Isle of Tortuga

When I saw the sign at the resort advertising for boat tours to Isla Tortuga, I had to laugh, immediately thinking of Jack Sparrow and Lonely Island.  Little did I know that Aaron had actually booked us a trip to this white-sand-beach paradise.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I loved this scene of haphazardly beached boats near the dock

I was excited, because I knew I’d have more photographic opportunities.  What tropical island isn’t photogenic?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We really lucked out that day with simply perfect weather (perfect for chilling on a beach – not perfect for photography).  While the sky left much to be desired as far as my camera was concerned, it was the ideal environment for relaxing and taking in some rays.  This was ok, though, as I had failed to bring my big lens, anyway, for fear of damaging it on a boat ride.  I should have known it would have stayed dry.  Oh well.  We just focused more on the experience.

The boat trip in was exciting and fun.  Music thrummed us into a party mood while beverages flowed from the lower deck.  I was too busy running from the front to the back to the top to see the captain’s view, shooting all along the way.  The catamaran had ample space for its passengers to lounge on the spacious nets for the hour-long journey; others prepared for the ocean by dunking their feet in the twin pools on deck.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

We passed many beautiful little islands on our mystical quest to the Isle of Tortuga, but I was surprised and saddened by the state of the water.  While Costa Rica is known for its efforts in earth preservation, they counterintuitively have a major problem with people dumping garbage into the rivers.  These, in turn, spill into the bay, leaving behind unsightly paths of trash.  There are efforts to address this issue, but we still witnessed this sad marring of the otherwise beautiful ocean.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The island itself was as advertised: a quiet stretch of soft beach backed by private land and rainforest.  It felt a bit touristy (as should be expected) with a gift shop and beach chairs for rent.  Fortunately, everything was included in our tour, along with lunch under a pop-up canopy, our own private bathroom (this is important), and a calypso band (complete with marimba).

It also included snorkeling and a banana boat ride.

The former, of course, couldn’t compare to snorkeling in Hawaii.  The water was somewhat murky, and the surface was questionable with sporadic debris.  But I still had fun, especially when I found some particularly populated coral surrounded by schools of fish.  I was able to play with Aaron’s GoPro, so I caught some awesome footage of the fish grouping and scattering in an elegant marine choreography.  You can check out that video on our travel blog here.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The latter was a new experience, and it was far shorter than I was hoping.  I was a bit nervous when I was the only one sans helmet and life vest, but I should have realized they were merely overcautious precautions.  It was easy to hold onto the long, yellow inflatable, and we got some decent speed!  But as with most exhilarating experiences, it was over far too quickly.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Back on land, we had some time to wander the beach, carving notes in the sand and chasing the local wildlife.  I loved the friendly boar, and I was surprised to discover a resident peacock!  I also quickly learned that a peacock’s cry sounds distressingly like my kitty’s mournful yowl – I was so confused at first.  I chased that bird up and down the beach to ensure a solid shot, and the locals were helpful enough to try to corral it long enough for a click.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

All-in-all, I’d chalk the day up as a success.  I got some cool pictures and awesome footage, and we had an even better time just enjoying the peace and quiet of a remote beach.  When things get stressful in my daily life, I just think back on that day.  No, we didn’t find Captain Jack Sparrow, but I assure you the rum supply was more than adequate.


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WC: The Quest for the Edge

When I was a more casual photographer, I shot whatever caught my eye.  This mostly consisted of random moments, people, cats, and daily oddities.  My pictures generally didn’t look like others’, mostly because I was shooting things they missed.  I found an appreciation for scenic and landscape shots, but they too were mostly spontaneous – whatever I saw as I came across them.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Then I observed what others were doing and learned what made a pleasing photograph.  I hung around other landscape photographers, and I began to see what they saw.  My images improved.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

But in the process, I feel I’ve been losing some of my originality.  As my photography looks “better” according to the general consensus, it begins to fit a mold of acceptance.  Sure, that vista may be perfectly proportioned, but it no longer holds that unique quality I once had.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Like an edgy alternative band that turns pop, I don’t want to go down the path of conformity.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I believe those who don’t know the “rules” have a lot more freedom to their art.  That usually comes at the cost of popularity, so it’s difficult to resist the temptation.  After all, what’s the point in being different if no one sees you doing so?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

As my photography matures (yes, I am still learning), I constantly have this in the back of my mind.  My daily challenge is to strike a healthy balance between appealing and original – beautiful and unusual.  As I’ve said before, I don’t want to belong to a generic cast.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

While I enjoy group photo shoots, all too often, I witness the inevitable line of tripods in *the* spot – a dozen photographers all taking exactly the same pictures.  Ok, yeah, that’s the position that will endow your camera with the magic that allows you to see unicorns and other dimensions… but everyone else will get that, too.  Just like every other photographer before you has gotten that.  And they’ve already posted it to social media.  With a more colorful sunset.  With more epic clouds.  With an actual unicorn in the frame.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

