Thursday, December 18, 2014

Costa Rica - Day 5 - Another awesome day of photographing monkeys sloths and more!

It was our fifth day in Costa Rica trip, and our first day visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. Unlike our previous locations in Costa Rica, this area was much warmer and had a lot more humidity. And luckily, we had clear skies with no rain.

Upon entering the park, we were stopped by countless people trying to get us to pay for parking and hire a guide. Even though this was a bit of a "hard sell" approach, we did stop and hire someone to guide us through the park. Having walked through the forest in Monte Verde without seeing much wildlife, we were hopeful that having a guide would add to our experience in Manuel Antonio. Our guide, Jorge, spoke good English and proved to be a valuable asset for the day. If it wasn't for him, we would have missed 90% of our day's photo opportunities.

My main gear for this day was the Canon 1DX, and 100-400mm lens.

Now...join me as I take you through our first day in this National Park. It was a photographic bonanza!

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 390mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

We entered the park and walked along the trail, often stopping for our guide to show us creatures that were hidden in the trees and leaves. This lizard was hanging out on one of the large leaves, and we photographed him from the side. But when I walked under the tree and saw the silhouette of his body, with his face peeking out, I preferred this composition. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/20 sec)

Here is another creature that our guide spotted, that I would have never seen.

After seeing lots of reptiles, I was wondering if we would see any monkeys. I woke up to the sounds of Howler Monkeys coming through my hotel windows, and was hoping to see some of these guys.

And then, we walked down to the beach and picnic area and saw some raccoons scouring for food.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

Just after shooting this photo of a raccoon, I looked up to see a couple of white-faced monkeys on the tree 10 feet from me. I was VERY excited to photograph these primates in the wild.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/640 sec)

I quickly focused and started shooting photos of this guy in the tree. I was not sure how long they would stick around, and wanted to get some nice shots of them.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 330mm, ISO 1000, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

I moved around the tree to different positions, which gave me different backgrounds. In this case, I had foliage far in the background which helped me isolate the monkey.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

And then it got even better, when this adult monkey showed up with a baby on her back. Most of you know that I am really passionate about my photography, but you should have seen me at this point. I was in photographic heaven. :)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 370mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/250 sec)

I think I was moving around more than the monkeys (but not swinging from any trees).

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec)

The baby stuck out it's tongue. I don't think this was directed at me, but...

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/1000 sec)

This is one of my favorite photos of the monkeys, with this adult hanging out on a tree branch, seemingly checking out the scene.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 250mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

Here are four photos taken within seconds of each other. I just love the bond between the two primates.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 370mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/1560 sec)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/80 sec)

Look closely at the baby in this shot. Doesn't it's face look like that of an old man?

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 180mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/125 sec)

Here is a wide shot showing how they use their tails to grab the tree.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 180mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/125 sec)

This is a crop of the previous photo. This is a good example how a crop of an image can tell a completely different story. No tail in this shot, but a great back-to-back pose from my subjects.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 220mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

As soon as I saw these three monkeys grouped like this on the tree branch, I quickly zoomed out and framed this shot. Yep, more favorite photos!

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 220mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

This monkey yawned, and I focused quick enough to grab the sot. No, those are some teeth!

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 1250, f/5.6, 1/250 sec)

Good photography means that you are always ready to capture the scene unfolding in front of you. In this case, the monkeys were on the move, and making their way from one tree to another. I waited for them to be in between both trees and got this shot.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/640 sec)

After shooting hundreds of photos of the monkeys, someone pointed out this iguana that was near the beach. He was in perfect light, so I walked around to the bright side of the reptile and shot this.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 210mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)

We decided to hike farther down the trail along the edge of the beach, as we had a couple of the white-faced friends follow along with us.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 275mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

And yes, I could not help myself, and kept shooting more photos of the baby.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 320mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/40 sec)
As we hiked back to where we started, we passed another raccoon who was resting on this log. We have raccoons where I live, but you rarely see them during the day. This was a nice chance to get a photo of this animal up close and in good light.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2500, f/5.6, 1/250 sec)
We then hiked back away from the beach and deeper into the forest. Once again, we found some cool reptiles.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/160 sec)
At one point, we stopped for water, and I looked up to the see this spider web. If we had been in this spot 30 minutes before or 30 minutes after, this scene would not have presented itself this way, but we were lucky, with the sunlight perfectly hitting the web.

