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443 kilometers, a compact with the stained sensor and insistence: the story behind the world record for distant photography

Some time ago we were fascinated by a photograph of the Alps taken from the Pyrenees, 381 kilometers away. A madness that made possible the patience and technique of its (Spanish) authors, and also the progress that photography is experiencing in recent years at the hardware and lens level.

We said that we would be aware of whether the 400 kilometer barrier could be surpassed and later it was achieved, although the world record for distant photography It was specifically taken by Mark Bret Gumá, one of the four from that previous occasion. The setting, yes, was once again the distance between these two European mountain ranges.

A compact camera with a smudge on the sensor

It was 2014 when Mark, together with Juanjo Diaz de Argandoña, Jordi Solé Joval and Marcos Molina (the latter did not go up, but supported them throughout the project), achieved his (first) photographic feat in the mountains that separated the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. Although as we already said, a photo at such a distance not only requires adequate equipment and knowledge of photography, it is a job that requires skill as well. in physics and even meteorology.

The joy did not last long, when in 2015 Roberto Antezana and Patricio Carvajal (astrophotographer and geographer respectively) secured the record in Argentina, specifically from the highest summit of the Sierra de San Luis to the Mercedario hill, 384 kilometers. Only 3 kilometers more than in the previous record.

It does not seem that Bret could be discouraged, quite the opposite. In fact later he even questioned the achievement of Antezana and Carvajal.

In 2016 Mark resumed the mission of achieving the most distant photography (of which there is evidence, at least) and decided to do it, again, from the Pyrenees. He explains that the choice of the Finestrelles peak (Girona Pyrenees) was not accidental, since he calculated that it was the longest possible visual axis of the entire European territory for the atmospheric mean coefficient of refraction contemplating a great spectrum of distances. This factor, as we already explained when the previous record, is essential for these photographs to be physically possible.


This point (or points), as he studied, seemed the most favorable even compared to points such as the Himalayas or Kilimanjaro. In fact, before climbing the Catalan mountain for the first time with Juan, Marcos and Jordi, he did numerous panoramic simulations to make sure that photography could be possible, although on that occasion it was from the Canigó peak (photographing Sommet de Chabrierés, in the Alps).

The date was not going to be accidental either, but he calculated it again by studying the meteorology of the area and the position of the Sun according to the time of year. At the end of the day, you had to avoid the climatic factor as much as possible, and unlike when an eclipse happens, in this case the date could be variable, like when you make your bet when hunting the northern lights. Therefore, the requirement was clear: atmospheric transparency.

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Finally, July was the chosen month, since despite not being the most favorable in terms of transparency, it is its sun as a favorable factor, and at that time it would be in an azimuthal position near des Ecrins, the point of the Alps chosen for photography. And for some company this time he turned to his friend Marc Larroya, so he already had his planning and a climbing and camping partner.

Thus, on July 16, 2016, friends with the homophone name planted themselves in the Finestrelles to hunt the Barre des Ecrins (a peak of 4,102 meters) in the Alps and so it was, challenge achieved. The equipment consisted of a Panasonic Lumix FZ72 that I had had for a few years, including, as detailed, a stain on the sensor (when this happens in the photograph, specks appear, as when we look through the window and it is dirty by some spatter ancient).

The funny thing, moreover, is that did not carry tripod. He managed with some stones to support the camera (here I empathize with him, I usually wear it quite obligatory and I usually manage as he says he did).

Shortly after the official record arrived, which for the moment has not been surpassed. Bret posted his gallery of photos from that day on Flickr, with some montages indicating the peaks of the snapshots.

As a curiosity, the photo of the record was taken with ISO 100, 1/250 second shutter speed and built-in lens (variable focal), setting it to 1,200mm 35mm equivalent with an aperture of f / 2.8. It is a completely different approach to the one that would be done to photograph stars, something logical considering that they are totally different snapshots.

A curious story behind this record-breaking photograph that leaves a very good taste in our mouths for those of us who are (very) amateur photographers and perhaps someone will renew the desire to take the camera (or mobile) and try that fetish or aspirational photo if after some attempt was left in the pipeline. If Marc didn’t need to invest in a complex new team, maybe neither did we.