The ghost of Punta Carrion, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I open this extended essay with a moody landscape evoking the mythical nature of the place itself. The first Spanish explorers to map the Galapagos were convinced they could see these islands move. They called them "Las Encantadas" -- the "Enchanted Isles." I feel just such a ghostly presence in this image -- the huge rock echoes the jagged shape of the cloud moving behind it, skeletal trees bow to the wind, and a small robed figure seems to lurk within its rocky hollows.
Frigatebird, Punta Carrion, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The brilliant inflated red throat pouch draws the eye into this image. The pouch also is designed to attract a potential mate. There were many Frigates drifting along the hills, using their seven foot wide wingspans to ride the air currents and soar over the stands of Palo Santo trees that covered this area. The energy of this image comes from the dueling diagonal thrusts of the wing angle and the contrasting slope of the hill.
Pelican den, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Using an inflated raft known as a "Zodiac " I spent many hours photographing amidst the hollows and dens of the great cliffs that line the islands of the Galapagos. Brown Pelicans often use these dens as rocky observation platforms, lurking in the shadows and waiting for the passing schools of the small fish that eventually will end their days within the great pouches swinging from their lower mandibles. I took advantage here of the reflected light bouncing off the sea and into this den. I exposed on the silvery body of the Pelican in spot-metering mode, allowing the rocky den to fade into the shadows and creating a almost surreal mode to the image. Pelicans are ungainly birds, designed my nature as expert fishermen. This one appears here as a visitor from another planet.
Echoes of creation: Sea Lion, South Plaza Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The Galapagos are otherworldly -- the islands are the tips of huge volcanoes, which plunge directly into the heart of the earth. I found this Galapagos Sea Lion slumbering on a slab of ancient lava next to our landing pier on South Plaza Island. Its rounded form echoes the massive curves in the inky stone that provides its bed. This image seems embryonic to me, an echo of birth of the earth itself. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which he began to form upon his visit to the Galapagos in 1835, could add still another level of context to this photograph -- the relationship of living things to their environment helps determines the survival of the fittest.
At cliff's edge: Swallow-tailed gull and Galapagos Sea Lion, South Plaza Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I photographed this Swallow-tailed gull flying only inches above the head of a resting Galapagos Sea Lion at the very edge of South Plaza Island's towering cliff. I deliberately placed the bird at the very top of the frame, to increase the tension present in the tight spacing between the gull and sea lion. I fill the bulk of the frame with the rocky surface of the cliff-top, which leads the eye directly to the pair at the precipice. Both the gull and the sea lion look towards the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean -- we can only see them from behind, and are left to wonder what each may be thinking at this moment in time.
Water's edge: South Plaza Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The churning waters of the Pacific Ocean surge towards a Swallow-tailed gull perched on the edge of South Plaza. The force of the breaking wave is a reminder of the ocean's importance to these birds, the only nocturnally feeding gull in the world. The lives of these gulls depend on the sea -- survival is always at issue here. This image speaks to how life in the Galapagos is linked to the sea's productivity yet also threatened by its potential for destruction.
Molting Land Iguana, South Plaza Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
This closeup of a Land Iguana speaks of the prehistoric past. This one is molting - I could see its skin peeling away from its back. I noticed many photographers making picture of these iguanas from a standing position, which diminishes them in scale and de-emphasizes expression. I moved my camera as low to the ground as possible, and framed the image in my fold-out LCD viewfinder, stressing the impassive expression and the effect of the peeling skin.
Sleeping Sea Lion, Santa Fe Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I usually try to emphasize expression on such subjects as this. However in this case, the environmental context is more important, so I framed the entire rock this sea lion is using as a bed. There is considerable scale incongruity between the rock and the sea lion -- the bed is large and hard, and its top curve is echoed by the curve in the sea lion's body. A canopy of green provides a softening touch, contrasting with the cold stone below it. This image is as much about the place as it is about the sea lion.
Rocks, spray, sea lions, and crabs off Santa Fe Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
These rocks were about a half mile off shore of Santa Fe Island. I framed the image so the foreground was rich in waves and spray which bathe the rocks behind them.The rocks are covered with red Sally Lightfoot crabs. Two Galapagos Sea Lions seem to own these rocks -- one sleeps while the other stands guard. Life in and around the Galapagos resides on both land and sea, and places such as this represent a blend of both. I was shooting from a raft that was being tossed about by the waves. In order to stabilize this 200mm focal length shot, I had to use a shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second, ten times faster than normal in order to avoid blur due to camera shake.
Tall ships off Santa Fe Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
While most cruise ships visiting these islands are products of our own time, there are at least two vintage sailing vessels, known as "tall ships," still carrying passengers from island to island in the Galapago. Here they anchor together off Santa Fe Island, under a dramatic overcast cloudscape. I made this image as I was returning to our ship (the tallest of the two) from a nature walk on the island. My intention was to make an image that speaks of the days when all of the ships visiting the Galapagos looked like these. A photograph made in the 19th century would look very similar to this one.
Nursing Sea Lion pup, Gardner Bay, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Espanola Island hosts one of the largest Sea Lion colonies in the Galapagos. On its beach in Gardner Bay, I found dozens of them dozing in the sun, and more than a few pups nursing at the sides of their mothers. I moved in on this pup just as it turned away from its dinner to check me out. The sun was coming from behind, abstracting the mother and much of the head of the pup, yet still defining the whiskers that give the animal much of its identity.
Whiskers, Gardner Bay, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I used the white sand beach to define the whiskers sprouting from the noses of a mother Galapagos Sea Lion and her pup.The pup was covered with sand as well, which adds a tactile texture to the image, inviting the viewer to try to brush it away. (A practice that is definitely outside the rules of Galapagos National Park, and better imagined than actually done.)
Tourists and Sea Lions, Gardner Bay, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Visiting tourists always marvel at how the vast herd of Galapagos Sea Lions at Gardner Bay ignore them. The young pups are far more curious than the slumbering adults. In this shot, three visitors stand before a sea lion family, as the pups satisfy their own curiosity. I stood in this spot for ten minutes, focusing on this particular family consisting a five adults and two pups. I waited for three people to stand before them, a curtain of sparking ocean water rising behind them. The pups punctuate the two empty spaces between the visitors, integrating the two groups into one.
