I am finding this blog post a difficult one to write.  Not because I don’t know what to write but I don’t know what to leave out.

As I write this we are heading to our last port in Brazil and our time in the Amazon is all but over.  I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of the trip and where possible a few photographic hints and tips.  Although we have only been in the Amazon for one week there is so much to describe – it is almost overwhelming.

Real Life

A remote Amazonian home on the banks or the river Amazon

Let me start at the beginning with this image of a dwelling on the banks of the Amazon, it something of a special image to me, it shows an Amazonian man, climbing into his boat with a member of his family waving him off.  It was taken using my 70-200mm lens plus 2x converting giving me an effective focal length of 400mm.  To hand hold it I pushed the ISO up to 1600 so that I could shoot a 1/640s.

The reason this image is special is for two reasons it is the first time I saw any people in the Amazon, and secondly, unlike some of the places we visited it is real – we sailed past in a couple of minutes.  What I captured here was real life, not a show put on for the tourists.

Animal Life

A large Amazonian beetle

A large Amazonian beetle

That evening the ship was invaded – by all kinds of insects.  The most memorable for me was a very large beetle, the likes of which I have never seen before.  It was sitting in a very dark corner of the ship with almost no ambient light.  To photograph it, I set up an off camera flash reflecting off a small studio umbrella.  The whole thing attached to the top of my tripod as I haven’t brought any lighting stands with me.

This lighting set up was effective and avoided the usual harsh shadows that I would have got had I used an on-camera flash.  The only problem I came across was how to show the size of the beetle.  There was nothing near it that gave any sense of scale, in the end, my solution was to place my iPhone 6 next to it, as you can see in this image.

A bat sleeping on a speaker on the MV Magellan

The next morning I found another visitor on the ship:  a bat, sleeping on one of the seekers on the upper deck.  At the time the only camera I had with me was my iPhone, given that restriction I am pleased with the image I was able to capture.  Thus proving the old saying that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Forest Life

Trees in Tapajos National Forest (Amazon rainforest), near Santarem, Brazil

At our first port of call Santarem, I was fortunate enough to be escorting passengers on a trip to Tapajos National Forest.  I realised pretty quickly that it is almost impossible to convey the size and density of the rainforest in a photograph.  I had several attempts, the above shot with a wide angle lens was about the best I achieved.  My conclusion was that I may not be able to show the vastness of the forest but I can show the details and this butterfly on a branch was one such attempt.  Shot with my 70-200mm lens, I kept the lens at its widest aperture f/2.8 to get as much light as possible into the image, but also to throw the background out of focus.

An Amazonian moth in Tapajos National Forest (Amazon rainforest), near Santarem, Brazil

The highlight of my visit to the rainforest I was not able to photograph, as we were coming to the end of our trek, the heavens opened and intense heavy, but warm rain came flooding down.  I am normally happy to work with my camera in most raining conditions using just a bar towel to protect it, however, this was like standing under a drencher shower and I had no option but to put the camera away in the back and deploy its rain cover.  While it was disappointing that I could not photograph the rain,  I will always remember standing in the rainforest with rain coming down completely soaked to the skin and grinning thinking:  “I am in the Amazon rainforest and it is raining and it is wonderful!”

Indian Life

Our next stop was to Boca da Valeria.  This was supposed to an authentic Indian village.  For anyone who doesn’t know the term ‘Indian’ is used here to refer to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and unlike in America where the term is not politically correct, here the term is used and embraced by the Amazonian tribes.

What we saw in Boca da Valeria was really a show put on for the tourists, children (and some adults) dressing in traditional costumes, frequently holding animals such as sloths, parrots or monkeys.  For some passengers, they felt this was all artificial and possibly exploitative of the children and animals.

For me, I saw it as a show based on Amazon Indian life and a chance for the community to earn some money from wealthy western tourists.  In that sense, it was not much different to any other tourist destination.  The economy was very simple that day – the children or often their parents asked for one dollar in return for being photographed.  Before I parted with any money I walked round the village and decided with animals and people I wanted to photograph.  I then made sure I had sufficient dollar bills in my pocked away from the rest of my cash and worked my way back around the village to make my images.

Of course, it wasn’t just the animals and costumed people that interested me.  I also took the chance to photograph a couple who were looking out of their window watching the hordes of tourists walking past.  They did look a little surprised to be asked but I made sure I paid them a dollar as I did all the other subjects that day.

City Life

Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon region.  It also has a crime problem.  Visits there come with warnings about leaving valuable on the ship and not wearing any jewellery.  Shortly after getting off the ship I heard of a phone being snatched (not sure if it was a local or tourist) and the police advising tourists to avoid the market area.  As a result of all this I wasn’t able to relax into my photography and struggled to create the images I wanted to make.

One of the better images is this one of the Opera House, which has been enhanced in Nik Efex Color Efex Pro to bring out the colour and the details.

Beach Life

As I write this our most recent port was Alter do Chao.  Alter do Chao was a surprising location as it is a beach resort in the middle of the Amazon.  It looked and felt like a typical seaside village with boats on the beach, tables with parasols on the sand and plenty of ‘seafront’ bars.  I found it really hard to believe at times that we were hundreds of miles from the coast of Brazil.

Alter do Chao was also where I got to go for a swim in the Amazon.  I don’t have a ‘bucket list’ but if I did I am sure swimming in the Amazon would be on there somewhere.  Ok, to be strictly accurate, it’s a tributary leading into the Amazon, not the actual river itself.  But this is MY (non-existent) bucket list so I’m counting it.


It was also a chance to create a couple of images in the water using my GoPro my favourite is this shot of one of my fellow passengers making a photograph of me, making a photograph of him.  The colour and clarity have been boosted in Lightroom, but for once I like the subject being in the centre because of the symmetry of the image.

Thanks for taking the time to read this travelogue blog post, I hope you found the images and the commentary behind them both interesting and helpful.

Until next time, keep MAKING great photographs,


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