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Taking Pictures in the Galapagos, Part 1

Elise is the daughter of A/V Editor Mike S., and an accomplished amateur photographer. Crutchfield loaned her two cameras for a recent trip and asked her to report back on her experience with them.

Over my spring break, my high school's environmental science teacher took me and nine other students to the Galapagos Islands. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip. Being a photographer, one of the most exciting prospects was all the amazing photo opportunities I would have there.

Thanks to my dad and Crutchfield's generosity, I was able to borrow a Nikon D700 SLR camera for the trip. The camera allowed me to take many beautiful photographs that I would not have been able to take on my own camera (a Nikon D40). The D700 took pictures of startling clarity, and let me capture moments that  I would have missed with other cameras. I think that these few pictures (out of the 2000+ photos I took on my trip) best represent the islands and the outstanding features of the D700.

Obviously, the images that follow will look very different from monitor to monitor. Hopefully, they'll render well on most screen (click on the images to enlarge them).

This photo was taken on my on my third day in the Galapagos during a hike on the Sombrero Chino Islands. What I love about this picture is the clarity and depth. I don't think this same photo taken on my D40 would be nearly as clear. When I look at this photo, it feels like I'm standing there again. The water had many different colors at various depths, and I was skeptical that the camera would be able to pick up these details. Now -- after using this camera for a while and looking at this picture -- I am not surprised by the clarity, the detail, or the vividness of the image. 

I really could not have taken this photo without the D700. One the most wonderful -- and useful -- aspects of the camera is that the ISO can be set up to 6400, while my D40 can only be set up to 1600. ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor: the lower the number the less sensitive the camera is to light and the finer the grain. High ISO settings are used for darker settings to get faster shutter speeds. Because the D700 has such high ISO settings, I could take a picture in virtually any lighting. This particular photo was taken from the top of the yacht we were traveling in. This was shot without a tripod while the boat was rocking, and the only usable light was what little came from surrounding boats and the moon. The fact that this picture, taken without tripod or flash, is so focused and sharp amazes me.

I loved being on the very top of the yacht at night. Looking out into the ocean and seeing the shimmering reflections of habor lights, while standing under the moon and stars was a breathtaking experience. I'm so happy the D700 let me capture the moment.

I like this photo because I think it's a neat composition with the scuba gear in the front and the ridge in the background. The scene was shot at Rabida Island, which is known for its "red" beaches. The colors in this photo are very strong. Note that  the scuba equipment stands out and catches the eye, as does the sand's prominent red color. If you take a moment to look, you'll see that green of the leaves is also quite vivid. It occurs to me that the color in this photo is practically as strong as it appeared in person. These colors have not been manipulated in Photoshop or any other photo application; these are the hues the camera captured when I took the photo.

This was taken in the city of Guyaquil on our last day in Ecuador. Las Peñas is Guyaquil's oldest neighborhood and sits on a hill called Santa Ana. We climbed around 600 steps to get to the top of Santa Ana where a church is located. The structure was breathtakingly beautiful, and in this photo I tried to reflect the magnificence of the scene. The photo conveys a powerful feeling to me, and I think that's because the image is so sharp and clear: all the lines and angles are well-defined. The D700 has very precise focusing capabilities, which are especially helpful for architecture shots.

This is one of the famous Blue Footed Boobies that are endemic to the Galapagos. Although tourists are able to get extremely close to the wildlife on the islands, I achieved this close-up thanks to the camera's 24-120 mm lens, which provides incredible zoom. To top things off, the camera's zoom and focus was able to perform on a rocking Panga (life boat).

This photo is of the Sierra Negro Caldera on Isabela Island. This photo is actually four pictures that I stitched together in Photoshop to make a panoramic piece. To gather the pieces of the panorama, I stood in the same spot and kept the shutter at a fast speed. That way, as I moved the camera to get all four shots in a row, there would be no blur. The camera's fast shutter enabled me to take four consecutively clear shots, which made them easy to piece together. The weather that day was less than desirable; a storm was coming, so fog hung thick in the air around the caldera. Although it wasn't clear and sunny, the camera's strong focusing abilities provided me with sharp, well-defined images.

This was a very a long hike up to the Caldera. One thing about the D700 -- it's heavy (thanks mostly to a large metal body, a full-frame sensor with similarly large viewfinder prism and mirror box). Its weight never much bothered me, but I remember whenever I let my friends take a picture, they always commented on its heaviness. This hike was the only time I really noticed the weight. I had my camera in a waterproof case that hung over my shoulder. It worked really well, but on this hike I wished that I had had a waterproof backpack case to even out the weight. So if you are taking this camera on an outdoor adventure and you know you will be hiking and doing a lot of physical exertion, I suggest you use a backpack camera case.

This is the island of Sombrero Chino, which is directly translated into "Chinese Hat." Once again, because the ISO could go up so high and use a wide aperture I was able to -- on a rocky boat during sunset -- capture this picture. Notice the definition of the wave crests and the detailed outline of the island's peaks.

While we were navigating through mangrove forests, I noticed this potentially really cool and interesting portrait of my friend Eric. But to capture this moment and get the portrait, I would have to shoot into the sun. Most cameras would have only caught the sun's glare in this situation and the image would be completely washed out. However, the D700 was able to focus on the physical objects and allowed this to be a picture of Eric, not of the sun.

When a "photo-op" like two sea lions kissing in the surf comes along you need to be ready to capture it. I was. The D700 's rapid fire succession let me to just hold down the shutter so that I could "extend" that wonderful moment and get a lot of shots very quickly, ensuring that I had the perfect one to choose from later.

Guayaquil, Ecuador is a bustling city, much like America's New York or Chicago. The streets are crowded, so when this man caught my eye I needed to act fast. I always keep the focus on manual, which was a good idea in this situation. Sometimes automatic focusing can take a while to register and latch onto the subject, and a moment like this one could be lost. Because I used manual I was able to quickly check the focusing and then take the photo. The quickness of the shutter and the high quality of the camera's focus allowed me to capture the image in just a few seconds.

In my next post, I'll share some more Galapagos pictures taken with the Nikon D700. I also brought along a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1. In part three I'll share some photos I took with that camera.

Taking Pictures in the Galapagos, Part 2

Taking Pictures in the Galapagos, Part 3

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