Playing with sea lion pups, Gardner Bay, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Sea lion pups and children are made for each other. The pups dart as a close as they can to children playing in the water, and then flee, daring the kids to follow. On Gardner Bay at Espanola Island, this pup seems to be daring a young girl to catch it if she can. Hands high, she is about to plunge forward. As she hit the water, the pup was long gone. This is one of those moments when everything hangs in the balance. Just as I shot this image, those arms flew skyward, and the pup has already half-turned away. This behavior pattern is common throughout the Galapagos. The snorkelers in our group often reported that young sea lions would swim close to them under water and then glide away, a memorable moment for all concerned.
In touch, Marine Iguanas, Punta Saurez, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Marine Iguanas are often found in large numbers clinging to the rocks and lava along Galapagos shorelines.They are the world's only sea-going lizards. There are seven kinds of them, spread around the various islands. The most colorful are found here on Espanola. In this image, I move in on a single hand, resting comfortably on the back of a red Marine Iguana at Punta Saurez. Since these iguanas gather close to each other in huge colonies, such gestures are common. Whether it is a touch of affection or simply a convenient resting posture remains a mystery. I leave such answers to the imagination of the viewer.
Courting Waved Albatrosses, Punta Saurez, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Almost the entire world population of waved albatrosses -- more than 30,000 of them -- nest on Espanola Island. As I walked among the nests, I photographed this pair in the midst of an elaborate courting ritual, which includes much bill-circling and clacking as well as a formalized dance -- actually a waddle. This image may be soundless, but it stimulates our sense of hearing, and asks the viewer to imagine the sound of frantic clacking.
Family portrait, nesting Waved Albatrosses, Punta Saurez, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The sole nesting ground for Waved Albatrosses is here on Espanola Island. It is vast, accommodating over 12,000 pairs at a time. The scene is chaotic, and demands photographic simplification. I chose to concentrate on just one pair, and made this family portrait as one member of a pair sits on the nest in the foreground while the other looms over it in the background. The male and female split the next sitting duties, so I was unable to identify the gender roles here. But that is not important -- instead, I try to express the bond between the two as defined by their deliberate positioning and the matching placid expressions that tell the story of nesting albatrosses. I also stress the subtle yellow feather coloring that matches the colors of their beaks.
Curious Blue Footed Booby. Punta Saurez, Epsanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
These humorous looking sea birds are usually photographed with emphasis on their blue webbed feet, a feature which easily identifies them. However, for this image, I decided to photograph one of them looking directly into the camera with a profoundly curious (or confused) look on its face. I reveal its identity by placing a more familiar side-view of a Blue Footed Booby just behind it, but in soft focus.
Courtship dance, Blue Footed Boobies, Punta Saurez, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The behavior of the Blue Footed Booby is most clown-like during courtship. It appeared to me that this pair was engaged in a courtship dance, as they shuffled their huge blue feet from side to side, virtually mimicking each other's moves. I photographed them above, something I rarely do with birds, since a high vantage point often tends to diminish them in scale. But in this case, an overhead viewpoint was warranted -- I am able to stress the color and position of the feet, which tell the story here.
Mating dance, Waved Albatrosses, Punta Suarez, Espanola Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Our visit to Espanola Island was capped by this opportunity -- allowing me to capture what appears to a gesture of affection expressed by a pair of waved albatrosses during its mating dance. Only the heads and necks are visible, as they emerge from the tangle of vegetation to join beak tips with a gentle tapping sound. Wildlife photography can often express human values, even though the subjects themselves may not be human. This image offers a good example of this. As human beings, we can see and feel and understand a universal gesture such as this one, incongruously expressed by creatures quite unlike ourselves. This gesture is no more or no less than a kiss -- a token of affection anyone can relate to.
Town Square, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
An incongruously large statue of a Land Iguana dominates the town square of Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galapagos. Santa Cruz Island covers a large area, and only a portion of the island belongs to the Galapagos National Park. The town lies outside the boundaries of the park -- it offers anchorage for the many ships that pick up and drop off visitors to the park itself. It makes a living off what the park itself has to offer, which primarily is a chance to see exotic birds and animals in the wild. Since there are no wild animals in the town, it has built its own out of concrete. It glares at us here quite realistically. I include a figure in the background, conveying the fact that large "super-iguanas" such as this one are now very much taken for granted by the locals.
Landscape, Cerro Mesa Plantation, Central Highlands, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The power of landscape photography rests largely in the relationship between light, color, and composition. On this day, the light was flat, offering no emphasis. Yet this landscape, made from the top of an observation tower in a tortoise habitat in the hills of Santa Cruz Island, still works well. The saturated greens energize the image. I composed the image around the brown path running from the foot of our observation tower to the forest in the mid-distance. That forest, in turn, points the eye towards the distant hills in the background, and the gray sky, tinged with blue, frames the image at the top.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise, Cerro Mesa Plantation, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
About 3,000 Galapagos Giant Tortoises live in the wild on the vast coffee and banana plantations in the highlands of Santa Cruise Islands. We had to hike a for a half hour to find this one having lunch in the high grasses of Cerro Mesa Plantation. I am not interested in describing the appearance of an entire tortoise. Instead I zoom in on the point of the image -- the taste of grass. It is believed that these reptiles can live up to 150 years in the wild. The most famous tortoise in the Galapagos, known as Lonesome George, died in captivity at Santa Cruz's Charles Darwin Research Center the day after we visited the center. (I did not photograph him because he was virtually obscured by the bushes in his pen.)
Volcanic Beach, Punta Cormorant, Floreana Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
A study in texture, color, and form, this image speaks of the volcanic activity that shaped these islands. These volcanoes are still active -- in the last 200 years, there have been eight different eruptions. The islands were formed more than twenty million years ago, and millions of years from now, they will return to the depths of the ocean. This image, with its repetitive flows and shapes, garnished by living plants, offers the textures and colors of such ancient forces at work.
