GUEST BLOG: John Riutta, Digiscoping in Panama
With a B.A. in Literature, a M.A. in Education and a M.B.A., John Riutta has spent a good portion of his life in the classroom. Aside from Riutta’s extensive education he is also quite an accomplished bird watcher. In this installment of Filson Life, Riutta describes a week long journey to Panama where he will be digiscoping the magnificent birds that occupy its rainforest.
When I received the invitation from Leica and Canopy Tower to travel to Panama to spend a week digiscoping the spectacular wildlife to be found there, I was confident three things would happen during the trip. I would add hundreds of images of some the world’s most amazing creatures to my portfolio, I would be on the receiving end of Central America’s most friendly and generous hospitality and I would get wet – really wet.
When it comes to wildlife diversity, it’s hard to find a more lively place on Earth than a rainforest, and when it comes to rainforests, it’s difficult to find many that exceed those of Panama in terms of the birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, plants, and other forms of life to be found there. All of which are potential subjects for nature enthusiasts from bird watchers and wildlife photographers to biologists and ecologists both amateur and professional – and all of whom, when preparing to travel there, fully expect to get wet.
Getting wet in the Panamanian rainforest takes two forms: outside-in and inside-out. Outside-in is fairly easy to understand. Rainforests are called such for a reason. Receiving well over eight feet of rain each year, these forests are as lush as they are dense, so what doesn’t fall on you from the sky will either fall on or rub off onto you from the surrounding vegetation.
Carrying a tripod, 80mm spotting scope, cameras, binoculars, and all the other assorted necessary gear in 90 degree, 90 percent humidity heat provides the principle cause of the inside-out soaking. You sweat; a lot. Wearing waterproof clothing to protect you from all the water just makes you sweat even more. So you accept it all, dress as lightly as possible, (I packed six Filson Feather Cloth shirts for the trip; they breathe and don’t stick to you when soaked like t-shirts do and focus on keeping your lenses clean and dry to be ready to set up a shot whenever it presents itself.
After all, that’s why I went to Panama – to photograph wildlife; especially birds that live in the rain forest. Birds that are superb at hiding amongst the seemingly endless layers of branches, leaves, and grass that are guaranteed to be positioned between you and whatever bird you just heard call.
That’s why I find digiscoping is such a perfect photographic technique for Panama. By using a spotting scope connected to a camera instead of a traditional long lens, a much higher level of magnification can be achieved. Once a line of sight can be established between the subject and myself, I can zoom in on it at magnification levels far beyond what is possible using conventional camera lenses for a perfect portrait shot regardless of how far back in the vegetation it’s hiding.
The results clearly show the technique’s effectiveness. Each day in the field yielded hundreds of images, which – after each evening’s sumptuous repast back at whichever of the Canopy Tower locations I found myself staying that night – I could sort at leisure, flopped into a comfortable chair, listening to the wondrous night-time sounds of the surrounding jungle with my laptop across my legs and my field clothes from the day strung up to dry for the next. Life might occasionally get better – but not too often.