The ideal exotic offshore destination for nature photographers.
It offers no-jetlag access, lots of drive-yourself or guided shooting junkets, eco-lodges galore, mild weather year-round, and a nonstop variety of subjects in great light. The country’s mountainous terrain makes for a plethora of photo opportunities—cloud forest, steamy coastal jungle, pine forest, and semi-desert scrub land, to mention a few.
Follow the Big Four:
Organize your tour to capture birds, beaches, wildlife, and volcanoes by leapfrogging from one nature lodge to the next. Follow this strategy over a selected itinerary, and you’ll return with memory cards stuffed full of rewarding photographs.
The best lodges have websites describing their photo attractions, including species lists, weather, and even blogs of recent wildlife activity. Make it easy for yourself by signing up with one of the many guided nature, birding, or hummingbird photo tours, some conducted by U.S. operators.
If you want flexibility to react to weather conditions and subject dynamics, a you-drive safari is best. Study the itineraries of tour companies and modify yours to suit. Driving Costa Rica is not difficult if you plan well and travel during daylight. Buy a decent map, learn a few words of Spanish, and you won’t get too lost.
Oceanside shooting requires sunshine—strong, directional light that can tint the landscape in fiery hues at sunrise and sunset, or carve out the shapes of beach boulders and impart cyan tints to open sea at mid-day.
Many of the prettiest beaches are in Guanacaste and northern Puntarenas along the dry Pacific coast, where open skies are the norm. Look for shorelines with boulders, rocky headlands, overhanging palms, lagoons, river mouths, sand bars, tide pools, and breaking surf. Nesting sea turtles provide an added attraction in their peak seasons.
BEACH TIP: Scout for compositions at midday. Look for strong foregrounds with a view to the rising or setting sun (carry a compass). That way you’ll be ready for the magic light of sunset/sunrise—in the tropics it’s all over in a few minutes.
Tiny Costa Rica supports nearly 900 bird species, including some of the planet’s most exotic: scarlet macaw, resplendent quetzal, and jabiru stork.
For photographers, hummingbirds are the headliners (40-plus species) and numerous lodges are set up to attract them. The best lodges (inquire by e-mail) also maintain fruit feeders that attract parrots, toucans, and other neotropical varieties. Hummingbirds are mostly denizens of the cloud forest, so be prepared for damp days, chilly nights, and lovely soft light.
HUMMINGBIRD TIP: Arm yourself with a 500mm (or equivalent) telephoto and 50mm worth of close-up extension tubes. Shoot under bright overcast skies. Build a better background by repositioning a feeder near flowers or by setting up your own bouquet. Focus manually and make hundreds, even thousands, of in-flight exposures (scores of hummers hover about a feeding station at one time). Trash the preponderance of misfires and save only the prizewinners.