The Devils Crown, off Punta Cormorant, Floreana Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The Devils Crown is group of rocks off Floreana Island that is part of a undersea volcanic crater. A great spot for snorkelers, I found it very photogenic when floating below an apocalyptic cloudscape such as this one.
Whistling Blue Footed Booby, Punta Cormorant, Floreana Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Even without seeing its trademarked blue feet, the Blue Footed Booby is instantly recognizable by its familiar profile and blue beak. This one was seated high on rock ledge in a grotto on the shore of Floreana Island. There are 20,000 pairs of Blue Boobies in the Galapagos, half the world's population. Were were in the Galapagos during the Booby's mating season -- this male opens his beak wide to send a shrill whistle, in hopes of finding a mate.
Lava Lizard roaming the grafitti at Post Office Bay, Floreana Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Post Office Bay has become a tourist attraction over the years. Whaling ships originally left messages in a barrel here for other ships to pick up and deliver. This 200 year old tradition continues, but it is now only tourists that leave postcards here for delivery, as well as carve their names on the planks and boards that wash up on shore after storms. Instead of describing the barrel itself, and the massive jumble of autographed junk that now surrounds it, I saw a Lava Lizard exploring the area, and waited until it crossed a board full of graffiti and then made this simple image. This is a male, as evidenced by the vividly colored crest running down his spine.
Sunrise off Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Sunrise on the equator can provide spectacular explosions of color. However during the summer, there are often are no sunrises to photograph in the Galapagos due to heavy overcasts that generally burn off a few hours later. We did see one sunrise, however, and it lived up to our expectations. I took care to shoot while the sun was behind the edge of a cloud, creating a focal point of gold to draw the eye yet also avoiding dreaded burnout. The array of clouds that stream across the frame bring a layer of depth perspective to the scene, while splashes of color faintly reflect off the harbor waters.
Yellow Warbler monitoring the lunch of a Galapagos Tortoise, El Chato, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I was photographing a Giant Galapagos Tortoise rummaging for food when a Yellow Warbler suddenly floated into my frame to check out the scene. The tiny bird contrasts in scale, color, and movement to the huge tortoise. I deliberately spot metered on the bright yellow bird, deepening the shadows around the head of the tortoise to emphasize the contrasting bird. I was able to capture considerable blur in its wings, which adds incongruous energy to an otherwise placid image. This photograph speaks of the interdependence of various creatures -- the bird is also looking for food, and may well remove bothersome insects from the body of the tortoise.
Galapagos Tortoise cools off, El Chato, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
We found this Giant Galapagos Tortoise cooling off in a small pond. It's worn shell speaks of age, wear, and tear, while the neutral expression of the tortoise confirms its relative comfort at the moment. I liked the way the green water, seemingly as thick as pea soup, embraces the body. The shell seems to float, while the head incongruously emerges from the depths to survey the scene.
Portrait, Galapagos Naturalist, El Chato, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
A portrait must take the measure of its subject. For two weeks, Galapagos Naturalist and Guide Bitinia Espinoza not only gave our group of travelers an amazing insight into what we were seeing, but also putting that knowledge into a context that helped us to see more than just plants and creatures, but also an entire ecosystem at work. In addition, she had to provide leadership as a guide, as well as keep us on schedule and safe from harm on both land, and for those snorkeled, under the water as well. A daunting task -- yet with more than 20 years of experience guiding groups, Bitinia seemed to handle it effortlessly. I wanted very much to make a portrait of her somewhere along the way that would speak of her character, personality, and capabilities. I had my chance while having lunch at the El Chato plantation in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. She was sitting at the next table, and conversing with one of our trip members. The soft light was playing across the front of her face, bringing both a warm glow and strength to her features. Her naturalists hat defines her role, her blurred hand speaks of the energy that lies within, and her relaxed expression tells us that she seems comfortable in her own skin. I converted the image from color to black and white because I did not want the vivid colors in the background to compete with character I was trying to define. Bitinia works as a naturalist/guide in the Galapagos for some of the most respected travel organizations in the world, and this image offers a glimpse of the qualities she brings to her profession.
Barn Owl, El Chato. Santa Cruz Island. The Galapagos. Ecuador, 2012
The Barn Owl is a nocturnal bird, and is seen primarily only at night. But our naturalist/guide found this one hiding in a storage shed next door to the restaurant on El Chato Plantation where we had just had lunch. She illuminated the owl with her flashlight for me and I was able to make this photograph by using a very high sensor sensitivity rating (ISO 1600), which allowed me to use a relatively fast shutter speed of 160th of a second to avoid blur due to camera shake. I focused on its distinctive face, noted for the heart shaped facial disk. It was hiding behind a pile of old lighting fixtures, which I place out of focus here.
Great Blue Heron and Sally Lightfoot crab, Puerto Ayora Harbor, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
These large herons are seen on the beaches and lagoons of most islands in the Galapagos. I returned with numerous photographs of them in flight, stalking through the surf, and perched on the ledges of their rocky dens. I made this image, however, under strikingly different circumstances, and it proved to be my most expressive Great Blue Heron image of the entire visit. I never expected to find this magnificent bird standing on the rocks adjacent to the busiest location in the largest town in the entire Galapagos. Yet there it was -- perched next to a boldly contrasting Sally Lightfoot crab at the main entrance to the most important pier in the Galapagos, the pier where all of the tourists visiting Puerto Ayora by sea arrive and leave from their ships and boats. I was spending a few hours on my own in the town, and devoted a full half hour to watching this bird move around these rocks. When it leaned forward, almost as if it were about the converse with the crab, I made this image. It speaks of coexistence between various species --both the crab and the heron feed off these same rocks and the sea around them, and share the space in mutual respect. This image shows us that expressive images can be made under all conditions, even those where we might least expect to find them.
