It was a degree in political science and tropical ecology that first brought photographer Gregory Basco of Deep Green Photography to Costa Rica, but it was an eventual love of nature photography that keeps bringing him back. A new contributor to Outdoor Photography Guide, Greg now leads photography tours throughout Latin America. You can get to know more about Greg and his work here.
Outdoor Photography Guide: How did you get started in photography? Specifically how did you make the leap into doing it for a living?
Greg Basco: I’m actually a political scientist by training. I’ve always been interested in nature and have studied environmental politics and biology. Right after college in the US, I spent two years in Costa Rica in the Peace Corps and fell in love with the country and one person in particular, my wife who is a Costa Rican native! We returned to the US for a few years where I did my graduate work in political science and tropical ecology. We then returned to Costa Rica so I could do my field research for my doctoral dissertation on ecotourism, and then I worked for a couple of years in conservation in Costa Rica.
But during that time, I was really getting into nature photography. I sold a few pictures and bought more gear. I sold a few more pictures and bought more gear again. And in 2006, I decided to move to nature photography full-time, selling my own images for books and magazines and co-founding Foto Verde Tours, Costa Rica’s first and only travel company specializing in nature photography tours. I’m busy now with the tours I lead, trying to grow the company throughout Latin America, producing my own coffee table book and e-books, and starting to build a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting conservation through photography.
So, it’s been kind of a non-traditional journey to nature photography but one that I think is finally coming full circle in a way as I’m now in a position to try to help give back to the forests that have allowed me to make a living for me my family.
OPG: Do you have any formal training in photography?
GB: No, I’m entirely self-taught. I started out looking through coffee table books of photography that I liked, especially related to rainforests. And then I bought a few how-to books on nature photography to start to learn more, and from there it was experimentation because shooting the rainforest offers so many different challenges compared to the temperate areas of the world. Of course I’m fortunate to be able to work with a number of photographer friends to lead my workshop tours so I’m constantly learning new things!
OPG: You’ve traveled to some amazing places – do you have a favorite location?
GB: I don’t roam as far and wide as some nature photographers because I’ve chosen to specialize in the rainforests of Costa Rica, but I’m increasingly branching out to Latin America in general. In Costa Rica, one of my absolute favorite spots is the magical Rio Celeste. It’s a lush forest set off by a sapphire-colored river – simply amazing. But my tours and upcoming conservation projects are starting to take me to other Latin American countries, and I’m starting to really like Ecuador and Chile. The cloud forests of Ecuador are fantastic, and the Atacama Desert of Chile is amazing as well. I’m going to be exploring a number of lesser-known areas in both countries in the coming years for tours and photography projects, and that’s really exciting to me!
OPG: What subjects do you enjoy shooting most?
GB: My next challenge is always what I enjoy shooting most! I like macro, wildlife, landscape, and bird photography equally, and I very much like to challenge myself technically. Shooting a wide range of subjects keeps me fresh.
OPG: What’s in your camera bag?
GB: I shoot Canon gear and currently work with the Canon 5DsR and Canon 7DII bodies, which are a nice complement to each other. My main lenses are the Canon 300 mm f/2.8, the Sigma 150-600 mm Contemporary zoom, the Sigma 150 mm macro lens, the Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS zoom, a Rokinon 24 mm f/1.4, and a Sigma 15 mm fisheye. So, I’m pretty eclectic in terms of my gear choices but I like to shoot a wide range of subjects. Oh, and I never go anywhere without at least two flashes along with radio flash transmitters and light modifiers. I use flash a lot in my photography.
OPG: What’s your favorite lens and why?
GB: My favorite is the Canon 300 mm f/2.8 lens. I just love the look of f/2.8 with its shallow depth of field. And this lens gives me good reach but is light enough to use handheld as I’m hiking through the forest.
OPG: How important is post-processing to your photography?
GB: I don’t think it’s that important. I really try to get the absolute best single image I can in the field in terms of composition and exposure. So, I’d rather spend an extra hour out in the field working with filters and/or flash rather than spending an hour back at the computer. I try to have my final results not stray too far from my RAW file, the goal being that a casual viewer wouldn’t be surprised if I showed them my RAW file and processed image side by side. I use Lightroom for about 95% of my workflow.
OPG: What is it about photography that drew you to it as a creative medium?
GB: Love of nature was what first drew me to photography, and I try hard to create artistic images with the tools I have in the field. So, photography is a way for me to be out in nature while producing something creative. And photography has also led me to some amazing places and has allowed me to meet some wonderful people. I really couldn’t ask for a better job!
OPG: What is the goal of your work? What do you aim to convey with your images?
GB: I hope this doesn’t sound too pretentious, but I really try to show viewers the mystery and wonder that I feel about any place or subject that I’m photographing. I’m not necessarily trying to show exactly what a place or animal looks like but rather something about the essence of the subject or the context in which it exists. I hope for my photos to tell a little story and evoke a feeling of wonder.
OPG: Why nature photography?
GB: I’ve always loved nature and have been interested in conservation. What I’m trying to do more and more these days is to link nature photography with conservation. It’s why I’m starting a new Costa Rica-based NGO called The Tropical Conservation Photography Group. Along with a number of my photographer friends, we’ll be trying to use high-quality nature photography to support conservation efforts in Latin America.
OPG: What motivates you to teach others about photography?
GB: I truly enjoy teaching, whether that means leading workshops, writing articles/blog posts/e-books, doing videos, or giving presentations. It’s a way for me to share what I’ve learned in a field that’s very interesting to me. Seeing one of my clients put into a practice a tip or technique and then nailing a great shot on a workshop is a fantastic feeling!
OPG: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in photography, or just starting to develop their eye?
GB: I think two things are important. First, learn as much as you can about the technical aspects of photography. You want the technical part to be second nature so that you can concentrate on being out in nature and focusing on composition, light, and behavior.
Second, try to forge your own personal style rather than simply copying other photographers out there. Studying and learning from other photographers is very important and incredibly useful but take what you learn and incorporate it into your own work.
OPG: Where are you planning to go next?
GB: Next week, I’ll be doing three days of shooting frogs in the lowland rainforest of Costa Rica as part of a calendar and book project. Then I’ll be out leading a workshop on hummingbird photography in July in the highlands of Costa Rica. And in August, I’ll be leading a workshop in the Peruvian Amazon before heading over to scout a new location, a Jurassic-looking forest in Chile that I hope to include in future workshops!
You can see more of Greg’s work here: Deep Green Photography
To view Greg’s workshop and tour offerings, visit this website: Foto Verde Tours
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