Mining shoot Lima, Peru

I must say it was quite a pleasure to hear that we would be travelling to Peru to shoot stills and video for a Canadian mining company and escape winter for a week.  Our assignment would take us to photograph some of the lifestyle of the city of Lima and then into the Andes mountains to shoot the mine site and surrounding community. One of the challenges of shooting in the mountains would be working at almost 12 000 feet and the risk of altitude sickness.  An uncomfortable condition caused by the body holding onto additional fluids in the brain amongst other areas.  This leads to dizziness, insomnia, headaches and disorientation.  At the very least you are constantly out of breath at the mildest exertion causing you to move slowly and cautiously.  Simple things like lifting your camera bag and hefting it onto your shoulder leave you breathless.  We were given a course of medication by our travel clinic to combat any symptoms of altitude sickness which I begrudgingly took as I loathe chemicals in my body. However considering I would only be in the mountains for 3 days faced with a very full shooting schedule I could not afford losing time to not feeling well.

Travelling to another country to shoot contains many challenges ranging from obtaining visas to enter and work in another country, insurance for your equipment, customs documents to leave your own country and enter a foreign country, medical vaccinations, language barriers and last but not least which of my many items of equipment shall I pack. We always need to pack light to minimize baggage costs and also to stay light and manoeuvrable while in the field. This always hard as you want to take everything you might need to get that great shot but you just can't.  You have to slim down the gear to the absolute essentials. For this trip we would take our 4 battery operated lights as well as some on camera flash, stills and video tripod and 3 camera bodies and primary lenses.  I always ensure that the cameras travel with us as carry on luggage together with some on camera flash and the big equipment is carefully packed in sturdy pelican travel cases, this way if our luggage does not arrive at destination I have enough equipment to shoot with in a worst case scenario way.

So after numerous preparatory emails and conference calls arranging our shoot and required support we arrived after a 8 hour flight to a warm and friendly Lima. Thanks to excellent ground support from the company we breazed through customs with our equipment and were on our way to our hotel.  Driving in Lima is NUTS!  I have travelled to many countries France, Italy, Cambodia, Vietnam, Carribean, Africa but I must say driving in Lima appeared to be some bizzare orchestration of automotive gladiators all competing for the same spot in the road.  I am confused as to why there are white lines on the roads as no one pays attention to them instead drivers push, honk, squeeze and create four lanes of traffic where you and I could have sworn there was only supposed to be two. So with a wry smile and a slightly elevated heart rate I arrived at my hotel and fought hard to refrain from kissing the ground in front of the welcoming doorman.

Our first day of shooting was in the companies new offices.  We had to shoot numerous office lifestyle shots, some headshots and some video interviews. All went well including a heavenly lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Interestingly Peruvian cuisine is influenced by Spanish ( obviously ), Italian, Chinese and Japanese culture as immigrants to the country substituted local ingredients in their traditional foods, the most famous being cerviche, the raw fish dish served in Lime juice and drawing from Japanese sushi.  This dish has its roots in chinese food but looks a bit like faijita.

Time to head to the mountains.  After a 5am start to get to our charter flight and check in our equipment at the airlines cargo division we were finally airborne and on our way to the mountains.  We had to carefully specify our equipment dimensions and weight to ensure that we were within the limits of our twin engined Piper Cheyenne.  The take off from Yauri airport in the mountains is especially concerning as it is the worlds highest airport at 11 500 feet.  At this altitude aircraft lose half of their engine thrust, so how much weight we are carrying is pretty critical.  After weighing our luggage at check in we had to climb on the scale too, to provide our exact weight contribution.  Yep. I was glad the check in agent was the only one who could see the scales weights.

After a one and half hour flight we started our descent through the clouds into Yauri. The descent from 25 000 feet was pretty hairy with the pilots wrestling a bucking bronco as the aircraft banked, yawed and dropped wildly through the turbulent mountain air currents.  I do confess a little bead of sweat rolled down my brow as the runway danced seductively in front of our gyrating aircraft.  Our wild descent smoothed our dramatically as we got close to the ground and abruptly we were on the ground and rolling towards the end of the runway where a collection of the mines vehicles and personnel were waiting to greet us. We later learned that some of these people were there to check the runway for stones as well as form up along the runway to prevent animals from running in front of the plane as it landed at 200 mph. Nice! Present too were a doctor and a paramedic who immediately, after us collecting our baggage from the plane, sat us down checked our blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. We were declared fit and the convoy of vehicles formed up on us ready to head into the mountains.

