How to photograph fireworks with 8 easy tips

How to photograph fireworks with 8 easy tips

Marina Barrage fireworks viewed from the bay

New year celebrations are around the corner and you are not sure how to capture the fireworks with your camera? Fireworks photography is a difficult one, and even trickier as you may not have multiple opportunities to practice. What can go wrong? Pictures are too bright, too smoky, firework is out of focus or out of frame. But this can be easily avoided by following some easy steps.

Tip 1: Scout out the location

Everything will become more difficult when the sun is down and the crowd is here! Ideally, come and check out the place a few days before, find your spot, define the frame you want to do and hence the lens you should bring. And by all means, arrive early on the day of the show itself to secure your spot and set all your parameters. When the show begins, you will only need to trigger the shutter!
Firework on the left with Marina Bay Sand on the right and dark vivid blue sky

Tip 2: Bring the right equipment

Nikon D4 camera on a tripod at night in front of Marina Bay Sand and fireworks
Reliable tripod needed!
  • Camera: We are talking here about DSLR camera or camera that allows you to shoot in manual mode (more details in tip #4)
  • Lens: Wide-angle lenses are usually a safe bet. Zoom lenses can be a good option if you want to be able to change frames. Keep in mind that once the show has started, it won’t be a great idea to change lenses so pick the most appropriate one (or bring several cameras!)
  • Tripod: Given the settings and slow speed we prefer to use for that type of photography, tripod is highly recommended
  • Remote control: A nice to have to help trigger the shutter without touching the camera

And like for any photo trip, especially at night-time, bring memory cards as well as a spare battery, most importantly if you are using the live view mode and if it’s cold.
And please…do not use a flash!

Tip 3: Keep enough room in your frame

I would strongly suggest leaving enough room when you frame your picture before the show starts. It is impossible to know in advance how high the fireworks will go. It can get tricky not to have it cut, especially if you are relatively close from the platform. If you are uncertain, to be on the safe side, use a wide-angle lens (see tip #2).
Several firework bursts next to Marina Bay Sand
It can get tough to predict how high they will get…

 You can still crop it if you feel like when editing your picture. If you realise the firework is much higher than anticipated, don’t hesitate to stop the ongoing photo and reframe it right away (it would be cut anyway, so no need to waste more time on it).

Tip 4: Set manual mode, low ISO, medium aperture and slow speed

Fireworks from Stamford hotel balcony
Tripod, 100 ISO, f/16 and 13s
You will need to set your camera into Manual Mode to control yourself the aperture and speed. I have tried multiple sets of settings and this is what usually works well for me when using a tripod:
  • ISO: 100 or 200: Set it low as you won’t need high shutter speed and you use a tripod. Low ISO will also help prevent noise that arises from higher ISO and long exposure.
  • Aperture: Mid-aperture is perfect, from f8 to f11. Depending on your lens you can try to go higher (f16, f22) and gets everything sharp. Remember that if you open too much, aka with a small f, you may get over exposed.
  • Shutter Speed: In the range of 8s to 20s. Long exposure allows fireworks to track longer and to capture several bursts. With short exposure, fireworks can look small and not impressive. I tend to use 13s and 15s a lot and adjust based on conditions. If the image turns out overexposed or with too much smoke, shorten a bit the exposure time. If you are unsure, you can also use the Bulb mode and close manually once you think you captured enough of the scene.

Once the show starts, I would usually keep the same ISO and aperture and only play with the shutter speed.

Fireworks from Stamford hotel balcony
Example of an handhled picture: 2000 ISO, f/4.5 and 1/25s
And what if you don’t have tripod or can’t get enough stability? Well, depending on your camera, you can try to do it handheld. Obviously you won’t be able to do very long exposure but can still capture some bursts. To do so, push your ISOs (1250-2000), open your aperture (=small f) and set a shutter speed that will avoid motion blur (1/50s, 1/80s).

Tip 5: Focus manually

With the autofocus on, your camera will try to refocus for each shot and given low light conditions it may struggle and focus on something else. So arrive early (as mentioned in tip #1), and set your focus before it gets dark. Focus on an object with the same distance as where the firework will be. If you struggle to get the focus right, set the focus to near infinity.
Then switch it to Manual focus (button on the side of your lens) to lock it in place.
Close up of a golden firework

Tip 6: Shoot in RAW


If you plan to edit your images, switch the image quality to Raw.

