Clients have a variety of concerns and questions before any big trip. We know your experience depends in large part on your preparation. These FAQ’s are an opportunity to share our experience in Amazonian Ecuador, one of the rainforest treasures of the world that remains less traveled. We encourage first-time visitors to South America or the rainforest environment to refine their packing lists and minimize luggage. This will make your travel much more spontaneous and enjoyable.
You should be familiar with the basic controls and settings for your camera. We will help you with the best settings for specific situations, but with the proliferation of digital photography today, there are too many models for us to intimately know the operation of each. Fortunately, there is some standardization in the menu icons and controls.
We will provide participants with a more extensive, location-specific list of recommended items before the trip.
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Try to travel as light as possible, so that you can bring the nucleus of your photographic equipment as carry-on luggage and be less burdened during your tour. Be sure to review your international carrier’s requirements and policies on luggage.
There will be nice opportunities for bird photography at the parrot and parakeet licks and during our dugout canoe trips up and down the Añanguyacu River and it’s various inlets. For birds, you will want a super-telephoto lens (minimum 400 or 500mm), with an external shoe-mount TTL flash for fill light and getting those “catch lights” in the birds’ eyes. We recommend you also get a “flash extender.” These are pocket-size folding Fresnel lens attachments that magnify your flash output for telephoto lens use.
For general wildlife photography, you can make fine images with a 300mm-500mm lens. The “fast” versions of these lenses, with large maximum apertures (e.g. 300mm f/2.8, 500mm f/2.8) are expensive for a reason, allowing photographers to monitor focus and maintain shutter speed in the lower light levels of dawn and dusk when wildlife are typically more active. Two online outlets for lens rental are linked in the next question. Be sure to bring a tripod which is rigid enough to support your largest lens.
Bruce’s favorite lenses are the 24-105mm, 70-200mm and 500mm focal lengths. Most of his images are made on the two smaller lenses. It’s always best when the focal lengths of your zoom lenses overlap as in the case above. Otherwise, you may find yourself changing lenses too often.
There is no better place for close-up or “macro” photography than the neotropical rainforests of the western Amazon basin. From early morning butterflies, to miniature plant designs to night hike discoveries, the closeup opportunities are endless. Macro lenses up to 100mm in focal length allow you to get close to your subjects, and this is best for two reasons, provided it is safe to do so. Short focusing distances allow you to work around intervening leaves and branches. Another benefit is your strobe will provide a larger light source in relation to your subject, yielding softer light. If you don’t have a speciality macro lens, then find a compatible extension tube or a high-quality two-element diopter (aka “close-up filter”) set made by the major lens manufacturers. These can be placed on standard short telephotos and short telephoto zoom lenses. On our night hikes near the lodges, you enjoy closeup photography of insects and amphibians. It’s very helpful to have a dedicated TTL off-camera cable for your flash. As the critters move, you can move the strobe with them.
Light comes at a premium on the rainforest floor, so you shouldn’t be using too much filtration, but a polarizing filter can reduce glare off wet vegetation and cut through mid-day haze. The split neutral-density filters (fine glass ones are made by Tiffen and Singh-Ray) darken the upper portion of the image, allowing you to bring an entire landscape photograph within the recordable range of contrast.
Raw Rainforest Photography Tours does not require participants to bring expensive photographic equipment such as the fast super-telephoto lenses (300mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4), however just about anything on the market is available for rent. If you are located in a major metropolitan center, look under “Photographic rentals” in your local phone book, visit a professional camera dealer or consult a commercial photographer in your area. Both Lensrentals.com and Borrowlenses.com will rent specialized photographic gear and have them delivered to your door. Make sure you put in some practice time with any new equipment before your trip. You need to be ready if Giant river otters suddenly surface in front of you!
Feel free to contact us with any questions. Just to recap, here is a list of gear to consider. Participants will be provided with a comprehensive checklist well in advance of their travel. Several of these items are featured in the links section as well.
- Two Canon 5D Mark II bodies (interchangeable lens camera with aperture & shutter control
- Extra batteries for your camera (fully-charged!)
