Fotografía Profesional en Costa Rica–Professional Photography in Costa Rica

Archivo para febrero, 2012

Insider tips for better photography in Manuel Antonio National Park

This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson

It’s so well known that I’m almost hesitant to write about it. I’m almost tempted to tell you to skip it in favor of something more local…except that Manuel Antonio National Park is local. Like the Poás Volcano, it’s among the most visited places in Costa Rica because both locals and foreigners visit. You’re just as likely to see a over-sunned Swedish college student as you are a family of locals chasing the raccoon that has absconded with their lunch. I’ll give you a few local tips to make it a more comfortable trip as well as how to come back with better pictures than all your high-school friends on Facebook.

My first visit to Manuel Antonio was about 30 years ago—or so I’m told (seeing as I was a toddler at the time). Back then it took 8-9 hours to get there from San Jose in a Land-Rover with no a/c, and you could camp right on the beach. My parents tell me it was glorious and rugged. Today it’s still glorious but thankfully for you, not as rugged. Today you can cruise there (with a/c!) on well paved roads in about 2 and half hours from San Jose, there are trained nature guides, and tons of hotels near by, but no camping. If you are heading in your own car I’ll give you a parking tip: don’t park on the street. There will be plenty of reflective-vest-attired gentlemen urging you to clog the place up, ignore them. Head all the way in looking for real parking. The road ends in a loop and there is a parking lot there that almost always has space, if not you have at least made a comfortable u-turn to search for proper parking.

My first tip for a great Manuel Antonio experience tip is on food and beverage. Bring plenty. It’s a gentle 1km walk from the main gate to the most popular beaches. It tends to be pretty warm and muggy so you will work up a sweat quickly, so keep drinking regularly, there is fresh water (and bathrooms) available inside the but that’s it. If you split off onto any of the multiple trails you will probably want more than just a super-market water bottle. I prefer water bladders that fit in most modern backpacks since they keep you drinking regularly as well as freeing up your hands for the camera. You’ll want to pack a solid lunch and snacks because at some point you’ll get hungry and you really won’t feel like walking 1-3km (.6-2miles for the metric impaired) out and then back again just for lunch. When you do settle down for that lunch keep watch. Fixate on your food like Gollum does the One Ring. Seriously. The raccoons and the white-faced Capuchins will steal your lunch on your left while you look right. Also, please don’t feed them, it’s against the rules (and can get you tossed), plus it’s just poor form.

Once you are inside the main gate take your time, hike some of the trails and keep your camera handy. This place probably more than any other is where the a super-zoom cameras I talked about in an earlier article might come in handy. There is a ton of wildlife including aforementioned monkeys and raccoons, plus sloths, crabs, iguanas and even white-tailed deer. Spotting them can be tricky at times, especially the sloths, so you may want to spring for a certified guide ( at last check about $20 per person + admission). You will also want to wear more than just flip-flops—in fact that goes for visiting all of Costa Rica, wear real shoes people, please. If you only plan on going to the main beaches then you can make it in flip-flops, if you want (and you should) to see Cathedral Point, the waterfall the over-look and some of the other beaches you will need better shoes.

Because I just can’t help myself I’ll give you some photo tips so your vacation photo album on Facebook will make your friends even more jealous. The significant differences between the shaded areas and the sunlight outside fool your camera, so you either get a lovely shot of your girlfriend standing in a giant white blob of light or a lovely shot of the scenery with a shadowy figure in the middle. Solution: fill flash. Your camera probably (unless it’s very smart) won’t do this automatically so you will have to tell it to use the flash via the button/icon that looks like a thunderbolt. It will make a big difference when shooting people especially on the beach or at an overlook:

Please remember to disable your flash while shooting the animals, they don’t appreciate it. Yes, you’ll miss a few shots but at they will be spared the trauma and may even avoid being eaten.

A second quick tip is on framing. Manuel Antonio is beautiful, but there always seems to be some a whole bunch of people trying to enjoy that beauty and messing up your landscape picture. Try turning your camera into a vertical orientation. You’ll be able to include more sky and because it’s not as wide you may be able to wait for that Swedish college student to step out of frame—tadah!– a desolate beach shot that will get your album 862 “likes.” This isn’t Manuel Antonio it’s Jacó but you get the idea…

If it’s nature itself that’s messing with your nature shot, try using the foliage to create a natural frame or and interesting element in the shot:

So there you have it, go to Manuel Antonio, wear comfortable shoes, guard your lunch, bring back great pictures, get more “likes.” You’re welcome.


