29 Jan
2014
Ian Plant By
Posted in: Venezuela    27 Comments

The Lost World

“There’s many a man who never tells his adventures, for he can’t hope to be believed.” ―Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Lost World”

There are many beautiful places in this wide world, but some stand above the rest, kindling the imagination with a vivid flame. Canaima National Park, located in the wilds of Venezuela, is one of the most remarkable places I have ever seen—and considering that it is my job to travel to remarkable places, that’s saying a lot. Some say that this remote wilderness inspired the dinosaur-infested landscapes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World,” and it is easy to see why. There is something magical, something mysterious about Canaima, cloaked in a veil of mist and shielded from the unrelenting march of history. Deep in its embrace, one feels untethered from the real world outside, as if tucked away in a pocket that time forgot.

Rising from steaming jungles and arid plains, the Guiana Highlands, worn by two billion years of wind and rain, are dominated by table-like mountains called tepuis. Surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs, the tepuis are equal parts formidable and alluring, with the world’s tallest waterfalls plunging down from their rocky heights. Mount Roraima—which in the native Pemon language means “Mother of all Waters”—is the most prominent tepui, standing 9,219 feet above sea level where the boundaries of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana meet. Canaima is also home to Angel Falls, which drops 3,212 feet over the edge of Auyán-tepui, making it the world’s tallest waterfall.

I took this photo of nearby Kukenán-tepui during the long ascent up Roraima. Rain, fog, and clouds are common in Canaima, even during the dry season—views of the tepuis were rare—so when I had this brief moment when Kukenán emerged from encircling mists, I didn’t hesitate. Despite shooting this several hours after the morning “magic hour,” this is easily one of my favorite images from the trip: it tells the story of this amazing place, and is infused with a sense of mystery. “The Lost World”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 70D, 35mm, ISO 100, f/10, 1/100 second.

"The Lost World" by Ian Plant - Canaima National Park, Venezuela

The ascent of Roraima was grueling. Most trekkers take three days to get to the top, but I opted to do it in two. When I finally reached Maverick Rock, the mountain’s highest point, I decided to snap a quick self-portrait in celebration. I didn’t have a view of the surrounding landscape, but the clouds rising up from the valley below was a stunning sight to see. “The Summoning”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 70D, 16mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/640 second.

"The Summoning" by Ian Plant - Canaima National Park, Venezuela

Roraima has many interesting rock formations and caves, including one which is over 16km in length. The next photo is of a cave-in-the-making, holes and columns of sandstone being carved by the ever-present streams atop the mountain. In a few tens of thousands of years, some happy spelunker is going to have a field day here. “Carved by Water”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 5DIII, 16mm, ISO 100, f/11, 8 seconds.

"The Labyrinth" by Ian Plant - Canaima National Park, Venezuela

I spent fours days on top of Roraima (I wish I had spent a few more), but rain and fog thwarted most of my attempts at photography. One evening, I got lucky, and the veil of clouds lifted just in time for sunset. I hiked out to a location with a view of the Northern Prow of Roraima; the relentless rain had created dozens of waterfalls plunging down its rocky flanks. I stood in awe at the edge of a 1,200 foot cliff, looking over one of the most inspiring landscapes I have ever seen. It was my last good view from the top. “Mother of All Waters”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 70D, 46mm, ISO 100, f/10, 1/13 second.

"Mother of All Waters" by Ian Plant - Canaima National Park, Venezuela

Afterwards, I journeyed to Angel Falls—first two days by foot to exit Roraima, then by overnight bus, then by plane, and finally by a traditional canoe powered by a motor. I had one night camped below Angel Falls, which meant I had two chances to get something meaningful (once at sunset and again at sunrise). Luckily, at sunset high clouds drifted over Auyán-tepui, catching the last light of the day. I took a chance and placed a ten-stop neutral density filter over my lens, opting for an exposure of several minutes during the peak light. My gamble paid off; I was rewarded with a compelling and colorful radial pattern of streaking clouds. Kerepakupai Vená”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 5DIII, 16mm, 10-stop neutral density filter, polarizer filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 100, f/8, 141 seconds.  