- Wide-angle zoom lens (20-35, 24-105)
- Macro lens (100mm)
- Telephoto zoom lens (70-200)
- Super teleophoto (300 mm/ f2.8)
- Super telephoto (500mm f/4.0)
- TTL Strobe
- Back-up strobe
- Off-camera dedicated TTL flash cord
- Flash extender accessory (e.g. Better Beamer)
- Small bright flashlight (attach to strobe for focusing)
- Small “Flexfill” collapsible fabric reflector
- Tripod with ground-level capability (Gitzo carbon graphite model)
- Electronic cable release
- Polarizer filter
- Camera backpack with built-in rain cover (LowePro)
- Waterproof memory card holder
- Lots of memory cards (2-4 Gb each). Don’t put all your work on one huge card!
- Laptop computer or portable image bank
- Memory card reader
- Heavy-duty plastic ziploc bags
- Lens tissue and lens cleaning fluid
- Notebook and pen/pencil (in ziploc bag)
- Hat, sunscreen, comfortable clothes , rain poncho
- Lighweight hiking shoes & gel insoles to cut to size and place in rubber boots at lodge
Yes you may shoot slide film, and Fuji slide film is still available in a couple shops still in Ecuador, but be forewarned that slide processing is now very expensive in Ecuador as it has become around the world with the shift toward digital photography. Plan to bring all your film, and maybe add another 40% on top of that. You need to be covered in the event a family of monkeys decide to “pose” for you one day. If you like to shoot the “grainier” higher-ASA films, you should carry those rolls in a special lead-lined pouch available at fine camera outlets or mail-order houses like BH Photo Video in New York (see the Links section on this website).
Your leader Bruce Farnsworth went fully digital in 2005. Prior to this, his favorite slide films were Fuji Velvia (ISO 50) and Kodak’s Ektachrome 100VS for saturated color work. For a bit more speed and lower contrast in nature work, he used Fuji’s Provia 100, sometimes pushed to ISO 200. Kodak slide films in 35mm film format are a thing of the past now.
Slide film prices run between $8-10 per roll today in Quito. Quito’s Fujifilm distributor is located on Avenida Amazonas 14-29, just north of Avenida Colón. Their local phone is 254-6527. They have typically maintain refrigerated stocks of Fuji Velvia (ISO 50) and Fuji Provia (ISO 100). Fotorama are good people.
The proliferation of digital photography in Ecuador has rendered slide processing equipment almost obsolete. Last time I checked, Fujifilm-Quito charges $1.70 PER FRAME for E-6 slide film procesing (that’s right, per frame!) For E-6 and print processing, I highly recommend Fotorama which is where I processed my film. Fotorama is about 150 yards down Avenida Roca from Quito’s Catholic University. Print film is still reasonably priced and there are print labs all along Avenida Amazonas south of Colón. The people at Fujifilm will print a roll of 36 exposures and give you 4×6 prints for about $10.oo. For $6.00 (processing included), you can have those images burned to a CD, a convenient format if you plan to email or upload them to your favorite online photo album site.
Fine films produce beautiful images, but if you seek to publish your work, it’s important to recognize that the marketplace is now oriented toward digital photography. Slides must be scanned or “digitized” prior to submission to most magazines and agencies.
The obvious advantage of the digital platform is the ability to immediately review and reshoot work. This is also nice in a group tour or workshop setting, as you can share your work with fellow photographers and your subjects. When lighting gets challenging, particularly when mixing ambient and strobe light sources, you can rely on the camera’s built in histogram which is displayed in the digital SLR’s LCD screen.
It can grow surprisingly dark on the tropical forest floor on a cloudy day, but the highly diffused lighting can be wonderful for landscapes. Digital cameras allow you to change your ISO or film speed on the fly. There will be no more film changes, accidental double exposures or wasted rolls.
Professional D-SLR cameras now offer ISO settings up to 6400, but it is best to operate at 800 or below to minimize “noise” – the digital equivalent of grain in film. Always test your results with your camera, but today’s Pro D-SLR’s generally record detail much better at these high ISO’s than their film counterparts.
Digital imaging allows for color corrections to be made “globally” to a group of images shot in the same lighting situation. Be careful with the use of warming filters. Light reflected from the forest vegetation will naturally produce a greenish color cast in your images. When reflected skylight combines with the amber tint of a warming filter (cyan + yellow), scenes can take on additional green cast. Bruce Farnsworth generally shoots without a filter on the lens for maximum sharpness. He uses Adobe Lightroom to edit and color correct his work.
