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.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Costa Rica - Day One - The beautiful animals of La Paz

This is my first time visiting Costa Rica, and I came here with high expectations for the photographic opportunities. On the first day, we made the one hour drive from San Jose to La Paz to visit the Waterfall Gardens. This is an excellent place to photograph animals which are native to this region.

(Canon 1DX, 100-400mm lens at 360mm, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/640 sec)

This was one of the first photos that I took, looking up at this Toucan. I just love the colors in this bird! As I usually do, I focused on his eyes and fired off a bunch of shots as he looked in all directions.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm lens at 400mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/60 sec)

We also came across this albino squirrel. I have seen thousands of squirrels before, but never a white one.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/80 sec)

As I walked around the aviary, I saw this little guy and grabbed this shot. I framed this to have the bird off-center, using the rule of thirds.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

One of the highlights of the Waterfall Gardens is the butterfly building. This building has many different species of butterflies which fly all over the place, often landing on visitors. It was a great place to break out the new Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon 100mm macro lens.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 640, f/4, 1/200 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Check out the cool patterns on this butterfly.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 640, f/4, 1/500 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

It was fun to get up close and personal with the macro lens.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

We were very lucky to see numerous Giant Blue Morpho butterflies with their wings open. In California, I am used to seeing the orange and brown colors on Monarch butterflies, but this was so cool to see the vibrant blue wings of this magnificent insect.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/100 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Since this Morpho was staying still, I decided to go straight over-head and shoot down. I really like the composition and the way that it shows the structure of the insect.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm lens at 400mm, using the Canon 500 lens adaptor, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/80 sec)

I brought my Canon Closeup Lens 500D on this trip, so that I could use the long lens but get even closer. I put on this lens (which is really like a filter which screws onto a 77mm lens) and focused in really close to one of the butterflies to show you the beauty of the patterns in the wings. Chances are, you have never heard of the 500D, but this little "filter" turns any lens (yep - even Nikon and others) into a macro lens. And for only $149.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 2000, f/4, 1/125 sec, -0.3 exposure comp)

Here is a butterfly coming out of it's pupae. How often do you see that happen?

(Canon 1DX100-400mm lens at 285mm, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/200 sec, Canon 600Ex-RT flash)

At this location, they have an area with numerous hummingbird feeders and they attract hundreds of these little speedsters. I was most interested in shooting the Violet Sabrewing, since we do not have those back home. And look at these colors! I used a flash to help isolate the birds in flight and to bring out their colors.

(Canon 1DX100-400mm lens at 300mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/100 sec, Canon 600Ex-RT flash)
I shot this photo at 1/100 sec to show the motion of the wings, also using the flash on this shot. This was one of my favorite shots of the day. For any of you who have tried photographing hummingbirds, it is a real test of your patience. They move so fast and rarely stay in any one place for more than a second. As soon as you get a focal point on them, they are usually flying away.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 500, f/3.2, 1/200 sec)
This little lady decided to stop long enough for me to get this shot. Phew! That was a lot easier than shooting her in flight.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 2000, f/4, 1/60 sec)

Our last stop of the day was a visit to the frogs, but since it was late in the day, most of them were already asleep and nowhere to be found. This little guy was making an appearance from within a small plant. If you did not look closely, you would never have seen him.

(Canon 7D Mark II100mm macro lens, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/500 sec)

This last shot was taken at the end of the day, as I was walking out of the park. It had rained pretty heavily and the water was on this flower. I loved the way that the bright pink colors contrasted with the background, so I took this last shot. Overall, a really fun day. We planned on coming back for a second day to see what else we capture. Stay tuned for the next blog entry!


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.