At night, all of Beltrá's equipment goes into dry bags with lots of silica gel to absorb residual moisture from rain forests, and everything is wiped down after a saltwater boat outing. "Moisture is probably the biggest threat," Beltrá says.
But the moisture isn't the only thing Beltrá and his team prepare for. "If you're going to be working in a foreign land to document conservation efforts, there are other precautions you need to take," Beltrá says. "Farmers and loggers in economically starved regions aren't always particularly welcoming of environmentalists. Violence is rare, but not unheard of. We tend to travel with a mix of ethnicities, as it's not a good idea to be seen as an ‘all gringo' expedition. We're careful to blend as best we can, and our guides are great. So far, so good-but we do take measures.
"Insects are also a threat, but knock on wood-no malaria, no diseases so far," he continues. "I get bitten like everyone else, but special clothing made with embedded repellent works well. Word to the wise, though: DEET repellent on your fingers will erase all of the markings on your camera instantly-I've had a few instances where I've looked down to find I have no aperture or ISO speed markings. The most harrowing-and funny-story I have involves a big bug that somehow got into my camera and onto the sensor when I was in the Amazon. I had to scoop it off using the tip of a plastic bag, while in a canoe, under an umbrella in pouring rain. I'm not sure the manufacturer recommends that procedure."
Beltrá feels that one of the toughest parts of his assignments isn't in the travel, the dangers, or the environments, but in the safeguarding of his photos. The solution is backing up the images. "I'll store all of my gear in the hotel room or at camp; it's insured," he says. "But a backup copy of the images, all downloaded to hard drives as soon as I'm in from the field, stay with me. If I go to dinner, they're in a pack on my chair-never out of my sight. They're too important."
Digital Railroad's services have provided an extra measure of security for him when abroad, as it allows him to upload his photographs immediately to an online storage space. "You have to realize how much time and effort I spend editing, captioning, and, keywording images," he says. "It's a very important step, and it requires a lot of work and diligence. I try to sit down and properly archive and keyword all of my images each night. With digital, I definitely shoot more than I did with film-and to properly archive all of those shots takes a lot of time and concentration. I used to do it on the plane, during travel, but now I'm shooting there, from the planes, too, so the nights can get late on that keyboard."
Aside from uploading and keywording, Beltrá doesn't find himself at the computer very often. "My ethics are very strict-I show what I captured, so there's little to do with my work in software in regards to enhancements," he says. "Aside from a few actions I might apply in Lightroom, I prefer to be making more new photos-not thinking over ones I've already made. But everything I do is recorded and itemized in the invoice. We're more than just photographers now; time spent needs to be accounted for. The client should know what goes into our work."
Beltrá has enjoyed the success of several solo exhibitions of his work and has won multiple awards from World Press Photo, seen books with his images published on the covers, and enjoyed many opportunities to present his work to captive audiences. The attention has really opened up opportunities for him, and he hopes these opportunities will make more of a difference in bringing awareness to people who can help make a difference. "Our population is growing exponentially, and our climate is changing rapidly," he explains. "We need to be aware of what's happening-and I want to help show that with my photography to find solutions."
Beltrá insists he won't slow down; instead he will try to take his photography-and its message of awareness-to the next level. "I love what I do, but it's not easy-I travel constantly," he says. "In 2007, I won't spend more than three months at home. I ask myself if I'm crazy, if what I'm doing will really help change the world. But I feel more and more empowered by what's happening to my career. It's great to hear what I'm doing matters, to be encouraged; it keeps me going!"
For more info on Beltrá's work, visit www.danielbeltra.com