Additionally, the challenging light conditions found in most of Ecuador’s habitats make the use of flash — and many times multiple flashes! — a necessity. Getting the right lighting is tricky, and being able to check the histogram and LCD screen on your digital camera is a huge help in ensuring successful photos before you leave the scene.
How will I keep my digital camera batteries charged while we are photographing in the cloud forest and lowland rainforest?
Electricity is available at the San Sebastian Hotel in Quito, and both the Bellavista and Napo Wildlife Center lodges. The current in Ecuador is the same as in the United States. Participants arriving from Europe and other regions should bring a voltage converter kit. Since you might find an older “two-prong” outlet, it would also be a good idea to bring a three-to-two adapter along to be sure you can plug in your equipment.
Where should I store my digital images? After all, I will need to erase my memory cards so I can keep shooting.
In remote locations, you have three options. Let’s start with the laptop computer. After shooting, you could upload your images to the laptop, and begin to browse and edit your images in your favorite software. However, if you can save your photo-editing for later, then are ways to manage your images without having to carry a laptop.
There are a couple non-laptop options for portable digital image storing & viewing. The most convenient are portable image storage/viewer devices such as the Epson P-Series Viewers, the Sanho Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA or the Wolverine. These are used to download images off your memory cards daily. The Epson has the nicest screen, but the Sanho Hyperdrive is a great value for the memory, speed and feature set. Along these lines, the current generation iPods also have a camera connector accessory, and will transfer RAW files, but it cannot read or display them. You must transfer the RAW files to a computer, and synchronize them through iTunes before you can view them on the iPod.
You can also download your images from your memory cards each day, provided your laptop’s hard drive has enough room on it. Bruce upgraded the standard internal drive on his 2007 MacBook Pro laptop with a 320Gb, 5400 rpm Caviar Scorpio internal drive by Western Digital.
An alternative to the laptop is to use something like the Delkin DVD Burnaway, which allows you to burn DVD’s directly from your memory card – without the need for a computer. However, DVD’s and CD’s are not archival forms of image storage. If they become scratched or damaged, they can become unreadable. For this reason, the laptop, combined with another portable storage device, allows two forms of archival storage. Some photographers copy their images to DVD/CD media and mail the discs home.
When purchasing memory cards for your digital camera, consider both durability and capacity. Compact flash cards are typically more robust than SD picture cards and the reason they are seen on professional cameras with full-frame sensors. It’s important to purchase the “high speed” memory cards, such as the SanDisk Extreme series and the Lexar Professional series.
There are now memory cards on the market with capacities to 32 Gb, but it’s wiser to record your images across several smaller cards than depend on a single large card to save your images. In the event of loss or accident, chances are you will still retain most of your work. Buy a waterproof memory card wallet (plastic with neoprene seal). Most imporantly, be sure you transfer your work to your laptop computer or memory storage device as soon as possible.
What equipment should I use for photography from the canoe? (Giant river otters, monkeys and birds can often be photographed on the Añanguyacu River and Añangu Lagoon).
You will travel two hours by motorized canoe along the Napo River from Coca to the mouth of the Añanguyacu River. There you will disembark for a snack and transition to traditional dugout canoes which will be paddled by members of the Añangu community. During the workshop, we will travel in dugout canoes which allow us manoeuvrability and access to smaller streams.
A good rig for wildlife photography from a boat is a fast tele (with image stabilization or vibration reduction) mounted on a tripod. Monopods are also a great tool when photographing wildlife and people on the move, but in a boat you need to know your lens is secure during moments when your hands are needed elsewhere. For work on land, make sure you choose a monopod which is beefy enough to support your largest camera-lens combo. Gitzo makes graphite models which extend from 24 inches to eye level. Collapsed, these monopods provide a low center of gravity and lower perspective. Monopods, unless securely braced, will not provide adequate support for super-telephoto work in low light.
In collaboration with the guides of Añangu, Raw Rainforest Photography Tours will customize the canoes for photography on the water. We have devised a camera mounting system that allows you to position your tripod head at a convenient height over your lap while seated in the dugout canoe.