Getaway to the mountains of Heredia

This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson

I always carry a compact camera. If you live in or have visited Costa Rica you know why. Funny, beautiful and shocking things may be just around the corner. My little camera spends time waiting for sunsets and rainbows (and the frequent misspelled or poorly translated sign, internet gold!). It lives in a messenger bag that I take everywhere. It only leaves that bag when I use it to carry my bigger camera via a very cool and very cheap removable padded insert (check it out you’ll thank me). I never miss an opportunity to take a picture. My cell phone has a camera but is not a camera; I refuse to acknowledge it as such.

Recently my girlfriend and I decided to take a drive up the mountain north of Heredia where we live. We had no plan, just a setting sun and a gorgeous February afternoon. As I downshifted to try to get up a hill a sudden squeal made me pull over. At first I thought something else had failed on my car (when you own a 1990 BMW 325i this happens occasionally). Thankfully not. It was my girlfriend rendered speechless by a tremendous rainbow formed by the setting sun and the mountain mist, mixed with a rustic farmhouse in the foreground it was the stuff of postcards. I thought of my compact camera, safely in its messenger bag, which was safely tucked away in my closet back home. Cursing ensued—in two languages.

I tried to take a picture with her phone. More cursing. I wished for my trusty compact, for my film camera (more on that in a future article), for my DSLR with its super-wide lens. Anything but a phone. I gave up.

We drove uphill a bit more, chasing the end of the rainbow until the dodgy fuel pump got a bit too warm and starting misbehaving. I took one more shot with the phone. Reasonable success.

As we coasted down the mountain the setting sun taunted me, more squeals from the passenger seat reinforced my oversight, and the guy with a Nikon on a tripod and a huge orange-ball-sun setting over the hills nearly made me cry. If it is possible to sulk while driving, I did.

Though I managed to forget my camera I did discover (remember?) that the mountains of Heredia have tons of great places to slip away for an afternoon, a weekend or to fill in a blank spot in a travel itinerary. It takes less than an hour (in non rush-hour time) to get there from the Central Valley, and it can be a refreshing change. There are lots of lodging options that are great for cozying up for a night or two. And you’ll want to cozy up since it’s colder than you think up there, especially if you are a weather-sissified ex-pat coddled by the the perfect temperatures in the valley.

There are several routes up the mountain but the preferred ones will take you through San José de la Montaña or through San Rafael de Heredia. The San Rafael side sends you up toward the famed Monte de la Cruz (a wooded municipal park with a giant cross) and the nearly as famous and rather ritzy La Condesa hotel, as well as Hotel Chalet El Tirol. The drive up is in good shape (up to about the park anyway) and dotted with local restaurants of varying price points as well as fancy estates. Tops for uppity eats on this side of the hill is Baalbek (great view too).

The San José de la Montaña route is well, different. Once you get above said town, things get interesting. The road quickly dwindles to about 1 ½ lanes wide which makes for hair-raising encounters with on-coming traffic where uphill traffic has unofficial right of way because of the steepness of the hills. This side of the mountain features more farms and frankly more photo opportunities. This area also has a bit more for the folks on a budget or for the adventurous.

The Barva Volcano doesn’t get nearly the number of visitors than does it’s steamy neighbor Poás, but it’s no reason to overlook it if you are equipped with a 4×4 vehicle and a strong set of legs. It’s rugged in there and always damp, but it’s more natural feeling than Poás, plus you might have it all to yourself on a weekday. This is one of my all time favorite shots, taken during the week in the Barva Volcano:

If you are sans the vehicle or the fitness, check out Canopy Adventure for some killer zip-lining and a bit of knowledge. Once you’re all adventured out it’ll be time to eat and sleep. There are lots of hotels to choose from, but I hear good things about El Pórtico (and it was packed for Valentine’s Day so there’s a clue). You’ll have your pick of restaurants, mostly local tourist places that’ll be good for local fare and a brew. Most weekends you will be able to find lodging without a reservation, but if you have a specific place in mind call ahead.

The hills are calling valley-dwellers, answer the call, but please please don’t forget your camera.


Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica: Go there now!

This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson

If you are planning your first trip to Costa Rica, I have a bit of advice, don’t go to the Osa Peninsula. You’ll ruin your follow-up trips, kind of like drinking 25 year old single-malt your first time. If you live here or have been here before, go. Immediately. Wait, read this first, then go.

So what’s the deal with Osa? Situated in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica it’s one of the most densely bio-diverse places on earth, overflowing with flora and fauna…blah blah blah I’ll let you Google the brochure and the sciencey statistical stuff. I will say it’s beautiful, I mean rub-your-eyes-in-wonder and pinch yourself kind of beautiful. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish you had cameras for eyeballs so you never miss a shot. It’s also far away, unplugged, and wet.

