a small lava lizard perches on top of the head of a marine iguana in the galapagos islands

What’s in my Camera Bag? Galapagos Islands

Ask anyone that’s been to the Galapagos and they’ll attest, the Galapagos Islands is a photographer’s paradise.  Not only are there incredibly fascinating animals, found nowhere else in the world, but the birds, reptiles, and mammals there tend to have no fear of humans and will quite literally pose for you as you take photos from mere yards away. Read on to ensure you have the right gear on this photographic adventure of a lifetime!

Please note, photographic styles vary, as do conditions on the ground.  While this is meant to be a guide for choosing your camera gear, you should consider your own photographic interests first and foremost.

a photo of darwin's bay in the galapagos islands

Ultra Wide Angle

This may be more of an “extra” or X-factor lens, as I call it, because it’s not crucial, but may be really fun.  Since scenery in the Galapagos is pretty expansive, with big, wide, vistas, you can probably get away with just a normal wide angle lens.  Nevertheless, earmark this one and come back to it if you have the space to bring it.  We’re talking about lenses like 10-18mm and 10-22mm for crop-frame sensors, and 14-24mm and 16-35mm lenses for full-frame cameras.

a beautiful photo of turquoise water and blue skies over gardner bay in Galapagos

Wide Angle Zoom

As with pretty much any photographic adventure, your “walking around lens” is one of the most important things you can bring with you.  And because you’re able to get so close to so many animals, something in the 18-55mm, 24-105mm or 24-70mm is a key addition to your camera bag.  If I had to guess, this will be on your camera for about 50% of your shots.

an alluring photo of marine iguanas in the galapagos island, laying in piles

Zoom Telephoto

You’ll definitely need something with a bit of telephoto, but fortunately you don’t have to bring out the big guns for this trip.  While other wildlife safaris might necessitate 400mm capabilities, it’s not crucial for this trip.  Instead, I would focus more on quality medium telephoto ranges in the 200mm and 300mm range.  Now, there are always times you want more zoom, so if you have a favorite telephoto like Canon’s new 100-400mm, or Nikon’s 80-400mm, which are so impressively versatile, go for it.  However, if you are considering a 70-200mm f/2.8, that might be your better choice.  The f/2.8 capabilities (and sharpness) are really fun for a trip like this, as it helps isolate your wildlife subject so well.  However, a trusty 70-300mm is a great option, too. This category of lens will be on your camera for about 30% to 40% of your shots.

X-factor Lenses

As I said above, an ultra wide angle lens can be great fun in the Galapagos.  I often say, the more unique the lens, the more unique the photos, which help differentiate you in a world of growing competition for photography.  Another lens that can really send your portfolio to the next level is a macro lens, and I typically recommend a 100mm version.  You can’t get too close to wildlife, but with a 100mm, you will likely have the opportunity to fill the frame with the head of an iguana, or lava lizard, at safe distance.  However, you can also accomplish this with a decent telephoto lens, so the choice is yours.

Batteries and Memory Cards

You’ll be in a warm environment, so no risk of battery-zapping cold to get you down.  However, you may be surprised how much memory you go through on the trip.  Plan on bringing capacity for at least 500 photos a day…and for serious photographers, you could even double or triple that number.

Extra Camera Body

Because most of the wildlife and landscape photo opportunities will be done during walks and hikes, an extra body can be a bit of a drag.  However, if you’re used to lugging around a second body and want to have a wide angle on one and a telephoto on the other, you will get more photos…period.  However, if you instead opt for bringing lenses with maximum versatility in focal ranges, or a backup point and shoot, this may be easier and lighter than carrying around two complete setups each and every day.


Photographers really come in two forms.  Those that are adamant about using a tripod in all possible instances, and those that prefer to be hand held whenever possible.  I’m personally in the camp of being hand held, as it gives me maximum versatility.  And plus, you’ll be photographing in plenty of light throughout, so slow shutter speeds aren’t necessary.  Now, there are some folks that have their own ideas of long exposure photography (such as slow-shutter water photography), and for anything long exposure, you must have a tripod.  But, I would say that this really isn’t the highlight of Galapagos photography, so instead of bringing a tripod, I’d bring another lens.

Other Accessories

I often get the question about underwater cameras, as so much of the wonders of Galapagos are underwater.  Dedicated underwater cameras are usually very pricey and take a lot of practice.  Although they no doubt produce the best results, they’re probably not the right solution unless you plan on doing much much more underwater photography in the future.  I personally like today’s sports cameras like GoPRo, as they produce excellent results, are easy to use and learn, and are comparatively inexpensive compared to full underwater housing kits for DSLR cameras.  Sports cameras also take great videos, which is probably the best way to capture your underwater experience, as still photos tend to have lighting issues and you really need to “motion” in a video to bump up the intrigue of your captures.

a sea turtle swims in front of the camera in galapagos islands

The Galapagos truly is paradise for so many reasons.  And for the nature photographer, getting shots of a lifetime requires very little camera gear, which is such a luxury.

If you’ve been to the Galapagos and have additional thoughts or tips, please feel free to share in the comments below!

All the best,