Gerry Ellis - Galapagos Photo Blog

June 2008
Day 1
Hi Again,
Over the coming days sun, lizards and islands will populate this latest blog as I head 1,000 km (600 miles) to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. It’s a bit of a break from the Asian-localed photo blogs I have posted over the past couple years for Pro Photo supply. This time no pandas in Wolong (BTW – for those of you who followed GLOBIO’s journeys in China just a quick update – Wolong Nature Reserve was pretty hard hit in the recent earthquakes. Being only 18 miles from the quakes epicenter the Pitiao River Valley which runs the heart of Wolong saw huge landslides, damns destroyed, the two valley villages were heavily damaged, the road into the valley was a disaster and is impassable, and the panda breeding center has thus far had five human deaths and three adult pandas are missing – presumably escaped. All-n-all, a devastating experience.), no camel bizarres in India, instead a bit of Ecuadorian high altitude charm, food and then the next few weeks I’ll be sending back images from the islands of the Galapagos and their unique wildlife.

Before flying out to the islands I’ll try and get you a few glimpses of one of the highest cities in the world – the elevation of the city's central square (Plaza de La Independencia or Plaza Grande) is 2,850 meters (about 9,350 ft). About a million and a half people live here so there’s more than enough going on. This is my fourth visit here and I must say I like the city more each time. Quito is located about 25 km (15 miles) south of the equator, but at this altitude forget any ideas of the balmy tropics. Tonight it feels very Portland-like… about 55 Fahrenheit and raining.

Staying at a beautiful old colonial hotel in the heart of the historic district – Hotel Patio Andaluz – which from initial looks and service I highly recommend (I’ll send some photos tomorrow). Also hoping to catch up with an old friend from Portland, who has moved back to Quito. Jorge Vinueza – he is a great photographer – check out his work at

Alright – off to bed – after 18hours of flying from Portland I’m ready to get horizontal! Cheers.

Note: all the still photos in this blog were taken with the EOS Rebel XTi – a great compact travel camera with plenty of functionality to do virtually everything you need – the two lenses on this trip were the Canon 10-22mm USM zoom and the 28-200mm USM zoom)

Day 2-3

(caption - Camera Notes: 50mm, f/6.3, 1/250 sec, ISO 200)

Spent the past couple days exploring Quito and venturing just tangentially into the high Andes Mountains – believe me its strange to be driving around at 12,000 feet and then be told you are stopping for lunch at a little ranch at just over 13,000 feet! It sits in the heart of the Antisana Ecological Reserve, about a 3 hour higher into the mountains from Quito. The hope was to see and get a few photos of Andean condors – saw them, but little black ghosts drifting in and out of grey gloom there was never going to be much of an opportunity… it was one of those hard to remember rules every photographer eventually comes face-to-face with—sometime you take a deep breath and take it all in with your eyes and record it on the flashcard in your brain.

(caption – they start young in the high Andes herding the sheep and breaking horses… okay, maybe not at three! Camera Notes: 200mm, fill-flash -2, f/5.6, 1/60 sec, ISO 100)

Unfortunately both of the past couple days have been drenched in rain – supposedly not generally the case this time of year. Sadly it has prevented any real look at the surrounding views of the Andean volcanoes – such as Cotopaxi.

With the rain socking the city and surroundings in it was time to stay indoors – visit the numerous cathedrals the scattered about the central historic district of San Francisco of Quito.

(caption – gold was in no short supply in the 16th & 17th centuries – and the Franciscan Catholics took full advantage throughout the cathedrals of Quito. Camera Notes: 17mm, no flash, f/5.6, ¼ sec, ISO 200)

(caption – Religious paraphernalia on hocker’s sidewalk table. Camera Notes: 150mm, no flash, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO 200)

(caption – entrance to the gold encrusted interior of La Compania de Jesus – where no pictures are allowed! Camera Notes: 10mm, f/9, 1/60 sec, ISO 200)

(caption – the above photo isn’t tack sharp because it was taken illegally and without being able to look through the viewfinder – but does show what a bit of careful positioning and a 10mm lens can get you… until the guard catches you! Camera Notes: 10mm, no flash, f/5.6, 1 sec handheld, ISO 400)

(Camera Notes: 17mm, no flash, f/5.6, ¼ sec, ISO 200)

(caption –Guards at the Presidential Palace. Camera Notes: 100mm, fill-flash flash at -1, f/5.6, 1/80 sec, ISO 200)

(caption – Ecuador is a country in love with pageantry and pomp—flags on federal building near Presidential Palace. Camera Notes: 178mm, f/5.6,1/800 sec, ISO 200)

People in Quito seem relatively at ease with cameras pointed everywhere – it was a real pleasure to just be able to walk about the plazas and street clicking away without a constant barrage of people either wanting money or asking to have their picture taken (for money of course). Do however expect any of the chapeau wearing mountain people who hock wears in the Presidential Palace area to ask for something if you are blatant about photographing them.

