Photography in Costa Rica's Rain forests - Caron Steele

Here comes the rain again…. And I’m loving it! Photographing in Costa Rica’s rain and cloud forests and what kit helped to make the trip a success.

At the end of 2019 I was lucky enough to jet off to Costa Rica to photograph some of the wonderful wildlife in the rain and cloud forests. And may I say that the rain forest is aptly named! We had up to a metre of rain some days – that’s quite wet. The upside is that the birdlife brings you all the colours of the rainbow. Below I’m going to highlight some of the kit I used that made my whole photography experience easier and better.

We started off travelling to Costa Rica’s Northern Region near the border with Nicaragua in the province of Alajuela in the lush tropical rain forest – and yes it rained every day. Obviously I had expected rain, but not quite so much. Thankfully I had come prepared and I couldn’t have been happier with my excellent Paramo gear.

I live on a farm in Worcestershire in England and both my husband and I have been wearing Paramo clothing for years as it is the only brand that we have found that keeps us consistently dry in a downpour. On the farm I wear the women’s Alondra jacket which keeps me warm and dry even when out and about on my quad bike in the pouring rain.

I also wore it every day whilst photographing in Japan in February 2019, over a quilted jacket, when temperatures where down to minus 24°C. It has always kept me warm and dry and the large pockets are a godsend when you are out in the field for hours with lens cloths, lens caps, spare batteries and handwarmers to store!

However as temperatures in Costa Rica are much hotter, regularly hitting 28°C,  I thought I’d probably overheat in it so instead I took the Women’s Mirada Jacket and my trusty old Paramo poncho.

The poncho is so lightweight and scrunches up so small I can nearly fit it in my pocket. It feels like it won't work as it’s so lightweight but it was definitely my most used item of clothing in Costa Rica. Most of the time, particularly in the lowland rain forest it was too hot to wear a jacket. You really only needed a T-shirt but it was raining so hard it was like standing in a shower and I needed to keep me and my camera dry whilst walking.

I grabbed a small bit of video on my phone as I returned back at the lodge - 

This is what the rain was like  and hence the need for the poncho!  So after walking for just over an hour in a torrential downpour I got back to my room and in spite of looking like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, you can see my T-shirt is bone dry under my poncho!  Well done Paramo.

I was able to carry my camera under my poncho safe and dry but easily accessible when I spotted a bird or creature I wanted to photograph. I also found the Paramo Cambia t-shirts to be surprisingly good. I’m usually wear a Nike wicking t-shirt or just cheap high-street cotton T’s for under £5 so I thought the Cambia one was a bit pricey. However I can confidently say you get what you pay for. It kept me cooler and dryer and was very comfortable – in spite of the price I shall probably buy another as it was so good in a hot sticky climate (much better than my trusty old Nike shirt in the heat).

rain in slo mo

Apart from good clothing, I also needed good protective gear for my cameras.

Essentially I relied on 2 things, all of which were great:

1. My Vanguard SUPREME 53D hardcase. It kept everything dry and secure in very humid conditions. I added a few silica gel sachets to absorb humidity from the surrounding air so preventing corrosion and helping with fogging up issues and it worked a dream. Too heavy to lug around all day but fantastic for keeping all my kit secure and dry when not needed and when in transit.

2. My Vanguard ALTA RCXL RAIN COVER (X-LARGE) which I used on my canon 500mm lens. It worked a treat and was so quick and easy to put on. I shall be getting another for my smaller lens. I usually hate rain covers as they are such a faff and always seem to get in the way. This one is by far the best i've used and you do need one in the Costa Rican rain forest!