My trip in July of 2011 was to photograph a wedding and so I really had to be sure all my camera equipment and my laptop made it out and back or I was going to have some really unhappy newlyweds on my hands. (What compels a couple to get married at a hotel that is a two-hour boat ride from anywhere and how that is actually a good thing, is a topic for another article). After speaking with them this is what my trip looked like: A 5 hour drive from San Jose to the town of Sierpe, then a 2 hour boat ride along the Sierpe river and out to open ocean and on to the family’s private house next door to the hotel. Next door being a 30 minute hike through the jungle. Gulp. Fortunately I had some time to shop. I wish I had done some research on preparing for the rainy season, but I did pretty well prepping myself.

My main concern was transporting my photo gear on the boat as well as through the jungle. I was budget-limited so I ended up buying a large rubber roll-top dry bag that was big enough to fit my fully-loaded camera bag, plus clothes on top. It also had detachable shoulder straps which made it useful for hiking. Your needs may vary as far as size and style but my bag was less than $100 (before int’l shipping, customs, taxes etc.). This bit of rubber awesomeness now travels with me a lot of places, since it’s big, tough and bright yellow (you know, to help prevent theft). I also spent a similar amount on a hard-sided bomb proof laptop case (also bright yellow). While I could have gone with a soft-sided roll-top bag for my laptop, I was concerned about bumps and pressure while loaded up with other travelers’ stuff.

Not all of you are going to be carrying several camera bodies, multiple lenses, filters, flashes and three trillion AA batteries. None of you should be carrying your laptops or tablets unless they are work-related. In large portions of the Osa peninsula there aren’t even roads, let alone power, cell phone service or internet. For folks carrying smaller cameras or storing their mobile phones I recommend some less expensive light-weight roll-top stuff sacks. These aren’t heavy duty but they will do the trick and they are great for trips to the beach to keep your wallet, keys and cell phone free of water and sand. Check out the different sizes, as some might be big enough to fit SLR cameras with lenses attached (yay!).Since they are light-weight you can keep them on hand while you are out with your camera in case you get caught in rain. Although I didn’t get any, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up some silica packs (you know, the little pillows that come with your shoes) to put into the bags holding your electronics. If you plan on staying more than a couple of days then you may want to consider these.

When you go to Osa, be ready to get wet. There are no docks most places so your highly skilled boat pilots will get you close but you are still gonna be at least knee deep in water to just get to check-in. Speaking of pilots, you can fly to Drake’s Bay on the Osa Peninsula in under an hour on both Sansa and Nature-Air (residents and locals keep your eyes peeled for special deals), but that’s messing with my rugged tale of adventure and moisture control, so I’ll ignore it. You’ll wish you had listened to me and brought that waterproof camera as you zip along the river and the coast. Don’t worry the ride is too bumpy, and downright scary at the river mouth, to take decent pictures with a compact digital camera. I felt the same though, itching to have my camera in-hand but the sting of July rain in my face reminded me why it was packed away. Did I mention you would be getting wet?

Once you get over the wet and the fact that you can’t take pictures you have no choice but to settle down and just enjoy the ride. That ride can vary depending on which part of the Peninsula you are headed to, but trust me it will go by in a flash. All it’s worth it when the clouds break. Here I’ll prove it:


That’s the only picture your getting, guess you’ll have to go get your own. At least your equipment will survive the trip.

Once you’re on land you’ll find hotels here have a different standard of luxury than what you might find at your 22-star-all-inclusive-sterile-mega-resorts in Guanacaste. Luxury here is the fresh fruit shared with tropical birds chirping, waking up to fresh coffee and a near tear-inducing view. Luxury in Osa is mosquito netting and a cold shower. Luxury here is a truly private beach where a weary photographer can plop into the gentle lapping waves after a jungle hike without a flashlight (next time I’ll pack 3 trillion and two AA batteries).

Health issues are something to keep in mind when heading to Osa. Communicate any allergies you have to your hotel and pack extra meds. Help is a quite a ways off so if you suffer from some chronic health issues or mobility problems then you may want to skip it (otherwise you have no excuse). There are also plenty of things that bite and sting so keep your eyes peeled and pack calamine and pain-killers.

Once you’ve soaked up all the requisite beaches and volcanoes go to Osa. Osa is a whole other level of appreciation of Costa Rica. It’s raw and wet and awesome and you need to go there. Immediately. The article is over. Go now.

Ok I lied, just one more picture, but I didn’t take it. I just wanted to prove that I did in fact hike through the jungle at night with a bright yellow pack.


Picking Camera equipment for your trip to Costa Rica

This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson

Whether you’re taking the vacation of a lifetime or just out for a Sunday drive, Costa Rica is a country seemingly designed with the photographer in mind. Beaches, mountains, wildlife and quaint towns abound. The only problem is deciding which camera or equipment to bring. There is no right answer but I’ll try to help. If you are not a serious pro, are on a budget, or just don’t want to risk all your gear, you are going to have to compromise. Here are some suggestions for the best ways to compromise and still get great pictures. I have suggestions for the DSLR crowd as well as the folks shopping for a compact camera (and no, your smart phone is NOT a camera no matter how many megapixels it has).

