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Author Topic: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?  (Read 2019 times)

NancyP

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Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« on: January 26, 2018, 06:21:14 PM »

I am planning a trip to Belize in a few months, and will be near the Cockcomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and almost on the coast. I have never been to Belize or any rainforest area. That is a prime destination, and I imagine that I should be able to make a lot of wildlife / bird / plant / insect photos in this one area. The jaguars will likely be in some remote area of the park. I have never shot in rain forest conditions. I imagine getting a clear sight line on anything is difficult. Any suggestions?

I am a Canon user, taking an APS-C camera. Is a long telephoto (400 mm f/5.6L no-IS, currently) actually useful in a rainforest for birds and mammals? Or should I keep things simple and just take a Sigma 180 mm macro with IS, and matching 1.4x extender?
proposed gear:
1 APS-C DSLR camera
15-85mm f/3.5 to 5.6 lens (not water-resistant)

Option A:
60 mm f/2.8 1:1 macro (not water-resistant)
400 mm f/5.6 L no-stabilization (but light!) (not water-resistant), or possibly splurge and get a 100-400mm f/variable stabilized zoom

Option B:
Sigma 180 mm f/2.8 1:1 macro with image stabilization, plus a 1.4x Sigma teleconverter (= 252 mm) (not water-resistant)
Maybe still slip my 60mm f/2.8 macro in

2 sizes "raincoats" for the camera-lens combos
Plastic bags - buy the dehydration rice there.
I also have an older Olympus Tough pocket camera for in the water.



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degrub

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2018, 07:24:20 PM »

Are you planning to go with a guided trip or part of a group or solo ?
Reason i ask is security outside of the city is questionable at best. 4wd required if you are going off the main highway.
Glenn Bartley  may have some good advice for shooting in the jungle based on his frequent bird trips and guided tours to the region.
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NancyP

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2018, 11:05:07 PM »

Small-group hikes, likely with a guide.

The "base" is a house rental in an ex-pat development near the Cockscomb park. Family vacation. 4-wheel drive car rental. Given that I am the one photographer in a family of non-photographers, maybe I ought to skip bringing the SLR and get a smaller super-bridge camera like the Sony RX10 for birding-ID type photos. My brother has bought a plot of land in the development but won't start building until he retires in a few years, so I expect to go back sometime.
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degrub

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2018, 09:56:12 AM »

Contact Glenn on the forum here.
It is a little dark with diffused light and bright spots in the tropical jungle due to all the shading in my experience. i would suggest 300 to 400 on the upper end, f2.8 if you can with a 1.4x as a start. F4 will certainly work and keep the gear lighter. A monopod will help if you are not working out of a blind. Look for feeding stations to help with bird shots.  If you are staying in air conditioned housing, you will have to deal with the temperature transition of  the  cool gear into higher humidity.
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Chairman Bill

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2018, 10:09:25 AM »

Be prepared to come back with a green sun-tan and mozzie bites. Keep away from the centipedes - they bite.

Peter McLennan

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2018, 06:19:57 PM »

Seems to me a long macro would be essential.  You mentioned flowers and bugs. The RX10 reportedly focuses very close.
Birds are above my pay grade.
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degrub

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2018, 07:17:04 PM »

Be prepared to come back with a green sun-tan and mozzie bites. Keep away from the centipedes - they bite.

yes they do. Painfully.

best solution for mozzies is permethrin soak of your hiking clothes. Soak the fabric and let dry. One treatment lasts up to 6 weeks or up to 6 machine washings. Wash by hand to keep more effective. Use quick dry hiking pants and blouse and hat. Quick spray with 20% picardin on any exposed skin/over clothes and you are set (DEET will damage synthetics).  i've got a daughter in the Amazon right now and she is raving about the effectiveness. Since they have malaria below 2500 meters, get a travel doctor to prescribe anti-malarials and follow the directions. Check for yellow fever as well, although that is mostly Brazil.

life in the tropics is fun !
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armand

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2018, 08:03:04 PM »

I was there 2 years ago. At that time there were no recommendations from CDC regarding prophylaxis.

