Return to Cape York Peninsula in the “Wet”

A water saturated landscape  during the wet season at Piccaninny Plains Widlife Sanctuary on the Cape York Peninsula, Australia

A water saturated landscape during the wet season at Piccaninny Plains Widlife Sanctuary on the Cape York Peninsula, Australia

I am on my way home from a three-week trip to Australia’s Cape York Peninsula on assignment for National Geographic magazine.  Believe it or not, there are still places in the world without easy internet access and this was one of them.  Now that I am back in contact, I will share some new images from the trip here and via my Instagram feed over the next week or so.

This ongoing project for Nat Geo has the goal of documenting the landscapes and unique biodiversity of this remote part of Northeastern Queensland.  Last year I made two expeditions here in the dry season, and I now returned to cover what it looks like in the wet season, which looks dramatically different in places.

Above is an example shot from a low flying helicopter:  This is Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary, where I photographed the parched dry landscape in September.   Now the same area is dotted with potholes full of water while storm clouds with more water loom above.

You can look back at my Instagram feed to see earlier shots from Cape York in the dry season, and stay tuned for some more new photos over the coming days……

 

 

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Thoughts on Gear

On a photo expedition like this recently completed one in the Galapagos, you have to come up with the right combination of photographic equipment to carry and the best way to carry it.  Unlike a National Geographic Magazine assignment, where I might be working with a lot more equipment, and able to hire porters and perhaps even have a dedicated photo assistant, when I am accompanying a Photo Expedition as one of the photography instructors, I am of course carrying my own equipment around every day just like the guests on the trip.

Most people opt for a pretty lightweight outfit for the on-the-go type shooting that we do on our walks ashore every day.  A good setup would be to have two bodies, and have one mounted with a wide to medium zoom like a 24-105 mm, and the second body with a telephoto zoom like a 100-400 f5.6, or a 70-200 f2.8 plus teleconverters.

I did use that setup on some hikes, but I often chose to carry a bit more.  I am used to lugging around a lot of gear and it doesn’t slow me down much, and I do like to have a bigger lens with more reach.  While it is true that in the Galapagos, you can often get very close to the wildlife, it is also usually not permitted to leave the trail, so longer reach can sometimes really help when you are at lagoons with flamingos, or places like that.

 

Tim Laman photographing on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos.  Photo by Russell Laman.

Tim Laman photographing on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos. Photo by Russell Laman.

 

I came up with a really comfortable setup for carrying around the gear described below.  I don’t like a huge photo backpack that fits everything.  It’s too heavy when you have it on, and if you set it down and step away, then you will invariably need something from it like a teleconverter or a battery.  I like the combination of a belt system for keeping the essentials handy with a slimmer backpack for the big lens and body.  I have found a set of bags from ThinkTank that fit my working style very well.  So what I carried ashore in the Galapagos what you see in this image on some lava rock on Fernandina Island:

 

Photo equipment I carried on my Galapagos shore excursions.

Photo equipment I carried on my Galapagos shore excursions.

 

Belt-Pack system with:

Canon 5D-III, 16-35 mm f2.8, 24-105 mm f4 in large belt pouch (Camera fits in the pouch without lens on with the two lenses.  I take it out and mount a lens on as soon as we are ashore, or even sometimes shoot from the zodiac if conditions permit.)

70-200 f 2.8 – in lens pouch

1.4x and 2x converters and spare batteries and cards, polarizing filter in another belt pouch that always sits right on my right hip for quick access.

 

Long lens backpack with:

Canon 1D-IV mounted with 400 mm f2.8

Water bottle and rain hood go in side pockets

Another pouch attached to the outside of this pack has my video viewfinder and mike.

 

With the use of the teleconverters in this outfit, I have coverage from 16 mm to 800 mm with just four lenses, which means I am ready for just about anything.

There was plenty of light to shoot hand-held most of the time, but on some hikes I also carried my tripod especially to do a little video shooting.

Note that all these ThinkTank pouches have built in rain hoods that are perfect for protection from the spray on zodiac rides and the occasional rain shower.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 7

Time for a belated final-day report from the Galapagos trip.  I have been back since March 3rd, but do to several lectures for the Birds of Paradise Project, and preparing to depart for an NatGeo assignment in Australia, I didn’t get a final post done (until now, on the plane to Australia!).