Theft is an inherent risk of travel, but Ecuador is a nation that depends on tourism as a major source of revenue and, generally speaking, the people are very kind. The best deterrent is vigilance: keep your gear in sight. Minimize the equipment you bring, so it is manageable. Bags and clothing emblazoned with manufacturer logos might draw unnecessary attention. One of Bruce’s favorite camera bags in and around the touristy areas of Quito is a potato sack.
Raw Rainforest Photo Tours chooses the finest lodges and hotels, but as a traveler you should always be aware of your surroundings. Precautions can be as simple as placing a camera bag strap around your leg when sitting for a spell. Additional information and country-specific travel bulletins are available at the U.S. State Department (found under Links: “Ecuador Travel Info” on this website). There are some nice products on the market for securing your camera and laptop cases while traveling, and these can be found on our Resources for Nature Photographers page on this website. the Pac-Safe photography security products and the computer security accessories of the Kensington company.
If you don’t have insurance for your camera and portable electronic equipment, look first to your homeowner’s policy. Verify that loss or damage which occurs during international travel will be covered. You may need to obtain an additional “maritime” or “floater” policy. If you photograph professionally, your homeowner’s policy may not cover your photography equipment. Consider supporting a professional association and obtain their equipment coverage. Look at the North American Nature Photographers Association for more information, as well as the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).
The lush cloud forests and rain forests for which Ecuador is famous means that your camera gear will be exposed to high humidity. During relatively short tour visits, we’ve never had problems with our gear here in Ecuador and neither have our clients. Humidity is not a reason to miss the rainforest environment. Nonetheless, a three-pronged strategy will help avoid damage to your gear and allow you to concentrate on your photography.
First, pack your gear well in water repellant camera bags. Fungal growth is not critical on short stays in the tropics, but it is cheap insurance to use desiccation units to minimize the conditions for fungus growth. Those little crystal packets that come with cameras and lenses do very little. They have no indicator to tell you when they are saturated and require an oven to “recharge” them. Consider the smaller version of the new “plug-in” units made by EVA. Keep one in your camera case during the night, then leave it plugged into a wall outlet during the day while you’re photographing. Whenever possible, pack each piece of gear into ziploc bags to avoid condensation that might occur when you take your equipment from cooler or air-conditioned indoor settings to the outdoors.
Second, try to avoid actually getting your gear wet. We try to send our photo clients to lodges with covered shooting areas but these are not always available. A good rain cover for your camera and/or a small umbrella can be very useful. Rain showers can come down suddenly when you are out with your camera. Along with a mini-umbrella, it’s good to have a couple large trash bags stored in your camera bag. We like the all-weather camera bags offered by Lowe Pro and Think Tank.
Links for the aforementioned gear which protects your gear from the elements can be found on our Resources for Nature Photographers page. If we experience a rainy day, you may want to have a compact folding travel hair dryer to blow over your equipment when you return to the lodge (using the “no heat” setting). Our wilderness lodges do not provide hair dryers in the rooms.
Though not a frequent disease in Ecuador, some areas, notably the Pacific coast near the port city of Esmeraldas, have been reported to have a couple of hundred cases of malaria every season (Ecuador’s population is approximately 13 million). It is common for these strains to be resistant to chloroquine, an inexpensive, first-line antimalarial treatment. We strongly recommend that you consult your physician and inquire about prescription medication for this specific disease. You will weigh the risk of short-term exposure against the potential for side effects from prophylactic malaria treatments. Other tropical inflictions such as dengue fever, leishmaniasis, and botfly infections do occur infrequently in Ecuador.
Covering up and employing plenty of your favorite insect repellant is always a safe strategy. Remember that DEET, a major ingredient in many insect repellants, melts plastic and has been known to fuse a shutter release button to the camera body. There are also organic repellants made from botanical ingredients and other non-DEET products. For more information on health issues in Ecuador and South America, visit the Center for Disease Control, the Pan-American Health Organization, and Native Planet.
Will I have access to the Internet at any point during the “Cloud Forests to Añangu” Photography Tour in Ecuador?
Free Wi-Fi internet is available from your room at the Sebastian Hotel in Quito. The main lodge of the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge is also wired for Wi-Fi. If you are traveling with a laptop computer, you will find Wi-Fi access in the waiting salon of VIP Airlines in Quito. VIP will be our carrier from Quito to the Napo river port town of Puerto Francisco de Orellana (Coca). If you are not traveling with a laptop, you may use the internet suites at the San Sebastian Hotel and Bellavista Lodges. The San Sebastian Hotel is located very close to several internet cafes with computers, Skype and long-distance phone service.