Tip 7: Check your first shot on the spot and adjust if needed

Is it too bright? Is it blurry? What about the frame? Take the time to control and adjust if needed. We tend to have a sense of emergency when shooting fireworks, especially when they last only for a few minutes, but take the time. It will always be better to miss a couple of shots but get the others right than having the entire series messed up. You want to get the grand finale right!


Green and red fireworks cut at the top
I knew it would be high but didn’t expect it to be that high…I actually stopped the camera as it was messed up anyway

Tip 8: Mind the smoke


Fireworks produce smoke and by the end of the show, if the breeze comes into your direction, the sky will be full of smoky clouds. While in certain circumstances it can get aesthetic, most of the time you don’t want to see it in your photo. Not to put pressure, but the earliest starbusts are usually the cleanest … so you may get your cleanest picture at the very beginning of the show, before too much smoke is around.
When it starts to get very smoky, I would try to balance by speeding a bit the shutter speed. If you still get too much of it and you think it messes up your pics, you can try to remove it in post-production.

Fireworks in the middle with Singapore flyer on the right and MBS and the garden on the left
And smoke can even get much worse than that!
So these simple steps are usually what works for me. I hope they will help you too!
Please share the shots you get as well as any other tips you may use!
Singapore National Day Parade fireworks finale from Swiss hotel

Western Canada Memories

Western Canada Memories

Chance brought me to fly for the first time to Canada. At that time, I was more dreaming about Patagonia and Australia and, not sure why, but Canada was not particularly on top of the priorities. However, a combination of circumstances and… here I was on a plane to Vancouver, with my brand new Nikon D4. After 2 weeks driving around Western Canada, I was completely in love with the country. And to be fair, I was probably won over after the first couple of days.
Large lake in front of moutains in orange vegatations
Amazing nature, vastness of landscapes, nice people, cosy bed and breakfasts, the list can go on and on. However there are 3 main aspects I was not expecting to be as impressive as they were. And that are the 3 main reasons why I am looking forward to a next trip there!

1) Wildlife in a snap

Brown bears, grizzlies, elks, squirrels, you can cross their paths fairly easily and un-expectingly! Discovering in the mirror a brown bear crossing the highway? Check. Having the car blocked by a group of elks when getting out of a parking? Check. Spotting whales while coming back on a boat from an excursion to watch grizzlies on Vancouver Island? Check as well. Getting « gently » bitten by a mother racoon with her baby in Vancouver (awesome) Stanley Park? Yep, done as well. But above all, swimming, snorkelling and « hanging out » with seals? THAT was the highlight of the trip to me.

Black bear crossing highway in Canada
Elk roaring at end of day
…are never too far
We went on this tour in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. We were given some diving suits (it was summertime but the water was around 10°C), we put on our fins, grabbed a mask, and off we went! The captain/guide drove us with another couple in a small boat next to Snake Island, a small island actually where plenty of seals are resting. Half of them swam away when the other couple swam (very loudly…) towards them.
Seal swimming in the sea
They got quite close
Girl in diving suit lying on the shore in front of seals on Snake Island
Me trying to blend with the masses
Luckily by the time I got there – I may not swim very fast with fins – there were still seals both in the water and on the island. I quietly crawled on the « beach », benefiting from the waves to push me a bit further. After a few minutes I was lying on the sand very close to the seals. The smell was not the nicest but it didn’t matter. Most importantly, the seals didn’t seem to be bothered by me.
After a while I went back into the water and I spotted this little fellow who was floating and sleeping in the water.
The water was not deep as we were still very near the shore. I could actually « walk on my knees ». I got closer, and closer and closer from the seal. Eventually I was like at 10-15cm from this little guy.
Diver and seal swimming at the surface next each other
My little friend
From time to time, all of a sudden, he would open his huge round eyes with super long eyelashes. He would look at me for a few seconds, and then, he would go back to sleep. We stayed 30 minutes like that. I was a bit freezing since I was not moving much but being so close from a sleeping seal? Him looking at me peacefully and not afraid? No way I would leave!

