MY BEST PHOTO TOUR SO FAR ?

(WHAT I SHOT IN A TWO-WEEK TRIP IN PERU AND WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO PHOTOGRAPH WITH ME)

 

In October 2023, I co-led a 13-day photography tour with my esteemed photographer friend, Tom Bourdon. We meticulously crafted an itinerary that facilitated gradual altitude increase, aiding in acclimatization and minimizing the risk of altitude sickness, while also providing a plethora of diverse photographic opportunities.

As echoed by the group’s sentiments at the tour’s conclusion, and shared by my own assessment, this journey transcended mere photography – it became an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. Personally, I am immensely pleased with the photographic results achieved in such a condensed timeframe.

 

 

 

AREQUIPA CITY :

Although the journey began in Lima, I did not shoot anything interesting there. At the beginning of a trip, I’m more concerned about getting to know the people in the group, and making sure everybody feels well and gets excited about the adventures ahead of us…

However, upon arriving in Arequipa, a charming and tranquil stopover for travelers, the photography expedition truly started.

Situated at an intermediate altitude of 2,325 meters above sea level, Arequipa served as a crucial acclimatization stage before delving into the Andean highlands. Its UNESCO-listed historic center, constructed from sillar – a porous white volcanic stone – is a marvel to behold. The cathedral on the main square is particularly stunning, and we were fortunate to secure a table at a rooftop bar offering breathtaking views, especially during the captivating sunset hours.

 

 

In addition to the beautiful architecture of the historical center, three volcanoes face the city: El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu (respectively at 5825m, 6075m and 5664m above sea level).

The setting is simply spectacular, and from this rooftop at sunset… I let you judge by yourself with this image of El Misti volcano below.

 

 

 

SANTA CATALINA MONASTERY :

Arequipa is renowned for the Santa Catalina Monastery, which stands as the largest monastery in South America. Beyond its sheer size, the monastery’s architecture and vibrant colors provide excellent photo opportunities. The dramatic lighting during the afternoon, enhanced by overcast skies and dark gray clouds, lent an atmospheric quality akin to being on a movie set.

 

 

 

COLCA CANYON :

The primary reason for our journey to the Arequipa region was to explore the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. Located three to four hours away from the city of Arequipa, the drive to reach this natural wonder is undeniably worthwhile, offering breathtaking vistas and unforgettable experiences along the way.

 

 

In addition to the wildlife, including vicuñas, that can be photographed in the national reserve along the road, the presence of llama and alpaca herders particularly captivates me photographically. I’ve always been drawn to the resilience of these animal breeders who inhabit such harsh environments. At altitudes exceeding 4,000 meters, where the lack of oxygen is palpable and nights are bitterly cold, it’s remarkable to witness these individuals persevering with a genuine smile on their faces.

 

 

That’s when the journey truly began for me. I feel a sense of excitement and vitality in such places. Photographically, I am aware that we are entering a realm of boundless possibilities, where the light can shift dramatically in an instant, and the landscapes seem to belong to a different world altogether!

 

 

Driving through the Colca Valley is a mesmerizing experience, with every turn revealing stunning vistas of terraced landscapes that have stood the test of time for over 1,500 years.

 

 

One of the most exhilarating experiences in the Colca Canyon is the opportunity to witness the majestic Andean condor in flight. As one of the largest flying birds in the world, watching these graceful creatures soar effortlessly through the canyon’s depths is a truly awe-inspiring sight.

 

 

The condors flew so low and so close to us that I could even photograph them with a 35mm lens, enabling me to capture them alongside elements such as a cactus and a Christian cross in my composition.

 

 

This journey through the Colca Canyon led us past typical villages adorned with beautiful white churches, where the captivating daily life of the Quechua people of the region provided fascinating subjects for photography.

 

 

During this two-day trip, we had lunch in a local family’s home. It was a deeply enriching experience, as they graciously shared their traditions and cultural practices with us. As part of their hospitality, we were honored to witness a ceremony dedicated to Pachamama, the Mother Earth, where offerings were made to express gratitude for her abundance and blessings.

 

 

ROAD TO TITICACA LAKE :

The drive from the Colca Canyon to the Titicaca Lake navigates through a stunning volcanic terrain at an elevation exceeding 4,500 meters, where the minimal rainfall typical of October adds an atmospheric element, enhancing the dramatic nature of the journey.

