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.

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    Comments

    1. ROD CALBRADE says:

      Fascinated by your website so please keep me informed

    2. Swaranjeet Singh says:

      Hi

      Can I pick your brain for a Galapagos trip please :)

      I am going on a photography excursion to the Galapagos in July next for 2 1/2 weeks. My current gear includes :-

      Cameras : 1DX, 5D mkiii, 7D
      Lenses : 16-35, 24-70, 24-105, 70-200, 200-400 (built in TC) besides the 100mm macro.

      What do you think I need to carry considering what i am going to encounter condition wise. Naturally, I would not like to carry what I will hardly need. Left to myself, I might have opted for the two full frame bodies with the 16-36, the 70-200 and the 200-400. Would that be okay?

      Should I take the macro along?

      For bags, I have a slim backpack from Think-tank which can take a 600 with 1DX attached. So if I carry the 200-400 and 1DX in it, there is place on top for another (say 16-35). I do have the modular system bags and the speed PRO belt as you use. Carrying these on the boast is okay but how do you prefer to carry the big lens and body plus whatever other stuff you carry for the actual shoot? I am 64 and small built but very fit for my age.

      I see the tripod in your picture. So that needs to be carried as well.

      Any other suggestions will be most welcome.

      Thanks in advance and regards

      Swaranjeet

      • Tim Laman says:

        Hi Swaranjeet,

        Sorry for the slow reply as I’ve been in the field again.
        For a Galapagos trip, your selection sounds really good. Of course, there are macro subjects, so it all depends on your personal interest, but in general, in Galapagos you will see so many larger birds, reptiles, and mammals at such close range, that I don’t think you would use your macro much.

        As far as carrying gear in the field, for a place like Galapagos, I like the combination of the Think-tank belt with pouches for smaller lenses, and the slim backpack for my main telephoto and 1D body. Once ashore, I would have the 1D and 200-400 in my hands most of the time or on a strap over my shoulder, so the near empty backpack isn’t heavy on my back. Re the tripod, I carried that because I was shooting some video with my DSLR. But for shooting stills in the Galapagos, I wouldn’t bother carrying it around.

        And I’m with you on the trade in of the 300 f2.8 and 500 f4 for the 200-400. Good you came out ahead in that deal, and makes travel easier as well.

        Good shooting!
        Tim

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