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.


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Janet said...

Thank you for all the beautiful photos of the Hummingbirds! I live in California so we don't get the really gorgeous colors in our hummingbirds. I have hummingbird multicolor glass blown feeders on 6 foot hooks (sometimes as many as 12 of them at once) just outside my window. I love watching them all day and have them all year long. During the winter they taper off and I only have a few but by spring I have counted as many as 30-50 birds around my feeders at one time! They really bring me great joy!

OnlyInCA said...

OMG! You're a bird photographer after all!! 😉 Love that flying male Quetzal shot!
Catherine d'A