When we came back on the boat, the guide told me that’s the first time he sees something like that and asked me if I tried to touch the seal. I actually haven’t. But I guess that’s also probably why he was not afraid of me. My main regret is not having my DSLR camera with me – I don’t have any waterproof case for it. There were some amazing portraits to capture on that day!

Seals lying on Snake Island

2) Alone in the wild

Yes, Canada is known for its amazing hikes. It is known for the wideness of the landscapes. I knew all that, though I was still surprised by how wide it is. Trees, roads, forests, lakes, mountains. Everything is wide. Everything is large. And it is even more telling that many times you will end up alone on the road or on the hiking trail. In most of the hikes I have done in Europe, I would meet other hikers along the way. In Canada, on some days we hardly met anyone. The perfect place if you need some time away from the crowd!

Chain of mountains with a lake at the bottom and trees in the foreground
The most extreme solitude we experienced is probably the couple of nights we spent in Kootenay National Park, in a tipi in the middle of the forest. We reached the place by a road particularly bumpy and rocky. Super tall trees, a thin river, a few rabbits wandering around, a cute wooden house to welcome guests, a few cottages nearby, and, a bit further, 3 tipis. No Wifi. No phone network. At all. So we would be the 2 only guests on the first night, sleeping in a tipi in the middle of the forest, without any network. And the cook was walking around, carrying a knife at his belt. That was enough to get our imagination going for a few minutes!
Portrait of a wild rabbit in green lush
Neighbourg for the night
Inside of wooden cottage with wall in window facing forest
Inside the main cottage
White tipi in the forest in Canada
Our home for the night
But hopefully both the cook and Rob, the owner of the place, were very friendly, welcoming and helpful. We discovered our tipi. It could probably fit 4-6 people. A few logs to set up a fire were already placed in the middle, surrounded by several blankets on the floor. We were showed how to make a fire and Rob helped us start our own. He also told us all the wild encounters he had around the tipis, the most memorable being with a wolverine found inside a tipi…
Inside a tipi with the light of a fire and blankets on the floor
Our bed for the night
Hiker open anti-bear bin in a park in Western Canada
Anti-bear bin
The security guidelines were pretty clear: do not bring food or anything with a smell inside the tipis (hello bears) – so any shampoo, soap, toothpaste had to be used within the main house, any food had to be eaten before, none of that could come with us in the tipi (otherwise hello bears!). And, of course, we should not forget a light to check the surroundings in case we would need to go out of the tipi during the night (a couple of toilets are set up a few meters away from the tipis).
With all that in mind, we got a relatively early dinner and made our way back to our tipi as soon as the sun started to set.
Black board with menu written in white
Lost in the wild but with pretty damn good food!
We were inside our tipi early but both nights went fast. We had books, magazines, cameras. I can’t say I had a good rest on the first one as our fire kind of lost its strengths at 2am so it was a bit freezing. But it was worth it 100 times. For the quietness. For the stars in the sky. For the fire (second night was closer to success). For the light footsteps noises I heard while lying on the ground in the early morning. I was not sure it was an elk but it sounded very close and was a very lovely noise for an alarm clock.
Fire in the middle of a tipi at night
We made it!

3) Diversity

We drove 4,000 kilometres within 2 weeks. However it never felt boring at all. I don’t think I have seen such diverse landscapes within a few minutes or hours. On some parts of the trip, you could see a mountain covered with snow followed by one covered with green trees, a lake, and all of a sudden huge plains and rivers. I remember I was falling asleep (on the passenger sit of course) but would force myself to stay awoken as it seemed that at every corner the scenery was different and worth a look and a picture. Impossible to get bored on those roads!

But diversity is also about the weather… It was early September, so not autumn yet. However we experienced the 4 seasons. And not only we experienced the 4 of them but we experienced them on the exact same day and exact same location!

