Return to the Rainforest

If I’m being honest, I didn’t want to go on this trip. I was deep into a homebody rut after four months at home. And I had other projects in the works that I was hesitant to set aside for two weeks while I didn’t have any internet connection in the jungle. 

For me it is typical before every trip, even the ones I’m most excited about, to have a little freakout where I’m mentally kicking and screaming, “I don’t want to go!” But then the bags get packed and the passport comes out. Once I’m on the plane I am forced to set aside all of the things I wanted to get done before I left. Muscle memory kicks in and I transform into a traveler again, ready for another adventure.

This was my second trip to the Peruvian Amazon and although I knew better from my prior experience, I still harbored a fantasy that the rainforest would look like a Ravensburger puzzle where toucans and macaws dripped from tree branches, monkeys and sloths kicked it together, and butterflies flitted over the heads of caimans. The rainforest is indeed a riot of species, so abundant that it pulses with life, but that doesn’t mean all of that life will line up for the perfect photograph. 

As the National Geographic Photography Expert, I taught the guests I traveled with how to photograph in extremely challenging photographic situations where deep, dark forests and overcast skies called for drastic changes to exposures from one sighting to the next. And I hopefully instilled the idea that although not every wildlife sighting we had made a good photograph, it was always a worthy experience. 

So I shifted my expectations and did my best to just soak up the humid decadence of the rainforest. I looked again to reflections and quiet moments and would ask the skiff drivers to stop or multiple occasions to photograph something subtle like flowers or vines. I reveled in feeling like I was in a Dr. Seussian world when floating past islands of skinny palm trees in a flooded forest or navigating a waterway flanked by giant white-barked ceiba trees. On forest walks, I had the time to appreciate the small species and even discover leaves carved by hungry insects into modern art. I watched blackwater and whitewater rivers converge into a hypnotic, constant stirring of cream into coffee. The staff on board the Delfin II ship spoiled me again with their hospitality, amazing meals, and their patience for my rusty Spanish. And I was able to revisit locals I’d met and photographed the year before and gift them with prints.

And although it turns out we had blips of internet connectivity when we’d pass certain communities, I decided to remain blissfully unconnected and instead tuned into the sounds of downpours, choruses of frogs and birds, and took in the unique experience of plying the swollen tributaries of the mighty Amazon River.

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Brown-throated three-toed sloths, with their charismatic half-smile, were delightful to spot, especially in close proximity during forest hikes.

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Something as simple as a patch of water lettuce could transform into abstract art with the right background reflections.

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The sighting of this white-throated toucan was my favorite encounter of the entire trip. This bird, the largest of the toucans, had eluded our view earlier during a skiff excursion on Magdalena Creek, but on a return visit, we found it roosting in a nearby tree before it then flew into perfect view.

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I loved simple, beautiful scenes like these roots and vines hanging from the rainforest canopy. As much as I enjoyed photographing the wildlife in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, I think it was moments like this that conveyed the magic of the region.

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A naturalist looked for wildlife during a skiff excursion on the Pacaya River. Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent motoring on the glass-like tributaries of the Upper Amazon.

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Precise caterpillar holes formed a pattern on a tropical green leaf, turning the leaf into nature’s own artwork.

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A tiny saddle-backed tamarin, who is about the size of a squirrel, nibbled on fruit from a tree over Nauta Creek.

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Watching the woolly monkeys swing and play from trees was a highlight of each week. Unfortunately, the curiosity we experienced from these animals was caused by some tour operators allowing people to feed and pet these animals.

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A group of great egrets gathered in treetops at sunset on El Dorado River.

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The graceful tailfeathers of a great egret blew in the wind as it hunted for fish.

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Blackwater (colored by tannins) and whitewater (colored by sediment) converged and looked like cream being poured into coffee on the Pacaya River.

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During a night walk, we encountered plenty of insects, snakes, spiders, and frogs like this Manaus slender-legged tree frog.

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A walk on a suspended bridge at Amazon Natural Park was an interesting change of perspective on the rainforest canopy.

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A heliconia butterfly rested on a green leaf to lay tiny white eggs.

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I ran into many of the people I’d met last year when I visited the community of San Francisco de Loreto on the Marañon River, including Safira, the girl on the far left. I brought her father prints of the images I’d taken of his family as a gift.

