Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Costa Rica Photo Tour

Sometimes ya just gotta do what needs to be done to get the photo.

While scouting locations for an upcoming October 2014 Costa Rica Photo Tour, the clouds begin to clear over dinner at the Smithsonian Observatory Lodge near Mt. Arenal, one of Costa Rico's more active volcano's. Almost always shrouded in cloud's, it's rare to see the volcano. So, it was a treat to see it at night, backlite by the resorts on the opposite side of the mountain and stars ablaze all around. The real kicker, she was smoking! A photo had to be made of this.

So, why was I mad?  Well, I was kicking myself because I brought a minimal amount of gear for this trip. I knew if I brought my normal assortment I'd be working the whole time and miss scouting opportunities because I'd run outta time. But, this was too good to miss.

The elevated deck overlooking the jungle beneath offers a lovely panoramic view of the volcano just steps from the dining room. It's a large deck with a skinny walkway that runs the parameter of the dining area. I knew a night shot of the mountain would require me to move as far away from the dining area as possible. The light streaming on the jungle below would surely be overexposed during a 30 second exposure. Getting ground level was useless because the canopy would hide the mountain.

And adding to the complictions, I had no tripod!  I left it home with lots of other gear. The thin metal railing would not support a camera and tables and chairs were the wrong height to clear the middle railing. However, there was opening near the bottom of the railings approx. three feet up. I went back to my room to find objects I could use to make a sturdy makeshift tripod. I grabbed the end table next to the bed, my flips-flops, and an extra sock and returned to the deck.

I went all the way to end of the walkway away from the open deck area. It was darker over there and not many people ventured over that way. This was good because vibrations of people walking during an exposure could ruin the shot. I set the camera down, used the flip-flops to elevate the 14-24mm so it would point slightly upward giving me more sky and stars, and then slipped the dirty sock underneath to hold the lens snug. Focusing on infinity, I shot wide-open for thirty seconds. The shutter clicks, exposes. I bent over and glanced at the monitor....WOW!  You could even see steam rising from the volcano. Thirty seconds was perfect. I tend to start there when I want to see stars and not star streaks. To get stars streaking you need to go at least two minutes. Thirty seconds will get you stars.

I snapped a few more frames, people would look over and wonder what in the heck is that freaky dude up to over there. Then, the clouds moved in and I adjourned for the evening with a grin.

Equipment?  Naw, A dirty sock will do.


  1. Layne, Your explicit description of what you did to get this photo and WHY is really, really helpful as an amateur. I sometimes wonder if photographers get their great shots because they just have the best equipment, but it seems like a little creativity and inventiveness go even further. Mucha gracias! When is the trip?

  2. Thanks for the note Kim, Contact FOCUS ON NATURE for dates for our upcoming ICELAND Trek. Its gonna be a great trip.