Rainforests offer boundless opportunities for photographers willing to take risks. Explore the adventure of shooting in the jungle with advice from these five pros.

Over 50% of species on earth reside in the “jungle,” or the dense rainforest, and yet this precious terrain only accounts for 6% of our planet. The rainforest is vital not only to the flora and fauna that calls it home but also to the entire world. These relatively small but diverse swaths of land are responsible for a whopping 40% of the oxygen we all need to survive. In recent decades, human activity like logging, animal agriculture, and mining has threatened jungle environments, but knowledge of and appreciation for these delicate ecosystems can help safeguard them for generations to come.

For photographers, tropical rainforests are a feast for the eyes, but navigating hot, humid weather takes both patience and expertise. To photograph these environments ethically, you must respect all wildlife, great and small, and leave no trace. We asked five photographers to take us on a journey to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful rainforests or “jungles” around the globe, and they generously shared some words of wisdom for anyone hoping to follow in their footsteps.

1. “During the daytime, I don’t recommend flash, as it scares the wildlife.”

Kevin Wells Photography

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Avoid Flash in Daylight

Image by Kevin Wells Photography. Gear: Canon 7D camera, Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/3 sec; f13; ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I found this Eyelash Palm pitviper on a leaf in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica, while doing a wildlife survey as part of my job. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I looked at it for a few minutes and left. More than a week later, I was on the same trail with my camera and was amazed to see the same snake on the same leaf in exactly the same position. And no, it wasn’t dead! The patience they exhibit as they wait to ambush prey is incredible. I used my 100mm Macro lens to get the shot so I wouldn’t have to get too close. It’s stationary nature let me use a tripod and a slow shutter speed to keep my ISO low.

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Wear Protective Clothing

Image by Kevin Wells Photography.

Pro Tip

Prepare for the typical late afternoon rain storms by hiking early in the morning. That’s when the wildlife that’s active during the daytime is most abundant anyway. During the daytime, I don’t recommend flash, as it scares the wildlife.

Many of the insects, reptiles, amphibians, and predators are nocturnal, so you’ll need to get out at night to spot them. One to two hours after sunset is usually dark enough. Strong, diffused, off-center lighting is the key to good night photos in the jungle. Diffuse your flash(es), and get your light source off the camera. Hold the flash to one side or make a DIY rig that connects to the camera and holds one or two flashes to the side; this can be done somewhat cheaply. Use wireless flash options to trigger the flashes.

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Use Wireless Flash Options

Image by Kevin Wells Photography.

Wear rubber boots and rain pants or other clothes that let you squat, kneel, or lie on the ground to get more interesting angles. Pointing the camera straight down at the animal is easier but doesn’t look very good. Also, a thin and lightweight athletic shirt under a thin waterproof rain jacket will keep you cool, and the mosquitoes can’t bite through it. Beware of DEET on camera gear. It can dissolve plastic and ruin camera parts, so just keep it off your hands if possible!

I always carry heavy duty ziplocks (I use Aloksak brand) with color-changing silica gel to keep camera gear in overnight, to clear out the moisture, and to dry off wet gear. Gear, especially lenses, will get ruined by fungus and other issues if left moist for too long.

It’s very dark in the jungle, so use a tripod any time you can; use your lens stabilizer, and prepare for high ISOs. If you can afford it, a full frame camera will let your high ISO jungle shots come out much cleaner. Switching to full frame has improved my jungle photography significantly.


2. “If I have to go out in the heat, I travel light, take it slow, rest often, stay in the shade where possible, and keep well-hydrated.”

Lucy Brown

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Travel Light

Image by Lucy Brown – loca4motion. Gear: Nikon D7200 camera, 18-140mm 3.5-5.6 lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f10; ISO 160.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Arriving back in Guatemala by boat from a trip to Belize, I stayed a couple of nights in the isolated town of Livingston on the Caribbean coast. This colorful, tropical town sprawls along the seashore and riverbank where the mouth of the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) flows into the Caribbean Sea. With no roads linking it to the rest of Guatemala, the only way there is by boat along the river or from the coast.

Wandering on foot along the palm-fringed sandy beaches and sultry jungle-clad riverside outside the town, I came across various waterside boats, including a dugout canoe basking in the dappled shade of lush vegetation and honeyed late afternoon sunlight. Perfect subjects for this water lover!

Pictured: [1] Lucy Brown - loca4motion [2] Lucy Brown - loca4motion

Pro Tip

I’ve discovered beautiful, out-of-the-way places by asking locals about scenic areas, viewpoints, and trails when I’m traveling. I love hiking and follow any interesting looking pathways and trails to see where they lead. In more remote areas, I take a local guide.

It’s not always possible to stay cool and dry in tropical climates, but to avoid the intense heat, I often explore during early morning and late afternoon, which has the added bonus of beautiful light. If I have to go out in the heat, I travel light, take it slow, rest often, stay in the shade where possible, and keep well-hydrated. I’ve had heat stroke before, and it’s not something I wish to repeat!

I grew up in the countryside and was taught from an early age to be respectful of nature and wildlife. Littering is one of my pet peeves, so what goes into nature with me comes back out, barring my footprints. I keep my distance from wildlife, and, in areas where snakes are endemic, I tread heavily to avoid startling slippery serpents and myself!


