Fotografía Profesional en Costa Rica–Professional Photography in Costa Rica

Archivo para marzo, 2012

Digital Photography and Editing: Honestly

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


Honesty: Webster’s Dictionary defi….no you know me better than that. Google it if you must. We all know the definition, but digital photography and it’s ally, digital editing really start to blur the lines of photographic honesty. Up to what point is it still a photograph…I don’t know. I would say that advertisers have probably taken it too far. If your ad for mascara requires adding digital lashes then I’d say you’re being dishonest with your photography. That being said, for the rest of us mere mortal photographers not working on multi-million dollar campaigns there is still hope for digital darkroom redemption.

Purists argue that if you got it right in the camera you shouldn’t have to fuss with your picture anyway. I defend myself with Ansel Adams, who was famous for spending endless hours in the darkroom fussing over his photographs to get them to look just how he wanted them. His son went so far as to suggest that his father would have found a way to use digital photography had it been available to him. I don’t have a darkroom, at least not a real one. Mine is well lit, stuffy and right now rather messy. I have software with 3.2 trillion sliders, bars and curves where I push, stretch, crop, saturate, de-saturate, correct distortion, add distortion, layer, filter, vignette and do anything else to get a shot to look like what it FELT like. That’s the key to my photography. Emotional honesty.

Often I just have to add a bit of contrast or fill a shadow and very frequently adjust the white balance (that’s the overall color cast of the shot). Sometimes I go big though. I push some of those bars pretty far to get the feel I want. I’ll give you an example a shot that people really like (from Lola’s Restaurant) that wasn’t very interesting until I edited it. I knew what it could look like, and more importantly I knew what the people enjoying the sunset were feeling, even if the original shot didn’t reflect that.



I’ll admit to being a bit more dishonest with my shots of people. Namely portraits (especially of the ladies). I have fancy software that can erase any semblance of wrinkles and imperfections while changing your eye and hair color. It works great when used in moderation or can be a lot of fun if you think of it as a digital Halloween costume. I try to limit myself to the using it right up to the point where a really good make-up job and better lighting might have given similar results. I actually did a completely ridiculous version of a friend of mine with the title ‘Bad Photoshop’ to support her claims that what we see in the media is not a reasonable expectation of beauty. The result: tons of “wow you look great,” and “you look like a model.” Epic fail. I told people I was being dishonest and they didn’t care, maybe it was an emotionally honest picture—people really saw her like that in their mind. I’ll go with that rather than think that all her friends on Facebook are rather dim. I won’t share her picture to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.


I have quite a lot invested in photo editing software and I’ll admit to not knowing what half of those sliders do. If you want to fuss with your shots—and I hope you do, and you are one a budget (like most of us) then just go ahead and download Picasa. by Google. It’s free, and works pretty well as long as you don’t ask too much of it—it ain’t Photoshop. If you want more power, then try Photoshop Elements which is about $100 online and very much worth it. Once you have your weapon of choice I’ll point you towards a few areas that can help you improve your shots quickly: Contrast, Saturation, Color Balance and Fill light (or shadows)

I don’t want to keep you reading forever and I want you to learn on your own as well, but take any shot you have and play with just those aspects one at a time, and you will quickly discover what a difference they can make. Contrast can give you a bit more “punch,” while you need to be careful with saturation which affects color intensity—a little goes a long way. Fill light or shadow adjustments are great to bring out detail in darkened areas, especially faces. Color balance is useful for making skin tones look healthy depending on what kind of light was available or just changing the overall look of a picture–try it with a shot of the sunset.

Whatever you final edit looks like remember the bit about the honesty. I’ll leave you with a shot that is totally emotionally honest and totally unedited…I guess it can be done.


Beauty in the mundane, your day-to-day is as important as your vacation photos

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

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“That’s going to end badly.” I knew it. Having grown up traipsing through the woods with friends–something just short of Lord of the Flies, I knew a group of stick-wielding children would inevitably end badly. I scanned the park for a parent. Nope. Three minutes later, tears. Now I was parenting and I don’t have kids, just a really obedient dog. Here goes nothing.

After a quick check of the offended child my expert medical diagnosis was: no blood no harm. I herded the scattered, slightly shaken kids together and replaced their sticks with a Frisbee. This being Costa Rica, anything other than a soccer ball is a relative mystery and January winds didn’t contribute to their success. Needless to say my attempts at organizing a game of Ultimate Frisbee failed miserably. However no more sticks have been thrown and now I am the neighborhood sporting-goods-lending-center-for-bored-children, all-time quarterback, 12th string goalie, and occasional dispute resolver. The kids love me. They all know my name (I know two of theirs), they call my dog Bonita by name too.