Car driving on highway in Western Canada towards a huge mountain
Bridge in orange hue forest whith sunset light
Red bus on a glacier, with a mountain in the background and in the snow
We were off for a hike. Weather in the morning was fairly sunny. But it deteriorated quite fast. All cloudy. Weather forecasts were showing clouds as well. So we decided to maintain our hike, it would be refreshing. The hike was supposed to end on top of a mountain, with a great overlooking and panoramic view. We were less and less sure about the quality of the view given all the fog but we kept on. It started to rain.
Man with an umbrella in a hiking trail
It’s just some rain
Bird hidden in a tree with snow flakes
The snow won’t last
The rain turned into hail… and the hail turned into… snow! But the snow didn’t turned into anything and it kept snowing, snowing and snowing. In the blink of an eye, everything around us was covered by snow. Our hands were starting to freeze and hurt. We pushed a bit further but realised the hiking trails were hard to see. We eventually decided to turn back before we get completely lost.
Hiker surrounded by snow
Actually it did last
By the time we were back to our car, the snow was a bit less strong and everything was back to « normal » within a few hours. So we’ve never seen that supposedly amazing view but it left some pretty strong memories nevertheless.
Turquoise lake in the shape of wolf head

If you want to see more pics of Canada, this is here.

Quick Photo Tips

Canada offers so many photo opportunities that it makes it difficult to know which equipment to bring. Pretty much everything would be of good use at some point (macro, wide angle, tele etc.). Unless you have a very strong preference for specific type of pictures, if you want to be adaptable while not carrying 20kg of equipment, I would recommend to bring along:

  • « all you can do » lens: that’s how I call my 28-300mm. It is not the best lens but I can capture pretty much any type of scene. When there is a good amount of light, it will do the job easily. If you have some room left, I would probably opt for a wide angle as a good complement.
  • Tripod: even more useful if your lens is not particularly bright and/or your camera body can’t handle high ISO. Tripod will be particularly a must in the forest or at night to shoot stars. It can be a pain to carry but would worth it here.
  • Several batteries and memory cards: long trips, photo around every corner, « live view » shots, photo sessions in the night … always good to have spare cards and batteries. Useful investment.

And don’t forget to check your equipment before you leave, especially if it’s a new one. Don’t do like me: I thought the remote control I used to have for my Nikon D90 was working on my D4… I realised my mistake as I was trying to shoot low light pictures in the tipi!

Quick Travel Tips

We could probably write a very long list but on top of my head, here are the few points to remember:

  • What to do in front of a bear: while we wanted as much as possible to see bears or grizzlies, we were not sure what to do if/when it happens. Along the way we were given a few key insights. The first one is to actually prevent a close encounter: Make noise while hiking so the bears can hear us, avoid us, and not get surprised (and, so, afraid). When a grizzly had been spotted in the area recently, smaller group (less than 4 people) are not allowed to go on the trail. Then, if the encounter does happen, stay calm, don’t show your back, and certainly don’t run, but walk away very slowly. This website gives more detailed safety recommendations.
  • Plan in advance: fuel stations may be scarce on some roads between two spots. Be careful to fill up the gas tank when you can and be mindful of the distance.
  • Prepare your hikes: it goes without saying but especially true in areas where you may be alone – have a map, have gloves, hats in your bag just in case, check the weather forecasts. And if you go completely alone, let someone know about your location.

And here are few cool activities to check while in Western Canada:

How to create Sunstar effects in your photo?

How to create Sunstar effects in your photo?

You have probably seen pictures with a Sunstar effect, sometimes named Sunburst or Starburst – this is when the source of light takes the shape of a star.
You’ve always wondered how to get that effect on your picture? If this can be done directly with your DSLR camera and not in post-production? You’ve tried but failed or were not happy about the result?

Back to the techniques

To better understand and master sunstar effects, let’s first go through the technical explanation – all the tips below will make much more sense and will be easier to remember if we know the whys.

Why does it happen ?

All starts with diffraction. Diffraction is the modification of waves’ direction when passing through a narrow opening or close to an object. In photography, this happens when the light passes through the diaphragm of the lens. When the aperture is at its smallest (so when the f. is high), the blades are fully retracted, which constricts the light and creates diffraction. So the smaller aperture you have (so the higher f. you put), the more constricted the light will be, and the greater diffraction effect you get.

Statue of a red dragon with rays of sunshine forming a star towards the branches of a tree
High trees from the ground with a sharp sunburst effect between branches
Pedestian street at night in Stockholm with lights forming a star effect

What determines the shape of the star?

