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Sunrise from Indian Nose in Lake Atitlan

I’ve been waiting a long time for this shot from the Indian Nose Trail, overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. 3 volcanoes line the shore of this beautiful lake, and it is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. Join me as I take you along  from start to finish, in what is to-date, my favorite and most rewarding image I’ve had the pleasure of creating.

I woke up at 3:00am, stumbled out of bed, gathered all my gear and headed out the door. I walked from our B&B Casa Lobo, making the 30 minute walk into the charming town of San Pedro La Laguna. This town, and Guatemala in general, gets a bad rap about safety. But I walked at 3:15am, for 30 minutes, alone and carrying a backpack full of expensive camera gear and a tripod sticking out the side. Not a single issue. The only people out were gringos smoking or going on the hike with me.

I met my guide, Pedro, at the boat dock where we waited for a chicken bus to take us to the trailhead. The bus was mostly travelers, either heading to Indian Nose or to Santa Clara, the small town just past the trail. I chatted with Pedro and another guide on the hour long ride about what to expect.

We arrived at the trailhead, jumped off the bus, grabbed our headlamps, and began walking in the dark through some farm fields along a dirt trail. After about 15 minutes, we got to the spot where it was straight up hill. It was fairly challenging, but doable. We stopped about 3 times on the 15 minute vertical climb for water. We arrived at the “first summit,” where we stopped and caught our breath. What a great view. But we had about 5 more minutes of climbing to get to the top lookout or “mirador.”

It was about 5:30am, and the sunrise was due in about 45 minutes. We could see the lights from the towns of San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago way in the distance! I set up my tripod on the front of the lookout, ensuring I’d get the best view and pictures, hehe. I set up my camera, threw on my lens, and started taking pictures of this beautiful lake.  You could barely see at first, but the magnificent views of San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman were peaking out from the clouds below. Truly extraordinary.

I set my aperture at f/9, and had my lens focused to infinity because everything in the frame was far away. This first image you see on this article is a 2 shot panorama at 24mm. I shoot fully manual, so my ISO was at 64, the lowest native setting for my Nikon D810,  and my shutter speed to slightly under expose for the sky by 2/3 of a stop.

The next picture you will see here is right as the sun rose above the clouds. The sunrises here are unique. Because of the haze, the sun’s brightness is diffused quite a bit, making it a round orange ball that looks pretty cool.

Mayan Sunrise1.jpg

Once I had my fill of pictures, my guide and I walked back down to the trailhead, where I assumed we would catch the chicken bus back to San Pedro. Well, I was wrong. We got to the place where the bus dropped us off, but we just kept on walking. Then, he started to jog. Of course, monkey see monkey do, so I followed right behind him. He spotted an old Toyota pickup truck driving up and picking up a few guys on the side of the road. Pedro flagged them down and we just jumped in the back! The pickup had a welded cage around the bed that you had to stand up and hold on to. I swear. We rode the whole way back down, dropping from about 9,000ft in elevation, to about 5,000ft at the lake level over the next hour. So there I am, with 4 Guatemalans, standing up for an hour in the back of this truck, going around sharp turns, over potholes, passing bigger trucks full of pigs, tuk tuks, and trying to comprehend what was happening.

I found out later that those trucks drive from town to town, and you can just jump on, get to where you’re going, tap the hood and jump off, giving them 5 Quetzales(less than a dollar). I can say at this point and time that the story, along with the anticipation, and the luck of the weather, made this my most memorable shot to date. If you ever go to Lake Atitlan, this is definitely a must do. You won’t ever forget it.

Equipment: Nikon D810

Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 Lens

MeFoto Backpacker Tripod

Manfrotto   XPRO ballhead

Planning a Photography Trip


photographers ephemeris plan photography app apps     I recently went out to Canyon Lake here in Arizona to shoot some star trails at about 3am. I got to the place I wanted to shoot, set up, and realized I forgot my wireless trigger! So guess what I had to do? Yep, I had to sit there and manually snap the shutter about a hundred times back to back to back, because I was unprepared.

Even if you’re a beginner, I can assume you have a similar story about forgetting an important piece of gear, or not charging your battery. Well, as I write this, I’m preparing to leave tomorrow night on a 12 day trip to Guatemala! So I felt it appropriate to write about this very important subject for us photographers. Now I won’t spend too much time on the obvious, like passports, clothes, etc. I want to talk about the importance of details like equipment, making lists, knowing about your destination, and logistics.

I’ll start with the obvious, equipment. Since I will be going for 12 days, batteries and chargers are paramount. After some research, I found out that the hotel my girlfriend Brittany and I are staying at, in Tikal National Park, turns off the power at night and periodically throughout the day. I guess that’s the way it goes when you’re staying deep in the Mayan Jungle! So I am making sure I have 4 full batteries, my Nikon battery grip with a secondary AA battery insert, 8 rechargeable AA batteries, GoPro Hero 5(for my first YouTube video), Karma Grip, lenses, tripod and ballhead, filters and wireless trigger.

Since I plan on flying, I had to find out all the airline and FAA regulations on batteries, storage and camera gear. Just a heads up, you can not have free floating batteries in your checked bag. You can have spare batteries in your carry on, so long as they are separated in their own container. You have to eliminate the possibility of the batteries touching and shorting out. I went on Amazon and bought AA cases and a Think Tank DSLR battery case.

The next part I want to tell you about is planning your actual shoots. This involves using apps and the good ol’ internet to plan out all the little details of your trip. Google maps is a great starting point for finding good locations to shoot from. Now if you plan weeks or months ahead, the weather is hard to predict. However, its good to know what you’re getting into a few days before you go. My favorite weather app is WeatherBug. It’s accurate and even tells you the closest lightning strikes for all you storm chasers. The next app that I use religiously is The Photographers Ephemeris(TPE). Its a pay app on Google and Apple stores($4.99). The desktop app is free. It tells you the times of sunrise and sunset, moon rise and moon set, civil, nautical and astronomical twilight, and which way the sun and moon rise and set( See top left image). SkyView is also a good one for astrophotography.

The last thing I will say is make a list a few weeks ahead of time. Write everything down. Add or subtract to it later. You may realize you need to jump on Amazon and order cases, batteries or chargers. You may need a smaller backpack for a carry on, or use those apps to see where you want to shoot, and get a hotel near there that doesn’t turn the power off at night!

Now we’ve prepared ourselves, got every last detail covered, our gear packed, our list checked,  50 extra batteries and our passports, lets cross our fingers and hope the weather doesn’t hate us…