We had dreamed of it for so long, we had desired it even longer. Over and over, we had repeated to ourselves that ubiquitous Costa Rican motto “Pura Vida” in our minds, like a stirring mantra. Then, at last, it happened, we had finally reached COSTA RICA.
Fixed focal length: 85mm / f : 2.8 – 1/160 ISO:320
Blurred effects are a favourite of mine, especially if there are small points of light in the background, which in this case are created by the tree fronds, although they can also be simple street lamps if I’m shooting at night. But how do you create this effect?
It all depends on the depth of field that you decide on — and I say “decide” because it’s a choice you make before shooting. These aren’t effects that can be done well in post-production, so it’s better to have clear ideas from the outset and create the desired effect that way.
Depth of field is the depth of focus of the lens, which is controlled by the diaphragm. Selecting a larger diaphragm aperture (f: 1.4 / 2.4 / 2.8) will give a shallower area of focus and achieve the effect that you see in this image. On the other hand, selecting a smaller diaphragm aperture (f: 11 / 16 / 22) enables you to keep all parts of the image in focus. )))
We could hear the refreshing sound of the waterfalls, the bubbling of the clear, crystalline waters, the subtle chirping of birds and the faint fluttering of the Morpho Azul, a turquoise-winged butterfly. We formed an incredulous audience to this concert of sound, our dreamy eyes dazzled by an array of scintillating colours. After all, this is a country so rich in natural habitats that it hosts 5% of the planet’s biodiversity, a land with abundant water and greenery, lapped on opposite coasts by two oceans. And yet, it is a very small land. Its forms the beating heart of Central America, home to ancient volcanoes, tropical beaches and rainforests and inhabited by monkeys, toucans, ocelots and jaguars. In short, it is a dream that came to fruition with each new step on our expedition.
Our trip to Costa Rica began in Panama, as night fell on a warm starry evening. Once we crossed the land border at Paso Canoas we were finally inside, free to wander far and wide in what many consider to be the most beautiful country in Central America.
We were on the Pacific side, a few dozen kilometres (48, to be precise) from Golfito, from where we would take a ferry to Puerto Jimenez, the gateway to one of Costa Rica’s largest and most fascinating national parks, Corcovado. A true paradise for ecologists and biologists, Corcovado is home to jaguars, crocodiles, coati, toucans, monkeys, sloths and much more besides, a primeval world where lush, green nature prevails over humankind’s ancestral urge to tame the wilderness. Here, nature is alive and kicking and does not allow itself to be subjugated, so urbanised areas are few and far between, sprouting like solitary mushrooms between one forest and the next. The Pacific coast is considerably more inhabited and touristy and contains a number of other natural parks. But on the Caribbean side, Mother Nature is unquestionably in charge and apart from scattered enclaves occupied by black people of African heritage, there is only the sea, greenery and blue sky.
In Costa Rica the imagination is free to roam and race at tremendous speed. Travellers voyage with their mind and with their heart, imagining themselves on a tropical beach, in a dense forest, or on top of a simmering volcano. Our task, however, was to stay on schedule and follow the itinerary traced by our steps. So our trek took us north, where we would meet another natural paradise, one with a curious name and an even more peculiar landscape: Uvita, where a sand bar shaped like a whale’s tail creates a protected double bay, making it a popular haven for whales, which come here to rest during their interoceanic migrations. Uvita is a small village that is concentrated mainly on the coast and depends predominantly on tourism.
Every September there is even a whale festival that brings this lost corner of the world to life.
The ocean waves that periodically roll over the dark sand also attract surfers from around the globe. When the sea retreats, the sun penetrates the dense clouds of water and reflects off the wet sand, creating hypnotic visual effects. But our visit, as fleeting as it was intense, spent walking along the beach and exploring wondrous watercourses in the heart of bamboo forests, had come to an end.
It was unbearable having to move on from each stopover, but unfortunately (or fortunately), our journey called and imposed its rhythm with inexorable severity.