● Size of the aperture opening : as seen above, the aperture has a direct impact on the sharpness of the star. With a wide opening (so a small f.), the opening won’t be obstructed enough to create diffraction. While a small opening will create a sharp star.
● The shape of the blades on the diaphragm: The aperture blades’ position and shape can vary a lot from one lens to another. In some lenses, the blades shape a circle without any hard corners. That will give a nice rounded bokeh effect but less a pointy star. While other lenses have their blades placed straight and they form a polygon. This will be perfect for a nice star effect.

Aperture blades of Nikon 24mm lens
Nikon 24mm: 9 blades so 18 rays while the opening is relatively circular
Aperture blades of Nikon 50mm lens
Nikon 50mm: 9 blades but a different shape
Aperture blades of Nikon Fisheye lens
Nikon Fisheye: 6 blades so 6 rays and a more polygonal opening

● The number of blades : the number of blades has a direct impact on the number of rays the star has. For lenses with an even number of blades, you will have the same number of rays than the number of blades : A 8-blade aperture will create a star with 8 rays. While in the case of a lens with an uneven number of blades, the number of rays will be the double : a 5-blade aperture will create a star with 10 rays. If you use Nikon, you can find here in column Bl quite an exhaustive list of Nikon lenses and their number of blades

Into practice

So with that in mind, what should you do to create a sunstar effect ?

Tip 1 : Pick the right lens
As we have seen above, the sharpness and the shape of the star are tightly tied to the lens. Try to pick a lens which can have a very small aperture – and ideally where the blades create a sharp polygon. And the more blades, the more rays.

Tip 2 : Use a small aperture
The smallest the aperture, the more visible the rays. So close the aperture to the minimum, from f16 to f22 depending on your lens.

Tip 3 : Set your camera in Manual Mode
You want to be able to define all the settings to get the exposure right. With such a small aperture and a bright sun, you can easily get an overexposed and almost white image. Favor underexposure to keep all the details. Depending on the conditions, and especially if it’s quite dark, you will need to play both with the speed and ISO. For instance, if you are in a forest and without a tripod, to avoid blurring from a small aperture, you may want to keep a relatively fast speed and so you will push up ISOs.

Tip 4 : Partially obscure the source of light
You will notice that depending on the position of the camera towards the source of light, the result may be quite different. You may not always get a star, even though your settings are correct. The star usually gets sharper and clearer when the light hits an object like a building or a tree. I think the easiest is with branches – I do a lot of those pics in forest. Once you found a nice place with rays of light going through, if you don’t get the star in the first shot, keep going, just move slightly until the star appears properly. Quite often, it’s only a matter of one or two centimeters more on the right or more on the left.

Path in the forest with sunstar effect between branches
Play hide and seek with the branches
Sunburst effect in the forest with large green flare effect in the foreground
A nice star but a nice green flare too!

Tip 5 : Beware of the ghosting flare
While shooting for starbust, you may experience another type of flare you actually don’t want : circular or semi-circular green-ish halos, otherwise named « ghosting flare ». Wide-angle lenses usually minimise the ghosting effect while it will increase with longer lenses. You can try to put your hand over the lens and block off the light, or slightly change your position. However, depending on circumstances, it can be tricky to get rid of it, while keeping a perfect star effect ! Worse case scenario, try to minimize it as much as possible and clean the halos with a software. If you want to know more about flares, this article is quite straight-forward.


Tip 6 : Clean your lens!
By facing the light to directly, all the dust you may have on your lens will appear fairly clearly on the picture. This will be most specifically true if there is a light color in the background. If you don’t want to spend too much time on editing, make sure to clean up your lens!

Check my portfolios and travel galleries to see more sunstars !