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I met this woman, Nora Tapujima Chavez, while I explored the small community of Amazonas. She let me spend time with her while she weaved a basket using the plastic from old rice sacks.

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The Delfin II ship never anchored in the vast waterways of the Upper Amazon but instead tied up to familiar trees.

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Photographers knew that the bow of the Delfin II was the place to be at sunset on the Ucayali River.

If you are interested in this expedition to the Peruvian Amazon, you can find out more here. And to see more of my images, visit my Photoshelter gallery.

The Shape of Ice

I’m very belated in sharing about my trip to Antarctica (which I took last year…in January), but I realize that I’m right on time in keeping with one of my New Year’s resolutions from 2018 which is to return to Antarctica. I’m pleased to share that in November of 2019 I’ll be the National Geographic Expert on the Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands itinerary with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions.

Antarctica is one of those places that defies description and imagery. It is the most immense and remote place I’ve ever experienced. To get there you have to hopscotch down the South American continent all the way to the end of the world, the town of Ushuaia, Argentina. From there you board a ship which must cross the (occasionally dreaded) Drake Passage. After a day and change of navigation, depending on your fortunes with the crossing, you begin to see ice and then eventually land.

To imagine the Antarctic islands and continent, envision the majesty of an Alaskan mountain range, strip it of trees and other vegetation, pepper in some penguin colonies, and layer it with a thick frosting of glaciers and snow. What threw my mind for a loop was realizing that without trees and only an occasional man-made structure for reference, getting a sense of scale was nearly impossible. What I could sense, and what remains elusive from truly explaining to someone who has never been, is that everything around me was immense, remote, and beautiful.

I surprised myself with how charmed I was by penguins. It was pure entertainment to watch them tending their adorable chicks on rocky nests or scurrying back and forth from fishing duties. I loved watching the ruckus caused by thieving penguins, the lazy (or ingenious!) penguins who steal rocks from other nests rather than trudging down to the shoreline to fetch their own.

But what I was most enchanted with was the ice. I loved the patterns along the top of tidal glaciers, the artistry in icebergs being sculpted by waves and time, and the sheer awe inspired by massive tabular icebergs floating in an open ocean. I still daydream about the beautiful shapes of ice that I’m missing out on thousands of miles away at the end of the earth.

But now I know I’ll be back. Join me November 19th through December 12th, 2019, and experience the beauty of ice in Antarctica and unparalleled wildlife encounters in South Georgia.

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Guests stand on the bow of the National Geographic Explorer as the ship navigates through sheets of sea ice in the beautiful landscape of Crystal Sound.

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Have you ever peered into the heart of an iceberg? I’d paint my world in this blue if it could be reproduced from a can.

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The face of a tidal glacier looks like a castle made of ice in Paradise Bay.

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Two inflatable boats filled with guests are dwarfed by the immense icy waters.

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A favorite experience was “parking” the National Geographic Explorer in fast ice to have a stroll around Crystal Sound.

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Adelie penguins gather on the shoreline of Brown Bluff before diving into icy waters which harbor their predator, the leopard seal.

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During my January visit, there were plenty of chicks nuzzling underneath penguin parents in all of the colonies we visited.

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Three gentoo penguins walk in a row up a snow-covered hill with the National Geographic Explorer in the background.

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A pod of killer whales swim in the ice-filled waters of Cape Green.

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We were able to visit a few bases and historic sites, but my favorite was Historic British Base W on Detaille Island, which remains frozen in time since being abandoned in the 1950s.

To find out more about the Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands itinerary, click here. To see more of my images from Antarctica, visit this gallery.

Patagonian Dreams

Once upon a time, I flew south in the springtime to find autumn in the Austral lands. I boarded a ship named Orion that took me through turbulent channels and calm coves on an expedition of wonder. I was enchanted by gnarled forests of windswept beech trees and lighthouses dangling over the ends of the earth. I was charmed by orchestras of elephant seals. I felt wind and mud in my face as I galloped a horse across the pampa. I was brought to tears by the sheer beauty of mountains. And I even licked a glacier.

It does feel like some sort of wonderful dream now, months later, as I write this while Christmas lights twinkle outside of my window. The trip I took in March as a National Geographic Expert for National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions to Argentina’s Staten Island and Chilean Patagonia was one of my favorites to date. Although I don’t yet have a scheduled return, I’m working on it and dreaming about Patagonia in the meantime. Here are a few images to inspire your own Patagonian dreams.

