Travel Photography Inspiration Project: Costa Rica

Travel Photography Inspiration Project: Costa Rica


Costa Rica will be a short and sweet visit. A country largely covered with forest and jungle and bordered by two countries and tow major bodies of water, Costa Rica is a favorite retreat from the USA any time of the year but especially in the winter. Roads are moderate and buses are plenty. The surf is best on the Pacific side while National Parks abound all over the country.

This is the seventh country we are covering in the reader fueled DPS Travel Photography Inspiration Project.

If you would like to be involved in the next country’s post, drop me a line here.


Botos Lagoon by Arturo Lavin Gonzalez

Botos Lagoon is located next to the Poas Volcano crater, its a very beautiful lagoon with turquoise water. The access is easy because of the roads inside the National Park, even though, my recommendation when going to this N.P. is to go light with your photography equipment, its a very hot place and you have to walk a lot.

Chestnut-mandibled toucan

Chestnut-mandibled toucan by David Milgram

Costa Rica is the bird enthusiasts’ paradise, home of hundreds of exotic species.

Make sure you have a guide who can recognize birds and their habitats. Go on a river cruise; the birds, alligators, lizards will amaze you. Bring your longest lens.

Cardboard House

Cardboard House by Simon Skipper Christiansen

Costa Rica is not all beautiful landscape, in the capital of San José you can see a lot of poverty.
Tip: If your morals don’t stop you, depict the whole picture without being disrespectful. Explore the city (but be sure to know where to go and where not to go for your own safety).

Blue Morpho by Peter West Carey

Purists will be hard pressed to capture the magnificant blue morpho on a ‘vacation’ in the wild. Bring a fast lens and patience, otherwise, visit a butterfly farm where your odds are higher.


Boa Snake by Arturo Lavin Gonzalez

Walking in the rainforest could be a dangerous endeavor, it’s better to have a professional guide with you along the way. This Boa snake was in a tree and it was about 5 feet away from me, I didn’t see it but my guide did. Even after he told me about it I had to focus several seconds to see it! They are very well camouflaged in the environment. I made this shot with a small aperture (f/2.8 in this case) to get a swallow depth of field and concentrate the viewer in the snake.


Taxis by David Milgram

Small town squares are great for urban/rural contrast.

Costa Rica is not poor like some of its neighbors. Costa Rica is proud of its economic success as a ‘green’ country. Travel is safe.

La Mariposa Azul

La Mariposa Azul by Simon Skipper Christiansen

Costa Rica has an amazing diversity both when it comes to landscape and animals, this big butterfly is a national symbol.
Tip: In the National Museum (which is cheap to enter by the way), there is a beautiful butterfly garden. Chasing them around for a while might result in a calm moment of resting the wings, where you’d be able to capture a shot like this. Go close, but don’t scare it away!

Poas Volcano Crater by Peter West Carey

There are a number of active volcanoes in Costa Rica worth visiting. Poas Volcano is one where you can get up close and personal with the boiling caldron inside the mountain which looks, and smells, like something from Lord Of The Rings.


Costa Rica’s Rainforest by Arturo Lavin Gonzalez

Costa Rica’s rain forests are marvelous. I made this shot during a walking tour looking for some birds to photograph, it’s a very wet environment and you should keep special attention with your camera and lenses to avoid any damage. This is an overexposed shot (about 2 steps) to get some detail in the shadows, rainforest can be very dark because the tree’s branches block a lot of light.

Waiting for a bus

Waiting For The Bus by David Milgram

Chirripo Falls

Chirripo Falls by Simon Skipper Christiansen

The water of the Costa Rican landscape is captivating as seen in the vivid colors here.

Tip: Once again, stabilize your camera by using a tripod or placing it on something. The softness of the water requires a long shutter-speed, so use a high aperture or an ND-filter.

Red Eyed Tree Frog by Peter West Carey

You’ve seen it on the shirts worn by tourists, now grab your own shot of these colorful creatures. They don’t like much movement so move slow while getting into position. Focus on the eyes (as if you have a choice!) and under-expose what your camera wants to pick for a reading to make sure the colors stay solid.