Bridge in Melbourne at night with lights reflection in water

Incredible sunset in Iceland

Incredible sunset in Iceland

Iceland is one of the first countries I visited after starting digital photography. I had my Nikon D90 body for less than a year with only one lens (18-200). I had been dreaming about Iceland since forever and discovered a travel agency specialised in photography tours. It sounded perfect to maximise my luck and my knowledge. And it was !
My equipment was good but relatively « light » compared to what I have today. One camera body, one lens, one tripod bought just for the trip. And that’s it ! No wide angle, no filter. Polarising filters ? I didn’t even know what it was.
The concept was ideal : a groupe of 8 people, one guide specialist of the country (and, cherry on the cake, an extremely good cook as well !) and one photographer who knows the place like home. We traveled across the southern part of Iceland for about ten days, across the diversity of those incredible landscapes. From icebergs to fields of green grass, from waterfalls to hot springs, from mossy lands to rocky and dry mountains.
Everyday was different, a new adventure, a new discovery.
Welcome from Icelandic horses
Dyrhólaey from Reynisfjara beach
Reynisdrangar sea stacks, can you see the trolls?
But that evening we spent near Vik was the most beautiful one of the trip.

Vik, a small village on the South coast of Iceland, is famous for its beach, Reynisfjara, a black sand beach (made out of lava), with impressive basalt columns and lava formations. According to the legend, Reynisdrangar formations, the basalt sea stacks, are trolls which were caught in dailight and got turned into stones, while trying to pull a ship out of the sea.

We spent quite a lot of time during that day, walking on the beach, trying to capture the rocks, the water, the sand. From above, from beneath, close from the water, far from it. But the weather was not that great. Not particularly sunny, not enough cloudy to convey a specific atmosphere.

However, unexpectedly, the sky started to become much more interesting as we were going for our dinner. A warm and golden light gradually appeared, turning any single piece of land into a beautiful painting.
Nice colors are starting to appear
Shot from the window of our jeep, driving to the viewpoint!
We headed to Dyrhólaey viewpoint. From there, the view was perfect : to the north we could see the glacer Mýrdalsjökull ; to the east, Reynisdrangar, the black lava columns ; to the west, the coastline. In front : a gigantic black arch of lava, Dyrhólaey, big enough to let a ship pass through it. And, last but not least, atlantic puffins were there as well, nesting on the cliff.
The trolls again, but under sunset

Cute puffins

A rainbow coming out of the blue (or of the stacks)
The hues were so pure…
…the light was so soft
From golden, the sky above Reynisdrangar turned purple. A rainbow appeared, gushing from the basalt columns. Its colors became more and more vivid. The entire landscape was swimming in a light purple sky.
When I decided to change spots, more to the North, I realised the sky went on fire. Orange, red, pink and purple were mixing with dark grey clouds, giving the impression a volcano had awaken. It was strickingly beautiful.
Couldn’t stop taking pictures of this sky show
This is not the smoke from a volcano
I think we all got hundreds of pics on that evening, trying to capture every change of colors, every change of clouds’ shapes. We stayed there until the colors eventually fade away. It was past midnight.
Last picture of the day!

If you want to see more photos from Iceland, this is here.

Quick Photo Tips

The pictures that illustrate this page are the exact pictures I took on that evening. No editing, no post production. Nothing. Directly from the camera. With one lens and no filter. However I do like them as they are, the colors are stunning just by themselves.
This is a good reminder that photography is above all about light ! If you have a beautiful light, a bit part of the job is done. Then, how do you make sure to capture properly a landscape at sunset, without having the most professional equipment ?

  • Tripod and Speed : If you shoot a sunset, you will likely need a tripod or a flat place to put your camera. You don’t want to go to high on your ISO (especially if your camera body can’t do it without losing in quality). Which means you will sooner than later have to put a slow speed. You need to be stable to avoid blurry pictures. So, bring a tripod or a monopod with you, or find a flat spot (a stone for instance) where you can put your camera.
  • Aperture : Most of the time, for landscape pictures, you will use an aperture between f/8 and f/11 to get more details of the scene into focus. However, if you want to capture a moving piece (the puffins for instance) you may need to increase your speed, and, as a result, put a wider aperture.
  • White balance : The warmer your white balance, the more orange your picture will look. The colder, the bluer. By playing with it, you can highlight the atmosphere of the scene.
  • Nikon Picture Control (Picture Syles for Canon): These are Nikon built-in presets and a great tool to change the parameters directly on the camera, instead of later on the computer. Preset profiles include Neutral, Portrait, Vivid, etc. Each of them encompasses items to optimise pictures : contrast, clarity, brightness, saturation. I have customized each profile to my liking. I tend to shoot a lot in « Vivid ». This way, when my pictures get out of the camera, they will require less, or even none, editing.

