The rain forests of Central America are so close, yet so exotic
By Rob Sheppard
Rare, beautiful and deadly to predators and their prey, poisonous frogs are often very small and require a keen eye to spot and photograph.
What To Bring
Photographically, rain forests are like the dense forests of the East and West Coasts of the United States. They have extreme contrast and rarely allow big, expansive views. For that reason, you’ll find that wide-angle lenses are practically a necessity. Often, you can’t really back up to see the jungle without one.
Light levels can be very low, so a tripod is a must. Image stabilization lenses are definitely helpful. The combination of low light levels and high contrast on sunny days makes a flash a welcome addition to the camera bag.
The rain forests are filled with flowers and other close-up details, so macro gear is important. Some of the insects here are incredible, making macro equipment an essential addition to your bag. Many species come out at night, so flash is required for photography then. You’ll also want to have a strong LED flashlight (many photographers like head lamps for this) to help you find insects and other nightlife.
Cloudy days can be a real benefit because contrast is lower. But this is also a great time to bring out the flash to help control and define the light.
In addition, expect to find extraordinary wildlife. Most lodges feed birds, and the feeders attract other animals, such as kinkajous. All the bold flowers that brighten a jungle attract hummingbirds (and their relatives)—Central America hosts a large variety of hummingbird species—and lizards and frogs are always present. Telephoto lenses are necessary for capturing wildlife, but be sure they can focus close enough for small birds and frogs. You may need an extension tube to allow this.
Be sure you have a waterproof cover for your gear. In the rain forest, it rains! While not all the time, there’s enough precipitation that you’ll likely get wet at times. It’s a warm rain, though, and not uncomfortable—except for the electronics of modern cameras. You need to protect your gear.
I highly recommend bringing two special pieces of "photo" gear—a small, folding umbrella and a hair dryer. The umbrella allows you to photograph even when it’s raining by holding it over your camera on a tripod (you can also check out the Popabrella from OmegaSatter, specifically designed for this). It allowed me to return with some remarkable images that were impossible to capture in any other way.
The hair dryer is for drying out gear and bags back at your room. This was a great benefit on really wet days, when it helped keep all of my gear happy (well, at least I had no problems with it). I could also dry off the camera bag, and especially straps (it’s annoying to put on a wet strap on a dry day).
Finally, buy a good guidebook to the area you plan to visit. Learn about the people, towns, wildlife and plant life before you arrive—rain forests are such a unique ecosystem. A great book about the rain forest and its life is Monkeys Are Made Of Chocolate: Exotic And Unseen Costa Rica by Jack Ewing (Pixyjack Press, 2005).