Forest photography is a monster of a feat to undertake. In the forest, you are exposed to an environment and animals that can be dangerous.
In preparing for your trip, it is important to consider where you will be going, what you will be photographing, and how you will get in and out of the area.
Knowing what dangers are in the area is also very important and may just save your life.
I strongly recommend that anyone heading into a jungle have a GPS (global positioning system) and a satellite phone. Talk to local people to learn of places that you can get help if you need to be pulled out of the jungle.
If you remember from the “How to Get Started with Outdoor Photography” article, I recommended three lenses as a rule.
The only one I would change here is your long zoom lens for a long macro lens (see the wildlife section below for my recommendation).
The necessity of a long zoom is not necessary in a jungle setting, as you typically will not have a chance at anything that your medium zoom will not cover.
Camera settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, will vary widely during your travels.
An open area in the jungle can be lighter than you can expect in a dense part of the jungle.
However, you most likely will not use an ISO setting lower than 400 and apertures will remain shallow unless you are doing HDR photography. You can also expect slower shutter speeds, so in most cases a tripod will be a necessity.
Below are a few tips on what to look for when in the forest:
1) Wildlife: –
Many of the animals that live in the forest are adapted to staying alive. This adaptation can include camouflage coloring to fast-acting poison.
While it may be tempting to get up close to a seemingly harmless animal and take its picture, it is best to keep your distance and use a larger lens.
It is also important to consider size, as many of the forests creatures can be rather small.
A long macro lens, like Nikon’s 200mm f/4 Micro, will keep you safe when photographing wildlife as well as keep you from startling the smaller creatures.
Keep your eyes open: You never know what you are going to see, but more importantly, you do not know what is watching you.
Having an extra person or two to help you watch for trouble is a smart idea. Having the extra eyes also helps you in finding potential subjects for your photos.
2) Stay Dry: –
Forests are notorious for being humid and subject to rain. I would not go into a jungle with anything but a high-end DSLR, or at the very least rain covers for you and your gear.
It is also recommended to wear a good hiking/jungle boot. The best I have ever come upon are U.S. Military Deployment boots.
The selection of boots is large but you will want to find one with a “moisture wicking liner,” and “slip resistant sole.” The pair I would recommend the most is the “Military Deployment Boots by Forced Entry”.
3) Avoid using a Flash: –
If you can avoid using a flash in the jungle, you should do so. Flashes create a false environment and will scare any animal to death. When photographing in the jungle, using a better quality lens, and a shallow depth of field, will allow you to use natural light.
If it is too dark to use natural light, I would recommend an adjustable ring flash, like Canon’s Mr-14EX , which is adjustable from full power to 1/64th power. Dialing back the flash will help you counter the false look of the flash.
4) Keep Track of Time:-
Judging time in a forest is harder to do because of the heavy foliage. If you wait too long to setup camp, or start your trip back out, you may end up stuck in the jungle overnight.
If darkness falls before you can make it back out, stay put and make a small camp.
A dark jungle is much more dangerous than a jungle during the day. Not only are the animals more active, but you have no real sense of direction and can easily end up lost.
Protect your memory: A plastic bag is a good idea for memory card storage, but beyond that, you may want to consider keeping your cards close to your body. You will never forgive yourself if you were to lose your fantastic images.
Rainforest photography is another animal in itself. Rainforest’s tend to be much denser, and much darker. Faster lenses (i.e. f/4 and below) are a necessity.
The possibility of moisture is even greater at these points and I personally would not enter without a sealed body camera and lenses. These tend to be the flagship cameras (Canon 1d, 3d, 5d/Nikon D1 D3 D7) and are expensive.
Even then, I would not go in without waterproof bags or cases to cover everything. Your light will be limited and as such, your natural-light shooting time will be shortened.
You may want to consider a ring-flash in these darker areas as they provide an even cover of light for your subject and work phenomenally for macro photography.
Your ISO settings will most likely be between 800-1600 even during the day and you will usually be shooting with a shallow depth of field.
The only other words of wisdom I can bestow up you as you plan your trip into the jungle, is carry only the necessities in terms of equipment.
As photographers, we are prone to carrying everything we own with us, but the humid, heavy air in the jungle will prove hard to walk through and you do not want any more weight than is necessary.