Quick Travel Tips

  • In summer times, the days are particularly long in Iceland. This is the Midnight Sun. It can feel quite strange but it is also amazing to be out at 11pm with a relatively light sky. It gives extra time for sightseeing with fewer travelers around ! Bring a sleep mask with you if you struggle to fall asleep with light.
  • Even tough you are here in summer, it can get pretty chilly, especially with the wind. Have layers and some warm clothes with you !
  • As always with that type of places, it can get crowded as it is increasingly popular. Come for sunrise, for sunset, and you will start avoiding the busses.
  • If you don’t have a guide, you will likely drive on your own. This means a lot of driving and planning ahead. So make sure you are well prepared (next fuel stations, snacks, check the roads which may be closed due to snow, even in summer).
  • As always, you will learn a lot by having a guide with you. Our guide was Icelandic and knew the place like his pocket. There are a lof of stories, legends, which are great to be aware of. Similarly, having a photographer, someone who already knows the right spots, the hidden gems, will be extremely valuable, on top of learning photography tips. Patrick Dieudonne was our photographer guide. I would highly recommend him. Also Alexandre Deschaumes, a friend, and an artist I really admire, regularly organises photo trips there

Salar de Uyuni Discovery

Salar de Uyuni Discovery

Pictures from Salar de Uyuni are the main reason why I wanted to visit Bolivia. During a 3-week trip in the country, I discovered much more than that, so many other landscapes which deserve to be visited as well and which will deserve their own article in the future. But let’s focus first on the Salar.
Salt work
Salar, here we come !
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt desert, spreading over more than 10 thousands km2. It used to be a lake before the water slowly evaporated. This salt flat lies at above 3,650 meters above sea level. Layers of salt crust cover the ground, up to 10 meters depth. Beneath it : lithium reserve (the element needed for batteries for smart phones, laptops etc.).
When I travel across such amazing landscapes, I usually try to see them at sunrise and at sunset. The light, the atmosphere, the smells are different and will make it even more special. And, of course, from a photography point of view, it will be better as well.
Our driver kindly (and unwillingly) accepted to drive us on a small island before sunrise. He left us a few meters away from the island. It was pitch dark. We were wondering why he didn’t come closer to the shore when our feet sunk deep into the salt crust. Fair enough, the 4×4 would have gotten trapped there….But good to know for later : we better watch where we put our feet ! The salt crust may not be as strong as it seems …
So we arrived on the small coral island with wet boots, wet socks and wet feet. But at least it was just the 2 of us, ready for sunrise and first look on the Salar, alone on the island. Alone but surrounded by hundreds of cactus. So we took our time to find our favorite spot, the most interesting cactus to have in the foreground, and we waited for the first lights of the day.
Cactus at the perfect location spotted

Beautiful early morning lights

And when the sun came, what a beautiful sight ! We gradually discovered the majestic Salar, lying endlessly in front of us, like an infinite white sea. Very far away we can see some mountains. There was no noice at all. No signs of human life. No car, no house, nothing. It was strickingly quiet. And peaceful. It is much more impressive in reality than on the pictures to be honest.
First lights over the Salar… ah yeah and and now we can see that water around the island where we should have not walked into…
White everywhere

Once the sun is out, we fully discovered the pure white plain of salt. We went there in August, so in Winter time, which is also the dry season. The flats were cracked into honeycomb-shape, quite interesting to capture with the camera. It gives a weird feeling to walk around on them. The ground looks like snow but it is as strong as a rock. It cracks under your feet. Salt crystals look like white grains of sand but they are all firmly stuck together. Almost impossible to remove just a tiny piece of it.

Honeycomb salt flats

During the rainy season (December-April), the water remains at the surface and transforms the flat into a large mirror. The landscape would be completely different, as well as the experience.

