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Machu Picchu: Painting With light
2007-03-05 18:04:44 [ Big Normal Small ] Comment
  Perched on a barely accessible Peruvian mountain flank and reclaimed by vegetation, Machu Picchu was stumbled upon in 1911 by Yale teacher and adventurer Hiram Bingham. It was only when he returned to the cleared site that he realised its significance. Dating from the late 14th Century, it had clearly been a royal city of the Incas. He observed that “this beautifully preserved sanctuary had obviously never felt the tramp of a conquistador’s boot.” The citadel features a huge rock alter carved to precisely catch the rays of the rising sun on the morning of the June solstice. It is also surrounded on three sides by mountains, each of which is considered sacred by the Inca, making it as National Geographic puts it “a sacred geographic center”.
  The tour group I was travelling with (US based Wilderness Travel) had sole access to this site during our visit in1991, hence the lack of tourists evident when I took these two photos.


  Human figures are often useful in providing scale to architectural photos, but here the surrounding mountains do this. Indeed the sight of tourists would have diminished the sense of mystery. I took some time to scout for a suitable vantage point for my camera. As is my practice when satisfied with the selected vista, I then “bracketed” a half dozen shots around the apparently optimal exposure level indicated by my manually set Canon F1. I have shown two different exposures to demonstrate what an important component of a photo lighting is. Personally I prefer the darker pic displaying the deeper shadows. A 28mm lens was used to provide a wide angle view.
  Also contributing to the visual nostalgia is the chiaroscuro effect created by the dying sunlight. This painterly effect where light is contrasted with darkness was mastered by the Italian baroque painter Caravaggio and is also relevant to photography. In fact master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has commented that in his groundbreaking photography for Bertolucci’s The Conformist he drew specific inspiration from Caravaggio’s The Vocation of St Mathew. The contrast between shadows and light displayed in these two pics is as dramatic. For those fond of formulae I have since read that this contrast provides the compositional boost of intersecting diagonals i.e. of the slope and the shafts of light and shadow. Later I wandered around the ruins and was joined by this denizen!

  I was a happy photographer when I boarded the bus for Cuzco.
  CopyrightMark Berthold2007
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