How to take your best photos in the Galápagos Islands
Every photographer should visit the Galápagos Islands at least once in their life. Once you’ve been, you will want to go back over and over. It’s a photographers paradise!
The remote islands off the coast of Ecuador are an ecosystem like no other. Over millions of years, many animals have migrated to the Galápagos and made new homes, gradually evolving into species completely different from their mainland cousins.
Not only do the Galápagos Islands boast more unique species than any other region, but the animals, fish, and birds are easier to spot. Only a few of the islands are settled by humans, and only in a few places. The rest of the landscape is strictly regulated.
Since only a limited amount of people are allowed to explore every year, the local wildlife hasn’t learned to fear us. Giant tortoises, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and marine iguanas will come right up to you, practically posing for that perfect shot.
If you’re planning a tour of the Galápagos to take pictures, follow our advice to get the most out of your trip. These simple tips will help you build a Galápagos photo gallery you’ll treasure for years to come.
Bring the right equipment
Shooting in the Galápagos Islands rewards preparation. You probably won’t forget your camera, but remember that it needs memory cards and batteries to work. Bring more of both than you think you’ll need — you won’t regret it!
If you’re a wildlife photographer, you’re probably used to setting up tripods and using long lenses to get rare glimpses of distant animals and birds. Things are different on the Galápagos, where you’ll find more animals than you know what to do with at every photo location, and they will be close.
Instead, when selecting your gear and lenses, focus on convenience and mobility. The lighter the better. You typically won’t need a tripod, nor want to carry one around. Having a zoom lenses around 100mm-400mm is ideal. Don’t forget that landscape lenses as this is a beautiful place and you’ll want to capture the beauty of the surroundings. Leave that 600mm prime at home and sling a camera and enjoy the wildlife and scenery. Make sure you have enough waterproof bags for everything, since you’ll often have to make wet landings with a panga, or zodiac dingy.
If you plan to photograph wildlife underwater (which I highly recommend!), add some snorkel gear and a waterproof camera to your luggage. Many times the guides will provide the snorkeling gear, so make sure you ask.
If you are going on a workshop, make sure that you will be provided packing lists and guidance on planning for the trip.
Work at the beginning and end of the day
The Galápagos Islands are located right on the equator, so the sun is high over your head mid-day. That makes for a lovely time at the beach, but it’s not the best for photography.
The best times to photograph are in the morning and evening. Luckily, the equatorial location means sunrise and sunset are regular year-round, coming at about 6 AM and 6 PM every day. Make sure to schedule as much time for photography in the morning and late afternoon.
Use the hours in between to travel to your next location, or enjoy snorkeling, exploring, relaxing or a siesta.
When booking a trip for photography, make sure you ask what times you will be on the islands.
Shoot from the ground level
Looking to change up your Galápagos Islands wildlife photos? Try lying down!
Snapping pics from a prone position can open up perspectives you’ve never considered before, showing the unique markings, behaviors, and environments of Galápagos wildlife.
Lying in the sand is a great way to photograph marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, sea lions, and more.
Respect the wildlife
The animals on the Galápagos Islands may have no fear of humans, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want with them.
The Galápagos National Park requires visitors to maintain a strict distance of six feet (two meters) from all wildlife. That’s for their safety and yours — some animals, like sea lions, can attack when provoked.
There’s also a park-wide ban on flash photography, again to protect the animals and birds. If you’re having trouble getting enough light, try a higher ISO, or open up your aperture a bit.
It may be easy to find animals and birds in the Galápagos, but you shouldn’t always snap the first shot that presents itself.
The more you observe the wildlife, the better you’ll get to know it, until you notice behaviors you couldn’t see at the start.
All the best wildlife photographs tell a story. If you’re patient, you never know what kind of story will come to you next.
Take a guided photography tour
A photography tour of the Galápagos Islands involves a lot of moving parts. You need permits, transportation, meals, equipment, and a clear schedule. The best way to tour the archipelago? Have someone else handle that stuff so you can focus on taking photos!
I’ve been leading photo tours for over 11 years. In that time, I’ve discovered lots of lesser-known spots bursting with opportunity for photographers of any level.
My tours make use of a luxurious private boat small enough to fit into the secluded bays and scenic inlets, staffed with a local crew who provide for your every need.
Check out itineraries for the Shetzers Photography Galápagos East and Galápagos West tours, and prepare for your Galápagos Islands adventure today!