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/200 sec)

Before going to Costa Rica, I had never even heard of a sloth. But after searching for one for many hours, it was cool to finally see one of these strange creatures. It was a good thing that I had the Canon 100-400mm lens, since this guy was really high in the tree. BTW, you can tell that this is a male, since only the male sloth's have this striped pattern on their backs. (Photographer's note: Since the sloth was surrounded by so much open sky, it was hard to meter him correctly. In evaluative metering mode, which most cameras are defaulted to, the bright sky would cause the sloth to be a silhouette. So I changed the metering mode of the camera to spot metering to make sure that the sloth was properly exposed. I knew that the sky would blow out, but that was a trade-off I was willing to make in order to get the sloth lit correctly.)

(Canon 1DX, Canon 100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/100 sec)

Here is another shot of the sloth up high in the tree. I swear that this animal looks like bigfoot.

On day 2, when I photographed the tree frog, I thought that I had already hit the highlight of my trip. But having a chance to photograph the monkeys in the wild was equally exciting to me. At this point, I could have gone home happy, knowing that I had some cool photos for my collection. But we still had one more day.

Stay tuned for the blog of our 6th and final day in Costa Rica.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Costa Rica - Days 3 and 4 - Hummingbirds and more from Monte Verde

On our third day in Costa Rica, we made the 4+ hour drive from San Jose to Monte Verde. This left little time for photography, but we decided to spend the last hours of daylight walking around the grounds of the "hotel" grounds which was actually a group of cabins nestled in the hills. While walking around, we found some hummingbirds and put our patience to test once again, trying to capture these quick moving speedsters. There are more than 30 different species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica, and we wanted to capture photos of as many of we could.

Look at these awesome colors!

As is always the case, I am doing my best to track the birds and get there heads in perfect focus.  All of these hummingbird photos were taken with the Canon 1DX and 100-400mm lens. I used a combination of servo focus and fixed focus, but relied on back-button focusing to lock in on them. If you have not tried back-button focusing, you can check out the video I posted a while back, which explains the technique and shows you how to set it up on a Canon camera.

I was keeping my shutter speed at 1/250 sec to give me a decent chance of grabbing the birds in perfect focus, while also showing motion in their wings. If you photograph these hummers with a shutter speed slower than 1/100, you will barely see their wings. And if you photograph them at 1/1000 of a sec, you will freeze the wings with no motion.

I caught this female during one of her very infrequent rest stops.

This photo has a lot going on in the frame. Not only do I have the hummingbird in the shot, but there are many criss-crossing branches. I usually try to keep my foregrounds and backgrounds as simple and clean as possible, but there is something that attracts me to this photo. It does show the bird in it's environment, and because most of the branches are not in focus, the bird still stands out. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. Interesting photo or one to delete?

It was getting late in the day and we decided to walk back to the rented cabin. During our short walk back, I looked up and saw a parrot in one of the nearby tree tops, but the bird was barely visible. We waited for them to move from one tree to another and I had a clean shot. I took numerous photos, knowing that there were three birds in this spot. It was not until I downloaded the photo, that I saw the second bird peeking out of the left side of the branch, with perfect late afternoon light on his beak.

That night, the weather was horrible, with high winds and heavy rain. I wasn't sure that we would have any good shooting for our only full day in Monte Verde. As it turned out, the storm blew through and we had a decent day. At one point, my friend was tired and I decided to continue hiking on my own for a little bit. I came to this cool swinging bridge and decided to take a "professional selfie". :)

Here is what I did to get the shot:

* I decided that it would look cool having the camera low, on the surface of the bridge.
* I set the 1DX to 10 second timer for the shutter release
* I prefocused on a spot of the bridge, and made note to stand in that spot.
* I removed the Black Rapid strap from the bottom of the camera and folded it carefully under the 24-105mm lens as a makeshift lens support system.
* I hit the shutter release and quickly walked to the focus spot and voila!

I am not sure if it was due to the weather the night before, but we did not see very much wildlife in the park. Maybe if we had hired a guide, we might have seen more. Not sure. So after a couple hours of hiking, we made our way back to the entrance of the park, where they have hummingbird feeders. We figured that we could continue our quest to capture more species.

The photo above and the photo below are of the same exact bird taken only seconds apart. Look at how different the colors show up depending on how the bird is turned, and how the light is hitting the feathers. (Both photos were taken with the Canon 7D Mark II with the 100mm macro lens. I also used my Canon 600EX-RT flash which was turned down by two stops to light the feathers slightly.)

Here are a couple more hummingbird shots, taken with the same camera, lens and flash setup.