Mosquitoes were not that bad, the no-see-uhms and the like were terrible on the beach side. I only had DEET which was ok for mosquitoes but not for the no-see-uhms, terrible itching after. I would use picaridin and maybe IR3535 specifically for the flies.

Here are few snapshots from the jungle using a Sony RX-100 (the original one) to give an idea about what to expect.

armand

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2018, 08:03:39 PM »

and a more contrasty one

stever

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2018, 01:02:23 AM »

for me, the problem with rainforests  is light.  i've had reasonable success with 5d3 and 100-400 is2 (sometimes with 1.4x) which is hand holdable at crazy slow shutter speeds.  i don't think a 400 without IS on APC is worth the trouble without a flash and better beamer  (not allowed in some places) - and of course this combination is not much fun to lug around - particularly when it starts raining. 

400 mm on apsc isn't really too long as the birds aren't all that big - some may let you get close, but not all that close

unless you're ready to spring for the 100-400 (which i highly recommend), i think you're better off with the Sigma and converter.
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NancyP

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2018, 03:53:05 PM »

Thank you, everybody!
Thanks for reminding me about Glenn Bartley. I had forgotten that I had his e-book on tropical rainforest photography.

I am going to send out some more clothing to the "Insect Shield" folks in NC - they have a program where you send clean clothing and they dip it for you - well worth the ten bucks per piece (shirt, pants, pair socks) and it is supposed to last 70 washes. Once every 2 to 3 years is probably good enough. Certainly the one Insect Shield dip has worked over the last 2 summers. And, yes, Picardin for exposed surfaces. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website has detailed information for each country (and for sub-sections of countries) for travelers and physicians.

Temperate centipedes bite too. These red-headed centipedes are moving north fast with climate change, and are now seen just south of St. Louis, along with our other recent climate change species, eg, the 9-banded armadillo.

Fast lens = heavy and physically long lens (except the DO lens). I don't have a "big white" and I think that it might be better for me to shoot with some equipment with which I am familiar, rather than rent some lens I have not tried. I'd rather boost the ISO. I have been "itching" to get the EF 100-400 f/variable L IS II. Monopod is coming, in part as a dual use item (walking stick too).
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armand

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2018, 04:27:09 PM »

I would be cautious using a monopod as a walking stick. I have a decent Sirui monopod but it's way too flimsy to lean on it significantly. You might be better off with a walking stick that has an attachment for a camera, there are several on the market.

NancyP

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2018, 07:22:42 PM »

The monopod in question is a larger-diameter old Induro carbon fiber monopod, and I have used it as a hiking pole only for balance up and down muddy hills and crossing streams, not as a major weight support. Even ordinary carbon fiber hiking poles, meant for assisting in load-bearing during backpacking, can snap if enough shear force is applied. Aluminum poles just bend.

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guido

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2018, 09:14:11 PM »

In 2009 we spent a week in Belize, primarily in the western portion of the country. On a guided outing to an archeological site quite near the border we were held up by armed Guatemalan bandits who robbed and left both us and the guide tied up. Fortunately they could not start the rover we drove up in or we'd have been stranded too. The lodge/tour operator was apologetic and gave us a discount on the stay but the local Police were not very helpful.

It did leave a rather bitter impression on the trip...

Take care of yourself, stay far from the border areas and only travel with those you trust.
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NancyP

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2018, 01:13:36 PM »

Thanks for the info, and I am sorry about your experience. I am not planning to go into the western areas, will likely stick to the Stann district well away from the border (staying on coastal mainland near Dangriga and Hopkins).
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pcgpcg

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #15 on: February 01, 2018, 09:09:32 PM »

My wife and I backpacked in Belize and Guatemala about 20 years ago, just weeks after the peace accord went into effect. I was not carrying photo equipment, but I can speak to the physical environment. It made me realize that I am not a jungle person. I'll spare you the details, but our last day (which was over 100F with high humidity) we had an encounter with an emerald pit viper, Africanized bees, a Fer de Lance, and then that night (when we were staying in an eco lodge) a huge scorpion fell off our mosquito net onto our mattress while we slept. The next morning we left the jungle a few days earlier than planned and spent the remainder of the time snorkeling on Caye Caulker. It was never so relieved to leave a place.
We were there in April and it rained a lot in the afternoon. If I was going back at that time of year I would give a great deal of thought about how to keep my photo equipment dry. My big takeaway for you - ignore the giant wolf spiders, stay out of the way of the scorpions, but most of all WATCH FOR SNAKES!
We also traveled the Bandit Highway to get to Tikal and had no problems. It was heavily patrolled by the Guatemalan army at the time.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2018, 09:20:34 PM by pcgpcg »
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tom b

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2018, 02:11:12 AM »

Hi Nancy,

The tips so far have been great.

