Thursday, January 26, 2023

The amazing birds of Costa Rica: How to photograph them!

In the last couple of months I have made a couple of trips down to Costa Rica. One was my normal photo tour with a group of 12 people and the other was a private trip for a client. On both occasions, I made visits to the rain forest and the cloud forest. During these trips we captured photos of monkeys, sloths, frogs and lots of birds. I thought I would write a blog post specifically on the birds this week, showing you some images and giving you tips on photographing these fast moving animals.

Let's start with the hummingbirds. 

Photographing hummingbirds is a challenge! They move so fast that, many times when you finally get the focus to lock in on them, they are gone. Using the Canon mirrorless cameras definitely makes things easier, since the subject detection often locks in faster than I could do with a single focus point. But even with that, it is still a frustrating experience, especially for a novice shooter. For these photos I was using the Canon R5 camera with the Canon RF100-500mm lens.

One way to capture hummingbirds is to pick a flower where they are frequenting, prefocus on that flower and wait for the hummingbird to come back for more nectar. I had my shutter speed at 1/400 sec to show the movement in the wings.

Of course, it is easier to photograph these little birds when they are not in flight. They do tend to return to a favorite perch in between flights.

What is most amazing is how much the color varies on their bodies with a slight turn of their heads or bodies. I would wait for the colors to be brightest and then fire off a bunch of shots.

It is difficult to predict when the hummingbirds will leave the perch, since they give almost no indication of their movement, but it is cool to capture them as they fly off. For this shot, I tried to predict when the bird would fly off and hit the shutter button. When photographing birds, it is definitely handy to shoot in burst mode (preferably at least 5 frames per second).

I will vary the speed of my shutter to capture the wings more "frozen" and to show blur. In this photo, I had the shutter speed at 1/1000 sec.

I love capturing the hummingbirds with their tongues sticking out. This is not something I see when I am shooting (because it happens so fast), but since I am shooting in burst mode, I will ultimately find some of these images when I am culling through them on my computer.

There are a lot of little things happening that most of do not notice with these little birds. In this shot you will notice that the hummingbird is fluffing out the blue feathers by its face. So pretty!

At one point, the rain started coming down and I thought it would be cool to slow the shutter speed of the camera to show the motion of the rain. I set my shutter speed to 1/400 sec, followed this hummer and caught it hovering right in front of me. I was hoping to get some rain drops being displaced by the wings of the bird.

For this shot, I slowed the shutter speed to 1/200 sec to try and get longer streaks with the rain drops.

More colors, this time in the rain.

Finally, after a lot of photos, I captured the water drops bouncing off of a hummingbird. This time off of its head, and I love that! (This was taken at 1/400 sec).

Now for some of the other amazing birds in the region...

I have been to Costa Rica so many times and never get tired of photographing the Scarlet Macaw. 

The colors on these birds is just mind boggling. 

They fly around and make very loud screeching sounds, which I take as a challenge to find them and photograph them.

It is hard to capture the Macaw in flight, especially with a good background. This shot shows the bird with a blue sky behind it...

...and here with some of the foliage in the background. 

From the same location I caught this Macaw flying right at me. If you are planning on photographing birds in flight, you want to get a shutter speed at a minimum of 1/2000 sec (and ideally at 1/3000 sec). This photo was taken with the Canon R3 at ISO 3200 to get a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec.

This is a photo of the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, which are pretty common in the rain forest where I lead my photo tours. They are often high in the trees looking for nuts, but we do see them down low. I always teach my guests to move their position to get the best background behind the bird. My goal is to get the bird without any hot spots "bright white" in the background as they create a distraction from the subject.

I was lucky enough to catch this Mealy Parrot as it flew above us. This was actually captured with a shutter speed of 1/6400 of a second, since I had a little more ambient light to work with.  

In the last couple of trips we have been lucky enough to capture great images of the Fiery-billed Aracari at a local feeder.

Thank goodness for Dennis (my guide) who can spot just about anything in any place. He saw this Lineated Woodpecker high in the tree above us. I had my guests move to get the best background possible and get a shot like this.

Here is a Common Hawk who decided to fly away within seconds of us getting out of the vehicle to photograph him. How rude! :)

On the recent private trip, we visited a new place. It was a home which had bird feeders surrounding the entire back deck. This made for a perfect place to photograph some really interesting bird species, like this Blue Crowned Motmot.

Look at the amazing patterns on this Speckled Tanager. 

I saw these two Palm Tanagers squawking at each other and fired off a bunch of images, looking for one like this, where they both had their mouths open at the same time.  Again, this is where having your camera in burst mode is advantageous.

Lastly, I am excited to share images of the ever elusive Resplendent Quetzal.

In both of the last two trips to Costa Rica, I visited a location where these Quetzal are frequently seen. It is high in the cloud forest, at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet. Trust me, it is A LOT colder than the rain forest. On both visits, we were lucky enough to get some nice photos.

This photo is from the first visit, where we saw a male quetzal with a medium sized tail.

This is the same male with a nut in his mouth. This is one of my favorite photos.

These last three photos were taken on the recent private trip to the cloud forest. We got up before 5am and headed to the viewing spot, hoping to catch the birds in neutral light. On this visit we saw this awesome male with two long tail feathers.

The morning light was only good for an hour or two and then the backgrounds were too bright for nice photos. We took a break for lunch (and a nap) before heading back to try again in the afternoon.  This time we saw this female as she flew from one perch to another.  Hoping to catch her in flight, I cranked my ISO up to 6400 on the Canon R3 (giving me a shutter speed of 1/3200 sec) and was happy to grab this shot.

