The skies, monkey puzzle trees and volcanoes of Fernando Gudenschwager

Seeking a perfect composition that brings together the impressive geography and changing nature of the Araucanía Region with an infinite, ever-moving cosmos is the challenge that motivates Chilean photographer Fernando Gudenschwager to take his unforgettable photographs each day. His images are considered to be some of the best photographs of the region’s skies.

Glaciar Pichillancahue

Gudenschwager was raised among centuries’ old monkey puzzle trees, live volcanoes, verdant national parks and star-studded skies. Born in Villarrica, very close to the Villarrica national park, Fernando became a fan of adventure and of visiting all of the incredible landscapes that southern Chile has to offer on his bike, with a tent slung over his shoulder. “I started to get into photography because I was looking for a connection with nature, silence and adventure. I wanted to find myself again, because trips don’t just take you out there — they also take you inside of yourself. It was here that I learned to observe light at different times of day — dawn, dusk and of course the light that comes from the skies themselves,” the photographer explains.

Volcán Villarrica

For Gudenschwager, the skies in Araucanía have a very similar quality to those in northern Chile. The only difference is that it is damper in the southern region and there are fewer occasions for contemplating the skies. He sees this as a beautiful challenge. For Fernando, the most important element of an image is the composition: “One does not take photographs. One makes them so that they are unique and convey harmony,” he adds. He explains that in the north, though the skies are clear, there are fewer elements to work with for compositions because “in La Araucanía you have immense monkey puzzle trees, volcanoes with plumes of smoke, and lagoons. Each season gives you different colors and lights,” he says.

Each shot is a challenge that takes months of preparation. Gudenschwager has to find the precise location to achieve the desired angle, a good window of time and, if luck is on his side, all of those unexpected conditions that nature gives us, like snowfalls, different phases of the moon, clouds or the position of the earth will play in his favor. And when you manage to hit on just the right time and the perfect position, you just have a few seconds to take the photo. “Those 3 shots last no more than 30 seconds each, and you have to do as much as you can with them. That’s the most exciting part,” he says.

This image (left) is one of his favorites. And why wouldn’t it be? “It has the alignment of four planets — Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and, I think, Venus, plus the Milky Way is synchronized with the peak of the Villarrica Volcano,” the photographer explains.

Having been born and raised in the Araucanía region, he has a close connection to indigenous communities, particularly the Mapuche people, and their way of explaining and understanding things.

He has high hopes for the upcoming eclipse. Gudenschwager says that it is common to see a photo taken just as the moon covers the sun. “You already know the result before the eclipse happens,” he says. That is why he is looking for a different composition that allows him to add in elements that give it meaning. If the conditions created by health limitations allow, he plans to take photographs amid the monkey puzzle trees, or — why not? — from a glacier with someone climbing it, and above them, the much-anticipated total solar eclipse. Those elements will make this eclipse in Araucanía a unique event that is different from the event that was observed in the Atacama and Coquimbo regions last year.

Lanín Volcano

Cochor Lagoon

Conguillío National Park

Lanín's peak, above Magallanes nebula

Lanín volcano. Taken from Quinquilil volcano.

Cañi Sanctuary