Tourists landing on Punta Moreno, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
A group of tourists assembles after landing on a Punta Moreno beach from a Zodiac raft. They climbed a small hill and were getting themselves together as I made this photograph of them in silhouette against a swirling cloudscape.Their gestures and body language reflect a wide range of activity. By backlighting the group, I am able to abstract it and make symbolic of all tourists, rather than a particular group of individuals. The two larger figures on either end of the photograph act as bookends framing the sides of the image just as the clouds frame the top and the hillside itself frames the bottom.
A Ruddy Turnstone takes a ride on a Marine Iguana, Punta Moreno, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2011
I made this image from a Zodiac raft moving in three directions at once, primarily interested in the massing of the Marine Iguana colony which made their home on the rocks just off shore from Punta Moreno. I had no idea that a small bird, known as a Ruddy Turnstone, riding on the back of an iguana in the very first row, would steal the show here. None of the iguanas seem to take any notice of it. It is there to scour the sandy backs of the iguanas for food, most likely insects. Meanwhile the details within this image add still more meaning. Three immature black Sally Lightfoot crabs are climbing the wall towards the iguanas. The surface of the rock itself is covered with a yellow carpet of guano, and the iguanas themselves are staring at us as if we are from another planet. Actually, I thought the tables were turned -- it is the iguanas that seem to harken from another world, the world of the distant past, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Marine iguanas are the world's only sea-going lizards. They are cold-blooded and live largely on algae, but spend much of their time seeking the warmth of the sun on just such rocks as this one.
Nesting Flightless Cormorant, Punta Moreno, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The Flightless Cormorant is one of the most unusual birds in the Galapagos, largely because it cannot fly, and also for its elaborate mating ritual. I made this photo of a female sitting in a nest, no doubt incubating an egg, a process that takes about 35 days. I built this image as a vertical series of layers -- filling the bottom half of the frame with volcanic rock, forming the basis for all life in the Galapagos. The next layer is the nest itself, a large mass of what appears to be seaweed and sticks. Finally, the side view of the Flightless Cormorant, patiently keeping an egg warm until it becomes ready to hatch.
Spotted Eagle Ray, Moreno Bay Mangrove, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I am not a snorkeler, nor do I make photographs in or under the water. However this ray glided past my Zodiac raft, just below the surface of a clear water mangrove lagoon, enabling me to photograph it from my high and dry vantage point. I noticed that a golden leaf was floating on the surface of the water, shaped very much like the ray itself. I waited until the leaf drifted over the ray and made this photograph, which contrasts green and blue colors to the gilded leaf, and echoes the life cycle of nature as well.
Snorkeling, Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Snorkeling played a major role in our group's travels through the Galapagos. The swimmers among us enjoyed seeing an entirely different natural world unfold below the waters of the Pacific Ocean. I did not participate in snorkeling, but I always rode the Zodiacs accompanying them, photographing the wonders of nature above water level instead. Here I turn my camera on one of the snorkelers as he swam towards my raft for a breather. As he approached, another snorkeler, showing us only a feminine pair of feet, dove below the water behind him, as if to hide from my camera. I found the juxtaposition of gender and a distance to be incongruous, when viewed as one snorkeler instead of two.
Booby call, Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
This Blue Footed Booby was whistling as he ducked his head, raised his bill, and thrust his wings overhead as an exclamation point. It was probably engaging in a mating ritual. I liked the way the thrusting wings, tail, head, bill, and the bizarre pair of blue feet work together here to create an incongruous portrait of one of the world's most unique sea birds.
Tall ship off Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
It was very late in the afternoon, and storm clouds were moving in on Isabela Island. The colors of the sea, the sky, and the clouds were striking, punctuated by the tall masts of a sailing ship anchored in the distance, the focal point of this image. The small clumps of vegetation and rocky outcroppings, along with the horizon itself, echo the horizontal thrust of the lower clouds to tie the image together.
Female Vegetarian Finch, Urbina Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
There are 13 species of finches in the Galapagos, collectively called "Darwin's Finches." No other group of creatures is as important to learning how we have come to understand our place in our world. And all because of Charles Darwin's voyage to the Galapagos on the HMS Beagle in 1835. While all of those species are different from each other, Darwin concluded that all of these little brown and black birds were also similar, and had descended from a common ancestor as a result of isolation and lack of predation. Darwin's conclusion has been confirmed by modern DNA testing, and makes it possible for us to see how life itself has developed and evolved. These finches are at the very essence of the Galapagos story, and we saw different species on the various islands we visited. Finches are very difficult to photograph, since they are small birds that are constantly on the move, and often screened from view by tree and bush branches. However I was fortunate to make at least one expressive image of a "Darwin Finch," which I've identified as a female Vegetarian Finch. Its chest and head markings are unmistakeable, and I caught it with one of its wings fluttering and its translucent beak illuminated by backlight.
Galapagos Tortoise, Urbina Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
While the finch may be the most significant creature in the Galapagos, the 15,000 tortoises that roam the islands are among the most unique. I've tried to express just how unique they are in this closeup image of a tortoise, made as it was drawing its head back under its protective shell. The armored treads on its huge legs tell us that these tortoises move not only by foot, but also by knee and thigh. There is also armor on the chest, and of course it carries a massive shell on its back. Perhaps all of this protection is why some of them have lived to be 150 to 200 years old.
Sally Lightfoot crabs, Urbina Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
This image is a study in primary color and texture, comparing appearances of adult crabs to their young. Within this one crevice, I found 12 crabs. Three of them are mature, while the other nine are immature. The adult crabs are a brilliant scarlet, orange and yellow. The juvenile crabs start out black, with small orange spots, and become more red as they grow and then discard their shells. The adults are predators, feeding on other crabs. They are called Sally Lightfoot Crabs because they appear to be walking on water as they glide from one rock to the another.
Land Iguana, Urbina Bay, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The closer we come to a Land Iguana, the more learn about its bizarre appearance. I zoomed in on the face of one of them, and caught it licking its foot. The small pink tongue becomes the focal point of the image, contrasting in both color and texture to the scaly skin that covers the body. There are 15,000 of these creatures in the Galapagos. They live in burrows, and eat cactus pads and insects. They can grow as large as three feet long. The sight of a huge Land Iguana licking its foot is incongruous -- at a glance, it seems vulnerable as a puppy, yet its giant claws are as menacing as a dinosaur's.