My tip is that with any rainforest the lighting can be extreme from bright to dark in the same scene. Gear is essential, yes. However, preparing for the high dynamic range lighting is something that you should be preparing for.

Best luck on your trip,
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Tom Brown

NancyP

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2018, 11:49:36 AM »

Admittedly, the VENOMOUS snakes worry me, because I am used to looking for and respecting my local venomous but less aggressive ground dwelling snakes (most rattlesnakes) and aggressive semi-aquatic snakes (cottonmouth) - the old "step on top of the log, not over the log" bit, and knowing about likely habitats. When you don't know the species and the environment well, that's hard. Tree dwelling venomous snakes would be a worry, as would ground dwellers with an attitude. I am thinking that hiring a guide would be a good move. Timid venomous snakes and all non-venomous snakes, please hold still for your photo-op! Ditto for spiders, preferably colorful, or large and hairy. Scorpions, ew.

Over 100 with high humidity - I personally would not like to be bearing expedition weight backpack - but I go out day-hiking in such weather, on shady trails, at home in August.

I have thought about bringing a lightweight fill flash, fold-out 5" x 8" diffuser, and cord.  Here's where I wish that my Canon camera sensor had more dynamic range.

Keeping dry - camera "raincoat" / plastic bag - consider bringing the dry duffel with camera insert - bring trash bags and buy 1# bag of rice down there in case of need for equipment dry-out.

One of the things that worries me a bit is theft. Another thing that worries me is making stuff so elaborate that I irritate my (non-photographer) companions.
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stever

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #18 on: February 02, 2018, 12:19:41 PM »

a guide is a really good idea - they know when things are likely to be where.  as far as snakes go, I like to stay on the trails - saw a couple in Costa Rica a convenient camera distance from the trail.

I always carry a poncho big enough for me, the camera, and pack.

Not so sure theft is a big problem - probably depends on where you're staying - of course keep your cash close.

Dynamic range can be a problem, but you may just have to let the highlights go and/or do your best with framing and cropping.
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JayWPage

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Re: Has anyone been to Belize? Rain forest photography?
« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2018, 12:30:08 PM »

Over the years, I have at various times worked and /or traveled in tropical jungle environments (Brazil, Colombia, West Africa) and at one time I spent 1/2 a year geological mapping in a remote jungle location in Sierra Leone. That was before the civil war tore that country apart, I was living in a canvas tent and spent the entire rainy season back there in the jungle. It was hot and humid all the time. I could write a book about all the stuff that went on there: voodoo, black magic, witchcraft, poisonous snakes, large constrictors, swarms of army ants, un-paid army and police foraging off the countryside, etc. etc.

Anyway the take away about photography in the jungle is that heavy overcast days are your friend, take advantage of those days. Bright, sunny days will be challenging to the extreme to get good shots. I was shooting Kodachrome 64 back then with, what maybe 8 stops of dynamic range, so you will be a lot better off with digital today. Use rain covers to keep the rain off your cameras and for protection from water dripping off the tree canopy, which goes on for hours after it stops raining. The rain/humidity will eventually destroy your camera and lenses if your are there for any length of time. For a short visit, seal your cameras and lenses in plastic bags with desiccant packs at night to dry them out. If your camera has some weather sealing, store it in with the battery door and other doors, i.e. cards slots, etc. open to allow the humidity to leave the camera. When I returned home to Vancouver, my Nikon F3 was toast, I sold it for parts and my lenses all had fungus growing in them; I threw one away and sold the others for $25 each. In the end, I got a few OK pictures but the heat/humidity had caused the film to go off a bit so they are challenging to scan and colour correct and I haven't really done very much with them.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2018, 12:34:58 PM by JayWPage »
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