Costa Rica workshop

A week-long wildlife-photography workshop in Costa Rica.

I had the great pleasure of spending a week on in southwest Costa Rica, participating in a wildlife-photography workshop run by Steve & Rose Perry of BackcountryGallery.com.  Anyone who follows Steve’s blog, or YouTube channel, or has read his excellent books knows that he is an incredibly knowledgeable teacher of photography and, specifically, of Nikon camera techniques. For me, it was a great opportunity to focus intensively on photography, surrounded by other photo enthusiasts and accompanied by a master photographer and deeply experienced wildlife guides. Read on, and check out the photo galleries!

Central American squirrel monkey, drinking from a puddle in the knot of a tree branch.
Central American squirrel monkey, drinking from a puddle in the knot of a tree branch.

We (10 photographers) were based at the beautiful Crocodile Bay Resort near the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, which is near the southwest corner of Costa Rica.   Steve taught the photography, Rose coordinated the logistics, the resort provided the food (excellent!).  Two sharp-eyed local guides led us on an outing each day, exploring the forests and meadows of the peninsula (or even the grounds of the resort) to find and photograph some of Costa Rica’s amazing wildlife; see the list below.

I snapped over 10,000 photos!  It was challenging to whittle them down; the gallery contains only 1% of the shots. If you’re in a hurry, the “best” gallery has fewer than two dozen photos.

Photography notes

We had stiff weight limits flying into the resort from San Jose, so it was difficult to select a kit that would provide the necessary range but not weigh a ton. I brought the following:

  • two Nikon D500 bodies; it was useful to have two!
  • Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8 lens, which was useful for some scenery and non-wildlife shots.
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 lens; with a 2x teleconverter it was effectively a 400mm f/4 lens.
  • Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro lens, which was great for the night shots.
  • Induro Stealth CLT204 tripod with Acratech ball head and Induro GHBA gimbal attachment.
  • Godox TT685 flash unit – this was my first time doing flash photography.
  • filters, memory cards, batteries, charger, laptop, backup drives, etc.
  • Gura G26 backpack/case.

Overall, I’m pleased with the results, with some regrets:

  • I wish I’d brought a monopod and a full gimbal for fast/flexible setup.  Although the tripod was occasionally useful, it was too clunky for use with fast-moving birds and monkeys.  I ended up hand-holding most of the time, which (at 400mm) often cost me some sharpness.
  • I purchased the Sigma 70-200mm lens because it was fast (f/2.8), an important feature in the dark rainforest; it came with a Sigma 2.0xTC to give me 400mm when needed, albeit at f/5.6.  Unfortunately, this combination was simply not sharp enough, and most of the photos involving the teleconverter were unsharp and noisy.  (Months later I purchased the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, and wish I’d had it in Costa Rica! Many of the other attendees had this lens.  I rarely needed anything under 200mm, except for macro shots.)
  • That 150mm macro lens is spectacularly sharp.  Great photos!

Animals photographed

See the ‘zoo’ gallery for one shot of each.

Monkeys:

  • Mantled howler monkey
  • Central American squirrel monkey
  • Black-handed spider monkey
  • White-headed capuchin monkey

Sloths, anteater, tapir, squirrel, bats:

  • Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth
  • Brown-throated three-toed sloth
  • Northern tamandua anteater
  • Baird’s Tapir
  • Costa Rican squirrel
  • Long-nosed bats

Birds:

  • Yellow-throated toucan
  • Scarlet macaw
  • Common black hawk
  • Ruddy ground doves
  • Golden-naped woodpecker
  • Yellow-headed caracara
  • Black-throated trogon
  • Charming hummingbird
  • Gray-headed chachalaca
  • Tropical screech owl
  • Purple gallinule
  • Cattle egrets
  • Green heron
  • Bare-throated tiger heron
  • Boat-billed heron
  • Wood rail
  • Mangrove swallows
  • Kingfisher
  • White-necked puffbird
  • Fiery-billed aracari bird
  • Cherrie’s tanager
  • Great kiskadee (flycatcher)
  • Potoo bird

Reptiles, amphibians, snakes:

  • American Crocodile
  • Talamanca rocket frog
  • Red-eye tree frog
  • Masked tree frog
  • Common rain frog
  • Golfo Dulce poison dart frog
  • Granular poison frog
  • Cane toad
  • Helmet-headed basilisk lizard
  • Brown baselisk lizard
  • Slender anole lizard
  • Green iguana
  • Eyelash pit viper snake
  • Olive keelback snake

Moths, spiders, insects:

  • Blue morpho butterfly
  • Saddleback caterpillar
  • Stinging caterpillar
  • Golden-orb spider
  • Wolf spider
  • Cockroach
  • Leaf-cutter ants
  • Bark scorpion

Crabs, stingrays, turtles

  • Tree crab
  • gulf crab
  • Southern rough sting ray
  • Green sea turtle

Nine days:

  1. Fly to San José, Costa Rica
  2. Fly to the resort in Puerto Jîmenez – photo-tour of the resort grounds
  3. Photo-tour to the end of the road on the peninsula
  4. Photo-tour in the hills; one-on-one help session with Steve
  5. Beach day, helping biologists tag sea turtles – night photo-shoot on resort grounds
  6. Visit to the edge of Corcovado National Park, to photograph reptiles & snakes
  7. Boat tour on Rio Sierpe
  8. Fly home.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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