As a tour guide and consummated Costa Rica traveler, there are very few pleasures that satisfy me more, than my off time, simply to walk with my camera, slowly and prompt, looking for a great picture.
And it never lets me down. Whenever I get out of town, I know, for sure I will get them. Either a dramatic huge iguana, a turtle on the way to the ocean (Early at dawn) or the light and subtle beauty of an orchid on the side of the road.
Costa Rica is a nature photographer’s personal play area. You’ll never run out of wonders, never mind for how long is your stay… whether you’re there for a week, a month, or keep coming back for more. Its varied ecosystems including several types of rainforests, from the texturized dry forest to the mystical cloud forest. Beaches, volcanoes and mangroves, flowers and wildlife! So much wildlife! Monkeys, sloths, birds, butterflies and rare bugs.
However there are always tips about traveling on a photography safari that are important to know about and we’ll give you some right here:
Even without airline luggage restrictions, there’s really no need to bring lots of photography equipment. Besides your camera, the only other photo equipment you’re likely to want is a lightweight tripod, and even that isn’t mandatory. If you have any additional lenses, of course bring them with you. (For sloths, monkeys, hawks, eagles and toucans… for instance) and definitely a macro (So many tiny marvels in the rainforest!… From flowers to fungi, spiders to beetles).
Other Gear and Accessories
Here are some additional items we recommend to fill your photo bag.
- Second or backup camera body
- Extension tubes (useful for macro shooting)
- Flash or ring flash unit
- Better beamer, for fill flash
- Remote trigger
- Extra memory cards & storage (such as the Nexto DI storage device)
- Extra batteries
- Lens cloth, pen brush
- A dry bag (Big enough to keep your photography bag undercover)
- Pelican Boxes are fantastic, although a bit heavy.
Be Prepared for the rain…. Even in sunny season. Be prepared for humidity… all year long.
Rain cannot be an obstacle in terms of photography. Actually some of the best shots of frogs and even birds can be taken under rain. (As long as it is mild), The tough Caribbean showers usually are very powerful but very fast. So you can always go out afterwards.
There are all sorts of commercial rain covers for your gear. However, a simple plastic garbage bag can protect your gear conveniently when needed.
The rainforest is humid. Period. Not much we can do about it. And yes, condensation can build up inside and outside of your camera, causing your lens to fog. A good idea if your room has air conditioning is to leave your lenses in the humid bathroom with the door closed overnight; when you wake up they will have adapted to the humidity and won’t fog up when you step outside.
Another good idea is to bring silica packets and keep them with your camera in a sealed bag every night.
Sun & Insects
It should go without saying, but don’t forget to protect yourself by covering up with sunscreen and a hat. And of course, insect repellant is important in this warm, moist climate.
Know your camera before arriving in Costa Rica
Either you are an amateur with a pint and shoot camera with great zoom capabilities or maybe you are a pro who just bought this new amazing gear…. Know it before you come. That way you won’t miss the best of the pictures you are taking and yes, still objects are here, but some of the best pictures that can be taken are the action ones (A bird that caught a snake, a fight between a flycatcher and a hawk… A croc attacking something, etc.) . Practice a lot, with all sorts of distances and lights. As an interesting fact, the rainforest is quite a dark place, as the canopy leaves and branches take all the light, so practice in all lights, conditions and things.
About wildlife photography
There are areas where there are more shots and areas where there are less… (But there can be fantastic landscapes, or great gardens and/or cultural human shots). For me, some of the favorites are: Tortuguero, Corcovado, Savegre (For birds and forest pictures) Rincón de la Vieja, Manuel Antonio and Cahuita. But ask our travel consultants about it.
To make the most of your time in the country, I would suggest utilizing the skills and knowledge of an experienced photography naturalist guide. This can make all difference in getting to a desired location or finding the wildlife within each of those areas.
Note: Regardless of your location, it’s always important to respect wildlife and never sneak up on an animal. Walk around slowly and quietly, without looking too interested in the animal or appearing like a potential threat.And please be careful with the flash! If it is a sunny day and you are out in the sun, it would not be a problem. But frogs, snakes and other creatures are in quite dark areas and you can really harm them when using a tough flash light.
Wildlife Difficulty Levels
HOWLER MONKEY EATING SOME FLOWERS
Sloths: Unless you find them when they are on the move (…and it happens!) they will always give you time to get ready for fantastic pictures.
Steady insects and beetles: Easy to shoot, fantastic opprtunities for a lot of macro on the field. Harder if we are talking about flying wonders such as a light blue dragon fly.
Hummingbirds: They are quite predictable and easy to shoot if you go to the right places. Even in the areas where there are feeders you can always take natural shots in the bushes around. Just sit and wait. And learn how they move. Specie to specie can be different.
Quetzals: Depends on the time of year. Usually you find them in fruiting trees and/or their nests. Very few shots are better than the quetzal flying out of their nests.
Toucans: usually are up on the top branches, they love the rain and are pretty visible when rain stops. My suggestion is to identify their call and look for them after rain. Every now and then, in fruiting trees you can take a much closer and better picture. But it is an exception.
Turtles: They are shy and will get in the water the minute they feel threatened. They require a slow approach to avoid frightening them.
Goudy Leaf Frog (Better known as red-eyed frog)
Frogs: Unsurprisingly, frogs move very quickly and hop around a lot, so be prepared. And have your macro ready. Some of the most beautiful are so small (And quick) that is good to take your time to look for them and be ready for the action when it comes.
Boa Constrictor eating iguana
Snakes: Even if it’s not a viper! Be careful. Never too close, use your big lens with them.
Edit As You Go
Don’t wait until you get home to edit your photos. Wildlife photography is a cheater, you think you had the best shot and when you get home, you realize none of your sloth pictures were good enough… If you do your homework every day there can be second chances.
It may be a good a idea to bring your tablet and/or computer with your favorite edition program in it.
Know your goals
It is a good idea to have a list of targets. Do some research and see what is it that you want to take more. And we will make the itinerary thinking about your needs.
Photography focused itineraries.
One of the things I learned the hard way is that there are thousands and thousands of people who don’t care about getting a good picture…. And next to that I also learned that taking a good picture sometimes takes hours.
Very few things can cause a high level of frustration as having a great picture in front and not being able to stop because the tour must go on… Maybe only one: When you realize that going solo makes you miss the best shots, because you don’t know where they were.
Best is to go on a tour dedicated to photography with a great local naturalist and photographer as a guide! (And we, in Camino Travel have a couple of those!)
Written by Olga Sáenz-Carbonell and Frank Simms (Naturalist Tour Guide and Photographer) for Camino Travel.