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A long cry from the other Staten Island in New York, Argentina’s Isla de los Estados is a rugged, unkempt landscape; just the way nature intended it.

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The weather in Patagonia can be capricious. We arrived under clear skies at the famed Cape Horn, the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. But after climbing the wooden stairs from the landing to the top of the island, I could see a dark storm approaching. Most of my visit was conducted under torrential rains, but as I made a dash for the last zodiac to the ship, the sky parted and this rainbow appeared.

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This expedition was my first on the beautiful National Geographic Orion. Here she is looking especially dainty in front of the Garibaldi Glacier inside of Chile’s Alberto de Agostini National Park. If anyone ever thinks that I’m “roughing it” on these expeditions, don’t feel bad for me when I come home to a fully stocked bar and multi-course fine dining.

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Whipping winds couldn’t keep me from venturing onto the deck of the Orion to photograph the sunset along the Strait of Magellan.

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Southern elephant seals in Karukinka Natural Park blend into the beach like logs when they’re resting, but they cannot be ignored when they cause a ruckus. In fact, this bunch interrupted an interview I was doing with Video Chronicler Mark Coger (and you can see the blooper here).

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For the love of trees! I adored the shapes of the Southern beech trees in Karukinka Natural Park.

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I’ve seen the Torres del Paine massif in countless photos and nothing could prepare me for how overwhelmed I’d feel when I finally gazed at such beauty in person. I decided then that Torres del Paine National Park is in the top five most beautiful places I’ve even been.

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We took various hikes throughout Torres del Paine National Park and had many guanaco as willing subject matter to pose in front of the gorgeous mountain backdrops.

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Although I didn’t photograph while galloping on my horse, that experience is seared into my mind forever.

If you’re interested in coming to a photo workshop with me in Torres del Paine (the place that brought me to tears), shoot me an email to let me know. And if you’d like to see more images from this expedition, visit the full galleries of Chilean Patagonia and Argentina’s Staten Island.

Into the Jungle

One of my travel habits is to compare the place I’m visiting to other places I’ve been. Cape Town reminds me a bit of San Francisco and New Orleans. The Oki Islands in Japan are reminiscent of the rugged coastline of Oregon. But when I found myself floating the waters of the Upper Amazon in Peru, I was shocked at where my mind went…..to Disneyland.

Specifically, the sounds of dripping water and calling birds, long sinuous vines, and vegetation that looks like tropical houseplants gone wild reminded me of being on the jungle ride in Disneyland. The allure that the ride hinted at was amplified in person and, to be sure, the humidity and mosquitos made it undeniably real.

During the two weeks I spent cruising the brown, and sometimes black, waters of the headwaters of the Amazon River, I realized that a tropical rainforest is a place of subtle beauty where patience and time are rewarded with sightings of exotic creatures. I saw brief glimpses of the elusive pink river dolphin, was tormented by macaws and toucans who always seemed to keep their distance, reveled in watching wooly monkeys swing from tree to tree, and fell totally in love with sloths, the slow-moving, wiry-haired guardians of the canopy. I learned to appreciate the quiet beauty of the rivers and creeks we explored on daily skiff rides, looking for splashes of color in a riot of green vegetation, staring into reflections as if in a trance, and I secretly loved getting caught in downpours where the rain forced me to do nothing else but enjoy the reason the rainforest gets its name.

As much as I enjoyed the natural beauty of the Amazon, I was absolutely surprised and delighted by our interactions with the local people who live along the river’s edge, the ribereños. The people were generous in giving us a glimpse into their daily lives.

Next year I’m fortunate enough to already be booked on two photography-focused departures in January with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions on this itinerary. I’d love to explore the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve with you on board the Delfin II.

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On the still waters of the Yanayacu River, I couldn’t get enough of the reflections. Luckily every afternoon seemed to have these gorgeous pile-ups of clouds in the sky.

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We were able to spend time photographing groups of curious woolly monkeys as they swung from limb to limb hanging from their tails.

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Every time we came across the impressive Victoria amazonica giant water lilies, I had to make pictures. The blooms begin as white buds and then unfold into pink splendor before wilting away in a brief two-day life cycle.

