(© 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.
In December 2014, Richard Bernabe and I led a “photo retreat” in the Osa (Richard will be returning there this December to lead the retreat again for our company Epic Destinations). During our six days there, we had the opportunity to photograph a number of incredible species; my personal favorites are golden mantled howler monkeys. One evening, we spied a troop of howlers passing by, backlit by the setting sun. I snapped this image of a howler and her young baby, peering at our group intently.
One day we found a pair of tropical screech owls roosting in a tree. I used flash at low power to add some fill-light, balancing the exposure between the birds and the sunlit background leaves. Pro photographer Glenn Bartley recently released a great eBook called Flash Simplified: A Guide for Nature Photographers, which is now available on my online store. This book is an absolute must-read if you wish to truly excel at wildlife photography.
We also saw a number of white-nosed coati (which looks like a long-tailed, long-faced raccoon). I photographed this coati in gorgeous morning backlight. I was careful to select a position that juxtaposed the coati against a pleasing background, using my lens’ widest aperture to render the specular highlights as pleasing out-of-focus orbs.
Baby monkeys always make cute subjects, and this precocious little howler didn’t disappoint as it gingerly crossed a slender tree branch all by itself. I like the watercolor look of the background jungle canopy, created by shooting with a large aperture. Because the scene was strongly backlit, I gave the photo as much exposure as possible without over-exposing any important parts of the composition, letting the bits of sky showing through the leaves to go pure white. This allowed me to retain detail in the parts of the image that were most important (namely, the baby monkey itself).
This yellow-headed caracara put on quite a show while preening. Once again, I was careful about my background selection, and used a wide-open aperture to render the background as pleasingly out-of-focus as possible. The effect would have been more apparent if the background had been closer relative to the bird, but hey, sometimes you have to take what you can get!
As I mentioned above, Richard will be returning to the Osa December 1-6 to lead a photo retreat for our company Epic Destinations; this is a beautiful location and a fun workshop, and it is an experience I highly recommend (click here for more information). You can also pick up a copy of my free ebook, Costa Rica: Wonders of the Osa.