It strikes me that not too many foreign visitors ever think of exploring Mexico’s many mountains. Other than the handful who come here specifically to do so. I must confess, it didn’t really occur to me to try and climb one for the first few years. Probably due to the assumption that this is very much a specialist endeavor. I can pinpoint the moment I thought to look into it. We were driving to Oaxaca, and out of the window was Iztaccihuatl, looking large above the horizon. I stared at Izta a long while and wondered, ‘How hard can it be?’
Back in December, the 26th to be precise, I set off with some friends to climb the Nevado de Toluca. I’d been before, but the mountain had been so thickly clad in fog that my photos were a little bit…well, foggy. I was armed with my Olympus Digital Pen this time though, and the season was just right. I’d get better shots on this trip.
Having driven about an hour, I got my camera out to take a photo of something. I don’t remember what. I just remember the sinking feeling as I realised that the camera wasn’t packing a memory card. I’d left it at home. Disaster.
We stopped at an Oxxo convenience store for drinks and chocs, and I had a little look to see if they had any SD memory cards. I thought probably not. I dreaded the price if they did. It turned out that a little counter mounted plastic box did have a 4gb microSD card hiding inside. That would work. The price? Sadly, more than I had on me. A hefty 264 pesos.
One of my friends must have seen the disappointment on my face. A loan was arranged. And paid back, I should add. I resented paying so much for something so cheap in the US, but it turned out to be one of my best financial investments of 2010. Plus, I got a load of great photos.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from one of the largest publishing groups in the States. Could they use a couple of my photos for an inflight magazine they were publishing? Sure you can, I said. I
often always ask not for money, but for a copy of the magazine or book. I like to see my photos in print. But I’ve been published now. More than once. The novelty has worn off. So I asked the question. How much do you pay?
The cheque came through today, for two photographs taken on that trip to the Nevado de Toluca. The photo below was one of them. This was the other. Combined, they earned me just a few cents short of $200. That’s US dollars, not Mexican pesos. They asked if they could use me as a resource again. After all, I do have a catalogue of thousands upon thousands of photos from all across Mexico. My reply was something along the lines of ‘damn bloody right you can’. Well. Ask a silly question…
You’re lucky and unlucky if you find yourself at or near the peak of a mountain with not a cloud in sight. Mountains generate their own climate and clouds seem drawn to them like candy floss to a stick. You don’t want to be totally enveloped by mist and be unable to see more than a few feet in front of you. But then again, some white clouds licking the side of the crater, occasionally forcing their way in can be visually spectacular.
We got just the right balance on Sunday up the Nevado de Toluca. Unfortunately I didn’t feel terribly brilliant after the previous days feasting and didn’t get as many shots as I’d liked to have. But I did get one promising photo of some thunderous looking clouds pounding the side of the mountain, looking for a way in. A definite candidate for HDR manipulation.
A proper HDR photograph involves taking three, or more, photos at different exposures and merging them together. The effect can be dramatic. Or suck. My efforts often fit into the latter category. You really do have to pick the subject carefully. Not all photos are ripe for the HDR treatment.
An alternative to the three image HDR is a pseudo-HDR image, which many HDR programs can produce from a single photo. That is normally the route I take. That’s what I did with the photo I took at the Nevado. I tried two different programs – HDR Express (bottom image) and Dynamic Photo HDR (top image).
I got a much better result from Dynamic Photo. HDR Express, at all the setting I experimented with, failed to bring out the clouds quite as well. Instead, I ended up settling for the ‘Vintage HDR’ setting. Which has its charm, but can be reproduced using normal filters pretty easily.
Seeing as the Boxing Day holiday doesn’t exist in Mexico, I had to find something else to do. Climbing a mountain seemed as good an idea as any. I’ve climbed the Nevado de Toluca before, but the conditions were much kinder this time. We could actually see more than six feet in front of us. Which was nice. Not least because the landscapes are stunning.
The mountain is an extinct or dormant volcano, whose last major eruption, many, many thousands of years ago, filled much of what is now Mexico City with several feet of debris. Click here to see the full photo set in Flickr.