Photographing the Galápagos

Landscape photography in the Galápagos

One thing that should be pretty clear from the keeper table is that I captured very few shots with lenses wider than 24mm. The Galápagos landscape is beautiful, but keep in mind that most of the time you are on the islands in the middle of the day. The landing times are dictated by the park service, and in most cases you’ll see sunrise/sunsets from the boat. Most of my landscape shots were snapshots, with a couple of exceptions at Bartolomé island and the lava flows. Honestly, you could almost get away with using a compact camera or even your smartphone on days where you weren’t going to see a lot of wildlife (like the hike to Sierra Negra). There were a few good sunrises and sunsets that I captured while aboard the boat, and for those, my 24-85mm lens was usually plenty. Although I did use my fisheye lens a few times, I wouldn’t have missed it had I left it at home.

Bartolomé island panorama, Galapagos
7-shot stitched pano (Lightroom Classic CC) of Bartolomé island captured hand-held with a Nikon D850 and 24-28mm Nikkor zoom lens.

Two locations did stand out for “landscape” photography. The overlook at Bartolomé island (300+ steps up) delivered wonderful panoramic views and included a volcanic formation called “Pinnacle Rock.” Nearby, we later visited the lava beds on Isla Santiago, and the lava flows made for some interesting abstract compositions. I used my iPhone to capture a panorama from atop the lookout point. 

Lava flow, Isla Santiago, Galapagos. Nikon D850 and 18-35mm zoom Nikkor lens.

Underwater Photography in the Galápagos

Many of the Galápagos boat tours include significant opportunities for snorkeling. On my trip, the snorkeling was an optional activity, but the tour operator provided us with all the necessary gear, including wetsuits. The Pacific waters around the island aren’t particularly cold, but they’re chilly enough that a wetsuit made for a far more comfortable experience. Compared to snorkeling in other destinations, the fish diversity was modest. However, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to swim with turtles, penguins, and marine iguanas for anything! I was able to see hammerhead sharks, rays, and other marine life that you just don’t easily encounter elsewhere.

I’ve tried various underwater point and shoot cameras over the years, and wasn’t really happy with any of them. The biggest problem with most point and shoot cameras is that the autofocus just isn’t good enough to track moving fishes in time to get a good shot. For this trip, I purchased a GoPro Hero 7 action camera, which I mounted to a handle to use while snorkeling. That was the best decision I could have ever made. I simply captured 4k video from which I could pull stills as desired. The GoPro has a fisheye lens, so pretty much everything is in focus. When a Galápagos penguin swam by, I had the video running and managed to swim with it for several minutes.

White-tipped reef shark, Gal‡pagos.

iPhone Photography in the Galápagos 

Sunrise in the Galápagos
Sunrise in the Galápagos, captured with an iPhone XR and processed in Lightroom CC and Snapseed.

My iPhone XR served a couple of extremely useful functions during my Galapagos adventure. First, it’s a great pocket camera for capturing snapshots and even some landscape photos. I used Lightroom CC for iOS to allow me to capture images in RAW format (DNG) and merge them with my Lightroom catalog seamlessly upon my return. I also used the GPS in my phone to create a continuous track log in GPX format, which I then imported into Lightroom Classic CC. By synchronizing the GPS log with the time-stamps in my image EXIF data, I was able to geo-tag all of my photos without having to use external GPS accessories.

My go-to iPhone apps for photography include:

The Geotag Photos 2 App for iOS captured a continuous tracklog of our voyage around the Galápagos.

  • Lightroom CC
  • Snapseed 
  • Geotag Photos 2
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)

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