Galapagos Photography Tips

The photos are Here.

The Galapagos is often a once-in-a-lifetime trip. So, in preparation, I wanted to get it right for photography. I did a bunch of research beforehand, and found some good tips and not good tips. The bad ones will show up in google searches, so be careful.

You have no control over time and space.

If you take a standard Galapagos cruise like most people do, you are not in control of your schedule. You go everything with your fellow passengers. In excursions, you are often hurried along. You sleep on the boat. You wake up, you eat breakfast on the boat. You get on a dinghy to an island. You have an activity, whether a hike or scuba, in the morning, go back to the boat, and have a hike or scuba in the afternoon. Your itinerary is heavily regimented, and you cannot go anywhere without a guide. This is the main point to remember. There are ramifications to this:

  • You cannot go anywhere off designated trails to get the perfect shot. No climbing on things, either (duh).
  • You will not be able to camp out at a spot for extended periods of time waiting for a perfect shot. Guides will tell you to keep moving with the group to stick to the schedule.
  • You will not have any control of where you are Golden Hours. You’ll pretty much be on the boat in the morning, so forget that one. Evenings it depends on the time of year, but fair chance you’ll miss those, too.
  • You will not be able to return to a location. These tours have a set itinerary. When you’re done, you’re done. If the weather didn’t cooperate, that’s a pisser. You’ll have to live with full sun beating down on you or full clouds.

You will be snorkeling.

This is a good time to try underwater photography. I used my old Canon XSi because it would have been quite a bummer to screw something up, have the bag leak, and destroy my primary camera on this trip. I bought a Ewa Marine underwater bag and it worked perfectly. I didn’t want to blow $1-2K on a real hard case just to goof around under water, nor did I want to trust a camera with a cheap Chinese made bag from Amazon. The Ewa Marine bags at $300 was a good compromise. It worked perfectly.

Prior to my purchase I asked photography forums about this bag. Almost universally they ragged on it, saying bags are untrustworthy, no matter the equipment, it will eventually leak, blah blah blah. It was all idiotic, elitist BS. I might use this bag once a year. I’m not going to be abusing it. A $300 bag for occasional use is fine. Buncha dumb gatekeepers who can’t keep things in context.

Only thing I would have changed is maybe I should have gone ahead and gotten a red filter. The visibility is not as clear as you would expect in some areas. Five meters under water is really not a lot. Your subjects will likely be more than five meters away in any direction. Plus, that rule is for full sun, which even in July, we did not get at all during our trip.

You probably won’t need a tripod.

Maybe a monopod. But see the point above for having to move often. You often won’t have time to set everything up perfectly, take your perfect 3 second shot, and move onto another angle to repeat. I had a camera backpack with a small tripod and never used it.

Plus, the trails are *very* rugged. The trails are often nothing but large volcanic rocks that require climbing. It would be a pain in the ass to take a sturdy Manfroto tripod with you.

You will need a good telephoto lens

One forum I ran across, someone said you won’t need a telephoto lens because the animals are so tame. Utter BS the worst advice about Galapagos photography I found. First off, they’re animals. They’re not obligated to get right up to you. Second, you absolutely cannot deviate off the trails. Our guide had stories where he’s had to boot people from the tour because they kept wandering off. This rule is no joke. You will need a good telephoto to reach those beyond the immediate trail areas. Third, birds. You can get some magnificent pictures of birds in flight if you have a good lens.

It definitely was a trip of a lifetime and I got the chance to take some amazing photos. Just remember to bring your best equipment, whatever it may be, a lot of common sense, and understand that while the wildlife is tame, the restrictions offer some challenges to get the perfect photo.

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