Friday, September 22, 2017

Our last day in the Rain Forest of Costa Rica (Our visit to a chocolate plantation and the cutest baby monkey)

We were sad that it was our last full day in Costa Rica, but we were making the most of it. If you read the last blog post, you know that we had already seen a ton on this day, but we had one more stop. It was a visit to a chocolate plantation. And before I show you the photos of this, I want you to know that this is a real working plantation. Unlike the chocolate tours that you see in the US and Europe where you watch videos or see a simulation of chocolate being made, this is the real thing. The owner lives and works on the property with his wife, son and daughter, and they make the chocolate by hand.

We arrived at the plantation and before even starting our walking tour of the property, we saw a baby monkey in one of the nearby trees. The owner told us that a group of white-headed monkeys had challenged this monkey's troop, and that in the process, this little guy had fallen from a tree and been abandoned. He was taking care of the monkey until it was big and strong enough to join another troop.

This little guy was way too cute, and there was no way we could pass up this opportunity to photograph this little one.. I got my Canon 100-400mm lens and put in on my Canon 1D X Mark II camera to get some photos of this precious little guy.



You have to love this face!



The baby monkey climbed up a small tree and gave out a little cry. We all melted.

Then it was on to our walking tour of the property.


In all the years that I have eaten chocolate (and I have done my fair share of chocolate eating), I had no idea how chocolate was grown or made. So it was really interesting to see the cocoa pods for the first time. But I still did not understand how these became the chocolate that we eat.


The owner took out his machete and cut the pod open to show us the seeds inside. He even encouraged us to try eating the meat that was covering the seeds, and it was surprisingly good.


We then walked over to some drying huts where he showed us what the beans look like after being dried for a couple or days.


This started looking a little more like chocolate.


After walking around the entire property, we came to the family's outdoor cooking area, where they were roasting the cocoa beans. At this point, I removed my Canon 100-400mm lens and switched to the Canon 16-35mm III lens for wider photos.


We all watched as the son started grinding the cocoa beans to open them. This was a great time to change my camera settings to a slow shutter speed and explain how that slow shutter helps show the motion of the grinding. (This was taken at 1/8 second.)


I used that same concept when the daughter showed us how she separates the husks from the cocoa bean. Because she was moving faster in this process, I used a shutter speed of 1/50th sec to show the beans being tossed in the air. You will notice that the heavier beans stay in the wood bowl while the lighter husks fly out and land at her feet.


Once the beans has successfully been separated, it was time for them to grind the beans.


This process was repeated numerous times until the chocolate was less of a powder and more of a paste.


Once they had the chocolate finely ground into a paste, they separated out some and added sugar and powdered milk. They then mixed that all together and put it into the grinder one more time.


Ta da! We had chocolate.


They told us that the chocolate (without the sugar and milk) is good for our skin. I took their word for it, but Dennis had some fun with this and put it all over his face. Not only is he an excellent guide, but he is one funny guy! 

After our time at the chocolate plantation, we went back to the resort to have dinner and pack. After dinner, one of the other guides told us that he heard tree frogs nearby, so we went out in search for them. And sure enough, we spotted some. I ran back to our room to get my camera, and when I returned, they had found these two which were mating. It was a really fun last shot of the trip.


I want you to get great shots of your own in Costa Rica, and so I am excited to 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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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Rain Forest of Costa Rica - Birds, Monkeys, Sloths, Butterflies and more

We woke up on the Osa Peninsula on Saturday morning and saw that it was raining. Sure, it is the rain forest and this is not unusual, but for the past week we had the normal clear skies for the first part of the day and then afternoon showers. But this was not going to stop us from taking photos. And...as it turned out, it actually helped me capture of one my favorite photos of the trip.


We had another great breakfast at Crocodile Bay and then packed up for another full day of shooting. As it would turn out, much of the photography on this day would be focusing on the birds of the area. The first bird that we saw was the Black-bellied Whistling Duck. We saw a couple of these ducks flying back and forth between two fallen trees, and I keyed in on the closest one.  I kept the camera trained on the duck and waited for moments like this one.

The rain was not falling too hard, so we just got out of the 4-wheel drive vehicle and shot without any rain covers on the cameras or ourselves. I was using the Canon 1D X Mark II and Canon 100-400mm II lens which are rain resistant, so no worries.


The muted light allowed us to capture photos of the birds with very even light.


After photographing the ducks for a little while, we continued driving until we came across this Bare-throated Tiger-heron.


Ugh - I forget what bird this is. I am sure that all you birders will know. But I love the colors and markings on this species.


We were driving along when Dennis (our guide) hit the brakes and stopped the vehicle by a small stream. I was looking around and trying to figure out what the heck he saw. He pointed to a leaf that was hanging over the water and had us focus in on small shiny object at the bottom of the leaf. At this point, I am thinking "what the heck is that?" Dennis explained that this is a group of tree frog eggs which has been suspended over the water. When the frogs emerge from the eggs, they drop down into the water and swim to the shore. How cool is that?


Near that same location, we spotted this Iguana hanging out on fallen tree limb.