We spent this final day around the island of San Cristobal.  We did a great hike in the morning and then headed for the rock formation know as Kicker Rock, or Leon Dormido just off the San Cristobal coast.  There we snorkeled under what I would have to say were some pretty rad snorkeling conditions.  Large chop and current sweeping us through the gap between the rocks.  Exciting stuff, and many sea turtles and some Galapagos sharks were seen.

We capped off the trip with a circumnavigation of this spectacular rock island right at sunset.

 

Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) off San Cristobal Island, Galapagos at sunset

Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido) off San Cristobal Island, Galapagos at sunset

 

One of the highlights of this trip for me was to be able to share it with my father, Gordon Laman.  He helped inspire my love of photography by loaning me his cameras when I was a teenager, and took me on my first wilderness trip when I was 12 in Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  That got me hooked on a life of exploring nature, so it was wonderful to be able to take Dad to the Galapagos for his first time.  He loved it, and claimed that he did pick up a few photo tips from me as well.  Thanks for joining me Dad!

Tim Laman with father Gordon on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Tim Laman with father Gordon on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

 

 

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 6

28 Feb 2013

This day was spent on the island of Santa Cruz.  The highlight in terms of natural history and photography was a trip up into the uplands to visit a nature reserve where many of the Galapagos Giant Tortoises were roaming freely around the property.  It was overcast, and the light was nice and even for photographing these animals in their lush surroundings.

We fanned out and soon found several individuals, some feeding, some apparently just hanging out.  One male was particularly active, and several photo workshop members and I watched and followed him for some time.

First I got some nice tight shots of him feeding…

Galapagos Giant Tortoise feeding in the uplands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise feeding in the uplands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

 

Then I experimented with a 45 mm Tilt-Shift lens I had brought along, shooting wide open and tilting the plane of the depth of field to throw the background out of focus severely.  Just as I was lying on the ground trying this out, I got a great big yawn from the tortoise which I captured here….

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Yawning.  Uplands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Yawning. Uplands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

 

Just before we were about to leave, the most active male suddenly started pursuing a nearby female.  It was the most action we had seen all day and it was great to see and capture this behavior…..

Galapagos Giant Tortoise male pursuing a female.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise male pursuing a female.

 

Finally the male attempted to mount and mate with the female.  An amazing sight for such ungainly large animals, and a fitting end to our afternoon of photographing these ancient creatures….

Galapagos Giant Tortoise male mounting a female and attempting to mate.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise male mounting a female and attempting to mate.

 

 

 

The Timeless Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs are pounded by a rain shower on Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs are pounded by a rain shower on Santiago Island, Galapagos Islands.

See a series of blog posts under “Expedition Notebook” for photos and notes from my trip working as a photo instructor with Lindblad/National Geographic Photo Expeditions.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 5

Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs during a heavy downpour at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island.

Galapagos Marine Iguanas and Sally Lightfoot Crabs during a heavy downpour at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island.

27 Feb 2013

We have been having some beautiful weather this week, but this afternoon, a heavy downpour caught us by surprise while we were on a photo hike at Puerto Egas on Santiago Island.  This sent many folks scurrying back to the ship, but for me, it was just the kind of weather event that can add a lot of drama and atmosphere to pictures, and I was excited to keep shooting as long as I reasonably could.

When it started pouring, I struggled to keep the rain off my cameras, but I kept shooting as long as I reasonably could.  This coastline of lava and other volcanic deposits was absolutely teaming with Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Marine Iguanas.

My favorite shot was when I spotted a crab starting to climb over an iguana that completely ignored it.  The streaking rain (at 1/750sec) and bouncing spray added great atmosphere to the image, and combined with the great interaction between the creatures involved, made for a unique image.

 

Sally Lightfoot Crabs carpet the rocks at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos, during a rain shower.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs carpet the rocks at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos, during a rain shower.

 

Once everything was wet, the colors were even more saturated, and the somewhat skittish crabs were more approachable than usual, and allowed me to get this wide shot with a large number of crabs.  It was a great opportunity to try to capture some images of very well photographed subjects that had a unique feel to them.

 

A Galapagos Marine Iguana sits out a heavy downpour in a tide pool at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos.

A Galapagos Marine Iguana sits out a heavy downpour in a tide pool at Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, Galapagos.

