Traveling to tell a Visual Story with Leonardo Carrizo

Our friend and local Columbus Photographer, Leonardo Carrizo, checks-in and takes our blog on a visual journey through Peru!

“The following images are from the Peru expedition and convey how traveling can take your photography to the next level.”

I am approaching eight years of teaching at The Ohio State University and I love it. I get to teach multimedia journalism, photojournalism and visual communication. All of these classes have the common element of storytelling with images and I have several cool assignments for the students to learn it (at least I think they are cool assignments). Teaching photography in a classroom is not the same as teaching photography skills in the field. Teaching in the field is a totally different experience and it is exactly what I get to do when I lead National Geographic Student Expeditions. This summer program is for high school students only and they can be from any part of the world. Last year I was able to lead two trips, one in Peru and one in Ecuador. The following images are from the Peru expedition and convey how traveling can take your photography to the next level.

I was the early leader to the Peru trip. This means that I was in the country a few days before the students arrived to make sure everything is set for our expeditions. Therefore, I flew to Cuzco and traveled to the other communities on our trip to confirm all the logistical details.

Ollantaytambo archeological site, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo
Ollantaytambo archaeological site, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo

Technical details:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Exposure: 1/800 sec;   f/6.3;   ISO 200

The photo above is a photo of the Ollantaytambo fortress made by the Incas. It wasn’t originally built to be a fortress but the Incas used it as a fortress when they were fighting the Spanish conquistadors. The town of Ollantaytambo is also a popular destination in the Inca’s Sacred Valley and the fortress is a must see archaeological site. You have to pay a fee to enter the archaeological site. I arranged to meet a local guide at the entrance and entered the site before they opened their doors to the public. I did this because I wanted the best morning light (golden hour) to make my image. Talking to the guide allowed me to know how the light was going to appear in the morning and where I could position myself to get a good angle. The sun was a very important part of the Inca culture and religion; it was their god. I think the way the light appears to shine on the fortress communicates that idea. To emphasize, I exposed for the building and allowed the rest of the image to be underexposed. This also created more contrast and attention to the brighter areas; in this case, the fortress.


Inti-Raymi celebration, Cusco, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo
Inti-Raymi celebration, Cusco, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo

Technical details:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Exposure: 1/640 sec;   f/4.0;   ISO 200

I was lucky to be in Cuzco for the biggest Inti Raymi celebration in the world. The Inti Raymi or sun festival is a religious Inca celebration since they worship the sun. It’s performed in several Latin-American countries but the biggest one is in the Cuzco, the Inca’s capital. It’s a very colorful celebration with hundreds people dressed in costumes representing different ethic groups from all over the Inca empire. A major part of the celebration takes place in the Plaza de Armas (main square) and it’s packed with tourists as well as locals fighting for the best spot to see the parade, dancers and the “Inca King”. I made it too late to the square to get a good spot and I was not getting a good point of view to capture any good images so I took a gamble and left the square and the crowds. What I did instead was to find the route the parade was going to take to another location. Once I found it I only had to wait and let the dancers come to me. The image above shows the colorful customs and festive mood of the people participating in the event. I noticed this girl dancing towards me from a distance. This gave me time to anticipate and prepare the shot. I wanted her to be main focus of the image so I used a wider aperture to isolate her from the rest of the performers yet I knew I was going to include them in the image to provide context.


Inca salt mines in Maras, Sacred Valley, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo
Inca salt mines in Maras, Sacred Valley, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo

Technical details:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Exposure: 1/640 sec;   f/8;   ISO 200

Just about everywhere you go on the Sacred Valley you’ll find remains of the Incas. The above image is of the salt mines of Maras (Salineras de Maras). These salt mines have been in use since the time of the Incas. We had a wonderful time with our students there learning about them and making images. In graphic design as in photography, I tell my students that patterns and repetitions are visually interesting to the human eyes. We enjoy looking at them and spend time noticing the details, lines and texture that you typically find in patterns. That’s what your brain is doing when you look at this image; can you find the people in the image above? The people help show the scale.


