Costa Rica Photo Trip Coming Soon

Posted Oct. 17th, 2010 by Daniel J. Cox

The Costa Rica Adventure is just around the corner and I’ve had lots of questions about what sort of equipment to bring, what type of cloths to wear, what’s the weather going to be like? Sitting down to share details is actually quite enjoyable since my life is often just a passing blur. Forcing myself to pin it all down gives me the chance to collect my thoughts, to dream just a little, an opportunity to contemplate the adventure, the photo opportunities, the smell of the jungle the sounds of the birds, the warmth of a tropical rain. Costa Rica is a land of exquisite beauty and I can’t wait to experience it all.

As usual Tanya has done a fabulous job sorting out the details, finding the most desirable locations for both comfort and picture opportunities. It’s safe to say that this is the most researched adventure we’ve ever undertaken. For those never having filmed in the tropics I’ve crated a list of the equipment I’ll be bringing to maximize all photographic opportunities.

For the larger mammals that may be at greater distances as well as birds I’ll be using a Nikon 200-400mm lens, combining that with a 1.4 teleconverter and most likely a D300s for the greatest reach. Additionally, I’ll be using a D700 for the industry leading low light capabilities that body brings to the equation. The forest can be dim to dark so a camera able to shoot at higher ISO’s is extremely helpful.

Although telephotos will be a substantial part of what I’ll be using, equally important is the need for a good wide angle lens. I most likely will be shooting the new Nikon 16-35mm zoom. I have the 14-24 which is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever shot, but the 16-35 is so much lighter, has built in VR and is getting rave reviews. Haven’t seen one yet but looking forward to giving it a try. Next in line will be my 24-70mm, then the 70-200mm and finally I’ll be bringing a 105mm macro.

The macro world is a subject all it’s own. The rain forest is full of miniature life and quite simply an alien world just full of photographic subjects. There are numerous options on the macro side including Nikons 200mm, 105 and the 60mm. Other manufactures make additional options. Along with the 105mm I’ll working with the macro lighting kit Nikon introduced a few years ago known as the Nikon R1C1. This is quit a impressive wireless system but other ring lights can be very effective as well. Sunpack and Metz are two of the better off brands that should be considered. Whichever way you go please bring macro lighting in some form. You won’t regret it.

Along with macro flash I’ll be shooting a Nikon SB900 for birds and monkeys in the forest canopy. Along with the SB900 I’ll be bringing a Better Beamer flash extender. We’ll be providing these devices for all of our workshop participants that have a strobe that it fits. Tanya will be contacting all of you for flash manufacture details. These are great tools for getting the light further out into the dark forest.

Tripods will be essential. I’ll be shooting from either a Gitzo carbon fiber or Satchler video tripod. There are lots of good tripods available, however I’ve been shooting Gitzo for nearly my entire career. They are light, extend relatively quickly and offer the highest quality possible. Satchler is something new for me. They are the Gitzo equivalent in the moving picture business although Gitzo/Manfrotto are coming on strong in this arena as well. Who knows, maybe one day i’ll be shooting the Manfrotto version of the video sticks in the future.

To carry all of the above I’ll be using one of the Lowepro camera packs. My current favorite is the Pro Trekker 400. Lowepro has the best suspension system in the photo backpack business. It has lots of pockets and most important numerous straps to lash thing to like a rain jacket, rain pants or other items. It even has a sleeve for an water bottle that can be attached to a drinking tube similar to what Camelbak has made so popular.

Ok, nobody likes to hear about rain when they’re going on vacation to have fun. Actually nobody likes to hear about rain even when it entails work. However, lack of precipitation is not an option where we’re going. Unfortunately, it’s just part of the ecosystem. That said, we won’t be getting poured on regularly but it could be wet. That’s what rain forest are all about. Rain. So…. don’t forget rain covers for your gear or your body. I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to rain covers. I have some of the best on the market such as those from Storm Jacket, Think Tank, and Kata, They all work great but my absolute favorite is one I made from the leg of an old pair of ripped out, goretex rain pants. My design doesn’t’ work well for smaller camera/lens combination so I may bring one of the custom manufactured options.