When we found this Marine Iguana waiting out the rain in a tidepool, I kept the shutter speed high to freeze those splashing water drops.  This shot is more about capturing the humor of the iguana toughing out the downpour, but it capped off an exciting afternoon of with shooting in the rain as the climax before we stowed our gear and headed back to the ship.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Galapagos Islands

Bartolome Island, with Santiago Island in the background presents an otherworldly volcanic landscape in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Bartolome Island, with Santiago Island in the background presents an otherworldly volcanic landscape in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

 

For the past two weeks, I have been exploring the Galapagos Islands as part of the staff on the National Geographic Endeavor.  The first week was a Natural History Expedition, and this past week was a Photo Expedition, where I was part of a team of Lindblad/National Geographic photo instructors along to help guests with their photography.  Check out my other postings for photos from each day and some anecdotes from the field.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 4

A Galapagos Sea Lion swims upside down at the surface in Tagus Cove, Isabela Island.

A Galapagos Sea Lion swims upside down at the surface in Tagus Cove, Isabela Island.

26 Feb 2013

Today’s highlight was snorkeling along the coast of Tagus Cove on Isabela Island.  This is a famous anchorage where not only the ship ‘Beagle’ on which Darwin travelled anchored, but many other ships over the generations have made a stopover.  The cliffs of this cove drop straight into the sea and offer fabulous snorkeling with Green Sea Turtles, Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins, and the ubiquitous Galapagos Sea Lions.

One sea lion in particular was very relaxed and curious and approached me many times, taking a close look at the dome port on my camera housing, allowing me to get the shot above.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 3

Galapagos Marine Iguana crosses the lava floes of Fernandina Island to head out to the ocean for its morning feed.

Galapagos Marine Iguana crosses the lava floes of Fernandina Island to head out to the ocean for its morning feed.

 

25 Feb 2014

We had an otherworldly morning on Fernandina Island.  We landed at dawn, in a hazy, humid overcast onto bare lava rock.  Piles of ancient, primitive looking Marine Iguanas were everywhere on the fresh black lava.  A truly prehistoric feeling, like being dropped into a primeval world.

I worked on some ideas of how to capture that feeling.  First I concentrated on very slow shutter pan blurs of iguanas moving over the lava as they went out to the ocean for their morning feed.  It seemed to be working and you can see one example above.

 

Galapagos Marine Iguana grazing on algae on the sea bed.  These are the only lizards in the world that feed in the ocean.

Galapagos Marine Iguana grazing on algae on the sea bed. These are the only lizards in the world that feed in the ocean.

 

After over three hours of working the lava terrain and its wildlife, including sea lions, Flightless Cormorants, Blue-footed Boobies, and Sally Lightfoot Crabs, we headed back to the boat for a quick switch to snorkeling gear, and headed back to the coast of Fernandina by Zodiac.  The shoreline was again black lava, covered in iguanas. The water was rich in plankton and basically like green soup (these are the rich colder waters of the western Galapagos, and area of upwelling sea), but no sooner had I jumped in than I saw three sea turtles right below me.  I spent my snorkeling time searching for the Marine Iguanas in the water, and eventually had some luck.  I was able to follow one foraging iguana and approach and photograph it as it grazed on algae.  I was excited to be able to capture this unique behavior.

Truly a great morning with in this amazing place.

Galapagos Marine Iguana swimming in the sea off Fernandina Island.

Galapagos Marine Iguana swimming in the sea off Fernandina Island.

Galapagos Photo Expedition – Day 2

Galapagos Land Iguana feeds on a prickly-pear cactus pad.

Galapagos Land Iguana feeds on a prickly-pear cactus pad.

 

24 Feb 2014

We landed just after sunrise at North Seymour Island which was simply teaming with wildlife.  The hard part all morning was just deciding what to concentrate on.  As we walked the loop trail that first followed the coast and then passed through the scrubby Palo Santo forest, we ran the gauntlet past nursing Galapagos Sea Lion pups, displaying Blue-footed Boobies, preening Brown Pelicans, basking Marine Iguanas, a frigatebird nesting colony, and numerous endemic Land Iguanas.  A real highlight in terms of amazing animal behavior was seeing a Land Iguana feeding on a cactus pad.  Hard to believe they can handle such a prickly diet.