Through the lens

Chile offers once-in-a-lifetime wildlife photography expeditions

Join Jean Paul de la Harpe on journeys into the wild, from Patagonia to the Atacama, and learn how to photograph flora and fauna from an expert. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012 Category: Daily life
A Burrowing Owl. According to de la Harpe, raptors are among the hardest subjects to capture in wild A Burrowing Owl. According to de la Harpe, raptors are among the hardest subjects to capture in wildlife photography. Photo courtesy of Jean Paul de Harpe. All Rights Reserved.

Few people know the Chilean wilderness better than Jean Paul de la Harpe. A trained biologist and professional photographer, this Santiago native spends more than 100 days of every year in various wild areas around the country, studying animal behavior, and honing the photography skills he has worked on for more than twenty years.


“For wildlife photography, Chile is unlike anywhere in the world,” de la Harpe told ThisisChile. “The environments around the country are so drastically different. You have to employ such a range of techniques to make an album that fully captures the soul of the country. I think you could spend your whole life photographing Chile and still encounter new subjects.”


De la Harpe says the reason he got into photography in the first place was because he wanted to take Chile’s wildlife to a wider audience. It that same spirit, de la Harpe began teaching wildlife photography in Chile a decade ago. Today he offers monthly courses and expeditions in wildlife photography, where people of all skill levels can learn about animal behaviour and the theory, technique, and practicalities of the discipline.


“Learning about the way animals behave is such an important part of wildlife photography,” de la Harpe said. “You can be a great technician, but if you have not studied how to be in the right place at the right time, you are not going to get the images you want. When looking at some of my pictures, people often say to me, ‘You were so lucky to get that shot!’ but it’s not luck. It’s takes hours of patience and research.”


Through his company Abtao, de la Harpe offers two-week courses once a month. These consist of five classroom-based theory lessons, and a day trip to a destination in close proximity to Santiago. Trips have included the mountains of Cajón del Maipo, the beaches of Los Molles, and the forests of Parque Nacional La Campana.


For the more adventurous experience, Abtao offers workshop expeditions that focus purely on field skills. These range from day trips to areas near the capital, to seven-day excursions in Chilean Patagonia or Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert.


“For most photographers in Chile, the Atacama is one of the best places to work. The geology is amazing, and when you do find life out there it is so starkly contrasted by the harsh desert that surrounds it,” de la Harpe said. “And Patagonia is one of the world’s last remaining true wilderness areas.”


The two-week course is for beginners. Class sizes are between 6-8 people, and students should bring their own cameras. The courses cost around US$180 (CLP90,000). The next course begins on November 19.


One-day expeditions occur monthly and start at around US$80 (CLP40,000), travel included. Seven-day trips occur every two to three months and cost up to US$1,000 (CLP500,000), which includes travel and accommodation. Expeditions are for all skill levels, and equipment is not provided.


Expeditions are for both Spanish and English speakers, and Abtao can also design tailor-made expeditions for large groups. For more information, visit the Abtao website.


We’ll be featuring a range of de la Harpe’s photography on our Facebook page and Twitter account over the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more!

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