Crab clash, Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I caught this pair of Sally Lightfoot Crabs clashing head to head. Perhaps they were tussling over food, or simply because of their aggressive nature. The crab on the top is pushing the bottom crab backwards, and within thirty seconds after I made this picture both of them tumbled out of sight into a deep crevice on this lava field battleground. I saw hundreds of these crabs during my two week visit to the Galapagos, and this was the only time I observed such aggressive behavior.
Abandoned pier, Punta Espinosa. Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
In 1994, all of Punta Espinosa was raised three feet by the shifting volcanic earth below. This landing pier was one of the casualties --it now rests abandoned in a lagoon, well away from the sea. Home now to only a sole sea lion, this tranquil scene contrasts to Fernandina's teeming colony of Marine Iguanas and the antics of mating Flightless Cormorants just a few hundred yards away. I underexposed the scene to emphasize the contrasting light and shadows within this frame.
Sea Lions, Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
This pair of female Galapagos Sea Lions seemed to be posing for the cameras as they basked in the evening sun at water's edge. They are massive -- sea lions are the largest animal on land in the Galapagos. There are somewhere around 50,000 sea lions in the Galapagos, mostly found on its sandy beaches. They are well adapted to humans, and often are the first creatures to welcome tourists as they clamber ashore. This particular pair, which I photographed side by side in profile, one with its nose to the sky, the other with its nose to the beach, symbolize the hold sea lions have on the human imagination. We study this image and wonder what they must be thinking at this moment.
Frigatebird, Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
We landed on Fernandina's Punta Espinosa at the very best time of day, around 5:00 pm in the afternoon. The sun is low in the sky, casting warm light and bringing out the textures of the creatures I photographed and the nature of the land itself. This image is a perfect example of later afternoon light. Note how the volcanic rock contrasts in texture and color in both shadow and in light. The Great Frigatebird, clutching a shard of rock, shows a similar play of light and shadow on its plumage. These birds are known as kleptoparasites, as well as "Man of War" birds, due to their piratical habits. They will steal fish from other birds in flight, often grabbing their tails and shaking them until they disgorge their food, and then catching the falling meal before it hits the sea. They also kill and devour young Sea Turtles, picking them up on the beach as soon as they emerge from their nests. This image conveys a sense of predation -- the frigate holds on to a shard of jagged rock, its pointed beak and hanging tail feathers echoing the shattered edges of the volcanic earth itself.
Mating Flightless Cormorants, Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The Flightless Cormorant is noted for its elaborate mating rituals. There is much dancing and considerable bickering. The male presents the female with seaweed to build their nest. We did not catch the seaweed presentation, but we spent considerable time watching them negotiating various nuptial arrangements. In this image, I move in on a mating pair, revealing the turquoise eye of one of them, and abstracting its partner. The beaks are crossing, linking the pair in potential matrimony. The late afternoon brings both a bluish sheen and a golden crown to the head of the cormorant in the foreground, while the other fades to into the shadows.
Mating debate, Flightless Cormorants at Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Flightless Cormorants may not be able to fly, but they are equally at home on and land and at sea. We found three of them having a vigorous debate about an upcoming wedding, and I made this image just as a third party joined the pair in the preceding picture and gave them a piece of his mind. It is all part of a mating ritual that can often involve two males and a female. This three-way relationship will sometimes even continue after the female breeds and produce offspring. She may leave the nest and mate again with another male, while the first male can feed and look after the young for up to nine more months. The evening light in this image warms the scene, and offers a glimpse of Fernandina's volcanic environment
Marine Iguanas, Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Marine Iguanas turn vivid colors when breeding, and this particular rock seemed to be a good place for many such iguanas to congregate at one time. I moved my camera low, and photographed them moving very slowly towards me with a short telephoto lens. There is a surrealistic strangeness to this scene -- it reminded me a crude 1950s monster movie, yet the moment was real and unforgettable. There we thousands of similar iguanas warming on these rocks. Young marine iguanas are vulnerable to predation -- frigatebirds, hawks, herons and snakes can take them at will, as well as feral cats and dogs. In the water, the young iguanas fall prey to Moray eels. Once mature, however, the only real predators of Marine Iguanas are hawks, cats, and dogs.
Graffiti, Tagus Cove, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Tagus Cove was a popular anchorage for pirates and whaling ships during the 19th century. Their crews etched their names on the cliffs above the cove, most of which have been obscured by contemporary graffiti scrawled over them during the last fifty years. The desecration of the environment comes as a shocking counterpoint to the tranquility of what was and still is a pristine setting. I made this image to not only express man's contempt for nature, but also to indicate that nature is slowly reclaiming the cliffs for itself. Thankfully, such blatant graffiti is now banned here, and golden shards of plant life are slowly engaging its remnants. The result is ambiguous -- the historical graffiti remains a tourist attraction, yet the modern graffiti, which cannot be removed, is an eyesore. However, nature will eventually claim both.
Nazca Booby, Vincente Roca, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The Nazca Booby is the largest of the three kinds of boobies found in the Galapagos. Some feel that it is also the most handsome.( It was formerly known here as the Masked Booby, because of the distinctive black mask at the base of its bill.)
I found this one seated on a towering craggy rock looming over the Pacific Ocean. The massive deposits of bird droppings tell us that it is a well used perch for these sea birds. While its white body is small in the frame, the contrasting dark rocks make it the focal point of the image.
Tall ship at Punta Vincente Roca, Isabela Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The masts of this "tall ship" -- the "Mary Anne," which I sailed on for 14 days and nights through the Galapagos -- are almost 200 feet high. Yet it is dwarfed by the towering cliffs of Punta Vincente Roca, which was formed by an ancient volcano offering a bay protected from ocean swells. I use such scale incongruity here to indicate the sheer size of the cliffs and the remnants of the volcano.
