Mike Butler – Architectural Photographer

To Nicaragua And Back – An Architectural Adventure! 

We had landed 6 hours ago at the Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport in Managua Nicaragua still sitting in a customs detainment room somewhere deep within the airport.  My architectural photography equipment was sitting only feet away, seized and locked, our presence there in this central American country viewed with suspicion. 

My stylist and wife Sandra who is from Colombia, and knows a thing or two about South/Central American cultures, was working whatever magic she could conjure up to hammer out some sort of deal with the officials.  In spite of my client’s assurances of easy access to the country, and that there would be no issues, we apparently had not done the proper paperwork.  Mind you, it is not as if I did not double-check, I did not see any red flags so I proceed with my client’s advise.

There it lie, all my equipment tossed like rubbish with so many other confiscated bags.

My photography gear, being detained was strange because my clients had told me they brought all kinds of items through customs during the construction of their home here.  Yet, watching this from my cold blue patch on the floor I could see resistance to the customs bureaucracy as futile.  At some point, I walked over to Sandra, and said, “well let’s just pay them, maybe they need a bribe.”  My client hearing this looked over and whispered, “I thought that was what they wanted, but no they refuse to accept any money”.  The story became clear as the day wore on, there was a 5-day wait to “import” then a 5-day wait to export + a 40% tax on the total value of the equipment….both ways! There is your bribe! Needless to say, the equipment slithered from room to room finally ending up on a loading dock, just a few feet from the chaotic city roads, separated by only a fence and a prayer.  The night was descending, as we were escorted away, I took one look back totally expecting that would be the last time I saw the equipment.  Surely, this expensive gear, minus the cameras, which I slid through this gauntlet of customs unnoticed, would disappear into the city, taken like tiny bread crumbs by creatures of the night.

Sandra trying to understand the opaque bureaucracy of the customs department.

And so started our experience with the Country of Nicaragua, not often visited, at least not by photo crews!  My wife and I stayed for the next few days at the Hotel Colonial in the city of Granada about an hour outside of Managua, and we were charmed.

We spent a few days in Granada, renting mountain bikes, riding to the local volcanic lake Laguna de Apoyo and through the very back roads around Granda, lounging at local cafes and markets, and generally taking it easy. What a quaint little city, the perfect place to whittle away your days waiting to find out if your equipment would be released!  I would definitely recommend this place!

Laguna de Apoyo

Eventually we returned to Manga to try our hand again at the prisoner’s release, it became very apparent the equipment, if it was indeed still in the position of customs was not leaving the airport.  So with our tails between our legs, we set off for the location minus the equipment.  The shoot location was on the border with Costa Rica overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so close in fact that we needed to cross an armed checkpoint in the jungle. 

The client’s home was perched like a white falcon on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The beaches were vacant, the ocean wild and free with wales every afternoon cresting above the waves.  Nowhere could you find a single person and definitely not any tourists.  So there we were in the absolutely perfect place, in a very real sense and unreachable place, with no gear. All we could do was sit and enjoy the sunsets.  Not so bad I guess. 

So was that it? I did a scout tried to take a few photos minus a tripod, then a return back to Managua to pick up the equipment, and yes it was still there. We might never return. A golden photoshoot opportunity lost.   

Indeed no, having come this far we set forth the gears to acquire the required permits.  How hard could this be?  Very hard as it turns out.  My wife spent the better part of the next 6 months in a weekly back and forth between local officials, the political bureaucracy, and airport inspectors.  It was pretty clear getting back to Nicaragua was not going to be easy.  Not easy however does not mean impossible. So with the required paperwork in hand, we headed back.  Again our equipment was detained! Luckily this time it was only for one night as the paperwork which took us 6 months to acquire was confirmed.  Who knows why they needed to confirm this paperwork, but the end result was we finally united the equipment with this gorgeous shoot location.         

Having spent nearly a week at the location already, I had all the shots played out and knew exactly what to do.  For one of the main overall shots, I had the client get a scaffolding built so I could grab overall dusk, dripping those bold overly saturated colors. We made our way from the front of the modern-style home to the back, at all hours of the day and night.  I fell from trees and took boat rides to distant islands for a better view of the home. Being designed by the client’s husband a funloving and eccentric personality schooled in architecture, the designs were personal, outlandish, and fun to photograph. The whole place was a personal hommage to one man’s vision.

I was honored to photograph the home and even more pleased with Florida Design picking up the images for a full article featuring my client’s work!

If you’re in need of a top-quality architectural photography service, then look no further! I’ve been taking architectural photography and videography for over 25 years at this point and have worked with about every situation you can imagine! So give me a call and let’s see how I can bring your project to life through my expert eye!

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I have decades of experience in photography and have been hired all over the world for a range of drone, hospitality, architectural and resort photography. If you want to give your marketing a new, fresh and eye-catching look, get in touch with me and let’s start working together!

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