The drive along single lane tarred roads took us from a gentle valley passed Yauri and slowly wound up into the mountains.  

With each curve in the road the unfolding view became more and more spectacular and I am sure I drove the convoy crazy asking to stop frequently so that I could shoot the many stunning landscapes.

On arrival at the mine site we were shown to our spartan but comfortable rooms.  Each room was equipped with two single beds a wash basin, shared adjoining bathroom and a small electrical heater.  My first night ended up being quite a chilly one as I could not get my heater to plug in.  No worries I thought, I'll sleep in my fleece longs with a T-shirt.  I figured I would be warm under my double layer of Alpaca wool blankets.  Whew ever slept under two Alpaca wool blankets? Its like the Alpaca itself was sleeping on me all night.  Heavy!  I was relatively warm though except for the bits that stuck out of course. 

After an afternoon of shooting we had dinner in the camp kitchen of lamb stew and spicy mustard potatoes.  Delicious.  Did you know that Peru has almost 4000 different kinds of potatoes?  The food in the camp was varied and very tasty, I have to say I enjoyed every meal.  The kitchen crew were highly professional in preparing excellent meals to the highest standards of taste and hygiene.

Driving around the mine site required an experienced 4x4 driver as the rocky dirt roads were pitted and scoured by rainfall. Getting up to a vantage point to shoot down on the mine camp was a bone jarring, organ rattling experience.  The view however was worth it.

Our last day proved tough to shoot as dark clouds moved in turning into  heavy rains.  I chose to use our time to shoot some indoor geology shots. The light in the core shack was pretty good so with my assistant holding a portable strobe we got some great shots of the geologists and workers examining and sorting core samples.

With not much time left in our day I realised we also needed some happy working people shots.  I noticed a shed we had shot in the day before had some great window light and the walls provided an interesting backdrop.  Using the natural light and a little fill light we coralled a few "happy" workers and got some great interacting people shots out of the location.

With very little time left we still had to shoot some shots of the community relations people interacting with the community and leave for the drive to Yauri to meet up with our plane. I sensed the drivers where getting anxious as  fog was beginning to roll into the hills. While I finished off a few more shots of the camp my assistant packed up our gear and the driver pulled up to grab me and my tripod to head into the community.  To my dismay it had started to rain again and quite steadily.  This was going to be hard to shoot people outside in their environment.  I had given my guide Carlos strict instructions as to what I was looking for as we had less than 45 minutes to get our shot and head for the airport.  I wanted the community relations person talking to someone in traditional dress outside one of those quaint little thatched houses surrounded by stone walls.  After another bone jarring drive into the hills we pulled up on a steep slope where a dozen or so people dressed in safety helmets, overalls and yellow rain ponchos were clearing a drill site....  not what I was looking for and now we had used up almost 20 minutes of our 45 available minutes.  After a quick exchange between myself the guide and relations person we headed back into the village which was a loose collection of concrete houses some in various stages of construction or disarray. Not pretty.  I now had less than 10 minutes of time lefy and one of the convoy vehicles pulled up asking whats going on and pointing to his watch.  Our driver assured him we would be leaving shortly.  Great.  I realised I was not going to get my ideal shot and now the rain was pelting down.  Our community relations person waved us over to an un assuming concrete house with a blue metal door.  I tucked my camera under my jacket and and ran over to the house.  Inside a pretty, young woman from the Chillaroya community was talking to our community relations person.  With less than 5 minutes to get the shot and move out with our anxious convoy my mind raced for a good shot.  I connected the beautiful blue hat she was wearing to her door of a similar colour and asked her to move out of the dark interior of the house into the soft light of the doorway .... and got my shot.  Whew.  Close one.


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