"Salto Angel" by Ian Plant - Canaima National Park, Venezuela

Now that I have returned from Canaima, I can scarcely believe that I was ever there, surrounded by eternal beauty in the land that time forgot. If it weren’t for my photos from the trip, I’d likely think it was only a pleasant dream.

Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (395 Posts)

Ian Plant's photographs and instructional articles have appeared in a number of books, calendars, and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography. Ian writes a regular blog column for Outdoor Photographer online, and he is the author of numerous instructional eBooks and videos. Ian leads several photo tours each year.


27 Comments

  • Ian, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a 10-stop ND filter, but it produced a beautiful image! I enjoy reading the specs of photographs and what settings were used. I learn a lot from reading settings then studying why they were used in each situation, so thank you for helping me learn and get better!

  • Incredible images as always Ian, your images and writing are my primary inspiration! I love how well you have used clouds in these images. I have been thinking about visiting Venezuela for a while but I’ve been put off by its inaccessibility and price, as well as the many people who have told me that it is a dangerous place. Did you have any major problems while you were there? Was it very expensive in relation to somewhere such as Peru or Costa Rica?

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Tom, actually I found Venezuela to be quite inexpensive – so long as you exchange dollars using the black market, instead of any official exchange (avoid using credit cards or ATM cards as well). The official exchange is way off the true value, and once using local currency at the “real” exchange rate, everything was very cheap. I didn’t have any safety problems during my trip. Most of the tourist areas seemed very safe and secure, and everyone I dealt with was very friendly and honest. That said, most Venezuelans I spoke with warned me about the cities, especially at night – violent crime is apparently very common. I worked with a tour company, who had every step of my itinerary planned for me, and I almost always had an English speaking guide or driver with me – which helps a lot! Overall, the cost of my trip was very reasonable compared to a place like Peru or Costa Rica. I really liked Venezuela, and almost everyone I met there was extremely nice, but the security situation there is (unfortunately) a real problem, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. That said, I’d love to go back again some day – it was truly one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.

      • Thanks for the advice! I’ll have to go some time soon.

  • Amazing photographs Ian. Specially the Angel Falls one. It is nice that you used the indigenous name Kerepakupai Vená for the titlel of the picture. We traveled in the same bus from Puerto Ordaz to La Gran Sabana, and stayed at the same posada in Santa Elena. As a Venezuelan I would like to thank you for the lovely pictures and the article you wrote. I agree wity what you said there.

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Edgard, yes, I believe I remember you from the bus! If I recall, you had a small camera bag with you. Too bad we didn’t get a chance to talk. I loved Venezuela, what a truly beautiful place! Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for leaving a comment here on the blog.

  • Killer stuff, Ian. This part of Venezuela has been on my list for awhile; glad to see a photographer I respect is doing it some justice.

    • Ian Plant

      And I’m glad to hear that someone respects me! That’s a first for me. :)

  • Stunning shots, Ian.

    What do you think of the 70D compared to the 7D for noise? I love the 7D except for the noise.

    If the 7DII doesn’t appear before we go to Africa, I may buy the 7DII.

    In the same vein, have you tried the Tamron 150-600? If it’s as good as the Canon 100-400, I will rent it for Africa.

    P.S. We talked about you a lot in DV :)

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Lance! I’ve never used the 7D, so I’m afraid I can’t make a comparison for you. The Tamron 150-600 is a nice piece of glass. I haven’t run it head-to-head against the Canon 100-400, so I hesitate to say one way or the other. That said, the range of the Tamron really can’t be beat, and it is surprisingly sharp for such a wide focal range. I think it is fair to say it is better than the Sigma 50-500.

      Almost afraid to ask what was said about me in Death Valley . . .

  • Oops, typo above… I meant I may buy the 70D if the 7DII doesn’t appear.

