I went back to Costa Rica at the start of the rainy season. The weather is always a roll of the dice at this time of year, and you must be prepared for it at any time. But luck was with us, and despite having two different excursions scheduled most days, we did not get rained out once. The nights were a different story. If you have never been to Central America it’s hard to imagine how much water streams from the sky when night falls. I fell asleep to the rhythms of the rain every evening as it poured down like the end of the world.

I have made some wonderful friends in Costa Rica, and their knowledge of the country, the wildlife, and the amazing guides there meant we were able to get WAY off the beaten path and see things many visitors don’t get to experience.

Walking through the rainforest is like a waking dream. The sights, sounds, and smells are unlike anything else. It’s a feast for the senses. Fantastic birds that you would swear cannot be real appear in the trees and dare you to believe your own eyes. Leafcutter ants march across the forest floor carrying umbrellas of green back to their nests. It’s always dark there, as if the lights were dimmed before a film you cannot wait to see, and as each scene unfolds the story gets ever deeper. Monkeys howl and bark, sometimes seen, and sometimes just a distant soundtrack.

Navigating down the rivers of Costa Rica is as different from the forest as it could be. Whereas the jungle is dark and crowded with gigantic trees and dense foliage, the river is bathed in light and open to the world. Light pours from the sky and careens off the water to light subjects from below as well, giving them an ethereal glow. It’s simply magic for photographers.

My days were spent searching for wildlife, and evenings were spent having beautiful meals with my friends, cleaning mud off cameras and lenses, and removing the odd spider from lens hoods and bags 😊

A million tree frogs and cicadas clocked in at sunset and were there to serenade me to sleep every night. The rain washed away all thoughts of anything else, and I woke up every morning with two things to wish for: Strong coffee, and a strong back to carry my camera pack into the forest for another adventure.

Pura Vida!

2 Replies to “A Forest in the Clouds”

  1. Sounds like you had a great experience, and it’s obvious you came away with some fantastic photographs. Beautiful collection. And I enjoyed reading about how you felt while there. Given it was so dark under the canopy did you make use of flash, high ISO, both? When I’m hiking in what’s considered dense foliage locally I’ve only ever bumped up the ISO, haven’t yet worked with flash. Regarding the photos, there’s something about that Wood Rail that really draws me in. Perhaps because I know how secretive the local rails are, and this is one I’ve never seen before. Beautiful work, Moses!

  2. Hi Todd! I only used flash in the settings where I could get in pretty close, doing what I call “tele macro” such as the frogs and snakes. For those I used a 70-200mm lens, and since the subjects were small and I was close I needed to stop down to f5.6 or f8 to get some more depth of field. I had an assistant hold my monopod that I mounted a flash unit on. The camera has a commander unit in the hot shoe so I can control the flash output. It works great, my assistant was able to move the light wherever I needed it, and that made the colors really pop.

    Everything else was shot with available light (and there is not much of it in the rainforest) so that’s why I bring the big 400/2.8 lens. I find it absolutely crucial to keeping ISO manageable and shutter speed high enough to freeze motion. Even with that lens I was often at ISO 12800, which is where I cap it on my cameras.

    The Wood Rail was a really cool moment. I found that area with a little creek running through it, and the light was just magical. I was hoping that something would come along so I could use that scene for a picture, and after about 20 minutes the Wood Rail showed up. I waited until it crossed the log, and there was my picture! 🙂

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