Diving Booby, Espumilla Beach, Santiago Island ,The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Espumilla Beach, an important nesting site for sea turtles, is also one those magical places where Galapaogos sea birds regularly feed. One of my pre-trip goals was to photograph a diving Blue Footed Booby about to strike the water, and this beach proved to be the best place in the Galapagos to do it. These birds soar high into the air, spot a fish, and plunge straight down to the ocean, entering the water like a knife. It is very difficult photograph to get -- to frame, expose, and focus on a plunging bird takes great skill and a good deal of luck. I also wanted a well-composed image, one without a lot of blank sky or empty water as context. I spent a half hour here, shooting several hundred pictures of diving boobies in order to make this particular image. (Thankfully, I was granted the luxury of time here -- our tour group was hiking on the island, and our guide made it possible for me to stay behind on the beach, accompanied by one of our boatmen, in order to concentrate solely on photographing diving boobies.)
I used my smaller camera, zoomed to its maximum focal length of 90mm, to get this shot. It allowed me to place our tour group's ship, the Barkentine "Mary Anne," in the background, as well as add a layer of clouds between the ship and the ocean. The birds were plunging through my frame regularly, and I used a fast shutter speed of 1/800th of a second to freeze this one just as it began to furl its wings and retract its feet so it could enter the water with the least resistance. Its body was already stretched out to its limit. I was able to place the bird in the upper left hand corner of the frame to counterbalance the sailing ship in the lower right hand corner, creating a diagonal composition. It took both time and a lot of "misses" to make this photograph, but the result was well worth the effort.
Landscape, Espumilla Beach, Santiago Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The "good morning light" had vanished by the time the sun broke through the overcast on this day. It was nearly noon in the Galapagos when I made this photograph, and the harsh noon light was coming from straight overhead. Although a lot of detail was lost in the shadows, I still made this picture, largely because of the way color organizes it. A band of yellow grass and green bush brings the eye down from the upper right hand corner, flowing diagonally down into the heart of this image. The focal point of this landscape photograph is a huge Giant Prickly Pear Tree at center. Craggy rocks frame the tree on all four sides and form a base that acts as foundation for the entire image. When I viewed this photograph that evening on my computer, I saw that I could use Lightroom's "developing mode" to open up the very dark shadows that the "bad light" had smeared over these rocks, restoring the texture and detail in them that I earlier saw with my own eyes. The result is a striking landscape, revealing the rough yet beautiful terrain created by nature, a volcano, and a lot of time.
Fur seals, Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Puerto Egas is the best spot in the Galapagos to photograph Fur Seals. They live in the caves and grottos here that were formed when molten lava flowed into the sea. I waited to make this photograph until one of them expressed itself with a giant yawn. Another fur seal rests on the low hanging shelf to the left. The Galapagos Fur Seal was hunted to nearly extinction for its valuable fur in the 19th century, but its population has now expanded to nearly 25,000. It is smaller than the Galapagos Sea Lion, has a heavier coat, larger eyes, and a shorter snout.
Sea turtle, Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The sea turtle, also known as the Galapagos Green Turtle, is the most common marine turtle found in the Galapagos. They visited our snorkeling companions every day while swimming in the shallow waters of the islands. I could easily photograph them because they need to breathe frequently and stay just below the surface of the water. This image, made in the same lava grotto where I photographed the Puerto Egas fur seals, finds a large sea turtle just about to surface and breathe. It swims through clear water -- its shimmering surface transforming its flippers, head, and shell into a dream like creature.
Marine Iguanas, Puerto Egas, Santiago Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The lava fields of Puerto Egas remind one of the beginnings of the earth itself -- bare, hostile, and colored black with a dirty yellow tint. The prehistoric looking Marine Iguanas living here seem a perfect fit for this place. I photograph a pair of them as they crawl slowly along a predictable trail worn smooth by their bodies over the centuries. I use a 24mm wide-angle focal length to stress their laborious passage.
Bird storm, Seymour Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Photographic masses of birds in flight can be very difficult, because most of the time, some of these birds are bound to overlap each other, causing mergers and confusion. There was a massive colony of nesting Blue Boobies on this island, and during our visit, the sky seemed to be filled with them. I looked for situations where there seemed to be some spacing between the birds in the sky and after more than a hundred tries, I only found one where absolutely no birds were overlapping. This is that image, the silhouetted birds matched to a turquoise sky. I also made sure to provide a base of bushes flowing across the bottom of the frame to anchor the image.
Mother and chick, Seymour Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
As I roamed Seymour's huge nesting colony of Blue Footed Boobies, I found one cradling a tiny chick between her large blue feet. Because of the size difference, the eye goes first to the large adult bird as it casts an eye over its sharp blue bill pointed downwards towards the chick. The bill acts as a pointer, and following its flow, we come to the tiny chick, resting comfortably under the great brown feathers of its mother's wing. This image is all about scale incongruity. It was also a difficult shot to make. I had to play with about twenty images until I was able to get one with both the mother's bill pointing downwards and the chick's body visible.
All whiskers, Baltra Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Most tourists arrive in the Galapagos via the Baltra airport. They are usually taken by bus to a pier, where a small boat or Zodiac raft picks them up for transfer to a ship. The very first creatures to greet these tourists are the Galapagos Sea Lions that often hang out on the concrete footings below the pier. Their bellowing can be heard within seconds after alighting from the airport bus. At one point in our voyage, our ship returned to Baltra to refuel and pick up new passengers. While were waiting, I explored the footings of the pier and found a sea lion sleeping next to one of them, its head pressing against a slab of concrete. As I was focusing on its face, it yawned, and its large mustache seemed to expand in turn. The eyes remained tightly shut, giving even more emphasis to the array of whiskers framing its open mouth.
