Why Photography Was so Challenging in Mexico

See those speakers in the background...?
See those speakers in the background…?

One of the real challenges during my recent trip was photography itself (well, taken the language barrier aside). I had been prepared to take some awesome shots of traditional Mexican costumes, some exciting snaps of people on the streets, and of course breath-taking pictures of landscapes, beautiful colors of the houses and what not. But after a few days of being there I had re-evaluate my goals: Being a photographer in Mexico would be much more challenging than this!

The first “problem” I encountered was when my camera of choice simply gave up about a week before I was supposed to go on the trip. Yup, that’s right, the Canon T3i wouldn’t work and after bringing it into a repair store the only option was to send it to Canon since it was still under warranty – luckily.
Anyone who has done this before knows that it takes about 2 weeks until they return it so I was quite bummed about not being able to use it. Luckily I had a backup camera in my old but faithful Canon XT, which has around 8 megapixels (a crushing fall from the previous 18 megapixels) but has proven to be quite solid over time. The only problem with it was that the screen was a bit small and didn’t give much feedback on how a picture turned out.

Now, getting used to the new old gear took some time by itself but eventually I had more troubles adjusting to the light conditions than anything.

Guadalajara lies in a dry climate, meaning humidity was not so much of an issue. What did indeed comprise a problem was the glaring sun coming down at almost every time of day except for sunset. That’s right, even when avoiding those all-so-dreaded times between noon and 3 PM, I still had to fight the intense sunlight at 6 o’clock at night. The result? Washed out images, harsh shadows, and an unflattering picture in altogether. Boy, was I disappointed in the first few days!

Great motive but can you see a sky?!
Great motive but can you see a sky?!

After traveling to Guanajuato and San Miguel, I was able to shoot early in the morning or late at night. But another problem followed immediately: How is it possible to enjoy your traveling when you are constantly worrying about getting or missing that one shot? It is not possible!

So I had to set my priorities straight: I would either enjoy a great trip or I had to focus most of my energy on shooting. In both cities I devoted my time to walking around for one hour a day by myself and just seeing life as was in both locations. This also meant that I had to get up earlier than the other girls or miss out on an opportunity of dining with them. It did have advantages. Having to wait on them or them having to wait on me seemed more nerve-wrecking than setting my own pace and shooting as I went along. So in this case it worked out fine. In Guadalajara not so much, as I was always with one of my friends who were my designated tour guides.

Nothing special about this one
Nothing special about this one

A fourth problem was simply the tourist part: How to shoot candid images of Mexico’s everyday life if I am only traveling to tourist sites? This is why most of my images turned out to be from well-known landmarks and parts everyone is familiar with. The approach also goes hand in hand with a sense of comfort and awareness. Mexico is not the safest country in the world. Hence, going to poorer neighborhoods could prove to be dangerous (a risk neither my friends nor I were willing to take).

Severely cropped image of a girl celebrating her 15 years.
Severely cropped image of a girl celebrating her 15 years.

Then of course there was the language barrier and not knowing if I was able to take a picture of this activity or that person without being called out or having my camera destroyed. When getting this shot from a basket weaver in Tlaquepaque, I asked the lady beforehand. She said I was only allowed to if I were to buy one of her items. I ended up purchasing a wooden spoon for 5 pesos and snapped this image of her, not too bad after all.

5 pesos picture
5 pesos picture

Between gauging if this site was too touristy but another site was too dangerous, it also turned out to be pretty hard to enjoy myself with the camera challenges in my head. After noticing how stressed out I became and how this influenced my friend’s attitude as well (no one wants to get crap for showing a tourist around, simply put), I decided to give it a break and just shoot what came in my way.
And some night pictures did indeed turn out quite well. But Mexico also seems to have a short sunset and blue-hour-sky, so be prepared for this if you ever plan on getting cityscapes at night.

Night photography in Guanajuato
Night photography in Guanajuato

Overall, I think I made the best of my trip and I am very grateful for having had two awesome tour guides (as in friends) who were very patient in showing me around.

Luckily I didn’t have the problem my friend fought with in Tulum: His camera fogged up entirely because of the high humidity in the South of Mexico. So, unlike him, I was still able to get quite a few shots while he had to simply give up after his first day. I feel for everyone who has to go through this fail!

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