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In Costa Rica, It’s Not the Journey – It’s the Pictures You Get

Life looks a little different through the lens of a camera. How the light bounces off a white surface, how the fence obscures the composition of a flower, and how the breeze shakes the leaves are all details that play on Greg Basco’s mind as he holds his camera up to his eye.

It’s these details that turn a point-andshoot photographer into an amateur, and Basco has made a career out of sharing them with others.

At least twice a month, Basco crunches through the jungle leading a tail of tourists. Whether he’s there to review the mechanics of their cameras or simply to hold back a banana leaf for them to get a better angle, Basco ensures that dozens of foreigners go home with better photos.

Noting a growing interest in digital photography among his neighbors and close friends here, he decided to begin classes for those who make Costa Rica their home.

“This venture began with the idea of working with foreigners,” says Basco, who began Foto Verde Tours with business partner Paulo Valerio in 2005. “We wanted to improve their pictures, whether that meant teaching them more about their cameras or showing them the best places to take pictures.

“That same tour we’ve been offering to foreigners, we’d like to extend to nationals.”

Beginning with a three-day trip to Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast (Oct. 1 to 4 or Oct. 30 to Nov. 1) and a tour for more advanced photographers in the Arenal Volcano area in north-central Costa Rica (Oct. 9 to 11), Basco is hoping to lure residents to an experience that’s long been directed toward visitors.

Relatively new to photography himself – he began exploring it in earnest eight years ago – Basco teaches with the passion and understanding of a neophyte.

His work has since been featured in Canon promotional material, National Geographic, Newsweek, Lonely Planet and Sierra Club publications.

A native of the U.S. city of St. Louis, Basco first came to Costa Rica as a Peace Corps volunteer. He returned years later after earning a graduate degree in Latin American politics and conservation, in order to work in sustainable development.

But he soon became attracted to nature photography, a field that draws hundreds of visitors here each year.

“If you’re going to take photos of nature, Costa Rica is at the top of your list,” says Basco, who conducts workshops from his home in Zarcero, a mountain town northwest of San José. “And for people who live here, there is so much opportunity in their backyard.”

His right-hand woman in the business, Mónica Quesada, a former Tico Times photographer, leads tours out of San José. Providing an option to those who don’t want to venture out of the city, her one-day workshops include a visit to INBioparque in Heredia, north of the capital, the Butterfly Farm in Alajuela, northwest of San José, or Lankester Botanical Garden in Cartago, east of the capital.

“The idea of these workshops has been to give visitors a foundation for the rest of their trip,” Quesada says. “But it can also work for resident photographers who’d like to learn more about their cameras.”

As clouds roll in over his backyard and hang heavy above the shooting grounds of a Monday morning workshop at his home, Basco patiently waits for one of his students to settle on the right aperture.

They are surrounded by an elaborate garden, plush with a diverse array of flowers, plant life and other elements to photograph. As his student carefully fiddles with the dials on his camera, Basco coaches him along, offering suggestions until the resulting image has the right balance of exposure and focus.

“It can be frustrating at first,” Basco acknowledges. “But it’s about making the camera do what we want it to do and not what the camera wants to do.”

That, he says, separates a true photographer from the casual picture-taker who simply clicks a button.


Start Shooting

One- or two-day workshops are offered in Zarcero or San José and can be scheduled by calling 2253-1611 or e-mailing Pricing varies depending on number of participants, but run $60 to $200 per person for a full-day tour. Multiday tours are offered throughout the year, some with specific themes (such as hummingbirds or plant life).

Upcoming tours include: Basic Photography in Tortuguero, Oct. 1 to 4 or Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, including boat and walking tours to look for birds, alligators, monkeys and sloths in Tortuguero National Park and a final day in San José with instruction on making prints and a summary of concepts discussed; and Advanced Photography in Arenal, Oct. 9 to 11, including an opportunity to shoot the Arenal Volcano lava flow from Arenal Observatory Lodge, a day at the Snake Castle Zoo to photograph poisonous snakes and tree frogs, and a day at the Ecocentro Danaus ecological reserve. Tours cost $400 to $600 per person, depending on the number of participants. Lodging, transportation, food and instruction are included.

Recommended equipment, directions and tour or workshop details can be found online at Tours and workshops are offered in English and Spanish and are available for all experience levels.


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