On Isla de Incahuasi
Thousands of cactus, in the middle of the Salar
This guy was taller than me
And isn’t surprising to find, in the middle of this harsh beautiful dry landscape, a few islands where cactus are thriving ? We visited later Isla Incahuasi and Isla del Pescado. Both islands are made of coral and are home to thousands of cactus. Most of them are 2 meters high, some can even reach 10 meters. Just to give some orders of magnitude, a cactus grows on average by one centimeter a year…
That’s pretty much the only main trace of life we have seen when we were on the salt flats. However, if you are lucky, you can also meet in this area foxes, and pink flamingos (early November).
Early enough came the time for the famous perspective photos. I hadn’t expected those shots to be so difficult to get! And we also hadn’t planned as much as we should have. We struggled with the focus, with the depth, we were getting tired really fast, the sun was really harsh. It was around 2 pm. But at least noone else was around and it was fairly simple to get the background we wanted without any disturbance (aka cars or other tourists). Maybe once in a while a jeep would drive really far away. But that’s pretty much it. It’s good we had our guide with us who knew some tricks. And he helped us kicking off the shooting session.
Polly pocket mode
Miniaturised model
Any simple object can turn into a good tool
With my partner in crime
Once we had some reasonably cool ones, we decided to use this amazing landscape for more traditional jumping pics. Have I already mentioned the altitude ? Well, if we had forgotten about it, our breadth reminded it us very clearly after a few jumps. We felt exhausted very fast !
Some karate moves
Some jumps
More jumps!
As we were shooting pictures of the Salar at the end of the day, under a very nice purplish light, our guide set up a table with an aperitif.
Always enjoying some close ups
Endless beautiful space just for our cameras !
Maybe all the tourists in a 3-day tour get that, but we were not expecting it.
Not only was it good and refreshing after a long day in the car, but our guide put some bolivian music and started to dance. He taught us the traditional moves and, in the blink of an eye, we were dancing with him.
Trying to get the moves right
Tadaaa! Surprise aperitif and snacks
In the beautiful sunset

Loved how tall our shadows turned at the end of the day!

I don’t think I will ever forget our laughs and smiles as the 3 of us were dancing at sunset. On the Salar.

If you want to see more pics from Bolivia, this is here.

Quick Photo Tips

If you visit the Salar, you likely want to get some perspective photos. While they look cool, they are not as easy as they may seem :

  • Plan ahead : you can be super creative here, but you may need the right props. If you look on the internet, you will find plenty of ideas. Some people are using toys, bottles etc. If you have a specific set up in mind, bring the items with you as it will be difficult to find them once you are out there ! Here are some ideas if you need inspiration.
  • Shoot close to the ground : it may be difficult – it is hot, the glare of the sun is disturbing etc. – but it will be easier to get the perspective when using props. Don’t hesitate to lie down on the salt !
  • You may need to place the 2 subjects really far from each other so the perspective works better. I was quite surpised by how far I had to go to make it work ! So one subject should be as close as possible from the camera, and the other subjects to be further in the distance.
  • The background : It should be only the landscape. Change the frame if you see cars or other people. That would ruin the effect.
  • The more the merrier : Someone to take the picture + at least one model + probably someone to help with the prop (water dropping etc.). It will be challenging to do that on your own. Your guide/drive may be experienced and turn to be a valuable photo assistant !

Quick Travel Tips

  • Weather is more favorable between July and October and most places will be open. While visiting in the rainy season seems quite attractive for the « mirror effect », our guide-driver recommended us to avoid that time of the year. He mentioned it is much more dangerous as you can get lost easily – to the point that he would not accept to drive any tourist there. On top of that, Isla Incahuasi is inaccessible. If you want more details on when to visit and see how the « mirror effect » looks like, this article is quite useful.
  • You may experience altitude sickness. When we reached the Salar, we had been in the area for 10 days already so we felt relatively ok. However, when we landed at the beginning of our trip, we struggled a lot (difficult to breath even for a small and easy walk etc.). It took us 4 days to adjust. So ideally, try to gradually adapt at heights 2-3 days before visiting the Salar or before hiking at high altitudes.
  • Days are warm but nights are (super freaking) cold. As soon as the sun is out, it is all about sunscreen and water. Don’t forget to drink a lot of water while you walk around the salar – especially when you do the perspective/horizon pictures : it may take a while, you may not feel the sun, but it is here and will kick you badly if you forget (let’s avoid getting sunstroke). While at nighttime…this is one of the trips were I was freezing the most ! Despite the layers or clothes. So make sure to bring scarf, gloves, thin layers, warm socks. Seriously.