  • Whoa Ian that’s an awesome one of Auyan Tepui! Ven is one of the most diverse countries, maybe the most, I’ve ever been to. And Roraima, you’re right, it is just too strange to be believed. Did you happen to see those strange black frogs that live up there? That’s a balls to the wall trek in two days to the top, especially if you were carrying a full pack. Well, I could go on comparing notes and all. It’s just I haven’t thought about that trip for a long time. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Michael, yep, I saw the frogs, and a bunch of other really weird stuff on top. Amazing place!

      • I get the feeling, Ian, that you’re not strongly considering a workshop there in the near future. Or maybe I’m misreading between the lines. I know I’d love to run one there. But I always think of doing them in the more difficult places. I’d want to do one in western Ven too & revisit the Rio Apure, cloudforests/Andes, Tayrona N.P. over in Colombia. I don’t think of that area as particularly dangerous, but I wouldn’t be surprised to get no takers. What do you think?

        • Ian Plant

          We’re considering a photo tour, but haven’t made up our minds. There are certainly a lot of challenges to overcome – many of the best locations are also very remote.

  • Congratulations Ian for these photographs from Venezuela, they are just amazing! Your photo of Angel Falls is simply one of the best photos I have ever seen. You are a professional!

    • Ian Plant

      Thanks for the exceptionally kind words Martin!

  • Amazing work Ian. I was thinking of going to Venezuela myself but found I wouldn’t have time to do it right, as you have here (instead opted for Belize). Angel falls is stunning but I think my favorite is Carved by Water. Thanks for your continued inspiration.

  • Hi Ian,
    These photos are just incredible. What a place! I am too elderly to take such a difficult hike so I enjoy doing it vicariously through your photos and commentary. One question–how did you combine the 10-stop ND filter with the polarizer and grad? I have a Big Stopper but it takes up most of the space in my Lee filter holder and has to go in the slot closest to the lens. There wouldn’t be room beyond it for both a polarizer and ND filter.

    Fran Gallogly

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Fran, my Lee holder has three slots, so I was able to fit all three filters without any problems.

  • Ian,
    What a great adventure! Your photos are awesome as always. Thanks for sharing about your experience there.

    John

  • Awesome images! It’s nice to see a portfolio of images from an area that’s not photographed to death. You captured the beauty and told the story of the place perfectly. I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, as you put a lot of time into telling the story of the place not only through your images, but through your writing. Awesome! The Angel Falls image has finally inspired me to start experimenting with extreme long exposures. Great shot!

  • Fantastic images of an incredible place, Ian! I love the Angel Falls picture, but I am puzzled: How do you manage to mount ND, GND, and polarizer filters at the same time on a 16 mm lens and FF camera without getting any vignetting? I didn’t think that was possible…

    • Ian Plant

      I use the Lee filter holder with a recessed adapter ring for wide angle lenses – it allows me to stack three filters without vignetting.

  • Wonderful images Ian. Inspiring.

    I have a logistical question for you. What considerations did you make when packing for your hikes up and down? Seems you took two bodies with you, guessing tripod and all that stuff. If it was me, I’d find it very hard to pack for a trip like that where everything has to be on my back for multiple days. Including I would assume a tent and all that kind of stuff as well?

    • Ian Plant

      Hi Dan, I pack as light as I can. I carried two bodies (always carry a backup!), my 16-35mm and 24-105mm, and a light weight carbon fiber tripod for my trip up Mt. Roraima. Luckily, for this trip I had a guide and porter who carried up tent and food, but as a general matter my camping gear is ultra-light. Nothing worse than being in a beautiful place but too tired to shoot!

  • “There’s many a man who never tells his adventures, for he can’t hope to be believed.” ―Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Lost World”

    This is perfect. I had the opportunity to take a 4×4 exploring La Gran Sabana and Canaima for a day and a half while on an LDS mission in Venezuela back in the late nineties. That place really is something out of a dream, and I never could do it justice trying to describe it to others. Your photographs represent it well. It’s too bad the clouds are in the way of the valley floor though. I can remember the most amazing lush green plains with scatterred picturesque trees (palm?) and random streams. Keep me on your list of potential candidates for a photo tour. Unfortunately, I took up photography after my time there!