Tips for Amazing Galápagos Photography

May 6, 2016

It’s a visual feast: Everywhere you look, shimmering beaches with sand in hues of white, black, red, gold, green and even purple seem to stretch endlessly into the sea. On some, thousands of sea lions bask in the equatorial sun; on others, green sea turtles lumber back and forth to and from the water. Black volcanic rock forms challenging inclines for dedicated hikers, while the crystalline turquoise waters beckon snorkelers to explore.

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The Galápagos – 3,093 square miles of islands spread out over 23,000 square miles of ocean – is a utopian dream for explorers and photographers alike. Can landscape and wildlife photography really do it justice? You can certainly try! Use these photography tips to capture top-quality images on your Galápagos tour.

Up Your Wildlife Photography Game in the Galápagos

In the Galápagos, you’ll see wildlife species that you can’t find anywhere else on earth: 20% of Galápagos species are unique to the islands, according to the Galapagos Conservancy. Preparation and proper equipment is essential to capturing the archipelago’s myriad wildlife.

Don Gutoski, winner of the 2015 International Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, used a Canon 1D X camera with a 200-400mm zoom lens with built-in and external 1.4 TC that gave a focal length of 784 mm to take his winning photo. Gutoski says he always has two camera bodies and plenty of storage space in his camera bag. As far as his wildlife photography lenses go, he tells Quark Expeditions®, “I really love the Canon 200-400 zoom and my 1.4 teleconverter.”

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Photographer Nansen Weber uses EF 70-200 mm f/2.8L IS II and EF 400 mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto lenses for his wildlife photography, from Chile and Peru to the Canadian Arctic. He also likes the Extender EF 1.4X. “It allows me to get closer to my subjects in certain circumstances,” he says. “For the wildlife enthusiast, I recommend at least a 200 mm, but preferably a 400 mm.” Weber tries to shoot with a shutter speed of 800, which stops the motion of the animal or bird while ensuring a clear, sharp image.

Underwater, a whole other universe of vividly colorful, active wildlife awaits. The waters around the Galapagos Islands are teeming with marine iguana, jellyfish, massive sunfish, whales, lizards, hammerhead sharks, red-lipped batfish, sea lions and more.

The GoPro HERO4 Silver is a great choice for amateur underwater photographers, as it comes complete with a dive-ready housing and wide-angle lens. More experienced photographers lean toward the GoPro HERO4 Black, with its 4K/30p resolution and 1080/120fps options. Depending on the depth of your dive, you may also need external lighting. Learn more about the equipment and techniques that produce the best underwater photos in the Galápagos here.

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Tips for Spectacular Landscape Photography on Galápagos Tours

For landscape photography, Weber arms himself with a Canon 1D X and EF 16-35 mm f/2.8L II wide-angle lens. He suggests that amateur photographers in search of a decent point-and-shoot camera try the PowerShot G1 X or the PowerShot SX50 HS, both of which have a strong zoom and excellent video capabilities.

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen has three staple lenses in his camera bag when he travels:

  • A 16-35 mm wide-angle lens, which he says creates a three-dimensional feeling that transports you into the image.
  • A 24-70 mm for shooting animals like penguins and seals.
  • A longer lens, typically either 80-400 mm, 100-400 mm or 70-200 mm, so he’s covered from 16 mm to 300 mm.

Taking care of your equipment is critical, Nicklen says. Although he’s more often traveling to Polar Regions to shoot, he notes that protecting camera equipment from salt water and moisture is key. “Don’t get excessive rain or salt on it; make sure you dry it off when you get inside,” he advises.

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Professional photographer Dave Merron recommends the Canon 17-40 4.0 lens for nice, wide landscape photography. He uses a variety of lens filters and says that the most important one he had on a recent trip to Antarctica was a polarizing filter that reduced the glare of the sun off the water. Given the equatorial location of the Galápagos, you’ll want to try a polarizing filter there, as well.

Become a part of the Quark community to see the amazing landscape and wildlife photography shared by Quark passengers and team members. Simply click through from our community page to see the shots live on social media, where you can meet the photographer and discuss techniques.

Photos courtesy of Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism Galapagos.

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