kids running from or standing next to a giant penguin and the family taking turns eating miniature versions of each other. We took turns being the one in the foreground and enjoyed setting up the shots, regardless of how they turned out. I thought back to the many double exposure shots in my dark room. Nearly all of them failed. I couldn’t tell you about any of the failures, but I can still remember the few that worked. All we needed from this day were 5 or 6 good shots. With that in mind, I went a little shutter happy. If I took enough shots perhaps a handful could at least be fixable in Photoshop. Of the 350 pictures I took in the next 45 minutes, we did get some that are acceptable. We got pictures of Dax, eating McKane, Asher and I holding the Toyota, Asher wearing McKane’s shoes and a few others, but the highlight of our funny shots has to be Kieran relieving himself on Anne’s head. I don’t blame the little guy: there weren’t any trees for miles and when a little man needs to go, he needs to go. Anyway, a mother can never be too mad at her diminutive son.