Hike to Inca quarry outside Ollanataytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo
Hike to Inca quarry outside Ollanataytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo

Technical details:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Exposure: 1/250 sec;   f/11;   ISO 320

Another little adventure we had with the students was a short 9 hour hike up a mountain to see an Inca quarry. This hike was hard but not because of difficult terrain, it was the altitude. The higher you go the harder it is for your body to get oxygen and breathing becomes difficult. On the way up to the quarry, the mountains surrounded us and the view was beautiful. I noticed this abandoned house with the snowed covered peak of the mountains in the background. Typically, we don’t do vertical landscapes photos but in this case I wanted to have a narrow layout to show the three layers I saw: the house, the mountain and the sky.  The house provided a sense of place to the image. The visual story is no longer about the beautiful mountains but it makes the viewer wonder about the people who tried to live there. Using a long lens helps compress the image and a small aperture adds to the depth of field to have everything sharp.


Traditional "huatia" a Peruvian earth oven in Yucay, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo
Traditional “huatia” a Peruvian earth oven in Yucay, Peru. photo by Leonardo Carrizo

Technical details:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Exposure: 1/200 sec;   f/11;   ISO 160

“I like to work close to people and as long as I’m not in the way I like to get as close as possible. I wanted to immerse myself in the scene and take the audience with me.”

On the way out of the Sacred Valley, we stopped at a small town called Yucay. We had the pleasure of spending time with a local family and worked a bit in their farm. For lunch they prepared our food in a traditional Peruvian “huatia” which is a type of oven made from small chunks of dried earth from the harvested fields. You can cook all kinds of things in the oven. We placed potatoes and fava beans. The huatia oven is only used once since you have to break it apart to get to the food inside of it. Then you have to search for and separate the food from the earth and that’s the scene I captured in the image above. I enjoy documenting other cultures and traditions; this was my first time experiencing a huatia.  I like to work close to people and as long as I’m not in the way I like to get as close as possible. I wanted to immerse myself in the scene and take the audience with me. I want you to feel that you are there among the locals searching for the potatoes. Using a wide-angle lens and following the action lets me achieve that goal. Also notice that my point of view is low and next to the guy on the right. Layering the main subjects was part of the composition. The intention is to allow every subject to have their own space in the frame from the foreground to the background.


Sacsayhuaman archiological site, Cusco, Peru (photo by Leonardo Carrizo)
Sacsayhuaman archaeological site, Cusco, Peru (photo by Leonardo Carrizo)
Sacsayhuaman archiological site, Cusco, Peru (photo by Leonardo Carrizo)
Sacsayhuaman archaeological site, Cusco, Peru (photo by Leonardo Carrizo)

“So I was lucky but it goes to show you that you always have to be aware of your settings and make adjustments to the light and environment.”

Finally we made it back to Cusco and before leaving the Inca capital we had one more archaeological site to visit: Sacsayhuaman (comically known as “sexy-women”) It is a very large archaeological site on the top of a hill just outside Cusco’s historical center. This site shows some of the best examples of Inca stone building; shapes and the precision by which the stone are placed next to each other without any mortar is incredible! And the stones are huge! Therefore I didn’t want to show the entire site instead I concentrated on the stones’ shapes and joints. Sometimes a well-done detail image can tell as much of the story as a wide-angle shot. When I was making these images,  I was so excited that I didn’t noticed my ISO was at 1250 from the previous day. That was extremely high for being outside on a nice day but the digital noise from the high ISO is not as obvious for two reasons:  1) The camera I’m using is very good at maintaining details even at high ISO and 2) the actual subject matter. The rocks have texture and by consequence they are grainy. So I was lucky but it goes to show you that you always have to be aware of your settings and make adjustments to the light and environment. At the end of the day I’m very happy with the results.

Technical details:

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Exposure: 1/500 sec;   f/8;   ISO 1250

I hope you enjoyed this small set of images from my National Geographic Student Expeditions trip to Peru. If you want to learn more about travel photography and storytelling don’t forget to sign-up for my Visual Storytelling Workshop Series at the Midwest Photo Learning Studio starting February 18th.

Midwest Photo

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