Photography on Costa Rica and Panama Cruise

On our Costa Rica and Panama cruise there is ample opportunity and time for photography whether it be cameras with long lenses or a point and shoot compact camera. Located in the tropics, the lighting can be very intense around mid-day on shore, however our excursions are planned for the early morning and late afternoon light and temperatures, when wildlife is more active and sightings more likely. We have a wonderful guide-to-guest ratio on our Costa Rica and Panama cruise; for walks in the forest we form groups that would like to focus on photography and birding while others take a faster pace.

Inside a mature rainforest about 1% of the light from the canopy reaches the ground; for this reason one should expect low-light conditions during walks, and strong light when out on the shore or on Zodiacs. Some photographers tend to believe that a 500mm super-telephoto lens with 2x tele-extender is a must in the rainforest where wildlife is often in the higher reaches of the trees or just at canopy level. However not everyone is physically capable of carrying a heavy lens along forest trails. Hand-holding such a heavy lens is impractical and using a tripod is sometimes tricky when trying to photograph birds or monkeys moving through the forest; in open areas, however, a tripod would come in very handy for the “long-shots;” consider bringing along a monopod which on some occasions can double as a hiking stick on irregular terrain. Shorter lenses such as 70-200mm or 100-400mm stabilized zoom lenses are lighter weight, easier to hand-hold and have greater light-gathering capacity. They're very suitable for photographing wildlife close to the photographer or at distances up to about 50 metres (160+ feet) away, ideal for on shore or on the Zodiacs.

Most professionals never shoot in program mode as they prefer to constrain their own settings. Because wildlife in the forest moves about frequently and somewhat unpredictably, they prefer to use shutter priority which allows control of the shutter speed as lighting conditions change and the animal moves about. There is a preference for shutter priority over aperture priority because avoiding motion blur is more important than depth of field. Another setting often adjusted is ISO. Low ISO settings are preferable, but in forest environments where available light is often very low, a higher ISO is necessary. An ISO of 800 is typical under these conditions, and settings higher than 1000 are to be avoided unless one is in very low light. In bright light, the ISO can be brought down as low as 200 to 400 for stationary objects, while in very low light it might have to be increased above 1200. Practice with your equipment in low-light conditions before coming down to save yourself time and frustration.

A wide-angle lens is perhaps less-often used, but has its moments especially in forests with huge trees in close proximity. Expect to use your macro settings as well, especially when we visit Casa Orchidea in Golfo Dulce where there are enough flowers to satify anyone!

The Central American rainforest receives a fair amount of rainfall throughout the year, however our Costa Rica and Panama cruise takes place during the dry season. This means we do not expect rain everyday, but it does still rain. It is therefore essential to have a completely waterproof means of protecting your camera gear. All of our time off the ship is spent outside, under the forest canopy or in Zodiacs along rivers and streams. Our disembarkations on shore for the entire expedition take place on beaches. These are “wet landings” where the idea is to keep everything dry above the knees. It happenes that movements of the waves on shore jostle the Zodiac such that people loose their balance, and on rare occasions, drop their belongings in the surf. In order to prevent damage to your camera gear we HIGHLY RECOMMEND a waterproof backpack for excusions, and recommend using it correctly (not left open, for instance!).

Today, underwater digital cameras have become fairly economical with many choices available, so carrying one of these as a back-up camera or for fun, or rainy-day photography is a good suggestion, as well as for our snorkeling outings.

The Central American rainforest in the dry season has very high humidity. Our very comfortable accommodations on board include air-conditioned cabins and inside public areas. Those that enjoy the luxury of a cool cabin after an excursion should take into consideration the change in temperture when they leave the ship. Allowing the camera gear to gradually adjust to the outside temperature is vital for the longevity of your gear. A cool camera, when brought into the warm, humid air of the tropics, will form condensation on the lens and possibly in the electronics of the camera. This condensation will gradually disappear as the camera acclimatizes, but this can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. It has also been known to permanently damage the electric circuitry. To avoid this possibility at all costs, we always recommend allowing your gear to acclimitize slowly before using it.

Re-charging batteries nightly is easy as long as one brings the correct cables and chargers. Memory cards fill quickly; expect to take more photographs than you think. If you prefer to download to a personal computer, make sure you have the appropriate card-reader or cable – there are no shops (or roads) where we travel on our Costa Rica and Panama cruise! The recommendation is to have a back-up camera “just-in-case.” Your trip is too special to leave undocumented, and accidents can happen.

On board we have “photo kiosks” and following the instructions on how to burn a CD from the memory card of your camera is easy, although we also have personel on board to help you with the technology if needed. On our Costa Rica and Panama cruise one of our staff members is also a photo instructor, on board to help guests with questions they might have, give advice on photography no matter if it is an SLR camera with a long lens, or a compact camera that fits in your pocket. We want everyone to go home with an excellent photographic collection of their expedition.

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