Scavengers at work, Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Three Brown Noddy Terns vie with a pelican for a mouthful of small fish. The Noddy, named for its incessant nodding and bowling during courtship, is a surface feeding bird, and finds scavenging morsels of a pelican's meal a convenient course of action. I used a very fast shutter speed -- 1/200th of a second -- to make this image. In order to catch the "decisive moment," I had to make dozens of images of feeding frenzies such as this one. This particular moment places four birds into a perfect spatial relationship. The pelican's rear end is up and head is down. The two diagonal rectangles of negative space captured between the birds lead directly to the pelican's head. Wings, feet, and heads are aligned so that the spaces left between them are crackling with tension and energy.
Lift off! Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I was able to catch the take off run of a Galapagos Brown Pelican at the precise moment of lift off. Using its seven and an half foot wingspan and its huge webbed feet to advantage, the pelican is airborne almost immediately, where it will search for its food, and then plunge into the sea to scoop it into the huge pouch beneath its bill. This image is full of energy -- the pelican comes directly towards us, every feather on its wings and tail strikingly visible and rimmed with light. A light spray of water creates a soft halo around its head adding a finishing touch to a dynamic moment in time.
Waiting for a meal, Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
A Brown Noddy Tern patiently waits on the head of a Galapagos Brown Pelican for a meal. As soon as the pelican lifts its bill from the water, tiny fish will leak from the pouch under its bill, and the Noddy will pounce on them. I noticed another pelican coming in for a landing in the background, and was able to rhythmically repeat the beak of the Noddy and the beak of the other pelican, linking the softly-focused background to the sharp foreground and providing additional context as well. Meanwhile, the feeding pelican keeps a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Red Footed Boobies over Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Every now and then, a subject in color will lend itself perfectly to a black and white conversion. I knew as soon as I made this image of silhouetted Red Footed Boobies in flight contrasting to the solid bank of white clouds above them, as well as to a silhouetted cactus and rocky promontory below, that I had a candidate for a black and white image. There was almost no color in the original image to begin with, and the abstracting power of black and white intensifies the dramatic and forceful nature of the shapes themselves. The Boobies aloft are dynamic, their shapes reminding us of streaking arrows in flight. The space between them, as well as the space between them and the rounded shapes of the cactus pads that reach into the air towards them, create a triangular relationship that organizes the image. I wanted no colors to intrude here -- the image is pure geometry, and black and white provides a perfect canvas for such a display as this.
Airborne dispute, Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The skies over Darwin Bay are usually crowded with sea birds coming and going from the various nesting colonies on Genovesa, which is sometimes referred to as "the Galapagos Bird Island." The largest colony of Red-Footed Boobies in the world nest in the trees here, and a large mixed colony of Great and Magnificent Frigatebirds is here as well. Birds such as the Swallow-tailed Gull and the Red-billed Tropicbird also abound. A melange of these birds converge in this image. I focused on four of them, perfectly spaced, with great tension moving through the negative spaces running between them. Just as I was making this photograph, the two birds on the bottom engaged in what seems to be a heated discussion. Bills open, and heads only inches apart, they flew at each other and made this picture one of the most memorable images of my visit to the Galapagos. The graceful forms and alignment of the four birds, with a pale light blue sky behind them, suggest a water color painting.
Inflation, Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
One of the most memorable sights of a voyage through the Galapagos Islands is the courtship ritual of the Great Frigatebird. The males inflate their scarlet throat pouches, display their eight foot long wingspans, and sound a piercing trill. This one already sits on a nest of twigs in the shrubs near the shore, most likely stolen from other frigatebirds. Frigatebirds breed year round. This one may well be already incubating an egg, yet his desire to mate again is obvious.
A frigates plumage, Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
I thought this Great Frigatebird looked dashing in his black, brown, red, and green plumage. The deflated scarlet throat pouch draws the eye first. The greenish plumage on its back differentiates the Great Frigatebird from the slightly smaller Magnificent Frigatebird, which has purple feathers on its back. This bird was preening, and I caught it with its long hooked beak hidden behind its shoulder feathers -- it reminded me of a bullfighter with face buried in his cape.
Red footed Booby takes flight, Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Red-footed Boobies can be either brown or white. Most of them in the Galapagos are brown. They are the only boobies that nest in trees and bushes, and this one is leaving its nest just as I photographed it. My fast 1/800th of a second shutter speed has virtually frozen it in time. Only a blurred wing keeps it from looking like a wooden decoy. There is no mistaking the red feet that gives this bird its name.
Assertive Red Footed Booby and chick, Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
Birds can often seem to express their feelings by facial expression. In this case, my head-on vantage point stresses the half-open bill of a Red-Footed Booby harboring a young chick in its nest, which is set into a low tree. It appears to be asserting its right to privacy at the moment. Meanwhile, the chick seems to have created its own right to privacy by burying its head beneath its mother's chest.
Red-billed Tropicbird, Darwin Bay, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
These exotic looking birds are easily seen in flight -- they have slender tails more than 18 inches long. They nest inside of the cracks high on the sides of towering cliffs, and that is where I found this one. The bright red bill makes it easily identifiable. This profile view emphasizes that bill, and the wings on either side of it resemble a set of stubby arms. Because the bird is entirely in the shade, I could use reflected, rather than direct, light to make this image.
Nesting Frigatebird family, Prince Philip's Steps, Genovesa Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The long hard climb up a cliff known as Prince Philip's Steps, named in honor of a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh's visit in the 1960s, was worth it, if just for this image of a nesting Great Frigatebird family. I was able to work at eye level and at close range without bothering them. I made numerous images of the mother, father, and chick, waiting for something to happen that would bring the image to life and give it meaning. I wanted more than a picture of specimen birds in a nest. I wanted instead to stress a familial bond. It is hard to get three different birds to symbolically bond together as a family, but when the chick lifted its head towards its mother, as the father lowered its head and brought its beak closer to the mother at the same time, it all came together for me. Two primary colors work on behalf of the image as well -- the turquoise blue throat of the chick and the red eye of the mother, as well as the red throat of the father, draw the eye of the viewer and hold on to it here.
