Tips For Shooting Big Animal Locations Like the Galapagos

Galapagos Lenses

Ah, Galápagos. The Enchanted Isles. 

A Galapagos penguin checking out what lens I’m using.

A Galapagos penguin checking out what lens I’m using.

For the underwater photographer, the Galápagos is indeed an enchanted place. The ocean currents that merge here bring a stunning assortment of large ocean creatures, including hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, manta rays, and sometimes even whales and orcas. Sea lions, seals, turtles are resident, along with unique creatures like the Galápagos penguin and Galápagos marine iguana. A lucky u/w photographer might also get to capture a glimpse (or a photo) of a mola mola. There may be no better place to see large ocean creatures than the Galápagos.

There are lots of opportunities to shoot topside

There are lots of opportunities to shoot topside

Booby in flight - this is why we bring. a long lens

Booby in flight - this is why we bring. a long lens

While there are many strategies one could take as a photographer for visiting Galápagos, thinking about what lenses to take is a key starting point. For underwater shooting, a wide angle lens is key. A fisheye lens will definitely get some use, but also consider bringing a wide angle rectilinear lens. This will give you a little more reach for those shy hammerheads. We typically are not going to shoot much macro here, but if you have room for it, a single macro lens will be useful for a night dive or if you just want to shoot some small stuff on a dive or two.

And this is why we bring a fisheye. Whale shark, about 40ft long.

And this is why we bring a fisheye. Whale shark, about 40ft long.

A long zoom (birds) and a wide to mid range zoom (topography) will cover most topside shooting needs. There are some mid-range zooms that can do macro pretty well - this can save some space/weight for travel. Here are a few examples of lenses I might choose to bring:

Canon Full Frame SLR (i.e. Canon 5D Mark IV):

  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (wide angle rectilinear)

  • Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM (wide angle fisheye)

  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM (long zoom)

  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM (mid range zoom, can double as a macro lens)

Nikon APS-C SLR (i.e. Nikon D500)

  • Nikon AF-S Fisheye NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED (wide angle fisheye)

  • Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm f/4G IF-ED (wide angle rectilinear)

  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR (long zoom)

  • Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM for Nikon (mid range zoom, can double as a macro lens)

Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds (i.e. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II)

  • Panasonic Lumix G Fisheye 8mm f/3.5 (wide angle fisheye)

  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO (wide angle rectilinear)

  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II (long zoom)

  • Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 EZ  (mid range zoom, can double as a macro lens)

Darwin’s Arch makes a nice backdrop

Darwin’s Arch makes a nice backdrop

A pair of Silky Sharks gliding in the blue

A pair of Silky Sharks gliding in the blue

There are, of course, many more options for these and other cameras. 

Interested in going to Galápagos this year on a trip designed specifically for u/w photographers? I have a few spaces left for my Dec 1 2019 trip. Contact me here

That mid-range zoom is definitely needed for the obligatory group photo

That mid-range zoom is definitely needed for the obligatory group photo

And finally, the Mola Mola….

And finally, the Mola Mola….