(© Ian Plant) The Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica is truly a remarkable place, full of lush growth and life. In fact, it seems at times as if the forest is pulsating with life, with a constant background buzz of monkeys and birds chattering, and the gentle thump-thump of armies of leafcutter ants marching single file along endless tracks. If you dare stop for just a moment, you might be swept away by the endless tide of life in the jungle.
Hailed by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on earth,” the peninsula is home to at least half of all species living in Costa Rica, and harbors 2.5% of the biodiversity of the entire planet in less than a millionth of a percent of its total surface area. The Osa is one of the last places in Costa Rica to be settled, and even today it is sparsely populated. Covered almost entirely in virgin rain forest, the Osa packs an incredibly diverse and vibrant ecosystem into a very small area. In other words, be careful where you step.
The Osa boasts the largest population of scarlet macaws in Central America—something to which I can personally attest. I saw hundreds during my trip. I had a great session with several macaws eating figs no more than twenty feet away from me. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/200 second.
The Pacific Coast of the Osa is beautiful, with stunning sandy beaches interrupted here and there by rocky headlands. I used a boulder submerged in the sand as my foreground for this sunset image. I triggered the shutter during an outgoing wave, using a long exposure to capture the flow of the water. Canon 70D, 16mm lens, polarizer filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 200, f/16, 0.8 seconds.
I was most interested in photographing monkeys, and the Osa did not disappoint—I saw all four species that make the Osa their home, including white-headed capuchin monkeys. I caught a moment when this capuchin briefly emerged from the shadows into the light. I like working with a mix of shadow and light, despite the challenges of dealing with an excessive contrast range. Canon 5DIII, Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD, ISO 1600, f/6.3, 1/1000 second.
For this shot of a hungry six-foot caiman, I decided I wanted a tight, eye-to-eye perspective—so I waded into the water, keeping a close eye on the caiman just in case it decided that it was hungry! Eyes tell a lot about your wildlife subject, so think of ways to get creative when you include them in your photos. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/200 second.
I love spider monkeys: they are the gold medal gymnasts of the animal world. Of course, it helps to have five prehensile limbs! Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/160 second.
I found this interesting rock formation (which I have named "El Diablo" because of the two horns) along the Pacific Coast. I shot this at low tide after sunset. During the long exposure, the colors of twilight painted the sky a vibrant purple. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, polarizer filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 200, f/11, 54 seconds.
I don't often shoot small birds, but I couldn't resist this image of a colorful great kiskadee. I used the specular highlights in the background to frame the bird and add additional interest to the photo. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/2000 second.
Capuchin monkeys have tons of personality. I caught a candid portrait of this monkey with a tasty prize; it seems to have a guilty look on its face, as if the fruit was stolen from a rival. I used flash at low power to create catch-lights to the capuchin's eyes, and to add just a little bit of fill light. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/200 second.
The main challenge of shooting in the rain forest is the lack of light, which almost always necessitates the use of high ISOs if you want to capture any action. Canon's 5DIII camera handles high ISOs well, and my understanding is that Nikon's latest cameras do an even better job. The trick when using high ISOs is to expose to the right of your histogram as much as possible, even letting a few highlight areas overexpose (such as the bright areas of sky behind the forest canopy). Digital noise proliferates in the shadows, so keeping your exposure away from the left of the histogram as much as possible will give you cleaner files, even at high ISOs. It was late in the day when I shot this image of a mantled howler monkey, so I had to use a higher ISO than I would ever care to use; with careful exposure, I was able to keep the noise to a minimum. Canon 5DIII, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, ISO 8000, f/6.3, 1/200 second.
You can see more of my Osa Peninsula images in my new free eBook Costa Rica: Wonders of the Osa.
P.S. I'll be returning to the Osa in December 2014, leading my Costa Rica: Wonder of the Osa Photo Workshop with fellow Dreamscapes blogger Richard Bernabe. The sights, the smells, and the sounds of the Osa are hard to put into words. Why don’t you come along, and let your photos tell the story of this incredible place?