Fur seal, Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
It is not the appearance of the fur seal itself that expresses the idea here. Rather, it is the way in which the fur seal fits its environment that tells the story. I deliberately zoomed my lens out, instead of in, to include not only the great slab holding the fur seal, but also the golden walls of stone that tower above it. The sun enters at upper right, illuminating a long narrow slab of rock that rhythmically echoes the upright posture of the fur seal below it. It seems quite at home in this vast cave at the base of a huge pointed monolith that is the most distinctive feature of Bartolome Island, as well as the most recognizable physical landmark in the Galapaogos.
Lava Field at Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
This relatively new lava field was created when Santiago's volcano erupted in 1897. The once molten magma cooled into coils of lava known as "Panoehoe," (Hawaiian for "rope.") The patterns created by these rope-like lava coils were fascinating -- I made well over 100 images as I walked across this vast lava field. This photograph, which plays a horizontal set of coils at the bottom of the frame against a vertical pair of coils in the top half of the frame, best expresses the geological forces that created the Galapagos Islands. I converted the image to black and white to remove any trace of color, greatly simplifying the thrusts and flows of lava that carry the eye through the frame.
The crab and the penguin, Santiago Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The Galapagos Penguin is one of the smallest penguins in the world, about a foot long. Because it lives along the equator, it is the only penguin to be found in the northern hemisphere. There are only 1,400 of them, and because of the currents and slow breeding rates, they are now an endangered species. We often saw them staring at us from rocky shorelines during the course of our voyage, and several swam alongside of our snorkelers at times. However, my most expressive penguin image came when I found this penguin carefully watching a large Sally Lightfoot crab crawl to within inches of its pinkish beak. The penguin, relaxing on a cliffside, pays no heed as it slowly advances. I let the tension that fills the negative space between the brilliant red crab and the essentially monochromatic penguin tell the story here.
Pinnacle Rock at sunset, Bartolome Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The most famous promotory in the Galapagos is bathed in the golden light of a reflected sunset, which makes a beautiful subject for a photograph in itself. But I usually avoid making pictures of famous places, because they often resemble post cards. What makes this scene so special is the set of three cloud streams that seem to explode from not only Pinnacle Rock itself, but also from the two huge hills that flank it on either side. I place the waterline near the bottom of the frame to increase the length of those cloud streams, all of which reflect traces of the setting sun as well.
Flamingo Duet, Rabida Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
There are only 500 flamingoes left in the Galapagos. They fly from lagoon to lagoon and from island to island, and are often well out of camera range. We were fortunate to find some at fairly close range on Rabida Island, but I wanted more than simply a shot of a flamingo -- I wanted to express their unique characteristics as well. They are very delicate birds, and their long thin legs seem very fragile. I waited for one of them to walk in front of another, and made this image just as their legs aligned and bodies seemed to blend two birds into one. The two separate necks and heads that rise here from the merged bodies and legs become incongruous and stress the similarities in both appearance and bearing.
Drips, Rabida Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The tiny droplets flowing from this flamingo's bill after a long drink, offer a faint echo of its long spindly legs while the color of its neck and head repeats the color of its tail. The result is an image that offers an expressive look at what otherwise would be just a profile shot of a flamingo. I also liked the "s" curve of its neck as it drinks -- the negative space within the curves rhythmically repeat as well.
Vulnerability, Rabida Island, The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
The creatures inhabiting the Galapagos live under the constant threat of extinction. Even though they may be protected from human exploitation by Ecuador's government, they still must have food to survive, and a sudden change in the food supply caused by a temperature changes in the ocean currents, contagious diseases, or even over-fishing in surrounding areas, can disrupt or destroy the food chain the supports the animal, bird, and marine life here. For example, the Galapagos Fur Seal, once hunted nearly to extinction, has remade a remarkable comeback, yet it still remains vulnerable to such changes in the food supply. I tried to express a sense of this vulnerability in this image of a resting fur seal pup, using a flipper to partially conceal its face. It's existence largely depends on the capricious nature of nature itself.
Argument in the surf, Mosquera Island ,The Galapagos, Ecuador, 2012
These female Galapagos Sea Lions are engaged in in a vigorous debate. They were lunging at each other with fangs barred, and accompanying those lunges with furious barking. They were well off-shore, and it took a cropped version of a 400mm shot to size the argument large enough to work. Shooting fast moving subjects just after dawn at such long range will usually produce a blurred image. I conceded that fact, and was able to make a blurred image that fully expresses the fury of the moment. It is the blur itself that brings to this image a visceral effect. The fight ended almost as soon as it started, and the sea lions went their separate ways as if nothing had happened. Only this image remains to commemorate this struggle in the surf.
Man and Sea Lion, Mosquera Island, The Galapago, Ecuador, 2012
Tourists come to the Galapagos Islands to experience their natural beauty and wonders. If there was ever a place called Eden, it must have felt very much like these islands, a wilderness where animals have no fear of mankind. In this, the final image of this extended photo-essay, I've tried to evoke such a feeling and ask a few questions at the same time. We watch an utterly innocent sea lion pup determinedly drag itself up a small hill to smell the sandals of a human being who stands on its crest. The abstracted silhouetted figure symbolizes all who have visited this place, as well as those yet to visit. He stands motionless against a dawn cloudscape, waiting for the baby sea lion to eventually reach him. He leaves his marks on the mottled sand, along with the marks of dozens of other visitors who have preceded him here. More and more people will continue to do likewise, eventually threatening the balance of nature and the very existence of the wonders they came to see.
The Galapagos now stands at an ecological crossroads. Ecuador takes great pride in its ownership and management of one of the world's greatest natural treasures. Yet the islands themselves are now threatened by their own economic success -- more and more Ecuadorians are moving to the Galapagos to participate in its lucrative commercial fishing opportunities and touristic development. In 1978, I arrived on my first visit to these islands seated in an antiquated prop-driven Ecuadorian military transport plane. Today, two major airlines disgorge hundreds of passengers a day from jetliners at Baltra Airport, only a few miles away from this scene. Too many people and too much money can ruin the best of intentions, and that is what may already be happening in the Galapagos. Will such migration and the continued growth of tourism eventually make such moments as evoked in this image disappear forever? Will Ecuador be able to maintain the natural balance of life here? The answers to such questions remain to be answered.