A growing cellular network of repeating towers is spreading throughout Ecuador. This is a topic that invites discussion on many levels. Today, cellphones with the appropriate SIM cards, and GPS capabilities, can now be obtained in wilderness areas of Ecuador. Raw Rainforest Photography Tours is currently developing an informational handout regarding handheld device reception along our tour itineraries.
Prior to the tour, you will be given the Ecuador cell phone number of Bruce Farnsworth and your Ecuadorian naturalist. You will also be given the landline and cell numbers for the Quito offices of Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge and the Napo Wildlife Center. Both the Bellavista and Añangu lodges have shortwave radio and satellite phone capabilities for emergency communication.
Certainly. Bruce Farnsworth will meet you personally. When this is not possible, another Raw Rainforest representative or driver will be waiting for you.
Once you go through immigration, you will need to clear the Ecuadorian customs area. Your arrival terminal is restricted to passengers and airport employees, so look for our representative holding up a Raw Rainforest Photo Tours sign as soon as you step outside the terminal. We will help you load your gear into a comfortable taxi van and accompany you to your lodging.
Your tour includes all meals, airport transfers, in-country transportation, guides and park entrance fees. You will be responsible for tips, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks outside the meals, an Ecuadorian airport tax of $25 US, phone calls, Internet cafe fees and souvenirs.
Ecuador has became “dolarizado” (dollarized) in early 2000. They use United States paper money, and issue their own coins in familiar 50 cent and one dollar denominations. Their coins can be used interchangeably with U.S. coins and currency. Merchants may not accept bills of $50 or $100, and even bills or 10 or 20 dollars are examined with a special pen. Visit a bank to change large bills.
Most ATM machines in Quito are members of the STAR network, but it may be safer to complete those transactions at ATMs which are located inside banks. Selected banks in Quito provide cash advances from major credit cards, but consider this a last resort. Cash advances accrue interest at a much higher rate, and in many cases, credit card issuers will not allow advances to be paid off until the regular card balance is paid in full.
Your Raw Rainforest Photo Tour itinerary covers most of your needs, so you won’t need to carry large sums of cash, but you should carry change and small bills with you.
You should always carry a little cash for bottled water, snacks, small souvenirs and tips. Very often, small stores and taxi drivers will not have change, so be prepared to pay the exact amount. Counterfeit bills have been an issue, so merchants may not accept bills of $50 or $100. Tour participants will receive pre-trip information which includes a pricelist of souvenirs (shirts, caps, videos and crafts are the most popular) available at the Bellavista and Añangu lodges.
Five major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover and Diners Club International) are accepted at Hotel Sebastian in Quito, fine gift shops generally, and at the Bellavista and Añangu lodges. Traveler’s cheques are also accepted at the lodges. However, credit cards can be problematic in Ecuador. Salespeople may be unfamiliar with their use, so be prepared for delays when making purchases away from your lodging.
What about tips for our hosts and food servers? How much should I give to drivers, hotel staff, guides, etc.?`
At restaurants and lodges in Ecuador, you are expected to leave a tip of at least one dollar, but three dollars is fine. There is no standard that tips be a certain percentage of the table receipt. At the Bellavista and Añangu lodges, management prefer you place all tips into a fund that is shared equally among all lodge service and support staff.
The “Cloud Forest to Añangu” itinerary includes your drivers for the airport transfer in Quito to the Sebastian Hotel and your luxury van to and from Bellavista Lodge. Drivers and Sebastian hotel staff (bellhops, bartenders, concierge) would appreciate a tip of one to five dollars if you feel anyone provided good service.
Bruce will be assisted by an expert Ecuadorian ornithologist who is intimately familiar with Yasuni National Park. His services are included in your itinerary, but a tip of $10-15 per person per day is appropriate. The motorized canoe pilots or “motoristas” who will take us from Coca to the mouth of the Añanguyacu River can expect a tip of two to five dollars per participant, however tips for the Añangu community members who will paddle you up the Añanguyacu river may be placed into the general tip fund at the lodge.