My wife loves birds of prey, so when we saw this Yellow-headed Caracara on a fence post, I had to jump out and get a shot. We took turns photographing the bird and then moving forward to get as close as possible. Once we got our "safe shots" we waited for the bird to fly off.


As soon as the Caracara took off, I started shooting photos in burst mode. You will notice how the rain falling in the opposite direction of the bird's flight actually makes the photo more interesting.

When photographing wildlife, I almost always keep my camera in IO Servo focus mode (follow focus) to track the animals as they move. I also use back button focus 100% of the time. If you are not familiar with these settings, come join me on a photo tour to Costa Rica and I will teach you.


I saw this little Red-breasted Meadowlark sitting on a branch (on the other side of the road from the Caracaras). I did shoot some tight shots of the Meadowlark but preferred this one with the tree and rain in the background. This is one of the reasons that I love the Canon 100-400mm lens. It lets me zoom in and out and reframe my shots for very different compositions.


This is the shot I was talking about at the beginning of this blog post. I was shooting photos of this Roadside Hawk when it decided to shake off the rain water from it's features. I was looking through the Canon 1D X Mark II when this occurred and I thought "Man - I hope I have a sharp focus on this hawk at this very moment!" If we had another dry day, I would never have captured this photo! Making lemonade from lemons for sure.


I have said this before in other blog posts, but I have become a real fan of photographing birds. The unique colors and markings are truly incredible. I love the colors on the back of this Gartered Trogon.


The low clouds also presented us with some cool landscape photos. This area of Costa Rica is so beautiful and untouched!


We were driving down a road towards the beach when we saw a large group of monkeys searching for food in the trees above us. The rain had all but stopped at this point so it was easier to point the cameras up into the trees without getting water on our lenses.


Lunch time for the monkeys.


It was funny because the monkeys were eating the food inside these pods and then dropping them down on us as we photographed them.


I took this wider shot to show you all what it looks like as you look up into the canopy above.


We arrived at the beach and took advantage of the dry weather to stop for lunch.


As we made our way back to the resort, we spotted the same group of monkeys and we shot some more photos. We watched as the monkeys jumped one-by-one from one tree to another. I was teaching the others about spot metering and exposure compensation at this time. This is the only way to grab photos like this without getting a silhouette of the monkey.

We returned to the resort for a nice dinner and then a lesson on workflow using Photo Mechanic and Adobe Photoshop.


Sunday was our last full day on the Osa Peninsula and we made the most of it. We took one of the fishing boats across the bay, heading for an animal sanctuary.


It was so nice to cruise the coastline and enjoy the unspoiled scenes.


When we arrived at the animal sanctuary, we were greeted by "Sweetie", the cutest darned monkey ever. These monkeys are out and about. They are not caged, but they are used to people and will come right up to you.


I love this sanctuary because it gives everyone a chance to photograph these animals in a more controlled environment. Still in their natural habitat, but...



I look forward to taking groups of people here to capture your own photos of these beautiful and friendly animals.



I saw this one monkey looking away from the light and took the opportunity to get a backlit portrait.


As we walked around the sanctuary, the monkeys followed us.


This Ocelot was in heat and pacing the cage like crazy. It took me a long time to capture this photo. (Since this animal was in a cage, I shot the photo at f/4.5 to try and blur the foreground and background. But in the original image, the cage was still pretty visible in the background. I brought the photo into Photoshop and blurred the background a little more on a separate layer and painted that in.

The owner of the sanctuary was looking for new photos for her annual calendar, so I was taking these to donate to her as much as for myself.


As I was walking around the sanctuary, I was greeted by this Great Curassow. I got down low and shot photo at the bird's eye level.


My daughter loves pigs and was happy to see a Collared Peccary on the property.


The sanctuary has a family of White-headed monkeys and I was happy to be able to photograph this adult and baby together.


These sloths were hanging out too (literally).



As we left the sanctuary, we escorted by a couple of the monkeys who came down to the beach to send us off.

We hopped back on the boat and took a short ride down the coastline to the private gardens of an American couple who moved there 37 years ago. They have created a magnificent garden with endless pathways of local foliage. And, of course, there are lots of wildlife there as well.


I watched as this Cherrie's Tanager hopped from one branch to another. Look at the amazing colors on the breast of this bird.


I saw this Bamboo tree and loved the colors and patterns in this shot. It is simple but elegant.


This is not the best photo in the world, but I am including it in the blog because it is the first time I have ever successfully photographed a Dragon Fly in flight. These insects move so fast that I have never had the opportunity to lock focus and grab the shot before they fly off. Well..this Dragon Fly was staying relatively still, so I zoomed the Canon 100-400mm II lens out to 400mm, manually focused the lens (since the auto focus was having trouble locking in on the small subject), and fired off a couple of shots before it took off. Bam - got it!


They have an abundance of flowers in the garden meant that we had an abundance of butterflies as well.


We all had a great time keying in on these little insects and getting up close and personal with them.



We took the boat back to Crocodile Bay and were heading up to the restaurant for lunch, but had to stop and get a picture of this Green Iguana who was out sunning himself.

The last stop on our trip was a visit to a local chocolate maker. But more on that on the next and final Costa Rica blog post. Stay tuned for that...

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If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
__________________________________________________________________________
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.
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