The Island of Costa Rica?

Tropical Fantasy | Resplendent Quetzal

When you mention Costa Rica people often envision a tropical isle in the Caribbean, decorated with colorful birds, white sand beaches and rich rainforests. Though most all of that is true, one point is decidedly false. There are a few common misconceptions about this popular photographic destination and being an island is right at the top of the list. It doesn’t help that the name of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, is easily (and often) confused with the capital city of Puerto Rico, which is San Juan. Costa Rica is not an island, though in some ways Costa Rica does have an island like feel to it. One can easily enjoy a quiet morning along the Caribbean coast, followed by a breathtaking drive through the cloud forests and mountains, and still arrive at the Pacific coast in time for a sundowner overlooking the ocean.

Cloud Atlas | Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the South. It comprises a total of 19,700 square miles, which is roughly equivalent to the size of West Virginia. Despite its relatively small size, this country boasts more than 10% of the world’s biodiversity with 19 different ecosystems! Costa Rica has been a bastion of democracy and stability in a region that has seen its share of revolutions and civil unrest. Costa Rica is recognized as a land of peace-loving people and has been without a standing army since 1946.

Color Pallet | Keel-billed Toucan

Conservation here is very important. Costa Rica is moving toward carbon neutrality faster than any other country in the world. A major goal of the Costa Rican government is to be the first carbon offset country in the world by the time they celebrate their 200th year of independence in the year 2021.

Heart of the Tropics | Costa Rica

This beautiful country is broken up into seven different provinces and during our recent photo tour my group visited six of them. We enjoyed being transported in our own private bus by our dedicated driver, Santiago. He was an expert of navigating the roads of Costa Rica and kept our luggage and camera gear safe at all times. Santiago arrived at the entrance to our hotel and ushered us away in a spacious 18 passenger bus with plenty of room on board for the group to spread out and have their camera gear close at hand. As you travel across this lush countryside one has to resist the urge to grab your camera and go chasing off into the rainforest every time you pass over one of the regions countless, beautiful streams!

The shadow of our bus as we travel out of San Jose up to the mountains.

For my Costa Rica photo tours I partner with the very best native guide. He graduated in 1996 as a biology major from Costa Rica University. Shortly thereafter he began guiding trips and now has nearly two decades of experience under his belt. He’s an endless wealth of knowledge and an incredible photographer as well. More than once on the trip he identified a bird species by simple characteristics like the color and shape of their bills. Due to his background in the field of biology he’s always mindful of the well-being of our subjects and his knowledge in that regard is indispensable.

Morning Glory | Scarlet Tanager

Costa Rica is far more than just colorful birds. During our ten day photo tour my group was able to photograph Howler Monkeys, Coati, Crocodiles, Sloths (including a mother and baby), as well as a wide variety of frogs, snakes, bats, insects and owls. There were endless breathtaking landscapes and multiple waterfalls to enjoy as well. To see a sample of the subject diversity that we photographed take a moment to browse my Costa Rica portfolio here at this link.

Midnight Snack | Orange Nectar Bat
Eye Candy | Spiny Glass Frog
Nectar Bar | Fiery-throated Hummingbirds
Cover Girl | Eyelash Viper

If you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, one term you should be familiar with is “Pura Vida” (pronounces poo-rah vee-dah). Simply translated, it means, “simple life ” or “pure life ”. In Costa Rica this is more than just a saying, it is their way of life. Another thing you should be aware of is the food. It is delicious! The portions are plentiful and hunger is never a problem. If tropical drinks are your thing, then you’re in for a treat with their Pina Coladas. The only warning I’d give you is to stay away from eating the Mangos that my guides will offer to pick for you fresh off the trees. I say this for the simple reason that the Mangos from the supermarket back home will never be the same!

Spotlight | Red-eyed Tree Frog

I’ll be taking another group to photograph this incredible country again next year and the trip is already sold out. If you’re interested in joining us in 2021 you’ll find next year’s itinerary at the Tropics of Costa Rica Photo Tour. This is truly a magical destination filled with species diversity and stunning landscapes. It is for good reason that Costa Rica is the only country that can make the claim ‘Pura Vida‘ and you’ll need to visit to experience it for yourself.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel

The Golden Canopy | Costa Rica

A World Without Colors

Chronicles of Nature

Adult Great Horned owl image captured near owl nest in the Phoenix metro area.

Though the vast majority of my published portfolio is in color, I enjoy working in black and white as well. Color photography began to overtake the market in the mid – 20th century and has effectively left black and white photography as essentially a niche market for photographers who use this medium for artistic purposes. Most professional photographers today would agree that creating an appealing black and white photograph requires much more effort than one in color. Thus the market has been shaped by the influx of color in our profession and changed public perception in ways that few ever anticipated. In 1935 the Eastman Kodak Company came out with its Kodachrome film, a product that revolutionized the photographic industry. Before that time those wishing to capture color images had to deal with heavy glass plates, tripods, long exposures and a painstaking development procedure, despite all this work photographers were left with unsatisfactory results. After dominating the market for decades, Kodak announced in 2009 that it would be discontinuing it’s production of Kodachrome as it now accounted for less than 1% of the company’s revenue. Ironically enough, Kodak is now all but obsolete in the world of digital photography.

Wild Morning Glory found growing along the banks of Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona.

Composing images with the absence of color demands that one be even more mindful of photographic principles. Suddenly things like subject matter, composition, contrast, textures, tones and shading take on a whole new level of importance. In the world of color photography it’s often all too easy to become lax in these areas and rely on colors to persuade the viewer’s eyes into appreciating the image they are looking at. Thanks to our culture of rampant visual stimuli, creating compelling black and white images that will appeal to the general public has become increasingly difficult. A widespread popularity for photos that demonstrate a misuse of color saturation has led to images that rival Lisa Frank’s graphic art, and this can be discouraging for some. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exercise ourselves in the discipline of working in a black and white medium.

Winter landscape shot of an Aspen Grove shot near Greer, Arizona.

 

 

 

It was Ansel Adams that said, “A photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium.” If one of the greatest black and white photographers could make such a statement we should take it upon ourselves to see what work we can contribute to this end. Some have said, “A picture is worth a thousand words”… If the greatest poets were able to paint pictures with their words, how much more ought we as photographers be able to create pictures without colors? I encourage you to challenge yourself by composing images in black and white; I’m confident that it will assist in making you a more skilled photographer and help you create in ways you never thought possible. See the world in black and white and throw away those colorful crutches for a while.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel Smalley

Black and White landscape image taken off Hwy 89 in Montana near Glacier National Park.

Black and White landscape image taken off Hwy 89 in Montana near Glacier National Park.