Internet cafes are all the rage in Quito, and cheaper than dialing from a hotel room. These shops have computers for email, telephones for affordable direct dialiing (which is paid for when you leave). Average rates start at around US $1-2 per hour. Most internet cafes offer Skype for around US $0.30 per minute. Most have Skype with internet headsets so that you can video chat with family and friends back home. Non-Ecuadorian cellphones will not provide long-distance service in Ecuador unless a compatible SIMM card (phone data card) is available in Ecuador. Consult your cellphone carrier for more information.
The Ecuadorian phone companies Porta and MoviStar have shops throughout the city with phone booths. You can also purchase their pre-paid cards. Many international phone cards will also work in Ecuador. A locally available option, the Andinatel card, is one of the easiest and cheapest. You will be able to make a phone call of approximately 15 minutes to the US with one $6 card. The cards are available at most hotels and tourist-related establishments. Note: iPhones purchased in the U.S. may not be effective in Ecuador. You should use a SIMM card from Ecuador, and you will not have warranty service in Ecuador.
We will orient you to your options once you arrive in Quito. Your Raw Rainforest Photography Tours guide, driver, or local hotel staff will be happy to help you purchase a phone card.
In general, your best choices are lightweight garments that breathe and dry quickly, and you’ll want a mix of long sleeves and short sleeves. A light polartec and a good rain jacket are also good to have. For meals, it’s informal here at the lodges and in the country in general. A pair of jeans, tennis shoes, and a clean shirt are just fine for dinner. Lightweight hiking boots are fine for your photography out in the field, and if you’re visiting a beach area, you will want sandals or aqua shoes as well. Many of the lodges we use offer laundry service for a cost of approximately $1 per garment with next day service. Of course a good hat and sunscreen are important. At 8 to 10 degrees north of the equator the sun is strong, even on cloudy days.
Rubber boots will be provided at the lodges, and recommended if you expect to encounter muddy conditions. Consider bringing a pair of gel insoles or your custom orthotics to improve fit and comfort.
This is probably the question that our clients ask us the most. And it’s the one for which we have the least definitive answer. Water in and around the capital area is treated with chlorine and generally can be consumed with no worries. The lodges that we use for our photo travel often have their own well water, which is tested regularly by the Ministry of Health. Nonetheless, upset stomachs do occur as a result of change in diet or simply bacteria different from those to which Northern stomachs are accustomed. Serious disorders such as Giardia or amoebic dysentery are virtually unheard of.
Bottled water is very widely available, and a good strategy would be to use it as often as possible when outside Quito. As with travel to any foreign country, immodium pills are good to have along, and some of our clients also bring along Cipro or other broad-spectrum antibiotics. Some go so far as to begin taking antibiotics before arriving in Ecuador. We will orient you to your options once you arrive in Quito. For antibiotic use, we suggest you consult with your physician.
Can Raw Rainforest Photography Tours arrange my air travel? Does Raw Rainforest Photo Tours offer traveler/traveler health insurance?
We recommend that you purchase air travel through your regular travel agent or independently through one of the many available online services. We have been happy with the quality of seats and prices from Americas Travel in San Francisco. You may be able to obtain travelers’, travelers’ health, and photo equipment insurance through your home-owners’ policy or through your credit card. In addition, there are a number of online companies that offer travelers’ insurance for reasonable fees.
In case of medical emergency, Raw Rainforest Photography Tours will do everything in our power to help you obtain necessary treatment. Please refer to the Health section of our Pre-Trip Information Form and our Terms of Service for more details. Complete information on travel preparation is available at our Client Area . If your health insurance does not include international emergency evacuation and air ambulance coverage, then consider a company that specializes in that insurance. Please refer to the Links section on this website (Ecuador Travel Information) for additional resources.
Unfortunately, we cannot do this for you. Because of airline privacy and security restrictions only the ticketed passenger is usually allowed to confirm flights. You can do so online or via phone at the front desks of any of your accommodations in Quito and Bellavista. Be sure to have your ticket number and social security number handy as you may be asked by your airline to provide these when confirming your return flight.
By all means. Please refer to our “About Us” section for more on what makes us the best choice for nature photography tours that are responsive to indigenous community-based tourism ventures in rainforest environments.