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6 Wildlife Photography Tips for your Costa Rican Adventure

Posted by Katie on March 21, 2018
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It almost doesn’t matter what your key reason is for visiting Costa Rica, we know you’ll be taking endless amounts of pictures. Your hotel will have a breathtaking open courtyard, the beaches will be more than picturesque, and that volcano you climb will offer views of the entire country, even beyond. Costa Rica is such an incredibly beautiful country that you won’t be able to resist taking pictures at every point of your vacation. The volcanoes, mountains, beaches, and valleys are blossoming and ready, and a quick snapshot will keep these memories alive for years to come.

While geographical features, such as the famous Arenal Volcano, are easy to photograph, the most exciting parts of your vacation may elude your camera. Costa Rica is filled to the brim with exotic animals, but most these animals know how to avoid being seen through your lens. During your rainforest hike or even during sunset on the beach, countless animals will pop into view. In order to get the best shots of Costa Rican wildlife, you’ll need a bit of help. We compiled advice from some of the world’s most accomplished wildlife photographers to start you on your way. Read through our 6 most important wildlife photography tips so you’ll be ready when the time comes.

1. Do your Homework

If you’re serious about getting some quality shots of Costa Rican wildlife, you won’t come unprepared. Research the local species, where to find them, and when they’re most active. If you learn about their habits and movements, you’ll know where to most easily find them and what sort of camera settings to use.

Once you develop an idea of what sorts of animals you would like to capture, you can start creating your plan. You know when they are awake, what they eat, and during what time of the year they’re active, so you should have some sort of idea as to where to go to find them. Schedule a mangroves tour, a cloud forest jungle hike, or a walk around the botanical gardens. Having a local guide will help you more easily spot the animals, and you’ll be ready to take the picture. Don’t be afraid to snap as many as possible, one of those will be the golden shot you’re looking for.

2. On Time is Late

Early is on time, and on time is late. Animals are awake quite a bit earlier than you would expect, so you’ll want to be waiting. The best time to spot wild animals is right at sunrise. You’ll need to wake up early, eat breakfast on the car ride over, and be in position as the parks open and the sun comes up. Keep your travel group quiet during the sunrise, you’ll want to blend into the environment.

Early mornings make the best pictures. The animals will be alert, active, and hungry, and many will be waking up with their entire family or flock. Know which animals travel alone and which stay in large groups. You won’t want to focus on a sole animal if a large gang of monkeys is nearby. Take full advantage of your morning and head back to the hotel around lunch time. You can spend your afternoon with your feet kicked up in a hammock.

3. Patience is Key

Unfortunately, most animals can hear, see, and smell you before you’re even within a close distance. The majority of animals you try to photograph will escape you, but don’t get frustrated. If you’ve seen one, chances are there are others. Remain in your position and don’t be afraid to sit in one area for a longer period of time. As the animals get used to your presence, they’re more likely to come closer for a glimpse. Remember, they’re just as curious about you as you are about them.

If you’ve spent time in one area with no luck, it may be time to move on. Unless you’re in Costa Rica specifically for a wildlife photography session, there’s no reason to spend hours in one location. Enjoy your hike and keep your eyes open. Wildlife is surrounding your every step, but many are hard to see. Every time you find a vantage point, take your time looking around for camouflaged lizards or sedentary sloths. They can be very close to you without you ever knowing.

4. Know your Noise Level

Obviously, if you want to attract rare animals, it’s best to hike silently. While birds will always be nearby and slow-moving sloths can’t escape you, you may ruin your chance to photograph a family of monkeys with just a single shout. If you feel you are in an area with populated wildlife, instruct your travel group to stay quiet. Continue hiking and keep your eyes peeled.

While you want to be as quiet as possible to find the animals, some experienced wildlife photographers actually advise you to keep the beeping sound enabled on your camera. When the subject is in focus and you’re ready to take the picture, it’s ok to let your camera make a beep as you press the button. Often, the animals will look toward you, tilt their heads, or perk up their ears. This sound can be playful and engage the animals.

5. Respect your models

Birds and bugs may not mind having their pictures taken, but larger mammals will make in known when you’re no longer welcome. It’s hard to know when you’ve encroached too much into an animal’s personal space, so look for signs from the animal. Jungle cats will growl and monkeys may begin to throw things at you. That should be the sign you need to back off. You want incredible pictures, but you don’t want to make the inhabitants of the area uncomfortable. Happy animals make the best pictures, so if they tell you to leave, it will be within your best interest to listen.

While speaking of agitated animals, keep your own safety in mind. Animals will give you warnings, but they are known to strike back if necessary. Only rarely will you find yourself in the presence of a large jungle cat, but even the adorable monkeys can do damage. If they tell you it’s time to leave, do yourself the favor and leave without the photo.

6. Go for Simple, When Possible

You don’t always get to choose when and where you photograph a wild animal, but when possible, go for simple backgrounds. The focus of your picture is the animal, so it’s best if their highlighted by a blue sky or simple rock background. The animal will pop out of the photo, the viewers won’t be distracted by too much visual information, and your camera will have an easier time focusing.

Many of you will head to the jungle in order to shoot the best pictures. This is absolutely where you’ll be around the most animals, but be aware that the complicated intertwining of branches in the background can cause an extra challenge. Wait to see if your animal moves in front of a cleaner background. Remember, take multiple shots. You can edit and choose your favorites once you’re at your hotel.