Orchids by David Milgram

Orchids are found everywhere in the rain forest.

Lighting is often dappled in the rain forest. Resist the impulse to use flash; it makes pix look artificial. Use a faster lens and a tripod or monopod, if it’s not windy. Keep your eyes peeled for frogs, bats, sloths, monkeys, et al.

The Heights of Reincarnation

The Heights of Reincarnation by Simon Skipper Christiansen

Mount Chirripo is the highest point in Costa Rica, and if you ask me, also the most beautiful, getting up at 3.30AM for a freezing two-hour hike to get this shot was all worth it.

Tip: Chirripo is amazing, you can easily fill up a memory card per day with such an astonishing nature. For this picture you’d have to get up early and hike to the top, and compose the shot with both foreground and background to give an idea of the vast landscape. It’s also an HDR, which works great for the high dynamic range of the scenery. I should have brought a tripod but found a stable rock instead.

Spider Monkey Mother by Peter West Carey

When shooting up into the canopy, watch for under-exposure from the bright sky. This mother spider monkey was a tough shot between trees but the monkeys are usually patient in the heat of the day, so you should have time to get your first shot, then reposition for a better view. It’s darker than you think under the canopy and a higher ISO will be needed often.

Hiding by Peter West Carey

Shooting hummingbirds can be tricky in the wild. You need luck and a fast lens (the ‘standard’ 70-200mm f/2.8 is a great option) to capture these beautiful birds.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Luigys tenza September 7, 2012 02:35 am

    wooow Costa Rica is beautiful, and the photographs to prove it. Blue Butterfly by Simon Skipper Christiansen is great!!!

  • Kenneth Rivera July 27, 2012 01:59 pm

    I'm from Costa Rica - i'm happy to see it was a subject to a nice inspiring photography trip post... sad I just notice until now and I wasn't able to contribute... you can check some of my photos at my site:

    I've being trying to document how the country looks like and hopefully i'll be able to post more frequently.

    Thanks DPS! keep up the good work.

  • Natasha McEachron July 1, 2012 02:53 am

    I'd love to visit the rain forest. The first photo of the lagoon is my favorite and the toucan is my second fav.

  • Elena A. Christensen June 16, 2012 07:03 am

    We have just returned from Costa Rica and so I was very interested in the photos. Next time we visit CR I will have a better camera with me so I can take similar beautiful images. Love all your tips! Thanks for a great website.

  • Ricardo Jimenez June 15, 2012 03:57 am

    Hello from Costa Rica. Too bad I found out late about this, I would have love to help.

    I would like to point out a magnificent video created with Cannon 5D and 7D by Patrick Pierson about Costa Rica. Even when it's not fotography but video, it shows the amazing potential of the mixed media we can create with our cameras: - Absolutely beautiful!

  • FJ June 15, 2012 02:17 am

    Nice to see my country included in this series.
    And yes, we have plenty of marvellous nature here to enjoy and photograph.

    Here is an old shot of a small beach in the pacific, at sunset. It's from my old flickr account that I don't use since then. I din't even have a dSLR then :O), but I think it suits the subject of this article.

    Pura Vida!

  • Mau Varela (@mau_V) June 15, 2012 02:13 am

    great photos of my country!

    truly inspiring!

  • rohit kothari June 12, 2012 02:50 pm

    amazingshots and images Costa rica is good place for photographer who is having keen interested in wildlife and landscape photography because of it dense forest its just a suggestion to photographer of first image if he use polariser in that landscape it may come with more beauty

  • Mridula June 12, 2012 02:18 pm

    Lovely images, I loved them all. Do you have Nepal on your list?

  • Mei Teng June 12, 2012 10:18 am

    Beautiful set of images. My favourite one is the butterfly.

  • Scottc June 12, 2012 09:22 am

    Great photos, a very inspirational series!

  • Simon Skipper Christiansen June 12, 2012 07:34 am

    Costa Rica is amazing and recommended for every photographer to pay a visit. For some reason my photo comments weren't included, my website neither. Feel free to visit it as mentioned here for more photographic awesomeness. Thanks!