(caption – Street hocker day care means taking your child on a ride around the city - near Presidential Palace. Camera Notes: 135mm, f/5.6,1/500 sec, ISO 200)

(caption – Courtyard in the Hotel Patio Andaluz maintains the colonial charm of the original home built in Solaris a part of the original City of San Francisco of Quito.)

Day 5 – Isla Espanola, Galapagos

(caption – spectacular sunset in the bay at San Christobal Island – last night before setting sail for Isla Espanola (ps – taken from the Casa Blanca bar and filtered by cerveza) - Camera Notes: 14mm, f/8, 1/30 sec, ISO 200)

Woke up this morning anchored off the southern point of Espanola (or Hood) Island – southern most of the 97 islands and rocks that compose the Galapagos Islands. Its been 14 years since I last walked ashore here, on Punta Suarez. It’s a small point of land I have lasting memories and hundreds of photographs from. As the zodiac boat was ferrying to shore and the tiny concrete landing National Parks built here I was thinking how little this all has changed and how much the world: cameras are all now digital and the 4meg flash cards I carry neatly disappear in my shirt pocket.

(caption – Zodiac rubber boats – locally called pandas – facilitate the forth and back from shore. Its critical you zip-lock baggie everything for these short journeys—its amazing how much water can find its way aboard in less than a hundred meters. Camera Notes: 12mm, f/11, 1/250 sec, ISO 100)

Crystalline blue water washes the charcoal lava boulders of the landing. The locals have arranged a greeting party – and lounge over rocks and walkway. The exposures are a bit of a nightmare – black lizards, white sands, black lizards, blue water, white clouds – let’s see, could we make this any more challenging for the meter and me?

(caption – Galapagos sea lions parks in the path leading to the Punta Suarez landing. Camera Notes: 10mm, f/10, 1/200 sec, ISO 100)

(caption – Galapagos sea lions lounge the lava beach at Punta Suarez landing. Camera Notes: 12mm, f/9, 1/200 sec, ISO 100)

(caption – getting close to wildlife in the Galapagos is never an issue – in fact more often you have to back up to create the composition you want. Even armed with a very simple digital camera can render wonderful results and make everyone feel like a pro. Here the island’s unique marine iguanas strike a pose while soaking up the equatorial sun. Camera Notes: 10mm, no flash, f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 100)

(caption – even an albatross, one of the world’s largest avians, has no fear. Camera Notes: 10mm, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, ISO 100)

(caption – the Galapagos Islands are very much alive – even when the lava cools and hardens it continues to express itself. Here the famous blow hole explodes from the force of a crashing wave. The event repeated every minute or so, so after a couple passes the timing could be worked out to catch the best blow – slightly slower shutter speed creates a bit more motion in the shot. Camera Notes: 200mm, f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO 100)

(caption – strange aliens take over Punta Suarez for the morning – so it must seem to this salt encrusted, sand-breaded marine iguana. The wonderfully low angle and 10mm lens help exaggerate the obvious. Camera Notes: 10mm, no flash, f/5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO 100)

(caption – me working on the above photo. Photo Credit: ©Jennifer Loren)

(caption – No flash fill is allowed on the islands – so working the angles with the natural light is a challenge – fortunately your subjects (marine iguana) give you lots of time. Camera Notes: 10mm, f/9,1/160 sec, ISO 100)

Punta Suarez is one of the most sought after wildlife/photo landings in the Galapagos Islands. If you are coming this way to photograph make certain this stop is on the itinerary – you will be kicking yourself if you don’t.

Wildlife here is abundant, tolerant to the extreme and diverse: blue-footed and Nazca boobies, albatross, both magnificent and greater frigatebirds, red-billed tropicbirds, land iguanas, marine iguanas, lava gulls, lava lizards, Hood Is mocking bird, finches, and even tortoises, which had nearly died out here, have been bred at the Charles Darwin Research Center and nearly one thousand returned. All-n-all, one of the coolest spots to photograph wildlife one can imagine.

(caption – blue-footed boobies performing courtship display fist in front of the camera then I had to back up as this male tried to blue-foot step right into the lens!. Camera Notes: 28mm, f/8,1/250 sec, ISO 100)