Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Costa Rica Photo Adventure

Costa Rica – Bird and Nature Photography Heaven

My wife Jennifer and I recently spent two weeks in Costa Rica as a part honeymoon, part bird and nature photography photo adventure. I can tell you that we were not disappointed on either front.
Costa Rica has it all. Beautiful countryside, stunning ocean beaches and all the flora and fauna that one could possibly hope for in a country of this size.
Costa Rica´s territory is so small that it encompasses only 0,03% of the planet´s surface but is still within the top 20 richest countries in biodiversity on Earth in terms of species density. It means that it is possible to find more species in 1,000 km2 in Costa Rica that in the same area in countries like Brazil or Colombia. Costa Rica has nearly half a million species, representing 4% of the planet´s expected biodiversity.

There are many places to go in Costa Rica to photograph its vast array of tropical bird species, hummingbirds and wildlife. One of the places on our itinerary for this trip was Rancho Naturalista,
the premier birding lodge in Costa Rica, Rancho Naturalista is among the finest in Central America. Over 430 species of birds have been recorded in the area. These birds may be sampled from this comfortable lodge famous for its excellent food, welcoming hospitality and stunning volcano views.
Many of the resident hummingbirds can be photographed right from the large second story balcony that runs along the length of the rooms. Hummingbird species include Crowned Wood-nymphs, Brown Violet-ears, White-necked Jacobins, Green Thorn-tails and Green-crowned Brilliants.

Some of the other species in and around the lodge include Blue-crowned Motmots, collared Aracaris, Keel-billed Toucans and White-crowned Parrots. Rancho is also home to one of the smallest birds in the world, the Snow-capped Hummingbird.

Another spot on our list of must visit places for photography was Selve Verde Lodge. We traveled to the beautiful lowland rainforests of the Sarapiquí region and the Selva Verde Lodge, where we had two feeders that offered great bird photography opportunities. A number of colorful birds including tanagers, aracaris, and toucans visit the feeders. Selva Verde is also a fantastic place to photograph poison frogs, tree frogs, basilisk lizards, and lots of other wildlife. We also photographed Mot mots and Toucans at this location. As if this wasn’t enough we found a spot where we can photograph both Great Green and Scarlett Macaws!

A visit to Costa Rica without visiting the Arenal Volcano would be a shame, so we will visit it on this trip for some stunning views and photo opportunities of this constantly active volcano. On clear nights, the views of incandescent avalanches are breathtaking! A quick visit to the nearby Danaus Wildlife Reserve yielded opportunities to see and photograph Boat-billed Herons, 3 toed sloths, emerald basilisk lizards and Rufous-tailed jacamars, wow! At night from our rooms we had a clear view to photograph the Arenal volcano. Not far from our volcano lodge we visited a fascinating Snake Zoo where we saw and photographed eyelash vipers, parrot snakes, pine snakes and red eyed tree frogs.  We photographed all of these animals on natural stages that we set up on site. This was a great opportunity to photograph a number of species that are very difficult to find in the wild and also to continue our work on multiple flash setups for pleasing macro lighting. We enjoyed a delicious home-cooked lunch as well as refreshments and coffee throughout the day. We returned that late afternoon to the Arenal Observatory Lodge to photograph the sunset and the Arenal Volcano.

The final destination of our visit was Bosque de Paz. Bosque de Paz Ecolodge is located in one of the most biodiverse areas of the country, nestled in a picturesque valley at approximately 4,500 feet above sea level between the Poas Volcano and Juan Castro Blanco National Parks. With its rushing mountain streams, cool air, and orchid and moss-festooned trees, the area is akin to a tropical Colorado.Here we photographed to our hearts content bird species such as Violet sabrewings, Little Hermits, Green-fronted Lancebills, Purple-crowned Fairys, wood creepers, flycatchers and many more. This lodge is also home to many orchids and beautiful plants and flowers.

We could have easily spent another two weeks in Costa Rica. We can’t wait to go back. The food, the people and the wildlife is just enchanting.

Here is a list of equipment to bring with you for a photo workshop with Nature’s Photo Adventures.

Recommended Equipment:
SLR Digital Camera of any sort. Two camera bodies will avoid you having to change lenses and potentially missing out action.
Preferably a minimum of 300mm lens with converters. A 500mm lens with a 1.4 tc. is perfect. For multi flash photography a 300mm/400mm or a 100-400 or 80-400 is perfect.
For Nikon users, the 200-400 F4 VR lens is great for this trip. This lens is relatively light, pin sharp and combined with a 1.4 converter you will seldom need anything else. The zoom capability will also allow you to compose efficiently meaning that you will seldom miss an opportunity.
For Canon users, we recommend a 70 -200mm F2.8 or F4, combined with a longer prime lens. The compact 400mm F5.6, which although lacks IS, is still sharp and incredibly light and manoeuvrable. Alternatively, the 500mm F4 with a 1.4 converter will be a fine prime of choice. A 600mm F4 is also a fine option but remember that manoeuvrability is essential in wildlife photography and this lens is big and heavy.
Any other lenses that you might have (i.e. wide angle, portrait or macro) should be brought along. These are small and light so why not pack them? We recommend at least bringing a wide-angle lens for landscape shots.
Your own camera support is a must. A heavy duty carbon fire tripod with a Gimbel head or ball head is best. Remember to use tripods and heads that are rated for more than your equipment actually weighs.
A flash and an off-camera flash cord are very beneficial to bring as well. We will be using flash often in the shadowy area of the rainforest and jungle. A Wimberley off-camera flash bracket is highly recommended to set the flash away from the camera. This will prevent our subjects from acquiring the dreaded steel eye!
Memory cards & card reader plus a storage device to download your images onto are also important. In this day and age memory cards are stable and we recommend a number of 8G–16G Sandisk cards.

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