Joel Santos on the
EOS 6D in Patagonia
© Joel Santos
Great travel photography can evoke a range of emotions and usually ends in that feeling of ‘itchy feet.’ CPN writer Ian Farrell applies the foot powder and talks to Canon Explorer Joel Santos about a recent trip to Patagonia with the EOS 6D DSLR…
The urge to travel goes hand in glove with a need to take pictures. A perfect example of this can be found in Joel Santos, a 35-year-old travel photographer from Lisbon, Portugal, who has explored dozens of locations throughout the world, in Europe, South America, and across Asia.
Joel, who worked as an economist before he sidestepped into the photographic industry, has enjoyed travelling from an early age. “I was fortunate that my parents loved to travel, so I had the chance to see some amazing places as a child,” he says, explaining that it wasn’t until 2003, after he had qualified with a masters degree in economics, that he thought of working in photography.
“I was working for a while in East Timor, near Indonesia, teaching economics at university,” he continues. “My passion for photography grew during this time, and it was only natural that it joined up with the love for travel I’d developed by living abroad.” Now Joel makes a living from his photography, splitting his time between organising workshops and tours, writing about the destinations that he visits and shooting stunning images of people places and culture.
Joel’s most recent trip took him to Patagonia in South America, where he endured harsh conditions and a meagre existence in order to find remote locations that are very much off the beaten track. “This trip was the first in a few years that I had undertaken purely for myself,” he says, explaining that his more usual tactic is to arrange his own shooting in the same place that he has hosted a photo tour. “This time it was just purely for me and my photography, so I could explore the region with the sole purpose of shooting some great images,” he reveals.
Joel undertook the journey with a friend he knows from the Azores (“one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen”), who he describes as the perfect travelling companion. “He is psychologically strong! This was always going to be the kind of trip where there wouldn’t be any home comforts. We trekked 150km in 12 days carrying with us everything we needed to camp, survive and shoot. Our diet was dried pasta and soup, supplemented by wild fruit and berries, and we collected water from streams and rivers. I think we carried about 22kg each.”
The countryside in Patagonia is challenging – not flat, but very hilly – and keeping the weight of his equipment to a minimum was top of Joel’s list of priorities. With this in mind he replaced his usual EOS 5D Mark III cameras with the smaller, lighter EOS 6D, and a clutch of zoom lenses.
“Every gram was important – letting us take water instead, which is way more important than camera gear,” he jokes. “I wanted image quality that was in the same league as the EOS 5D Mark III and, although the EOS 6D has slightly less resolution, it still has a full-frame sensor that delivers amazing detail. It also has built-in GPS, meaning I didn't have to take an add-on unit, which again saved space and valuable weight.”
The full-frame advantage
Joel explains that full-frame is important to him on a number of levels: “A full-frame camera like the EOS 6D just gives me a bit more image quality to play with, especially when pushing things to the limit with interpolation and cropping. It’s about more than resolution; the improved sharpness, colour and contrast seems to give me an advantage when I want to take the picture that little bit further.”
“The RAW files seem to have a bit more head space too, in terms of the detail I can recover from the shadows and highlights. And full-frame sensors definitely have the edge when it comes to high ISO shooting. When I first used the EOS 5D Mark III I was amazed at the quality I could achieve shooting street portraits at ISO 12,800. The files are just so clean,” he says.
The need to keep weight down also influenced Joel’s choice of lenses. He took four zooms on the trip – an EF70-200mm f/4L USM, an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, an EF17-40mm f/4L USM and an EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM – covering focal lengths from extreme wide-angle to mid-telephoto. “I deliberately chose lenses with f/4 maximum apertures, which saved me over 2kg,” Joel says. “You don’t always need wide apertures when shooting landscapes, and the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM and EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM are much heavier to carry.”
This almost obsessive consideration of weight seems utterly sensible when Joel recalls some of the conditions he encountered in Patagonia. “We had no plan or established route, just an idea of the kind of places we wanted to visit,” he says, adding that his location was often dictated by the light. “On previous trips I could decide what to shoot and when, but it was different this time.”
“On one occasion, when photographing Cerro Chaltén [Mount Fitz Roy], we waited three days in one area because the light wasn’t good for what we wanted to shoot. We trekked 40 kilometres back and forth before the conditions were absolutely right to produce the smoking mountain effect that gives the famous peak its name,” Joel says.
The weather was also an issue: “Patagonia is well known for its windy conditions and some days it was actually difficult to stay on my feet. I’d be shooting lying flat on the ground, with the camera weighed down by rocks to stop it from blowing away. Sometimes all we could do was wait for the conditions that allowed me to take a picture.”
Experienced landscape photographers know that cold temperatures can seriously affect a camera’s battery life, and Joel was prepared for this, taking seven LP-E6 batteries for his EOS 6D. “I had chance to recharge all of them as we moved from Chile to Argentina, when we stayed overnight in a hostel. In fact, the hostel staff looked after the charger for me so I didn’t have to carry it.”
Joel found the seven batteries enough for each section of the trip, and easier to deal with than using a solar charger, which would have meant having to stop to charge when the sun was shining. “I kept the fresh cells warm by storing them close to my body,” he explains, “They lasted well, even though I was shooting using live view, which is something I do all the time for landscape photography since I focus manually.”
Seeing the world differently
When talking with Joel Santos it’s hard not to be infected by his enthusiasm. His next trip will be to India – the fifth time he will have been to the country – where he will lead a tour for other photographers. “India is one of the best places for a photographer to go. Not just for great pictures, but because it changes the way you see life. You can learn how happiness comes from different places than you might think,” he explains.
“I want everyone on the trip with me to learn lots about photography but I also want to teach them to see in a different way. For me, India is a place that’s about people – their expressions are amazing; from the old men you see hanging around to the kids playing on the street. I have been to India many times, and it’s somewhere you can go hundreds of times and still see something new every day.”
As we said before, it’s enough to give you itchy feet...
Joel Santos' equipment for Patagonia
EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
EF17-40mm f/4L USM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
EF70-200mm f/4L USM
Biography: Joel Santos
© Magali Tarouca
Travel, landscape and portrait photographer Joel Santos was born in 1978 in Lisbon, Portugal. He is the author of five best-selling books and is frequently published by photography, travel and corporate magazines all over the world, having featured on more than 30 covers and in hundreds of articles. He teaches photography in all continents and his work has been globally shown in several individual and collective exhibitions. He became a Canon Explorer in mid-2012.