Photographing the Galápagos

Photography in the Galápagos

Ok, here’s the part you probably wanted to hear most about. What’s the photography like in the Galápagos? Frankly, the experience can only be described as immersive. I don’t have the words to convey the feeling of being surrounded by birds and wildlife that for the most part do not feel threatened by human presence. Given that, I still packed a ton of gear so that I’d have maximal flexibility in the field.

Giant tortoise, Isla Isabella, Galápagos. Nikon D850 and 70-200mm f/4 lens with TC-14EIII teleconverter (280mm).

My Galápagos Photography Kit

Cameras

  • Nikon D850 DSLR bodies (2): I had one as primary and the other stayed onboard the boat for backup. I also brought the Nikon MB-D18 battery pack, which provided me with better ergonomics and 9fps continuous shooting for birds in flight.
  • iPhone XR for snapshots, panoramas, and to create a GPS track log
  • GoPro Hero 7 (for underwater video capture)

Lenses

I also brought the normal slate of accessories, including polarizing filters, spare batteries, lens cloths, etc.

Camera Bag
LowePro DryZone 200

My DryZone 200, packed for the Galápagos.

The LowePro Dry Zone 200 is the only truly waterproof camera backpack on the market, and the tour operators all recommended having some sort of dry bag for your gear. More on this later.

Which focal lengths work best in the Galapagos?

I knew I was bringing more than I needed, but seeing as this was a once in a lifetime trip, I wanted to be darn sure I was prepared. Now that I’m back home, I sorted through my 4000+ images and this is what I found from my “keeper” shots:

The percentage of “keeper” shots I captured across different focal lengths (35mm equivalent).
Galapagos Penguin
Galapagos penguin, captured with a Nikon D850 and Nikon 500mm f/5.6E ED PF Nikkor lens.

There are a couple of glaring take-aways from this table. First, most of my shots (nearly 85% of them) were at 70mm or greater. Of those, most were clearly in the 200-300mm range. This was because in the Galápagos, you can approach wildlife to the point where it fills the frame at 200-300mm. There is a 2-meter (6’) restriction on approaching wildlife, and there were times that I had to step around animals that were either on or very close to our designated path (you must stay on the path at all times). I pretty much put the TC-14EIII on my 70-200mm zoom and left it there. There were a few times where I used my D850’s built-in crop mode to further restrict the angle of view to roughly a 400mm equivalent.

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