There’s no denying it’s a beautiful shot, and you’ll probably garner a lot of likes on Instagram.  But personally, I strive to deliberately not emulate others.  I want to blaze my own path and present the world with something different.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The real holy grail for me is to discover a style that is both amazing to look at and incredibly different.  I don’t feel I’m quite there yet, which is why I’ll continue to experiment until I find it.  And until then, I’ll probably still chase those other dimensions like everyone else, but I’ll still critically think about how I can make my mine look at least a little different from everyone else’s.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

And just remember – if you’re new to the art, you have something the pros lack.  Hold on to the individual experiences that have brought you to this point.  Go ahead and learn those rules, but make sure your creativity remains an active player.  Someday, perhaps you’ll find others emulating you.


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This Week on Instagram: 7/21/17

Happy Friday!  I’ve got a little variety this week.  I love sharing these photos with you!

This first one is from the beautiful Isla de Tortuga and from my post for this week’s photo challenge, “collage.”  Take a peek at my crazy life here.

I’ll be writing about our trip to Tortuga very soon, so stay tuned!  White sand beaches, rocky coves, banana boats, and snorkeling… oh, and some more tropical wildlife!  We also just posted a video on this part of our trip over on our travel blog.  Check it out!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

This next one is from Washington’s Palouse.  This vista is observed from atop Steptoe Butte.  I had just gotten an ND filter, so I was playing with daytime long-exposures.  It took me a few tries to get the blur of the turbines just right – enough to show motion without completely obscuring them.  This was also my submission for Leanne Cole’s weekly Monochrome Madness last week.  It’s a fun photo challenge, and I invite you to join in if you enjoy black and white photography.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Here’s another from my misty morning at Diamond Lake near Oregon’s famed Crater Lake.  We stayed here while visiting the former, and I lucked out with this magical morning.  Read all about it here.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Now, back to Costa Rica!  This was my favorite view from our hotel; we got to gaze upon this image of paradise daily.  I feel calm just looking at it now.  When can we go back?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

From one adventure to the next!  I’m just beginning to process some of the photos from my amazing journey north to the wilderness of Alaska in search of bears.  I’ll be diving into this trip as soon as I wrap up my posts on Costa Rica.  If you don’t want to wait that long, be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter for some earlier sneak peaks.  It was quite the trip!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

This is another from Palouse, also from Steptoe Butte.  This is looking in the other direction.  I loved the clouds that night, and I’m always transfixed by the golden light just before sunset.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Finally, my favorite this week is a simple one.  This was one of the many tiny frogs we saw along our jungle hike in Rainmaker.  Many of the frogs are poisonous, but they look so pretty!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

These pictures were all posted on my Instagram account, and I welcome you to follow me there as well for new pictures daily.

Have a wonderful weekend!


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Costa Rica Flora y Fauna

When you hear “Costa Rica,” perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is the verdant forests and thriving wildlife.  After all, it barely scrapes the 10th parallel, so this tropical paradise is teeming with life.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

In visiting for ourselves, we weren’t disappointed, and I was ready with my trusty camera around every corner.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I had many opportunities to bask in the beauty – from just chilling at the resort, to the local park in Alajuela.  There was so much to take in no matter where I looked.

Old ruins were home to tropical birds and fascinating ants.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

And, of course, the river was rife with life.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Birds, crocs, bugs, lizards, flowers, frogs – everything around us was living, breathing, thriving.  Even cats abounded along the beaches!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Yes, can I help you?

We couldn’t get enough from our day-to-day, so we additionally signed up for two jungle walks.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The first was with Rainmaker in Puntarenas.  We were there first thing in the morning, so we had the tour guide all to ourselves.  With him, we wandered the damp path, through clouds of mosquitos, over tree roots, and along a creek.  Around every corner, he pointed out a new life form, and I was amazed at his ability to discern the critters against the background of near-identical colors.  The frogs were beautiful, the flowers stunning, and the lizards entertaining.  Though I didn’t accept the invitation to swim mid-hike, we did grab a traditional Costa Rican lunch (rice and beans) afterwards, and I had more than enough to keep my attention with the local hummingbird.

Our visit to Arenal also brought another jungle hike, and this was surprisingly different.  While we likewise had the tour guide to ourselves, we didn’t see nearly as much life as with the first jaunt.  It also rained.  Quite a bit.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

At home, rain starts slowly.  It’s a mist or a few sporadic drops, eventually coalescing into more substantial droplets.  Most ignore it and simply keep on walking, the moisture never enough to warrant a hood, much less an umbrella.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

This approach doesn’t work as well in the rainforests of Costa Rica.  The first few drops are fine, but you quickly realize that this rain is bigger and wetter than anything at home.  Without shelter, you’re quickly drenched and even more miserable in the oppressive humidity.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

This tiny snail was no bigger than my pinky fingernail!

