Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Rain Forest of Costa Rica - A week of photography on the Osa Peninsula (The first two days)

Last week was an adventure for myself, my wife and daughter, as we made our way South to Costa Rica for a week. The goal of the trip was to scout out the photographic opportunities on the Osa Peninsula for future photo tours. And as you will see from this blog post and the others to come, this is an amazing place to photograph and experience for yourself. And yes, I will be leading tours to this location starting THIS year! You can see that here.

We started our trip flying into San Jose, Costa Rica and spent the day there relaxing by the pool and then enjoying the late afternoon lightning storm.

The next day, we headed back to a small terminal next to the main airport and hopped onto a small airplane to make our way to Puerto Jimenez and ultimately, Crocodile Bay Resort. This would be our home for the week and our photographic base.

We loved the views from the plane, and even spotted a rainbow over the coastline. Armed with my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-105mm lens, I was able to get some decent photos out of the window of the plane.

The flight also provides amazing views of the rain forest from the air. I saw this meandering river and loved the patterns amongst the trees. This aerial views were so amazing that this flight ended up being the highlight of the day for the family.

But there was so much more to come...

We got to the resort and got settled into our rooms. We then had a really nice lunch and then walked the property to see what photo opportunities we could find. In the first 5 minutes of our walk, we spotted these two Scarlet Macaw in a nearby tree. It so incredible to see these colorful birds flying in the wild. At this point I had switched to my Canon 1D X Mark II and Canon 100-400mm lens.

Since the resort is called Crocodile Bay, we had to check out the crocodile pond. We all walked over and found these American Crocodiles lounging. Just as we were viewing these guys, a light rain started falling around us. But hey, it is the rain forest, and we just kept moving ahead.

Across the crocodile pond, there was a tree full of Cattle Egrets. I isolated this one Egret fanning his wings to keep them dry. Once again, we were all captivated by the beauty of these birds.

The property of the resort is filled with native foliage, and I had a great time capturing photos of the flowers.

I saw the curve and color of this Red Ginger plant and framed this shot.

There is a certain simplicity in this photo of a single Zinnias flower amongst the green background.

After we toured the property, we headed in for dinner (since it gets dark around 5:30pm by the equator) and relaxed for the evening. The next day we were heading out with Dennis, our guide, for a full day of wildlife photography in the rain forest.

We piled into the Toyota Landcruiser and started our day. But before we even left the property, Dennis spotted this Striped Basilik Lizard on one of the fence posts. Now that is an awesome face! (Note: If you go to Costa Rica, you need to be with a guide. Without a trained expert, you will miss 80% of the wildlife in the area. We are just not trained to see all the hidden gems. They are! Of course, we will have guides with us on all my photo tours.)

While viewing the Lizard, Dennis also spotted this baby Green Iguana in a nearby plant.

About half an hour later, we were driving along a remote dirt road looking for monkeys, when we spotted this Northern Tamandua (in the anteater family) climbing a tree. For all my longer zoomed photos, like this one, I was using my Canon 1D X Mark II with the Canon 100-400mm II lens. I kept both of cameras in aperture priority mode, using the best aperture I could get on this lens. At 400mm, this meant that I was usually photographing at f/5.6. I would watch my shutter speed, and if it was too slow or too fast, I would adjust the ISO accordingly. For this particular photo, I also recommended that we all adjust our exposure compensation up 1.3 stops to bring the Tamandua out of the shadows. For those of you who don't understand all this, join me on a trip and you will learn this quickly.

The next animal we spotted was a Brown-throated Sloth. I have no idea how Dennis find these animals, since I had a hard time spotting it, even after he pointed his laser pointer at the exact location. But I can tell you daughter was very excited to see the sloth for the first time.

We were in the same spot where we stopped the vehicle to photograph the sloths, when Dennis pointed out the Golden Silk Orb-weaver spider which had captured a Cicada in it's web. I switched to my Canon 5D Mark IV with the Canon 100mm macro lens to get this shot. (Note: If you are going to Costa Rica to photograph the wildlife, I highly recommend you bring a macro lens with you. If you join me on my tour there, Canon has agreed to loan your choice of cameras and lenses at no cost to you!)

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I have never really been a "birder", but after being to Africa and Costa Rica, I totally get why people love photographing birds. There are some amazing species out there! Here is a photo of a Yellow-throated Toucan hanging out in the trees above us.

Dennis found these two Tropical Screech Owls hanging out on a tree branch. I took a bunch of photos of these two and was happy to have a nice sharp image here. I was editing this back at the room at Crocodile Bay when my wife spotted something that nobody else had noticed. There is a baby owl peeking out from the feathers!

Here is a tight crop of the same image so that you can see the baby.

The next animal that we spotted was a White-nosed Coati, which is a member of the raccoon family. I had never seen one of these before, and it was fun to capture a new species in my camera.