 

 

Despite being long (about 5 hours), this trip unveils breathtaking vistas of the altiplano, where the dry landscape and dramatic afternoon skies create an incredible contrast.

 

 

And the highlight of this trip is undoubtedly a breathtaking lagoon we traverse along the way…

 

 

 

TITICACA LAKE :

Continuing our journey to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,800 meters above sea level, we enjoyed a picturesque boat ride before arriving at a peninsula…

 

 

Valentin and his wife welcomed us into their delightful family hostel, where they raise sheeps and pigs.

 

 

Every day, the couple leads their animals to the lake for a drink, a unique and visually stunning sight. They also have an adorable alpaca named Pepe, adding to the charm of the experience.

 

 

Overall, the afternoon was relaxing, and we finally had time to start reviewing the images captured during the journey. Also, with a few members of the group interested in learning about post-processing, I took the opportunity to share my editing process and all the techniques I use.

 

 

INDIGENOUS MARKET :

The tour is strategically planned to coincide with Sundays, as this is when the traditional indigenous market takes place on the peninsula, offering a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in the vibrant local culture and customs.

 

 

With photographic opportunities around every corner, Tom and I usually served as a cultural and language bridge for those looking to practice their street photography skills.

 

 

The diversity of costumes and vibrant colors present in the market compensated for the harsh morning light, which may not be considered ideal by most photographers. But as you can see, despite the challenging lighting conditions, there’s always a way to embrace the circumstances and creatively find opportunities to capture good photographs.

 

 

Another approach was to seek refuge inside the market, where the shade provided a more conducive environment for photography. Here, we could redirect our focus towards capturing the dynamic interactions between people, or trying a few environmental portraits.

 

 

 

ROAD TO CUSCO :

The journey to Cusco stands out as the longest stretch of our trip, but again, we still managed to photograph interesting scenes along the way.

 

 

The group particularly enjoyed the La Raya mountain pass, situated at an impressive altitude of 4,300 meters above sea level, where a train journeyed through the expansive altiplano.

 

 

During our journey, we made a stop at a ceramics workshop for lunch, where we received detailed explanations about the intricate process of pottery making. Here, we had the opportunity to photograph the skilled artisans immersed in their craft with ease.

 

 

 

 

JOIN ME ON MY NEXT PERU PHOTO TOUR!

TRULY A TRIP OF A LIFETIME…

 

 

CUSCO CITY :

Cusco holds a special place in my heart as my favorite city in Peru. Nestled in a stunning valley at an elevation of 3,400 meters above sea level, its enchanting historical center never fails to captivate with its rich heritage and charm.

 

 

What truly sets Cusco apart is its remarkable preservation of Quechua culture. Despite its popularity among tourists, the city retains an authentic essence, particularly evident in its bustling markets and vibrant street life.

 

Mercado de San Pedro, Cusco

 

From a photographic perspective, Cusco is truly a street photographer’s paradise, offering an abundance of captivating scenes and cultural richness to capture at every turn.

 

 

Additionally, Cusco boasts a plethora of intriguing characters, each with their own unique stories and personalities, providing endless photographic opportunities.

 

 

Personally, I seized the opportunity to refine my skills and techniques by experimenting with more intricate compositions, incorporating multiple layers to add depth and complexity to my photographic work.

 

 

It was also an opportunity for me to share my approach and methodology with those in the group who were eager to learn, demonstrating how I visualize compositions and work through the process of capturing memorable images.

 

 

As we stayed several days in Cusco, which served as our base between various excursions, we seized numerous opportunities to revisit the bustling markets and capture as much of the vibrant atmosphere as possible at different times of the day and with different lights.

 

 

 

SACRED VALLEY :

One hour away from the city lies the awe-inspiring Sacred Valley of the Incas, home to remarkable archaeological ruins that never fail to impress visitors with their historical significance and majestic beauty.

 

 

Our journey began with a visit to the circular terraces of Moray, ancient Inca agricultural ruins believed to have been used for experimental farming and microclimate testing. Then we went to the breathtaking salt ponds of Maras, a network of thousands of terraced pools fed by a natural saltwater spring, meticulously harvested by local families for centuries.

