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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Oh, So Magnificent Osa


A photographer documents the biodiversity of a remote corner of Costa Rica

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Tree frogs, which are shown here in a mating mass, are typically found in very tall trees or other high-growing vegetation. Except to mate and spawn, they normally don’t descend to the ground.
“To photograph most butterflies, you wait for one to land on a flower,” says Toft. “But blue morphos aren’t nectar feeders, so they don’t go to flowers. They fly in undulating, erratic patterns patrolling their territories and flashing their wings. For years, I tried to shoot them like birds—tracking and waiting for them to land. But it’s impossible, as you can’t even imagine where they’re going to go in the next half second. And on the rare occasion where you actually see one land, it immediately folds its wings up and exposes the black under-sides. Every blue morpho picture I’ve ever seen, the butterfly has a pin through it because someone killed and posed it.”

Like his attempts to photograph a jaguar, Toft questioned the time he was spending chasing the blue morpho at the expense of missing other species. One day while working around a fig tree photographing spider monkeys and agoutis, Toft noticed a blue morpho land on a rotting fig. The brilliant blue wings instantly folded, showing the black undersides.

“I knew that when it flew from the fig, I’d have one chance to shoot this thing. The one picture in the book of a blue morpho is a slow shutter pan with a flash. It’s a picture that I chased and chased down the trail for years until that one rotten fruit day.”

Toft’s patience, knowledge of species and familiarity with the area helped him document the great diversity of the Osa. He also says that digital photography was a great boon to the book. All of the images were taken in the last five years with the latest digital technology.

“In the past, most rain-forest photography required flash, and the resulting images looked like they were shot at night. High ISOs allowed me to utilize natural light, and I could adjust white balance to accurately portray the colors of the forest. The digital era really helped this book be what it is.”

Loaded with an incredible diversity of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and amphibians, Toft’s book—like the Osa Peninsula itself—is further proof that big things come in small packages.

Photographer Roy Toft is a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. His work has been featured in National Geographic, Audubon and Discover. For his book Osa: Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea (Zona Tropical Publications), Toft collaborated with author Trond Larsen, a biologist and research fellow with the World Wildlife Fund, Princeton University and the Smithsonian Institution. For more information about the book, visit www.toftphoto.com.

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