Brain Dump Of Galapagos Photography Notes

As I mentioned in my prior post one of the reasons I voted for the Galapagos for my honeymoon was to put all my new digital gear to the test. Here I’ll give some general observations, and a big disclaimer: While not new to photography, it’s been a long time since I’ve done any “serious” shooting, and this was my first “big” expedition with my new digital SLR. I’m not claiming to be an authority, but I did get some great shots that the folks with point’n’shoots didn’t even come close to getting.


My gear:


  • Canon Rebel XT (8.2MP)

  • Canon 28-135 USM IS Zoom

  • Canon 18-55 “Kit” Zoom

  • UV and Polarizer filters for both

  • LowePro Off Trail 1 bag

  • 2 1GB CF cards

Over the course of 8 non-travel days, I took roughly 1500 pictures totally over 5GB of space. I’m narrowing the photos down substantially before inflicting others. J


Both the easy and hard parts of photography on this trip is the wealth of great material to shoot. The hard part on this trip is that you were constantly adapting to different circumstances, warranting different shooting modes. As an example, in the space of a minute you might choose to shoot (in order):


  • A macro close up of a cactus leaf

  • A pelican zooming across the water

  • A panoramic landscape

You don’t have the luxury of selecting your shot sequence, as you’re constantly on the move. What you see now many not be available in 30 seconds. It was challenging to constantly keep track of which exposure mode I was in, and deciding if I need to switch to another mode.  In those 60 seconds one shot may super fast shutter speed while the other needs high depth of field.


A large portion of the time I had the camera in its “sports” setting. I was often bobbing around in the Zodiacs, tracking a fast moving creature.  I believe the image stabilization in the 28-135 lens really helped in getting clear shots where I had the lens zoomed to the max.


Speaking of fully zoomed, the max 135mm focal length (equivalent to 216mm on film) was fine for 80% of the situations where I wanted a lot of zoom. The rest of the time I was pining for something closer to a 200mm zoom (320mm on film). However, seeing some other folks lugging around bigger zooms for hours on end made me glad I had the lens I did. I’m intrigued by the 28-200mm “super-zooms”, but am concerned about the distortion at the top end. This is currently on my plate of things to research more.


I hauled my 18-55mm lens out only occasionally when photographing landscapes. Most of the time it was ensconced safely in the circular side-case of my LowePro Off Trail 1. The side case had just enough room for the lens, a spare battery and CF card, and a cleaning cloth. In the main bag I was able to put the body and 28-135mm lens if I folded my neck strap just right. I left the other circular side-case back in the room, where it ended up holding “end of the day” things like USB cables, chargers, etc… The belt pack style case was perfect for getting on/off the Zodiac while keeping both hands free, then hiking over rough terrain with a walking stick.


For filters, I started out trying to use my polarizer as much as possible, as there was often lots of water and bright sun. However, I soon found that most of my shots needed high shutter speeds, and the polarizer was forcing the shutter speed down more than I’d like. Thus, I mostly stuck with the UV filter except for the few more sedate situations.


Probably the trickiest scenario to shoot was the black frigate birds, which often fought in the sky over our ship. They move fast, and I was using the sports mode (high shutter speed, auto drive, AI servo focusing.) The problem is that frigate birds are very dark, and the sky behind them is very bright. My initial attempts yielded some great looking silhouettes. Subsequently I bumped up the exposure compensation by 1 -1.5 stops and had more success. I’m sure I looked like quite the dork with my camera pointed at the sky, waving around with the zoom fully extended, trying to track the dogfight of these birds.


Although I knew my camera could do 3 FPS in drive mode, I figured I’d never use it, as I’m not currently planning on doing sports photography. Within a day, I decided that tracking fast moving animals surely counts as “sports”. Watching the Blue Footed Boobies prepare in formation for a dive, I pegged the shutter button for a few seconds and usually got at least one decent photo with the birds in the midst of their high speed dive.


After reading so many photo pages about Galapagos photography, most with dire warnings about “You can’t bring enough film”, I was very surprised that I only came close to filling up a 1GB card, and I also had a spare in the bag. Likewise, my batteries lasted all day and still were reading “full capacity” when I took them out to recharge them.


I didn’t get to experiment with my new flash (Thanks Steve!) as Galapagos has a very strict “no flash” policy when photographing animals. For the occasional indoor or fill-flash shot, the built-in flash was fine.


After seeing how much fun the Galapagos was to travel, I'm already plotting my next vacation to do something equally as challening. I love this stuff!

Comments (4)

  1. Only 5GB? Were you shooting JPEG? Try RAW instead. And you don’t really need UV filter 🙂

  2. foxyshadis says:

    Just out of curiosity, did you encounter any problems with dust accumulating on the ccd while changing lenses out there? The canons seem especially susceptible to electrostatic dust collection.

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