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How photographer Mike Diaz captures Yucatán’s unique environment

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Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Mike Díaz has been taking photos for as long as he can remember.

He studied to become a systems engineer, far from the marketing and communications field one usually pursues when interested in media. Outside of school, he’s always been interested in nature.

Flamingos in Yucatecan waters. Photo: Mike Díaz

“It runs in the family,” says Mike. “I spent most of my summers at the beach. Sisal is a particularly endearing memory from my childhood, especially during the time when there wasn’t so much movement and you could see nature passing by.”

The desire to capture what he sees has been with him ever since. Analog cameras were around when he started growing, and he soon learned how to use them.

“Technology has always been an interest of mine. I had access to some of the first cell phones with cameras, and they were a great way to become more involved in photography. Some of my first photos were taken with nothing but a cell phone, and I started learning all the wonders you could do with some practice and a little knowledge.”

The deep-sea port in Progreso, Yucatán. Photo: Mike Díaz

He then moved on to small, digital tools. A Minolta was his first digital camera.

“It was really a camera for family use, nothing professional. But I got to know it pretty well. After some time I even managed to take pictures of the moon, which turned out pretty great for the equipment I was working with. And I kept going from there.”

As Mike grew up, he dove back into nature, researching the environment, wildlife, and space. He understood the process he had to follow in order to achieve the photos he dreamed of. And so he started calculating.

Flamingos flying through a rainbow. Photo: Mike Díaz

“I learned there’s a lot more preparation than you think for taking a breathtaking photo. Not only do you need the equipment and the place, more often than not you need math.”

Some of his favorite photos took months in the making. Looking to capture the moon at a specific angle, he visited the same spot three days a week for eight months in a row.

Detail shot of a flamingo in the Peninsula. These are some of the most popular, and easily spotted birds throughout Yucatán. Photo: Mike Díaz

“In order to capture astronomical phenomena I had to calculate time, angles, dates. I really had to prepare. There were some portraits that took months of failed attempts until I got the shot. But I think they’re always worth it.”

Crocodiles are common through Yucatecan mangrove and are some of the more dangerous species Mike photographs. Photo: Mike Díaz

Mike notes that back in the day you had to go deep into nature, in seemingly abandoned paths, entering the true wilderness. But the danger of those journeys also meant you could run into all sorts of animals in their natural habitat. 

“What I seek to capture are the fleeting moments that occur on the peninsula,” says Mike, “things of minutes, seconds, that can only be enjoyed here. Like flamingos flying over a rainbow intertwined in the mangrove, or some of the many bird species that come to Yucatán on top of a crocodile. Those are the moments I think are worth saving.”

Toh birds are iconic of the Peninsula. Photo: Mike Díaz

Today, Mike is dedicated to photography as a sort of professional hobby, where he’s also become a skilled sports photographer. He sells part of his work as canvases and is excited to see them traveling the country. But his main interest remains in the wild.

As his photography skills have advanced, so has his knowledge of nature on the peninsula, which he says has gradually declined. Mike thinks there’s an important theme of respect and preservation in his work. 

“Las Salineras”, pink salt beds which have become a popular touristic visit. Photo: Mike Díaz

“The objective of these photographs is to share the beauty we have, and to generate awareness in the viewers. We live in an incredibly rich state and a highly delicate ecosystem. And right now, we’re failing it. If we want to enjoy it, to preserve what we have left, we have to know it, and actively care for it.”

In Yucatán Magazine: The amazing birds of Yucatán

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