And then...I turned around and saw that we had a visitor!

Turns out that this Olingo (I had never heard of this animal before) liked the sugary water and came down from a tree to have a drink. I quickly took this photo before he went back up into the tree.

Here is another shot of the Olingo, perched in the tree and watching us down below. And then...

We had yet another visitor! This is a Coati, another animal I had never heard of. He cruised in and started licking the ground, where the sugar water had spilled from a feeder up above. While he had his tail straight in the air, I quickly turned the camera and shot this in portrait mode to get all of him in the frame.

And then...since he stuck around for a couple of minutes, I got down low and took this photo at his level. And then...

We had yet another visiter. This time is was an armadillo. And yes, I have heard of the armadillo, but never seen one in person. While walking on the trail the day before, I had an armadillo cross 10 feet in front of me. But, by the time I got the camera up and focused, he was gone. I was bummed. I was happy to get this shot of my first real armadillo sighting.

As it turned out, we saw more wildlife by the park entrance than we did through our entire hike. Funny but true.

We stopped shooting around 3pm so that we could grab something to eat and make the 3 hour drive to Manuel Antonio. This was the next and last stop for the week. As we made the slow and bumpy ride along the 13 miles of dirt roads out of Monte Verde, we were treated to numerous rainbows. And yes, we could not resist shooting these. I REALLY wanted to launch the Phantom 2 to get some aerial photos and video with the rainbow in the shot, but it was very windy and I did not want to risk losing the Phantom. As I mentioned, the next stop was Manuel Antonio, and we saw some very cool animals there. Stay tuned for blog posts from days 4 and 5.

If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Costa Rica - Day Two - Tree frogs and more from La Paz

On day 2 of my trip to Costa Rica, we made our way back to La Paz to get more close up photos of the critters native to this area. When planning for this trip, the one shot I really wanted to come home with, was a nice shot of the tree frog. They are so colorful and interesting looking. And, as it turned out, this was a day to fulfill that wish.

The previous day, we looked for the tree frog, but since it was later in the afternoon, they had all gone to sleep. But for day 2, we arrived early and found this little guy, and the shooting began.

For all of the macro shots here, I used the new Canon 7D Mark II with the Canon 100mm macro lens attached. Flash is not allowed in most of the parks here, so these are all taken in natural light. As soon as we saw this little guy, I was in photography heaven. At first, I fired off a bunch of shots, just excited to get any shots in focus, and then, since he stayed put, I moved around to get different angles and backgrounds.

For any of you who are photographers out there, you know the excitement of capturing a subject like this. Seriously, I was giddy after getting these shots.

I posted this one on my Facebook page, since it made me laugh. It looks like the frog is saying "Whoa, that's enough photos for now!"

And then he just sat there for a little longer and dealt with me.

As I was shooting, he turned towards me and started to make his move. I quickly reframed and got my focus on his eyes.

He jumped to one of the vertical leaves, and I got what I thought was one of my last shots of him.

He jumped from the green leaf to a darker plant and I thought I was done photographing him. But, luckily I stayed with him and grabbed this frame. Even though I love the other shots of him, I find this one more unique, since it shows the most interesting parts of the tree frog (eyes and webbed feet), but frames him nicely with the lines of the plant.

After many minutes of photographing him, he tucked himself into the plant for some quiet time. At that point, I knew I had the shots that I wanted and I left him alone.

We also came across this dart frog. These guys are cool looking, but as amazing as the colors of the previous tree frog. I also found it harder to shoot these frogs with the darker colors.

Again, trying different angles to show a different view of the frog, but also get more interesting foreground and backgrounds.

This is another type of dart frog, and I love the markings on his body. I tried photographing him from a couple of different angles, but really liked this one the best. What I love about the macro lens, is that it lets us view these tiny creatures (about an inch or two long) in their full glory.

After shooting the frogs, I went back to capturing photos of the butterflies for a little while, trying to capture them at different angles from the previous day.

I also used my extension tubes on the macro lens to get in even closer than the day before.

I like the way that this butterfly appears to be stretching.

After a great day of shooting, we returned to the hotel in San Jose at 3:30pm to get something to eat. As we sat outside at the cafe, we saw a bunch of hummingbirds feeding off the nearby plants. And being photographers, we could not help ourselves. So, I mounted the 100-400mm lens on the 7D Mark II and started shooting some more.

For the next couple of blog entries, we move to Monte Verde and Manuel Antonio National Park for some really cool shots of the birds, monkeys, sloths and more. Stay tuned...


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.