...and this one too. I love the position of her wings, but just wish I could see some of the red feathers in her back end.

I have always wanted a photo of a male quetzal in flight, and this was the first time I was able to capture such an image! 

I hope you enjoyed the photos, and I hope that you all have a chance to join me on my of my trips to Costa Rica. Most of the 2023 trips are sold out (or close to being sold out), but I just announced 2024 dates which are wide open at this time. You can find them on my photo tour page HERE.


Subscribe to the Jeff Cable Photography Blog by clicking HERE!
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. I have photo tours to Africa, Costa Rica, Cuba, Europe, Asia, India and more. And Canon will loan you any gear you want for FREE for any of my tours. 


Monday, January 9, 2023

Cambodia Photo Tour: Ta Prohm Temple (location of Tomb Raider) and an amazing floating village

On this last blog post from our Indochina trip, I will show you some of my favorite images of the places and people in Cambodia.

As you saw from the last blog post, we made the bucket list visit to photograph Angkor Wat both at sunrise and during the day. But, as it turns out, there was a lot more to see in the area. On one of our days in the country we visited the ancient temple of Ta Prohm, which is an amazing site to photograph. This temple has been overtaken by the trees of the area, but luckily the people of this region have decided to let it be and not intervene. The resulting views are breathtaking.

We had overcast weather on the day that we visited Ta Prohm, which was perfect for photography. No harsh light and shadows to deal with. For this visit, I was using my Canon R6 camera with the Canon RF 15-35mm lens. I chose the wide lens knowing that we would be in tight quarters. This wide lens let me capture photos like this, showing the immense tree growth and how the roots of the tree have integrated with the stonework since the 12th and 13th century.

As much as I looked forward to seeing Angkor Wat, I actually enjoyed photographing Ta Prohm even more. There were amazing views at every turn!

Just like our visit to Angkor Wat, we did not have tons of other visitors to deal with, which made for really clean images.

I loved the different colors in the stone.

You may recognize this spot, as it is featured in the Tomb Raider movie. The place is a big maze, so it really helps to have someone who knows the area to get you to the best photo locations. Mike and our guide have been here many times and knew exactly where to go for the best photos. 

As I mentioned earlier, there were photos at every turn.

I was taking the photo above this one when the sun peeked out, and came through a back doorway and lit this one stone inside this room. It reminded me of something out of a movie, where the tomb hunter gets a sign of where the next clue might be. 

I saw this one tree reaching for the skies and thought that it would be fun to point the wide angle lens up to get this perspective. 

I always tell our photo tour guests to have a subject in their photos. In this case, my subject was the tree in the middle of the scene, with the surrounding building as a supporting subject. 

We gave everyone ample time to photograph this spot, but I could have stayed even longer. I look forward to our next visit to capture more of Ta Prohm.

I also would like to share images of the Cambodian people. 

We hired this young lady to model for our guests. Mike and I picked a nice location for the background and we all had a blast capturing her in her traditional dance outfit. For this outing and the ones to follow, I switched lenses to the Canon RF 70-200mm lens. This is my favorite portrait lens because of the clarity and the ability to shoot at f/2.8 and get great separation between my subjects and background.

We made a visit to a local monastery to watch the munks in their daily rituals. 

We asked these two if they would pray for us in this one location, since it was really beautiful.

I encouraged our guests to photograph them from different angles, giving a very different background and look.

As we were getting ready to leave the monastery, I saw this row of statues and I took a photo. Then I saw this young boy coming up this walkway in front of the statues and I quickly raised my camera and fired a bunch of frames as he approached. Having the boy in the frame makes for a much better photo, in my opinion. 

One evening, we attended a dinner show. I did not take a ton of photos at the performance, choosing to just relax and enjoy the moment more than shoot images. But, I still had the bug to get a couple of nice photos.

These next photos are from our boat tour of a floating village in Cambodia.

We were totally captivated by the people, young and old, living in these floating homes.

This young man was being taken to the floating school.

It was fascinating to watch the pet dogs, who also lived in the floating houses, as they moved between the homes and boats. Small quarters, but they seemed happy.

We loved the colors that people were wearing.

This shows the inside of this mans' floating home.

This woman had SO much character in her face. I love everything about this photo, her face, the pose, the hammock seat...

We saw this young man watching us from his window, and had to capture that smile.

As we cruised through the floating village, we could not stop taking photos. The people and their unique lifestyles were so incredible.

I saw this young man bailing water out of his boat. Keeping my camera in a burst mode (which I always do), I took numerous frames to get that exact moment when the water was being tossed out. 

This older man is WAY more flexible than I will ever be!

Here is a photo of the floating school...

...and some of the children in class.

At one point we were floating along taking photos, when we saw these two ladies up on their roof. We did not understand what they were doing up there until our guide explained that they were drying fish in the sunlight. I zoomed the Canon RF20-700mm lens all the way to 200mm and sure enough, that is what they were doing.

We made a couple of loops through the floating village in order to see all of the different water ways. As we left the village, we saw this boat coming up on us. I grabbed this shot to show the young boy resting on the bow, but also to show the floating homes in the background. This one photo seemed to tell a whole story in itself.

I hope that you enjoyed the photos and stories from this amazing trip. It was my first time going to Vietnam and Cambodia, but will definitely not be the last. Yes, there were endless photo opportunities, but more importantly, it was such a treat to see and meet the people from these remote countries.


Subscribe to the Jeff Cable Photography Blog by clicking HERE!
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. I have photo tours to Africa, Costa Rica, Cuba, Europe, Asia, India and more. And Canon will loan you any gear you want for FREE for any of my tours.