The Galapagospart of "A Photographer's Guide to Ecuador, the Galapagos, and Peru" by Philip Greenspun in December 2004
The volcanic Galapagos Islands rose from the sea floor starting around 5 million years ago. They are separated from the continent of South America by 600 miles of ocean and therefore the species have evolved separately from their forebears on the mainland. The islands were not visited by humans until approximately 500 years ago. Thus the wildlife has not had time to evolve a fear of human beings and can be approached and photographed very closely. Here is a place where you can take a bird's portrait with a 50mm lens.
Even if you're not interested in the specific oddities of the Galapagos, the biogeography of islands is worth studying because to a large extent that's what all of Earth's biogeography will look like in 100 years or so. Ecologists distinguish between two types of islands. The first are volcanic oceanic islands such as the Galapagos that sprung up from nowhere and collect species only by immigration from the air and water. The second are "land-bridge" islands such as Madagascar or Bali that were once connected to a continent but split off with a sampling of whatever wildlife happened to be around at the time. Because they are small and have small populations islands are subject to vastly more extinctions than continents.
There are four ways to see the Galapagos:
I booked my cruise as part of a multi-week trip through Wildland Adventures. They put me on the Eric, a 20-person boat run by one of the oldest and best companies in the Galapagos business. The naturalists on my cruise were former rangers from the Galapagos National Park and had a superb command of geology, geography, biology, and the English language.
Landing locations and times are regulated by the national park authorities. Generally the schedule looks something like the following:
A standard Galapagos cruise is fine for getting magazine-quality animal portraits. If you want to take landscape photos near sunset and sunrise you may want to investigate a special cruise for photographers where you get up earlier and jump right into a dinghy before breakfast.
For want of having anything more profound to say about these islands,
here are some favorite pictures from a weeklong cruise, arranged by
island. Notice that the emphasis is on tourists in the landscape as
opposed to pristine picture-postcard views. The objective here is to
show the Galapagos as a tourist would be likely to experience it rather
than as an idealized wilderness.
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