 

 

 

MACHU PICCHU :

A photography trip to Peru would be incomplete without visiting the continent’s most renowned archaeological ruins, Machu Picchu. Despite its crowds, I personally know when and where to go to truly appreciate this wonder of the world and capture stunning images.

 

 

October is an excellent month to visit Machu Picchu, as there’s a good chance to witness the ethereal mist that often envelops the archaeological site, adding an extra layer of mystique and beauty to the experience.

 

 

With countless compositions to experiment with, each visit to Machu Picchu for me presents an opportunity to explore new angles and perspectives, keeping the experience fresh and exhilarating every time…

 

 

Overall, the experience of visiting Machu Picchu is surely bound to leave an indelible mark on your mind forever.

 

 

RAINBOW MOUNTAINS AND QUECHUA COMMUNITY :

The culmination of the trip was truly the cherry on top of the cake! We journeyed towards the high Andes to visit a Quechua community, where the traditional way of life persists amidst a backdrop of stunning, colorful mountains.

 

 

This community sustains itself primarily through alpaca breeding, and the highlight of our experience was spending a night with a family that had never before hosted tourists in their home.

 

 

Homes in this community that are primarily constructed from adobe – a building material made from clay, sand, straw, and water – which provides picturesque scenes that are highly photogenic.

 

 

Fortunately, I have developed strong bonds with the community, as I became the godfather of the charming 3-year-old Neymar not too long ago.

 

 

Demetrio, the father of the family, graciously welcomed us into his home. He wants to develop sustainable and community tourism in the region as he sees this as a way to sustain their ancestral way of life.

 

 

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a newborn in the family! It was such wonderful news, and Mercedes was delighted to share the news with me.

 

 

The entire family, including the grandparents, was present to receive us and was working hard to prepare food for the group.

 

Nicolas Castermans Photography

 

They were all preparing a Pachamanca, a traditional method of cooking potatoes and all sorts of meats in the ground.

 

 

It was an interesting experience witnessing this age-old process and capturing its essence through photography. We also couldn’t wait to taste the local organic food that they grow themselves.

 

 

To be honest, this is the kind of experience that every traveler and photographer dreams of having. It’s a glimpse into a world that is gradually disappearing, as modernization and globalization encroach upon communities like these around the world.

 

 

Phones and televisions have already reached the community, as electricity was brought not too long ago, marking a significant change in their way of life.

 

 

With easy access to media, children nowadays dream of a different life, influenced by the broader world beyond their community’s borders, leading to aspirations and perspectives that reflect the changing times.

 

 

These changes are indeed encouraged by the parents, who envision a brighter future for at least one or two of their children. They aspire for them to have the opportunity to pursue higher education in a city like Cusco in the valley, especially as the region undergoes development in terms of roads and infrastructure.

 

 

Photographically speaking, this topic holds great significance for me as well. Capturing the intersection of tradition and modernity, and documenting the changes and aspirations within communities like this, provides a rich and meaningful narrative.

 

 

This moment in time is crucial for them, and it derserves documentation in my opinion. As a part of the family now, I am committed to accompanying them through this transition and I hope to be a positive influence and source of support for the children whom I have grown to love.

 

 

I remember having discussions about this topic with the group. It’s essential to add layers to our work and imbue our travel photography with deeper meaning, capturing not just the surface beauty of a place, but also the rich tapestry of stories and experiences that unfold within it.

 

 

This is the essence of the distinction between a good single photograph and a cohesive body of work that enlightens minds and tells a story. Ultimately, this workshop aimed to empower those who desired to enhance their story-telling skills by encouraging them to think beyond individual images and develop a narrative through their work.

 

 

We were fortunate to encounter countless photographic opportunities in this place, a true paradise for photographers, and the people were incredibly kind, generously sharing glimpses of their world with us.

 

 

It was undeniably an experience worth living, and for me, the prospect of returning to that place is filled with anticipation. These people have opened up new perspectives within me and I genuinely feel happy and comfortable in their company.

 

 

 

JOIN ME ON MY NEXT PERU PHOTO TOUR!

TRULY A TRIP OF A LIFETIME…