Weirdly, we had not seen any monkeys for the first half of our day. But then our luck changed...

The first species of monkey that we saw was the Black-handed Spider Monkey. They were swinging from one tree to another, and we all enjoyed watching their acrobatics.

In the distance, we could hear Howler Monkeys...

We drove towards the sound and found these Mantled Howler Monkeys in the trees.

I waited for this howler to look up and got this photo with light in his eyes.

At one point, while photographing the Howler Monkeys, I looked over and saw Bryan, Bryce and Dennis all shooting at the same spot. I tilted my camera to get all of them in the frame and took this shot of them. Look at that concentration!

Almost everywhere we went on the Osa Peninsula, we came across massive amounts of Leaf-cutter Ants. They are really small (they are ants of course) but they are really interesting to watch. These ants are carrying large payloads for incredibly long distances, and many times there are other ants hanging onto the leafs and going along for the ride. I switched back to the Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 100mm macro lens to get some shots of the ants while the others were capturing more images of the Howler Monkeys.

As the afternoon progressed, the clouds and rain moved in. This is very typical in the rain forest, with clear skies for the first half of the day and then afternoon rain showers. But the weather was warm and the rain light, so it does not hinder anything. We stopped by a local beach and I switched lenses on the Canon 5D Mark IV to my Canon 16-35mm lens and took some photos of Ali (my daughter).

I also had one of the other guys take a photo of the three of us. Hey - I had to prove that I was there too!

As we drove away from the beach and made our way back into the rain forest, we saw another pack of Spider Monkeys. Once again, Dennis pulled over and we all jumped out of the Land Cruiser to see if we could get some shots of these monkeys as they swung on the tree limbs above us.

Taking photographs of these monkeys is a bit of a challenge for the following reasons:

* Many times we are shooting in low light. Even during the day, the heavy foliage in the trees above significantly lowers the amount of ambient light under the trees.

* The monkeys move really fast as they move from one location to another.

* Often times the abundant foliage gets in between the animals and us and does not allow for a clear shot.

* If the rain is falling, it is a challenge to point the lens up high and not get water drops on the front of the lens.

* The light behind the monkeys is often times much brighter than the animals so it is tough to meter the subject correctly.

Even though all these challenges exist, I look forward to teaching my photo tour attendees the best way to mitigate these circumstances and get great photos.

As always, I am using back button focus (servo mode and single focus point) to lock in the focus on the monkey's eyes.

These monkeys have the best expressions.

I was busy trying to get good photos of one the monkeys when I heard Dennis say "Here comes one with a baby on it's back." I quickly moved the camera to isolate these two and got as many photos as I could, before they swung off to another tree limb and out of sight.

At this point, we had seen 3 of the 4 species of monkeys that live in Costa Rica, and we were happy with that. Heck, it was our first full day there. The light was fading and we decided to head back to the resort.

But 10 minutes later...

...we saw a large pack of Central American Squirrel Monkeys hopping along a fence. There were probably 20 monkeys jumping from fence post to fence post. If we had arrived about 30 seconds earlier, it would have been an awesome photo. But by the time we got out of the vehicle and achieved focus on these guys, it was too late. But we were glad to see the 4th species of monkey and still got some photos of them in the trees.

Overall it was an amazingly full day of photography, and one that I hope to share with many of you in person.

I am excited to say that I will be leading numerous photo tours to this same location starting this November.

Here is why I think this will be an amazing trip for you all:

* It is an unspoiled area and it is truly Costa Rica without any large hotels or tourist traps. This is the real rain forest. No ABC stores around to sell you T-shirts.
* It is easy to get to Costa Rica from the US with many people having a flight of less than 6 hours.
* There is a large variety of photo opportunities for you, including, animals, insects, foliage, scenery, and so much more.
* We are based in one locations so there isn't constant packing and unpacking.
* The resort is very nice, with great food, great people and all that is included in the package price.
* The resort has a conference center with projector, screen and tables where we can all to work together. This is a perfect room for me to teach workflow, Photoshop, and more. There is also a pool and I plan on having at least one informal class there too!
* The cost of this trip is very reasonable and therefore more affordable for the average photo enthusiast.
* We are limiting the guests to 12 so that everyone can learn.
* I have selected great times to visit this location. It is not the height of the heat.
* As I mentioned earlier in the blog, Canon has offered to loan you equipment at no cost to you!

If you would like more information on the Costa Rica Photo Tours, click here.

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Unknown said...

Best trip I have ever taken was to Costa Rica when I was in high school. You are right though, going with a guide is absolutely required. The Cloud Forest and the volcano hot springs are a must, but I like this idea of being centralized! I'll have to check out prices! Thanks Jeff!

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Sam - send me an email and I will get you more info.