For my body I plan on wearing my light rain coat called the Foray Jacket by Outdoor Research. I realize everybody has their own ideas about rain jackets. There are thousands of them and about a year ago I researched what seemed like just about all being made. That’s when I found ONE jacket that really does stand out with a feature nobody else incorporates into their designs. A rain jacket is a rain jacket right? Well, the good ones have pit zips, especially needed for warm climates and wet weather. The Foray takes this a huge step further by morphing the pit zips into what they call Torsoflo. Torsoflo is nothing more than a zipper that extends all the way from the bicep of the arm, down the side and ends at the bottom of the jacket where the zipper separates. Just like the front zipper. What this does is allow you to wear your jacket in a similar fashion as that of a poncho. In warm weather this is an awesome design feature. If we’re hiking, even with breathable Goretex, you are still going to overheat in a rain jacket. Allowing the jacket to open poncho style allows for tremendous ventilation helping to assure you don’t get soaked from the inside out.

As far as shirts and pants go I’ll be wearing synthetic options from either Patagonia, REI or ExOfficio. The advantage to synthetics is they wick moisture, are easy to wash and dry quickly. One downside is they can be warmer than cotton but in the tropics cotton holds too much water. For shoes I’ll be wearing Teva sandals at times and other more rigorous walks I’ll be wearing a light pair of hiking shoes by Merrill. Most likely I won’t be wearing my Tevas in the rain forest. To many little creatures at that level that might not like me stepping on them that have ability to inflict their own pain.

Finally, I should discuss the options I’ll be bringing for downloading my photos and keeping them safe. First of all I do not save any of my pictures I shoot on any assignment or adventure on my laptop. I save everything to small, portable, external hard drives. My current favorites are made by Western Digital and I typically buy them at Costco. I’ve had very good luck with these drives. Out of two dozen or so only one failure in 8 years. The reviews on Costco aren’t favorable and that’s the reason I mention my experience. Many of the reviewers on the Costco web site seem somewhat inexperienced. One guy blames his reformatting issues on the drive. I’ve reformatted every one I’ve bought to Mac OS Extended Journaled and it’s a simple process that takes maybe two minutes. Never had an issue. I buy two at a time and use one as a backup. I use Photo Mechanic to transfer my photos from the card but could also be using Adobe’s Lightroom if they had the transfer numbering system I use in Photo Mechanic. I hope someday I’ll just be using one piece of software. After downloading is’ all Lightroom. We’ll be discussing this program during our travels.

That’s about it for now. For those of you who have questions on any of this please feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to make suggestions if you feel I can help.

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There are 3 comments on this post…
  1. Doug BrayOn Nov. 9th, 2010

    Thanks Dan,

    Debra and I will see you and Tanya in Kenya in January 2011. Costa Rica is probably our next one.


  2. Doug BrayOn Nov. 9th, 2010

    Hi Dan,

    I know you are a fan of Photo Mechanic. Do any of the improved import feature of Lightroom 3 eliminate the need to use Photo Mechanic in addition to Lightroom 3?

    Looking forward to Kenya.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Nov. 9th, 2010

      Doug, very good questions about Photo Mechanic. I’m still a big fan of this program but the one major reason I use it, for numbering, is nearly eliminated by Lightroom 3. LR 3 added a tremendous amount of new options for renumbering your photos during the Ingest process. However, they left one option off the table. That being the ability to tell LR you want to load photos into folders by the date you load them as opposed to the date they were shot. This may not be a problem for you, but for me it is. Here’s why. As you may recall, I have a numbering system that is quite simple. The day I started shooting digital I began renumbering my images with an ongoing running number. I started with 1 and am no up to nearly 300,000. I like the simplicity, it keeps in me informed of number of images over time and it’s relatively short as a file name. However, if I shoot a series of images on one of my cameras and don’t get it loaded right away, LR will stuff the images off in a folder out of synch with the other folders in the system. Photo Mechanic gives you both options. One that loads files into folders on the day they were shot and one option to load all images into folders on the day they were transferred. This obviously falls into the category of personal preference but options are certainly nice to have and LR is missing this option. The other benefit to PM is its ability to be used without having to load the images into the program. Not a big issue most the time but still another difference that will probably always see me having this software on my computer for sometime to come. Thanks for the question and will see you in Costa Rica.

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