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Nature on Display: Tips for Photographing the Wildlife of Galapagos

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For wildlife lovers, Galapagos holidays are often a long-held dream and a true "bucket-list" experience. This remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is home to some of the most unique wildlife on Earth, and offers the opportunity for some very close encounters. For those who want to make the most of the chance to capture photographs of the animals, some specific tips from experts may help.

Tips for Photography on Galapagos Holidays

There are plenty of generic tips for photographing wildlife (including the most basic, which is to be patient), but there are also some that are specific to capturing superb images of the animals of this remote archipelago.

Be Prepared

This advice has a dual meaning: you need to be prepared in terms of equipment, but also on a situational level. Taking the right camera and accessories is paramount, and an SLR with interchangeable lenses will yield far superior results to an iPhone, no matter how up-to-date the model is. The wildlife of the archipelago is unusually fearless, so it's not really necessary to have extra long, fixed length focal lenses, but if you're serious, a combination of short and medium lenses is recommended. As a guide, consider (at the least) an 18mm-70mm lens and a 100mm-400mm one.

The other aspect to preparation is to be ready to get "the money shot" without too much notice. Wildlife is wild, after all, and animals won't wait around for you to focus, change aperture and frame the scene to perfection – although the Giant Galapagos Tortoise might be an exception. Take a light reading every now and again, and keep your eyes peeled so that you can take advantage of a situation as it arises.

Lighting

Because of the archipelago's geographic position on the equator, the sun rises and sets quickly, spending a lot of its time directly overhead. This results in harsh, top-lit conditions that often aren't very conducive to capturing images of wildlife. What you should be aiming for is low-side lighting, which creates greater textural interest and contouring shadows. Without the benefit of artificial studio lighting, the only real solution is to get up early before the sun reaches overhead, or later in the evening as it descends. An added bonus of this is that you can get some spectacular and very dramatic images by using a sunrise or sunset to backlight your subject.

Exposure

Even if you set your SLR to automatic exposure, the lighting and conditions on the archipelago can often be beyond the range of even the most sophisticated in-camera metering system. For example, the bright white plumage on a Nazca Booby perched on a black volcanic rock would cause the camera to expose for the darker areas, and then overblow the highlights. A great tip is to use the +/- function on your camera, which will override the meter and correct it one or two stops in order to expose for the bird instead of the rocks.

Think Laterally

Aside from the technical aspects, the most important piece of advice from experts in the know is to think outside of the box and really take advantage of the magnificent opportunities you'll encounter on Galapagos holidays. Don’t just follow the crowd and photograph the animals from a static standing vantage – get low on the sand with the Sally Lightfoot Crabs, get high on the rocks with the Marine Iguanas, and wade into the shallows with the curious Sea Lions (obviously keeping your camera protected). Getting creative with angles is one of the surest ways to open yourself up to that once-in-a-lifetime image.

Turning Good to Great

While, for some, Galapagos holidays are enough of a reward in themselves, for others, capturing incredible photographs is a hugely important aspect. Wildlife photography can, by its nature, be an extremely challenging pursuit. And, while simply being in the right place at the right time can reap some astounding rewards, following a few tips in order to capitalise on those "right time, right place" moments can create the difference between a good photograph and a great one.
About author: Desiree Michels

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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