Wildlife photography used to be a hobby limited to people with the deep pockets to afford the equipment—cameras, lenses, tripods, etc. You also needed a strong back, or porters, to lug around the heavy gear. Technology has reduced both the cost and the weight. Also, modern cameras allow you to do things that were previously difficult if not impossible—they are very smart. Today, taking pictures of things wild and wooly is a perfectly reasonable hobby for geezer expats living in Costa Rica.
I got into photography to support my real golden-years avocation: researching and writing about Costa Rican folk culture and traditional cuisine. However, I have always loved observing wildlife. In my many research trips around the country, I have had the good fortune to digitally enshrine a few of the numerous wild creatures that grace us with their presence. It could easily be a retirement hobby in and of itself.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am a terrible photographer. In terms of seeing the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest, I see neither. I am completely fixated on a shaking leaf 20 feet off the ground, third tree from the left. That’s just the way my brain works—good for writing, but not so great for taking pictures. I like to say I’m way too focused to be a good photographer. That said, like the proverbial blind squirrel, I occasionally stumble onto a nut.
Costa Rica is home to many beautiful birds, butterflies, mammals, reptiles, insects, etc. Also, don’t forget the endlessly diverse flora—flowers, trees, fungi, etc. Several lifetimes would be required to get a complete set of images. In short, it’s a hobby with an endless supply of subjects awaiting the attention of your lens.
Modern bridge cameras—a fixed lens, but great telephoto and macro (closeup) capability—have opened up wildlife photography to people of ordinary means. All the major brands now offer at least one bridge camera and they each have their pros and cons. I shoot a Panasonic Lumix FZ200 and it cost me around $400. The newly released FZ300 is currently around $600. Figure another $100 for memory cards, case, protective filter, etc. and you are well equipped to start chasing hapless critters around the landscape. Unlike the Kodak box cameras I had as a kid, digital photography does not entail a constant financial outlay for film and developing. Obviously, there is no limit as to what one can spend on equipment
Another positive aspect of this pastime is that it may motivate you to do some traveling, although there is an abundance of nature to be found everywhere in the country. Costa Rica is blessed with many different habitats each inhabited by different flora and fauna. Limited mobility is no barrier—there are many ways to photograph the wild without any great exertion (e.g. boat tours).
Finally, I would like to reveal the three great secrets of wildlife photography—you heard them here first. Secret #1: Dumb Luck; Secret #2: More Dumb Luck; Secret #3: I find my photos generally come out better if I carry a camera.
Don’t just sit there—go bother the wildlife!
Jack Donnelly has been a life-long enthusiast of Latin American folk culture. Donnelly is the author of COSTA RICA: Folk Culture, Traditions, and Cuisine which is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. He lives in Heredia, Costa Rica and travels around the country investigating and documenting folkloric events.