3. “It’s good to be cautious and respectful and always make sure to have the necessary permits.”

Jan Ziegler

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Be Respectful

Image by Jan Ziegler. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 120mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f13; ISO 1250.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I spent the day exploring tucked-away parts of the lush island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea. I was scouting locations to return to later to shoot at a better time of day when we drove across a bridge and spotted this old abandoned bridge parallel to the new one we were on. Though I wanted to get closer, the deep, overgrown valley meant there was no safe way to walk across. Undeterred by my location or the suboptimal lighting, I used my vantage point on the new bridge to capture this image.

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Get Permission to Shoot

Image by Jan Ziegler.

Pro Tip

My process is quite straightforward. The most important thing is to have a knowledgeable and reliable guide who knows the dangers of the particular area you want to photograph. Central Africa is very humid, rainy, and hot, which can take its toll on your physique if you don’t plan ahead. Dressing appropriately for the environment and carrying essentials, like fresh water and a basic first aid kit, will definitely help. I enjoy working close to the beach, so the tide is always something we have to factor in to prevent getting cut off on our way back.

Finding unique places is probably the hardest part because it requires either a lot of exploring or lots of conversations with people who know the area well and are maybe even into photography themselves. It’s good to be cautious and respectful and always make sure to have the necessary permits. Doing a bit of research ahead of time to learn what areas might be off-limits or sensitive for cultural reasons can save you from an awkward or dangerous interaction.


4. “Always have the camera ready.”

Dr Morley Read

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Always be Ready

Image by Dr Morley Read. Gear: Sony A6300 camera, Canon 100mm macro IS lens, twin flash. Settings: F16; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is from one of my latest trips to the Nangaritza Valley in the Cordillera del Condor in southern Ecuador. The Cordillera del Condor is only recently becoming known to biologists, but, at the same time, vast tracts of land have been handed out by the government to mining companies.

Research has revealed extremely rich plant and animal diversity with many endemic species not found anywhere else in the world. The flat-topped sandstone mountains in the area bear both a physical and floristic similarity to the Tepuis of Venezuela on the other side of the continent.

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Know Your Location

Image by Dr Morley Read.

We were camped on a mountain for two weeks. Our objective was to document the amphibian fauna and look for undescribed frog species as well as bring back live specimens for a captive breeding program. We found this weird-looking Ecuador Horned Treefrog (Hemiphractus bubalus) on our first night.

Pro Tip

Always have the camera ready. This was the first frog I saw on the first night of the trip. It is a very rare species, and we didn’t see it again. You need to be agile to capture shots like this before the animal has a chance to move away.


5. “Talk to local people to find the best spots, and hire a guide or just go on jungle walks for tourists.”

Wouter Tolenaars

5 Photographers on Their Unforgettable Trips to the Rainforest — Talk to Locals

Image by Wouter Tolenaars. Gear: Olympus E-3 camera, Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8-3,5 ED SWD lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f3,5; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When I was in Costa Rica, there was one animal I really wanted to photograph: the red-eyed tree frog. I don’t know why, but for some reason, this small frog was what came to mind when I thought of Costa Rica. I saw a lot of green and strawberry dart frogs during my round trip, but no red-eyed tree frog.

On the last week, however, I was in a jungle resort, sitting by the pool drinking my cocktail, when, all of a sudden, I saw something moving on a false bird of paradise flower. When I walked up to it, there was this small red-eyed tree frog looking at me. It made me realize that it’s not always about the planning and the hard work you put in; sometimes, you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

Pictured: [1] Wouter Tolenaars [2] Wouter Tolenaars

Pro Tip

If you go wandering in the jungle, make sure people know where you are. It can get dangerous, and you can get lost real quick. Talk to local people to find the best spots, and hire a guide or just go on jungle walks for tourists. Just make sure you pick the right time when there aren’t too many tourists around who might scare the animals away.

In most jungles, the wildlife is abundant, and you will see exotic animals even if you don’t go trekking into the deep forest. Don’t get overwhelmed. Just stand still, look around, and take the time to focus on the little things like frogs, insects, or a drop of water catching the sunlight. Play with the light peaking through the canopy, and use it to your advantage to draw attention to your subject.

It can be dark in the jungle because most of the sunlight doesn’t reach the ground. Keep that in mind when choosing your gear. Bring a (small) tripod, a good light-sensitive lens, and a body that can handle a higher ISO without creating noise.

Because of the high humidity, your lenses can get foggy, and your gear can get wet, so take a good bag with you to protect your gear. It can also start to rain out of nowhere, so make sure you bring something to cover up your gear fast (a raincoat, plastic sheets, or bags). There are a lot of stinging insects and pointy leaves and vines in the jungle, so wear good shoes and clothing that covers up your legs and arms.

Take plenty of water with you because you will sweat a lot. One of the best pieces of advice I can give is this: don’t leave anything behind, and don’t feed, touch, or relocate the animals. This will harm the animals living in the wild, and no photograph is worth it!


Top Image by Wouter Tolenaars.