THE FIRST TIME I went to Costa Rica I had somewhat unreasonable expectations about wildlife viewing. I grew up watching nature documentaries, so I was excited to personally see the abundant creatures of the jungle. But I had no idea just how long most documentarians lie in wait to get footage of their subjects. My early self-guided attempts at exotic animal spotting were fruitless, though I did find two entangled amorous lizards and a couple of crabs.

I quickly learned that much of wildlife photography requires an endless supply of patience—not unlike my early days as a preschool photographer. Just showing up at the recommended ...

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