Since this article is for residents and visitors I will sneak in a word on shopping and pricing. Buying camera gear in Costa Rica is insanely expensive so I don’t do it. Import taxes, exchange rates and the sales tax routinely push prices 50% or more above what can be had in the States. This also means we don’t get the selection that is available in the States or Europe. My solution is usually to wait until a friend headed to the States needs a ride from the airport. I have my new toy shipped to them and they bring it back on the plane. This works with co-workers on business trips as well. (If anyone from the Ministerio de Hacienda is reading this I am in no way advocating tax evasion). Just remember you are taking a risk because if there is a problem you won’t have a warranty claim.

Ok, now down to business. First for you DSLR folks it’s simple: go wide. The landscapes are breathtaking, and usually there is another scenic view just around the next bend. I’ve seen a lot of the country in the past few years and I find myself packing my super-wide angle most of the time. Super-wide lenses also tend to have very short minimum focusing distances so you can still get close-up, you just have to use your feet. You may not be able to get as tight on some shots, but you can always crop and you probably weren’t packing a lens long enough to zoom in on that sloth’s eyeball anyway.

If you’re shopping for a super-wide lens, I’ll stay neutral and recommend the well reviewed and reasonably priced Sigma 10-20mm EX DC HSM f/3.5, for cameras with APS-C sensors (commonly called crops), since it’s what most of us have. This lens is available in mounts for most camera brands. If you use a full frame camera, the advice is the same, pack the widest lens in your bag. As for accessories I recommend a circular polarizing filter to make that glare disappear, and a tripod. Here’s an example of all three items at use:

Exposure info: 10 Secs at f/11, 22mm ISO 100

If you are a bird-watcher or want to shoot surfing (or zoom in on the sloth’s eyeball) then you’ll need something very long, and you probably already have it and are willing to haul it. For the budget conscious who need more reach I have a solution in the next section.

If you are shopping for a travel camera and don’t want to compromise too much or just don’t want to haul a ton of gear, consider a super-zoom camera. These cameras are somewhere in between a DSLR and a compact point and shoot. They usually have manual control features similar to DSLRs, faster shutter response than point and shoot cameras (action shots are possible, try that with your fancy phone), as well as incredible zoom ranges often from 24-800mm.

You’ve got tons of options, but my suggestion would be to look at the models from Canon (SX series) first, then Sony, Fuji and Nikon. All are reputable, quality brands and will take great pictures. Most also feature some form of image stabilization for low-light and super-zoom lengths. The wide-end of the zoom range isn’t quite as wide as what I suggested for DSLR users, but it’s close, and the whole camera costs less than that lens I recommended to the fancy camera gang. Ignore the megapixel count, trust me it means nothing. My advice as for accessories with these cameras is a tripod (or monopod), plenty of batteries and a carrying case.

If that still sounds like more than you want to carry (super-zooms won’t fit in your pocket) and you are just looking to have fun, pick up a waterproof point-and-shoot camera. While a bit of a compromise as far a features go, these cameras are tons of fun and are far more likely to survive, a sudden downpour, adventure travel, some bugs I’ve seen, or the kids.

Since these cameras are well sealed and built tough they tend to survive being dropped in the sand, bumps and cold temperatures as well as going swimming. One big thing to keep in mind with these is the depth rating. Most are rated to 3 meters (10ft) of STATIC water pressure, though a few go down to 10 meters (33ft). Waves are big, heavy and moving. Don’t let a wave slap your camera. Don’t let the kids jump into the pool with the camera. Bad things will happen, crying or cursing may ensue.

There are quite a few options (and tons of colors) but the Olympus Tough and Canon D10 are tops for quality in this category. You do get what you pay for, and I would be leery of the quality of the lowest priced models. As for accessories get yourself batteries, a gorillapod mini tripod, and sense of humor.

Goofiness is often a side-effect of waterproof cameras. Tons of fun, where only they can play.

Whatever camera and equipment you choose while exploring Costa Rica have fun and take lots of pictures. Remember any camera is better than no camera, even if that camera is a phone.

Retrato: Marcos–Marcos’ Portrait Session

Marcos fue otro de los ganadores de una sesión de fotos en mi página de Facebook. Tras varios intentos de coordinar nuestras agendas, por fin logramos ir a Fraijanes a tomar estas fotos. Pueden ver un video de esa sesión. 

Marcos was another of the winners of a portrait session through my Facebook page. After a few tries at matching up our schedules we were finally able to get together for this session in Fraijanes. You can see a short video from this session.