Having made myself known and trusted in the neighborhood I started wandering the park shooting all sorts of things: Graffiti, “mejengas,” sunsets, rainbows, parents, kids, dogs, more dogs…anything. I shot film and digital and got swamped by the kids when I showed up with two cameras and telephoto lenses, they felt like sports stars…

Some people wonder why I would shoot such mundane things when I live in a country as striking as Costa Rica. I find interest and even beauty in the mundane. Those fleeting moments and interactions are more a part of our life than vacation photos, but we almost never share them. Photography doesn’t have to be grandiose to be meaningful.

I’m by no means a great street photographer but I particularly enjoy shooting people acting natural. My portrait sessions are laid back and the first fifteen minutes are usually spent just letting folks get used to the camera until they stop posing and start laughing and smiling for real. My friends and family already know to ignore me knowing I’ll wait for the moment. I make a point of telling my wedding clients not to look at the camera unless I ask them to. I look for those kinds of moments when I am shooting in my neighborhood park. Since my cameras tend to be quite obvious I like to used telephoto lenses so I can get natural interactions without having to get too close. Often I have to shoot a few “posed” shots so folks forget I’m there and relax. It’s a matter of taste, but I have been lucky with it. Try it, you’ve got nothing to lose, and you may just come back with some great shots (and probably a lot of blown shots too).

I’m a bit short on words this article so I’ll leave you with more pictures than normal. Normal pictures from normal lives, but worth sharing none the less.


Paying attention: better digital shots, healthier digits

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

I’ll admit I was a little stuck on a subject for this article. I had mapped out a few ideas, a few pithy phrases to build on but nothing much more. I opted for manual labor to clear my head. As I sat in the gutter chiseling away fresh asphalt trying to free the grate that covers the gutter, it hit me. Or more precisely I hit it. My finger. With the hammer. I managed to contain my rage to a low whisper since there were likely children somewhere in the 3km radius that my cursing would have carried if it were proportional to the pain (and yes, it does hurt to type).

The accident served to remind me that much like chiseling, photography requires paying attention. If you want to take full advantage of your trip to (or around) Costa Rica then a little bit of attention can go a long way.

I broke out my film camera a few weeks ago and found myself suddenly paying attention to a number of the “rules” of photography that are so easy to ignore (and I readily do) when you shoot digital. If you blow a shot in digital you know right away, you compensate and re-shoot. With film there is no do-over. But just because you can take it again, doesn’t mean you should have to, so I will help you a bit. More experienced photographers may want to skip the text and go straight to critiquing my shots and photoshop skills, you know you want to.

Most of you are likely working with a compact digital camera while you wander around Costa Rica taking pictures of everything and probably a ton of landscapes. Landscapes make me instantly think of the best known rule of photography: the “rule of thirds.” If you can imagine dividing what you see in the camera into three vertical and three vertical sections those are the guides for rule of thirds. It’s such a standard that most compact cameras have an option somewhere in the menu that will display the grid for you to use. Use it. Especially at sunset on the Pacific. Most of us tend to put the horizon right smack in the middle of the frame, but I’m betting you will be happier with your shots if you move that line up or down a bit and bring in a bit more sky or sand. Try both—it’s digital and doesn’t cost any more, plus you’re shots will look just a bit more pro. Also could you all do me a solid and turn off the flash at sunset, it’s not doing anything, just like it’s useless at the rock concert or the sporting event, thanks. A notable exception to the rule of thirds applies when you are shooting reflections, then you may want to center the reflection line, play with it.

Once you’ve got your rough framing in place, check your edges. I like to think of it like checking your blind-spot when you merge—or if you live in Costa Rica–swerve to avoid a pothole. You just never know when something is going to be out of place and ruin your shot (or your taillight). Check the edges and the corners of your image for things that don’t belong. I admit that I am terrible at this and have had to toss or crop any number of images because of it. This dovetails into the rule about checking your background for weirdness. There are a bunch of technical reasons that I can’t explain well that cause your compact digital to have most of the image in focus. It’s nearly impossible to get a blurry background in a portrait shot. I use background blur a lot to isolate my subjects in portrait shoots, but you can’t so you will have to be extra vigilant about what’s behind your boyfriend when he is posing. Think telephone poles, trashcans, tree limbs and UFOs. Actually if you happen have a UFO in frame (perhaps while visiting the Arenal Volcano) then tell your boyfriend to move out of the way and upload that shot ASAP. I have an example of not checking my corners or my background here:

The last thing that you really really really need to pay attention to is blur. Not the good background blur that you can’t get, but the bad motion blur that you get all the time. This is where digital is your friend. If you are shooting in low light, digital cameras tend to warn you when the shutter speed drops to point where you are likely to get camera shake (the icon usually looks something like a camera between two parentheses). Listen to your camera. It was made by smart people who know stuff about cameras. Your camera won’t warn you when your subject is moving too fast, and so you need to look at your monitor and immediately delete those shots.

Do not under any circumstances upload blurry pictures to Facebook. These blurry streaks of color are my pet-peeve update pictures. “Look, I’m at the Raging Death Kittens concert, I am so coool.–Sent from my fancy phone.” Those usually look more like their kitten chewed on the phone and uploaded by accident. Please be better photographers than that. I’m giving you the knowledge, use it.

That last bit actually brings me to my last observation about paying attention, it’s about editing and sharing. If you want people to think you are a good photo maker (vs a photo taker), then only share your best pictures. Edit carefully, only a small percentage of shots are really great, most are average or bad. That’s ok, I won’t tell on you.

Well after all those rules I’m feeling a little rebellious so I will leave you with a rule-breaker that folks seem to like:

A day trip to the Irazú you never knew

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

I still get excited when I can see the top of the Irazú Volcano from the Central Valley. You get used to looking east and seeing a wall of mountain with clouds on top, but then every so often in the dry season it clears up and you get to see the top–view killing antennae and all. When I see it like that I want to head that way, just not all the way up, I have a more interesting trip in mind. Yep, I have a new favorite part of Irazú: Prusia.

The first time a friend suggested we go to Prusia, I had an immediate flashback to high school history and visions of pointy-helmeted mustachioed generals. After my confused silence, I was informed that the Irazú park has a second entrance, with woods and trails and no crater.

I often tell people that the best part of taking a day trip to Irazú isn’t the crater, it’s the drive and the views.

The crater is nice the first time. You putz around for a few minutes, wait for the clouds to clear, ooh-and-ah and the colors in the lagoon (if it’s not dry), shiver, marvel at how out of shape you feel and head home. Forty-five minutes, tops. If you have never been, it’s probably worth it once here’s a preview:


I’ve done it enough times, so now I day trip to Prusia, and stop at the creepy Sanatorio Durán for pictures. Both areas share the same, not too well marked access in Tierra Blanca. The best way to spot it is by keeping an eye out for the the Sanatorio which is pretty obvious (it’ll be on the left as you head up).

Prusia is a reforested section of the volcano that was damaged during its eruption in the 1960’s. It’s full of little creeks, tall mist-shrouded trees and giant sand-paper like plants (botanists help me out here). It features four trails and one even leads to the source of the Reventado river–cool.

You may want to pack lunch and definitely bring sturdy shoes (preferable water-proof) and rain gear for you and your camera. There isn’t much infrastructure near Prusia but check out Mirador Paso del Quetzal for some simple home-made food and baked goods. It’s not fancy but it’s run by honest folks and you may even spot a quetzal at the right time of year.

Taking pictures of the landscape within Prusia is tricky since the forest is quite dense and can yield some not-quite-right results. It can be pretty misty lessening your contrast and light, or if the sun is out you could have too much contrast. Try reducing your scope and shooting flowers and plants instead. If you are going to shoot the landscape try placing someone in the shot to give a sense of scale to the trees or the leaves.

If you aren’t happy with your photography options in the park, or the the climate doesn’t cooperate, Sanatorio Durán has enough ghost-story-and-rust appeal to it to whet your photographic appetite, all for a nominal entrance fee. A history as a tuberculosis hospital and a juvenile jail, plus 50 years of disuse make for some hair raising ghost tales and good photos. I pity the care-takers who sleep there—bold souls to be sure. It’s often used for photo sessions though the goose-bump factor is usually diminished by packs of screaming tweens on weekends. Try visiting during the week (and in the wet season) for a more serene experience. Rumor among photographers has it that professional looking photo gear could get you hit with a surcharge (about $5). I haven’t been charged yet but I can’t disprove it so you are on notice.

For residents wanting a change of pace or visitors who want a little extra a day trip to Prusia and Sanatorio Durán may be just the ticket. Just please watch your step, both places.