Photographing Howler Monkeys in Costa Rica

3K9A9937Howler Monkeys are a species of New World monkey found in tropical Central and South America. They are named Howler Monkeys because of their cacophonous (or very loud) cries that can be heard up to 3 miles away when in large groups. The males of this species have large throats and specialized shell-like vocal chambers that helps turn up the volume and therefore the audible distance in which they can be heard. The distinctive call of the Howler Monkeys are used as a territorial warning to other Howler Monkey groups that this particular area is already inhabited. The Howler Monkeys are the largest of the New World breeds with long beards and long, thick hair that can be black, brown or red.

Photographing Howler Monkeys in Costa Rica can be challenging due to the dark jungle canopies they inhabit. It generally takes some time to get them in the right light with an unobstructed view – look and listen. These animals are extremely intelligent, camouflaged and while curious about humans if you are not paying attention you could potentially miss them. As they get used to your presence in their natural habitat they will be more willing to show themselves.

In general, Monkeys are tricky to photograph and Howler Monkeys in particular are notoriously hard to photograph not because they are particularly elusive but because they spend the majority of their time in the treetops and therefore harder to spot than creatures on the ground. When you pay attention to their habits you are more likely to find them and get that perfect shot.

Howler Monkeys are most active in the cooler morning and evening hours – plus the lighting is better during these times so you can get a superior shot with good lighting and active animals. Since it is cooler during these times you are more likely to get amazing shots instead of the monkeys either sleeping during the heat of the day day.

The next tip is to find the perfect location to take the photo. When looking to take photos of monkeys it is best to find a decent backdrop. The reason for this is the monkey’s features might be washed out if you are taking the photo with the sky as your backdrop. Try to take the shot with decent coverage in the background like a building or a tree. The reason for this is that their features are not drowned out by the surroundings.

Eye level photography generally makes better compositions although almost impossible unless you are an expert tree-climber or Tarzan. At our Eco-Lodge in Costa Rica we stand on high platforms that give us incredible close-ups of all four species of monkey including Howlers – it’s pretty cool!

Flash is also an important tool as it can fill in shadow areas and increase your available shutter speed in poorly-lit jungle conditions.

Interested in photographing Howler Monkeys in Costa Rica? Join me on my Wildlife of Costa Rica Photography Tour & Workshop this year!


Russ Nordstrand is a professional landscape and wildlife photographer specializing in photography as fine artwork. His Fine Art Prints are hanging in homes, offices and private collections across the U.S and Canada and in many other countries throughout the world. Russ leads on average about 20 Photography Tours & Workshops each year to incredible destinations such as Yellowstone, Alaska, Glacier, Yosemite, Utah, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains and more. He also frequently writes articles on this blog on various photographic techniques, the art of composition, environmental concerns, photography and travel news as well as documenting recent adventures. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Russ has lived in the greater Rocky Mountain West since 1999 and currently resides in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona.
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