Salar de Uyuni - by Daniel Ernst
The Salt Flats of Bolivia
Easily one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, the Uyuni Salt Flats or El Salar de Uyuni, is a huge area northwest of the small town of Uyuni in Bolivia. Laying on 3.656 meters the salt flats vary very little in height, in fact no more than one meter which makes it super interesting for photography - endless, crystalline, eye-bleaching whiteness of salt, and equally endless sky above with a reflection that leaves you with a feeling of being in an alien landscape.
The mirror-like reflection between the sky and the standing will make you lose all sense of perspective and it seems like the sky goes on forever.
It's a perfect place to shoot minimalism and photos that play with ones' mind. That said, it is super important to have an subject during the shoot. Otherwise your photo will look too empty or too minimal.
When to visit the Salar de Uyuni is a difficult decision and it requires a good sense of timing. In general, dry season might be best as during rain season some of the routes across the flats can become impassable. The downside of this season is the lack of water on the flats, meaning that you won't be able to shoot reflections. Instead you are able to photograph interesting patterns of dried salt lining up up to the horizon. We took the right time when rain season got to an end but it was still enough water on the salt flats to get beautiful reflections. This is in my opinion the best time to visit and the most beautiful time for photographers. Unlike most other places, another key element when going to the Salt Flats is to be there before sunrise and before sunset. This will maximize your chances for no wind, thus a perfect reflection will probably occur.
At night time the Salt Flats turn into a paradise for night lovers and star shooters. The large distance to any town turn this place pitch black during the night.
While during nights the water surface also acts like a mirror you will have an incredible mirrored image of the milky way in your shots and you can achieve photos in which it appears that the milky way continues throughout the horizon. Together with the low light pollution the stars appear even more sparkling and much brighter. Unfortunately we had full moon on our visit, thus the stars did not pop out that much - the perfect shot in this case requires careful planing as well.
In case you are owning a drone, this is a perfect place to pack it out and send it into the air. From above you can play better with the horizon and frame your subjects in the flats. With the right drone you can swap lenses to a standard lens (25mm PRO f1.2 for example) to isolate your subject more from the wide landscape.
Before visiting the Salt Flats:
• Decide whether you want to go in dry season or in rain season. Be aware of the positive and negative points about the two seasons
• Find a tour operator that leaves enough time to take photographs, e.g. look for a dedicated photography tour
• Bring both warm clothes and sunscreen (!!!)
Good to know for shooting:
• Play around with perspectives. Climb up onto the car and get a lower horizon. In contrast, go really low onto the flats to get a higher horizon.
• Put different motives in your shot. Go with a friend that can act as a model, use people or cars standing at the horizon.
• Bring a tripod if you plan to shoot stars.
The gear that I used in the salt flats were my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II along with the M.Zuiko 7‑14mm f2.8 Pro and the Zuiko 40‑150mm f2.8 Pro lenses. This combination gave me the best possibilities to get wide angle shots of the whole area and and to go really close to frame distant people standing on the horizon. Also the weather sealing of these two lenses made me think less about my gear during the shooting. While being in the Salt Flats (especially in rain season) your whole clothes will be covered in salt - and so all your gear will be splashed by salt water.