Fixed focal length: 14mm / f: 14 – 1/5000 ISO: 200
I found myself in front of this marvellous panorama and wondered: how can I capture all this in a photograph? The choice of lens was crucial, as always, and in this case, I chose a 14mm to convey the majesty of the landscape. It’s a wide-angle lens, a “fish eye” to be precise. The view it offers is comprehensive and, in my opinion, perfect for this type of panoramic shot. Here the plane of focus includes the whole scene, which is crystal-clear from background to foreground. )))
The Pacific Coast still had an abundance of natural surprises in store for us: starting with the tropical beach of Manuel Antonio, near Quepos, which can only be reached on foot via a long path through dense forest; continuing further north, following the coastal road, we reached Jaco, and subsequently travelled to Tarcoles, along the Costanera Sur highway as far as the highlands of Carara National Park. It is a real Eden, a protected paradise of the scarlet macaw (Ara Macao), a sumptuous red parrot with yellow and blue cobalt streaks. To see them you have to follow a convenient boardwalk that leads you into the darkness of the forest. Convenient and accessible. The humid heat of the tropics makes its presence felt, and even more so on the other side of the country, on the Caribbean coast, where visitors are enticed by the tribal rhythm of African drums and the Bantu dances of the Miskito people, mixed-race descendants of black slaves taken from equatorial Africa during the age of the Conquistadors. The cradle of this irresistible mix of cultures centres around Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, in the southern reaches of Costa Rica, almost on the border with Panama, a stone’s throw from Bocas del Toro. We arrived here via San Jose, the country’s capital and an obligatory waypoint for any change of direction. Puerto Viejo is a world of its own, where the population, mainly people of colour, follows the relaxed, laid-back lifestyle of the Caribbean. Here the locals speak a mixture of Spanish and English, dance to the rhythm of reggae and tell wonderful stories of pirates and adventurers, against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. This is an unexpected side of Costa Rica, one that is rich in culture and of course nature, which looks like an exotic canvas by some visionary artist.
But apart from Puerto Viejo in the south, the large urban port hub of Limon in the centre, and the small village of Tortuguero to the north, the Caribbean coast is practically uninhabited. It is a realm of tropics and rainforests, where turbid rivers meander through the land, creating a dense network of canals before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. The Tortuguero River gives life to one of the most beautiful natural landscapes on the planet, almost like a small Amazonia accessible only by river, yet another primeval and beautiful world that is difficult to put into words.
If the awesomeness of Costa Rica had ended here, we might already have considered ourselves satisfied, but that was not the case. It did not end here, instead it multiplied and transformed itself in the central part of the country, where volcanoes and cloud forests overwhelm and disorient travellers with their immense beauty and variety.
Two particularly memorable panoramas are worth mentioning: the Curicancha Reserve in Monteverde, northwest of San Jose, and the Poas Volcano, which can be reached via a hair-raising ride from Grecia. Both of these places encapsulate all the originality of Costa Rica, which is difficult to replicate anywhere else. The Curicancha Reserve is a magical fairytale place, where highland woods meet tropical forest, creating a thick and lingering haze. A place of enchantment worthy of the most skilful wizards, it is also a realm of oppressive humidity and home to the Quetzal, an amazing bird with a jaunty crest, a very long tail and electric-blue and green feathers. Here the echoes of time were lost as we stood in stunned astonishment, mortal travellers bowled over once again by such divine wonder.
But our journey had come to an ideal conclusion, on the edge of an unreal world from where we could admire the cerulean lagoon lying in the crater of the Poas Volcano, enveloped in mist and once again exuding irresistible natural charm.
Here we were, after a long trip, at the end of a journey that had been more like a dream, so we thanked our lucky stars for this adventure and fell asleep, lulled by beautiful memories.
Fixed focal length: 24mm / f: 4 – 1/100 ISO 320
In this image that I chose to round off with, I like to think about different aspects: the framing, the choice of lens and the diaphragm, three things that I think are important to always consider together, because they have three different functions but each one is crucial. It all depends on what you want to say with the shot and what kind of sensation you’d like to transmit to the observer. I remember that moment, I remember the happiness that I felt in finding myself there, immersed in that amazing natural habitat, I remember the heat and the rays of pure light filtered by the thick foliage. I wanted to say all that… and I tried to do so by combining these three things—lens, diaphragm and framing—in the best possible way. I used a 24mm, because it’s a wide-angle lens that does not distort dimensions or distance; I used an aperture of f/4 to focus on only one part of the tree, the middle of the trunk, and have ¾ of the image out of focus, allowing me to keep the lighting effects in the background; and finally for the framing, I chose to aim upwards from the base of the tree, to convey a sense of majesty and beauty.