Fortunately, I came prepared, but Aaron had forgotten his jacket in the car.  He was left shamefully sharing the umbrella with our guide until the water abated.

Interestingly, I found the rain was actually stronger under the canopy, pregnant drops plummeting from their cached heights among the boughs.  Out in the open, the rain was more evenly distributed, falling in a gentle haze.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

The rain didn’t scare away the forest life, however.  I loved the little snake that curled itself on a leaf to disguise itself as a mere turd.  That’s certainly effective at keeping predators from wanting to eat it!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Is that a snake or a turd?

I couldn’t get enough of the vast palette of species surrounding us everywhere we went.  There was plenty to keep my trigger finger happy, and we didn’t even begin to see all the life that rich country has to offer.  Perhaps next time we’ll see sloths, monkeys, or pumas!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017


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WC: A Year in the Life of a Photographer

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a little crazy.  I do so. much.  You know me as a photographer.  But I’m also a musician, writer, software developer, anime enthusiast, and cat lover.  I love getting outside – bike riding, skiing, camping, hiking, and now backpacking.  I travel and read.  And I don’t know how to say no to an opportunity.

I experience life largely through my camera.  I get a thrill from capturing a compelling image, and I love looking back at the memories forever preserved in pixels.  There was a time when I got more enjoyment out of simply taking a photo than I ever did reviewing it, editing it, and sharing it.  This is probably why I have a swath of old photos I’ve hardly glanced at.  Blogging broke me of that; I’m constantly drawing from my recent adventures to share stories with you.  And now we use these photos in our Christmas cards each year – a review of our wild lives.

When I want to remember something about a trip we took, a concert we attended, or a cosplay I donned, my first instinct is to open Lightroom and review my photos (conveniently organized by date and event).  And I’m always amazed at how many things we’ve actually done… in a single year.

Here’s a small sampling of my life thus far this year (and we’re only halfway through) – a collage of craziness.

I took only one photo from each event, and this still can’t express everything we’ve done this year.  And can you believe there’s more I want to squeeze in but simply can’t?  (Yes, I surprisingly do have a limit.)  Life is swarming with new experiences just waiting to be had.  It might be a crazy existence, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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This Week on Instagram: 7/14/17

To be honest, a lot of this week was on autopilot – mostly because I was backpacking throughout the Alaskan wilderness with nary a signal to speak of.  But I’m back now, and I have so many photos to process!  I can’t wait to see them all.  I love photo excursions!

This week happened to have quite a bit of wildlife, but when the opportunity presents itself, why not?  This set starts with this adorable boar we found on Tortuga Island.  He just wanted some cool sand – no matter what!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Next, another from Yosemite.  I don’t get tired of this beautiful national park; I hope you don’t either!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Next, an elegant snowy egret along the Tarcoles River in Costa Rica.  This guy uses those yellow feet to attract fish.  How cool is that?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Next, an image from my recent post on Proxy Falls.  Sometimes, I get in over my head with my off-trail wandering.  Don’t do as I do, and be careful out there!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

You might recognize this from my crocs post, but I also used this for my latest submission to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness, theme: wild.  Is this wild enough?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

Picking my favorites this week was tough.  I still love my misty photos from Diamond Lake, so those will always rank highly, but this wasn’t quite my favorite this week…

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

…this was my favorite.  While not necessarily the best photo, technically, I just loved these cute little cubs.  This is the first photo I’ve published from my epic journey to Alaska, and I can’t wait to share more.  I took so many pictures between the two halves of exploring Denali National park and backpacking along the Gulf of Alaska, and I’m so excited to process them.

These little guys were just napping on top of each other, curled up in adorable little baby bear bliss.  Mom wasn’t far away, and these cubs quickly decided it was time to bombard her with demands for food.  It was truly incredible to witness.  Stay tuned for more stories; I have lots to tell!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

These photos were posted to my Instagram account this week.  I love to hear from you, both here and there; drop me a line!


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I Survived the Alaskan Wilderness!

Apologies for the short post this week, but I am operating on very little sleep (about three hours) having just returned on a delayed red-eye.  I’m working to get back to my day-to-day life following one of the most amazing trips of my life, but it’ll take a little time.

I’ll have a few more posts on Costa Rica before I dive into this adventure, but be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss out.  I have so many stories to tell!

In the meantime, here’s a little teaser – some adorable cubs we shot on our last day.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2017

I clearly survived my frolicking with bears (though some thought me crazy to even attempt it), and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.  Stay tuned!


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