Deep Green Photography

BEHIND THE LENS - 12 Favorite Photos of 2016

Behind The LensGregory Basco15 Comments

2016 was a year of relatively little photography for me. In years past, I had been focused on planning and producing special images for my Costa Rica coffee table book, National Parks of Costa Rica, which saw the light of day in early January. With that done, my work emphasis shifted this year.

  • In addition to the usual magazine articles, I worked on e-books (Lightroom for the Nature Photographer is out, and I've started work on three more).
  • I did a fair amount of internal office work related to my photo tour company Foto Verde Tours. 
  • I scouted new destinations for our photo workshops, within Costa Rica and in other areas of Latin America.
  • And I continued to work on my new conservation photography NGO, which has a final name, the New World Conservation Photography Group!

But I still found the time to take a few photos here and there :-) Looking back on my photo work from this year and the pictures I've selected to include in this blog post, I was happy to see a continuing evolution of my nature photography style. I'm putting more and more effort into looking for strong compositions and images that give a sense of place; though I still like a clean classic portrait of a great looking species, I didn't do many of those this year.

After selecting my favorites, I was pleased to note that there is a pretty equal amount of wide angle, macro, and long lens work represented. I enjoy photographing nature photography in all of its aspects. I tend to get bored pretty quickly if I'm photographing the same way, so tackling everything from landscapes to macro to birds and wildlife helps keep me fresh and also forces me to get creative and improve my technique in different areas. 

Just two notes on the photos included here. First, I added a 13th favorite down at the bottom. It's not a nature photo, but I really liked it! And second, two of my very best photos from 2016 are not included here. I want to see how they do in the big nature photography contest next year (you know the one!), so I've chosen to keep them under wraps for now. We'll see :-)

Without further adieu, I hope that you enjoy the photos I've selected here and that you learn a bit from the tech data included along with each image. 

Happy New Year to all!

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Many people want to photograph the sunset right as the sun is actually setting. But waiting 15 to 20 after the sun has gone below the horizon is often when one can capture the best colors and the most dramatic mood. I carefully chose this composition on one of my favorite beaches on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast and waited until the sun had gone down and was rewarded with this beautiful color palette. I tried to time my shots to include water cascading over the small island just offshore. I was really happy with the result!

Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L IS zoom, polarizer, cable release, Induro tripod and ballhead, f/16, 13 seconds, ISO 100


20 x 60 inches

A graphic shot of tree fern and palm leaves in a cloud forest in Western Ecuador is a reminder of how nature produces art based on mathematical proportions and symmetry. I purposefully overexposed the sky on a typlically misty day in the cloud forest to produce this graphic composition.

Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L IS zoom, handheld, f/14, 1/40, ISO 320

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A giant river otter eats a pirahna in a lagoon in the Amazon region of Peru. This shot was taken from a small pontoon boat as a very early morning drizzle fell over the lagoon.

Canon 5DsR, Sigma 150-600 mm C zoom, handheld, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO 1000

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When I visited the Atacama deserts of northern Chile recently, I was struck by the spare beauty of the region; it couldn't be more different than my normal everyday studio in the tropical rainforest! While I was captivated by the lack of life in this area, one of the driest on the planet, I still longed for a bit of color and maybe even some feathers :-)

My wish came true very late one afternoon as I visited a highland lake with my friends. A lone Chilean Flamingo was foraging right next to us on the path! I immediately changed from my telephoto lens to a wide angle, screwed on a polarizer, and grabbed a flash (which I always have handy no matter where I go). My idea was to expose for the larger scene, look for some compositional lines, and then use the flash to slightly fill in the shadows on the bird caused by the sun setting to my left as I viewed the scene. 

After a couple of shots I had things dialed in and began shooting. The flamingo, however, was just kind of mulling around with its beak in the mud. I needed a more dynamic pose and, luckily, was rewarded with one for just a split second as the flamingo lifted its head and stretched out its back leg. This is the shot I envisioned from the moment I came upon the scene, and I was so happy to have accomplished it. I hope you like it!

Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L IS zoom, polarizer, handheld, flash in manual mode at full power, f/22, 1/50, ISO 500

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The tiny Costa Rican Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium costaricanum) inhabits the high, misty cloud forests of Costa Rica and western Panama. While leading a workshop, we were photographing the Resplendent Quetzal when our guide pointed out this owl, which had hunted a large-footed finch that was too big to manage! I sat down and waited silently as the owl struggled with its prey on the ground. Finally, it was able to grasp the prey and fly away unsteadily, stopping for just a second on a low branch. Though forced to use a high ISO and a slow shutter speed, I got the shot!

Canon 5DsR in 1.6x crop mode, Sigma 150-600 mm C zoom lens, f/6.3, 1/100, ISO 4000

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Red-webbed tree frog (Hypsiboas rufitelus) in lowland rainforest, Costa Rica. This photo is all about the composition formed by the super cool Costus leaf!

Canon 5DsR, Sigma 150 mm f/2.8 macro lens, 2 flashes off-camera, cable release, Induro tripod and ballhead, f/11, 1/200, ISO 200

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A Guanaco (Lama guanicoe), one of the wild relatives of the Llama and Alpaca, rests on top of a hillside in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. I took this shot about 2 hours before sunset, meaning the sun was extremely bright. Exposure, focus, and composition were a challenge because I basically could not look through my camera for fear of damaging my eyes and my camera sensor. This is the file that came out of my camera, with nothing changed in the computer!

Canon 5DsR in 1.3x crop mode, Sigma 150-600 mm C zoom, handheld, f/22, 1/8000, ISO 50

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A strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) forages for food among orange cup fungus (Cookeina speciosa) on a fallen log in a lowland rainforest in Costa Rica.

Canon 7D Mark II, Sigma 150 mm f/2.8 macro lens, 2 flashes off-camera in high-speed sync mode, cable release, Induro tripod and ballhead, f/4.5, 1/2000, ISO 100

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Helmeted iguana (Corytophanes cristatus) in lowland rainforest, Costa Rica. I'm always on the lookout for strong compositions and dramatic natural light. I was absolutely thrilled to be able to capture this image as the interplay of light and dark reminded of the famed Rembrandt lighting by the Great Masters of painting such as Rembrandt (duh!) and Caravaggio. This shot quickly has become one of my all-time favorites!

Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L IS zoom, polarizer, cable release, Induro tripod and ballhead, f/8, 3.2 seconds, ISO 100

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A rarely seen juvenile Emerald Tree Boa in the rainforest in the Amazon region of Peru is the Holy Grail for the herpetologist as they are exceedingly hard to find. I exposed for the sky and used flash to expose the snake and branch properly.

Canon 5DsR, Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L IS zoom, polarizer, handheld, one flash off-camera, f/10, 1/200, ISO 250

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Bullet ants can measure nearly 2 inches long and their sting is considered the most painful in the insect world. They can play an important role in pollination of certain rainforest plants as they collect nectar, which they hold in their jaws to take back to their underground colonies. This bullet ant is collecting nectar from a rainforest Poinsettia plant (actually from the genus Warsweczia in the coffee or Rubiaceae family).

Canon 5DsR, Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens, handheld, one flash off-camera, f/14, 1/200, ISO 400

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When I encountered this beautiful light just as the sun set at 4,000 meters above sea level in the mountains near Chlle's border with Bolivia, I was nearly too stunned to shoot! I watched a group of vicuña, a camel relative that is one of the progenitors of the domestic llama and alpaca, make their way along the slopes as they headed toward their nighttime camp and tried to compose with an eye toward the light and the diagonal lines. I was very happy with the resulting image, and I hope that you enjoy it as well!

Canon 7D Mark II, Sigma 150-600 mm C zoom, handheld, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO 800

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No, it's definitely not a nature photo but I was struck by the vast fields of lights laid out at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Garden Glow holiday light festival. I shot handheld, framing carefully to capture this intriguing composition.

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70 mm f/2.8 zoom, handheld, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO 12,800


I'll be sharing these via my Instagram and Facebook pages throughout the year :-)

Thanks as always for visiting. It's a pleasure for me to be able to share my photography experiences with you. I wish everyone a peaceful and productive 2017!

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Gregory Basco

Greg Basco is a resident Costa Rican professional photographer and environmentalist. He is a BBC/Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice prizewinner, and his photos have been published by National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, and Newsweek.