Costa Rica is a nature photographer’s playground. You’ll never run out of subjects on a Costa Rica photography adventure. Its diverse ecosystems include rainforests, cloud forests, dry forests, beaches, mangroves, waterways, mountains, volcanoes, and an abundance of wildlife, birds, and reptiles., a month, or keep coming back for more.
It’s diverse ecosystems include rainforests, cloud forests, dry forests, beaches, mangroves, waterways, mountains, volcanoes, and an abundance of wildlife, birds, and reptiles.
Professional nature photographer Todd Gustafson shares his top tips for making the most of your time in Costa Rica so you can return with a portfolio as abundant as the rainforest.
Even without airline luggage restrictions, there’s really no need to bring lots of photography equipment. Besides your camera, the only other photo equipment you’re likely to want is a lightweight tripod, and even that isn’t mandatory. If you have any additional lenses, of course bring them with you.
If you’re a professional photographer, one big lens (such as a 600 mm with a 1.7x teleconverter) and one macro lens (105, 120, or 180 mm) should cover most of your needs.
Be Prepared For The Weather On Costa Rica Photography Adventure
Good lens covers are important, but they don’t need to be fancy. While several companies make lens covers that can get as complex as plastic vinyl with drawstrings, a simple garbage bag in your pocket can act as the perfect protection to cover your equipment when it rains.
Rain doesn’t always mean that you’re stuck inside. In fact, rain is a critical part of the ecosystem in Costa Rica and can offer a great opportunity to snap photos of frogs, who love moist environments. Birds seek shelter from the rain under trees, so if you wait patiently by a fruiting tree, the birds will flock there to feed once the rain passes.
It’s no secret that the rainforest is humid, and condensation can build up inside and outside of your camera, causing your lens to fog. If your room has air conditioning, leave your lenses in the humid bathroom with the door closed overnight; when you wake up they will have adapted to the humidity and won’t fog up when you step outside.
Sun & Insects
It should go without saying, but don’t forget to protect yourself by covering up with sunscreen and a hat. And of course, insect repellant is important in this warm, moist climate.
Learn About Costa Rica
Before you leave for a Costa Rica photo adventure, do a bit of homework and study up on the region and some of its many photo opportunities, which include among so many other subjects, landscapes, seascapes, thousands of flowering plants, and wildlife.
If you are especially interested in the wildlife, then as with all wildlife photography, the more you know about the habitats and behaviors of a particular species, the more prepared you’ll be and the greater your chances are of creating some very special images.
If bird photography is high on your list, then this is the place to visit, as it has more than 850 different species of birds.
Practice with Your Camera
If you are an amateur photographer, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with your camera equipment and how to use it before you leave on a photo adventure.
Whether you have a point-and-shoot with great zoom capabilities or a DSLR with a variety of lenses, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great photo opportunities if you haven’t become intimate with your camera.
So practice, practice, and practice some more. Portraits of animals and birds are wonderful, but if you know how to use your camera and know its capabilities, you’ll be able to capture some great action images too.
Where to Find Wildlife Subjects
It’s inevitable that even the most experienced photographer will miss out on making some photos. Don’t despair. Costa Rica has incredible biodiversity, and there’s so much to see that a few missed photographs won’t really matter because it’s likely you’ll get another opportunity down the next rainforest or mountain trail.
Generally, the best locations for photography are places where animals are accustomed to people within their territory. You might think that an area of undisturbed virgin rainforest will yield the best results, but in reality, the animals will be scared and hide.
To make the most of your time in the country, I would suggest utilizing the skills and wisdom of an experienced photography guide and/or naturalist who is well-acquainted with the various ecosystems. This can make all difference in getting to a desired location or finding the wildlife within each of those areas.
Note: Regardless of your location, it’s always important to respect wildlife and never sneak up on an animal. Walk around slowly and quietly, without looking too interested in the animal or appearing like a potential threat.
Wildlife Difficulty Levels
Sloths: These slow moving creatures will give you time to get your camera gear set up.
Quetzals and Toucans: Usually easily found at fruit trees.
Turtles: Remain very still, but require a slow approach to avoid frightening them.
Hummingbirds: Hummers require a certain technique to photograph, but once you’ve mastered the technique their predictable behaviors make them fairly accessible.
Monkeys: The leader monkey will be swinging wildly from branch to branch, making it seem impossible for your camera to keep up, but watch his path carefully because the rest of the monkeys will soon follow!
Frogs: Unsurprisingly, frogs move very quickly and hop around a lot, so be prepared.
Snakes: Be careful and don’t get too close!
Edit As You Go
Don’t wait until you get home to edit your photos. Instead, set aside some time each evening to review the photos that you took that day. Evaluate your photos and take note if your focus was off or your shutter speed was too slow, so the next day you can try again with a better approach. If you got the perfect shot today, you can use tomorrow to move on to different subjects.
Stay Focused; Have Fun
Costa Rica’s wildlife and beauty are so abundant that even photographing blindly will probably result in at least a decent variety of photos, but knowing what you want will bring your results to a whole new level. The Costa Rica photography opportunities are endless.
These tips should provide you with a good basis for your Costa Rica photography trip, but experience is always the best teacher of all. Figure out what works for you, stay focused on your goals, and most of all – have fun!
by Joanna Livingstone & Todd Gustafson
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All text & photos: © 2013 Todd Gustafson, Gustafson Photo Safari. All rights reserved.