A few photos taken in Costa Rica

  • A Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) with its beautiful rainbow coloured beak in Costa Rica.
  • A large wild Green iguana (Iguana iguana) on a tree branch nest to a buzy road bridge in Costa Rica. He was shaking his dewlap and bobbing his head at another approaching iguana. To me it was amazing to see how these seemingly lumbering creatures were so at home, high up in the tree canopy suspended over 50 feet above a rushing river.
  • I just loved seeing this beautiful Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) flying about in Costa Rica on a rare morning when the sun shone. Their colours are truly amazing like flying rainbows.
  • Two Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus) perched on a high branch in the Costa Rican Rain Forest.
  • A Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy) and  a green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) hummingbird feeding from the same plant in Costa Rica
  • A Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus) hovering to feed in Costa Rica. I'm blown away by how beautiful all the hummingbirds were in Costa Rica - so delicate and colourful.
  • A Casque headed Lizard, (Corytophanes cristatus) in Costa Rica
  • Managed to get the flash in the right position for this shot so you can see why these little hummingbirds are called Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, (Panterpe insignis). The iridescent colours on them are gorgeous and much more visible when they flit about so quickly in the sunlight catching flashes of colour. It is hard to do them justice in a still photograph, they are like darting rainbows - magical.
  • As far as I'm concerned this Brilliant Forest Frog (Rana warszewitschii) lived up to its name I think he looks totally brilliant! but then I am biased...
  • King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), in Costa Rica, .
  • A curious White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) foraging in a tree stump for food. They can climb trees easily, using their tail  for balance, but they are most often seen foraging on the ground.
  • Angry Bird - A Red-legged Honey Creeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus)seeing off a rival in Costa Rica
  • A Yellow-throated or Black-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus) in the rain in the Costa Rican rain forest.
  • Two King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa), fighting over the right to perch on my recent trip to the Costa Rican Rain Forest

Seeking the Resplendent Quetzal in the rain

A male Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). The resplendent quetzal was considered divine, by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations. Its iridescent green tail feathers, symbols for spring plant growth, were venerated by the ancient Aztecs and Maya, who viewed the quetzal as the "god of the air" and as a symbol of goodness and light. Until recently, it was thought that the resplendent quetzal could not be bred or held for any long time in captivity, and indeed it was noted for usually killing itself soon after being captured or caged. For this reason it is a traditional symbol of liberty.

There were a few other items I found worthy of note on my trip to Costa Rica.


The impressive Sachtler 75 flowtech tripod. It is light weight and deploys in seconds, which can make all the difference in capturing a shot or not in wildlife photography, plus it is super sturdy and can handle my big 500mm lens with ease.


New to macro photography I also found the Venus Optics KX-800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash Kit, from UK Digital to be useful. With 2 adjustable arms supporting the flashes it made it easier for me to take faster shots of moving “small things” in the wild. I simply would not have had enough hands to manage this without this set up. Although you have to treat it with care as it is not the most robust piece of kit, it was reasonably priced and enabled me to get shots that would normally require a 2 flash off camera set up and tripods /flash mounts. Overall a great bit of kit for on the move macro photography. As you can see from the picture below I was not the only one using the KX800 flash!

Photos taken with the Venus Optics KX-800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash Kit

  • Attempting macro again! A pretty dragon fly spotted in the gardens of the first lodge I stayed at in Costa Rica. Shot with flash using my new Venus Optics KX800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash Kit KX-800 from UK digital. It looks ike an octopus on steroids but it works!
  • Glass Frogs making whoopee in Costa Rica. These  tiny little frogs are about the size of my thumb nail.
  • Glass Frogs making whoopee in Costa Rica. These  tiny little frogs are about the size of my thumb nail.
  • An incredibly tiny jumping spider with his prey- a nightmare to photograph as guess what he kept jumping! when I looked up to adjust my flash he caught his tiny nymph prey. He was about the size of a grain of barley. I was using my new Venus Optics KX800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash Kit KX-800,with its two flashes on bendy arms and a focusing light which did speed up the whole process of trying to light a moving subject whilst stuck in the middle of a shrubery! check out the flash at ukdigital.co.uk - it looks a bit like the spider!

I would definitely recommend a trip to Costa Rica, the country is full of amazingly colourful wildlife and all the people I met were charming. I went with Guy Edwardes who runs great photo trips around the world. You will certainly need flash photography and there will be rain - so go prepared and enjoy!


If you have any questions I can be contacted by email - caronsteele@deerparkhall.co.uk

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