On our Galapagos cruise there is ample opportunity and time for photography. Not only is the location – the Galapagos Islands – a unique place to visit and tremendously photogenic, the behavior of the wildlife allows for some spectacular shots impossible to encounter anywhere else in the world. Anyone, with any model of camera, from point and shoot to SLRs with a 300 mm lens, will return home with photographs to make the owner proud and elicit “oohs” and “aahs” from relatives and friends.
Because of the absence of all large terrestrial predators, the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands for the most part does not react to the presence of humans, perceiving us as an unusual, but benign, intruder in their world. They act out the drama of their lives right on the trails with not even a glance in our direction. This provides an opportunity for full-frame shots of the charismatic Galapagos megafauna such as the Galapagos sea lions, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, land and marine iguanas among others. Following the strict regulations of the Galapagos National Park we always stay on the trails and keep a respectful distance. That distance is, however, around three meters, an easy distance for the smallest lens.
Located on the equator, the lighting in Galapagos can be very intense around mid-day creating strong shadows. Along the shore where most visitor trails and wildlife are found, there is the contrast of black lava and white sand to deal with as well. As tempting as it might be to use flash fill at these times, it is prohibited by law, so learn how to control your flash before landing. As Galapagos Park regulations do not allow visitors on shore after sunset, low-light conditions are rare. Those with long lenses should consider bringing a tripod or monopod for these occasions or for special effects, but for the majority they are not necessary. The trails on many visitor sites require attention to footing, so hiking sticks that can double as monopods are very handy.
On our Galapagos cruise we offer early morning outings on our specifically-designated photography expeditions, precisely to take advantage of the early morning light before breakfast. Our professional photographers are there to instruct and guide the learners and anyone else wanting helpful hints to improve their results. We also form photography groups for visits on shore when logistically feasible, as visitors are not allowed to wander at will, but rather are requested to stay together in their group with a licensed naturalist to inform, answer questions and lead the way.
In the cool, dry season, Galapagos recuperates from the blistering equatorial heat of the warm, wet season with a cloud layer known as “garua”. An inversion layer, this forms a light mist which on occasion can catch us on shore, so come prepared with good protection for your gear. A waterproof carrying case is also essential for many of our beach landings. The surf is never very high, but water can be unforgiving, especially salt-water! Never leave your camera dangling from around your neck when embarking or disembarking on a beach.
One of the post frequent questions is on what lens to bring ashore. Without fail, you will want the one left behind. Although the wildlife is often within feet of us, many times they will be further away, sometimes engaged in courtship rituals or perhaps feeding young. As we always stay on the designated trails established by the Park Service, approaching these animals is not an option, although moving along the trail can many times improve the angle for better framing.
There are also many smaller species in the Galapagos of equal importance for whom a telephoto lens will come in handy; Darwin’s finches, mockingbirds, lava lizards, not to mention the equally-unique flora and invertebrates are frequently found around us. A wide-angle lens is perhaps less-often used, but when used well results in some outstanding photography that captures the stark yet beautiful arid coastline and volcanoes of the Galapagos Islands.
The marine environment of Galapagos should not be forgotten by photographers. Opportunities to snorkel are numerous. Even a beginner can learn easily and an underwater camera is an excellent addition for experts and novice alike. Today, underwater digital cameras have become fairly economical with many choices available.
Ecuador works on 120v, so re-charging batteries is easy as long as one brings the correct cables and chargers. These items are frequently forgotten or left behind, and the most difficult to replace. Every brand and sometimes every model, seems to have a different battery, cable or charger. Memory cards fill quickly; expect to take three times as many photographs as you think. If you prefer to download to a personal computer, make sure you have the appropriate card-reader – they are expensive to buy in the islands, as are memory cards themselves. In the town of Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz there are several internet cafes who offer downloading of images to a CD or DVD. This is a good alternative if you have the time and opportunity. If at all possible, the recommendation is to have a back-up camera. Your trip is too special to leave undocumented, and accidents can happen.
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