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During this expedition, we maneuvered along the river, up creeks, and into flooded forests on skiffs, our reliable metal steeds.

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The tropical rainforest can feel like a verdant dream and one quickly learns that a flash of any other color means a wonderful find. Whether that is the spectacle of a toucan or macaw’s bright feathers or the pop of red from a passionflower bloom hidden below the canopy, it is always worth observing.

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After night fell on el Río Dorado, we used a high-powered light to spot caimans along the river’s edge by looking for the red reflections of their eyes from afar.

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Our local guides took us to a favorite roost of a family of adorable night monkeys.

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The hoatzin, or what I refer to as the prehistoric chicken, was one of the many animal species I came across which I’d been unfamiliar with before.

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I was entranced by the details of the jungle like the gorgeous curtains of bromeliads that adorned many of the trees along the river.

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Most of the sloths we spotted were perched high in the treetops except for this one occasion where we spotted a baby hanging out on a low cecropia tree, snoozing in between nibbles on the leaves.

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As much as it felt that we were far away from civilization during our explorations we often passed by small river communities. We were able to take time to visit San Francisco, a typical river village filled with wooden homes with aluminum roofs.

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During our visit to the community of San Francisco on the Marañon River, we were welcomed with smiles, waves, and curious looks, especially from children.

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I photographed this lovely woman during a dance performance in the community center of San Francisco.

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It was common to see local families living with pet monkeys, macaws, and sloths.

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I love to photograph people when I’m traveling and I try, as often as possible, to find a way to share the images with the people I photograph. On this trip, I knew emailing images wouldn’t be an option so I brought along a Fujifilm Instax printer from B&H Photo Video which enabled me to print and share photos I’d taken with the locals I’d meet. I won over these young girls who chatted with me and stayed by my side during the entire visit.

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In Puerto Miguel, these young boys enjoyed seeing the photos one of the Lindblad guests had taken of them. The boys kept telling him, “otro” and he would humor them by taking another photo and the cycle of giggles and grins would continue. 

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On Supay Creek we met this young boy who was keeping a coati, which is a member of the raccoon family, as a pet.

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Locals all along the river make handicrafts to sell to visitors. Tarantulas and frogs woven out of dyed chambira palm fiber were a popular item.

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The Delfin II was a luxurious home away from home while exploring the Upper Amazon of Peru.

To see more images from this expedition on the Peruvian Amazon, visit my Photoshelter gallery.

A small ship passes through a narrow passage in Alaska.

On Assignment with National Geographic Expeditions: Photography in Alaska & British Columbia

This past May I had the opportunity to travel as a National Geographic Expert on a voyage from Seattle, Washington, along the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska. The National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions A Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia & Haida Gwaii photography voyage was one of my favorites because as a Pacific Northwest native I felt right at home experiencing the lush forests and moody weather.

On September 3rd-17th of 2017, I’ll be joining as a National Geographic Expert on another Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia, and Haida Gwaii on board the National Geographic Sea Lion. Come join me on this intimate ship as we get up close and personal with the beauty of landscapes, wildlife, and culture of British Columbia and Alaska. I’ll be working with a talented photo team to provide insightful lectures and give tips and advice while on photo walks and photographing from the ship.

Here are a few images from last May’s expedition as a teaser of what the experience is like. To see more images from that voyage, visit my archive.

Two photographers on the bow of a ship.

On these expeditions, you’ll often find the photo team, like Photo Instructor Ryder Redfield (right), out on deck giving photo tips, especially during the beautiful sunset we had while navigating Frederick Sound.

A glacier calves in front of a zodiac filled with people.

The morning we spent on zodiacs photographing the awe-inspiring Dawes Glacier calve was something I’ll never forget. It was an experience for all the senses, from the crackling sound like lightening in the ice to the giant aftershock waves that rocked the ship anchored over a mile away.

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I never tired of photographing bald eagles, like this one perched on a tree branch in the Inian Islands, which were ubiquitous in the rugged Alaskan landscape.

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In Petersburg, also known as Little Norway, we had a photo walk through the picturesque fishing village, capturing scenes of everyday life.

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On the last full day of the voyage, we spent over an hour photographing orcas as they swam around the ship in nearly still waters on the Peril Straight.

I’d love to see you join the voyage with me in September of 2017. I can promise beautiful vistas, amazing wildlife, and loads of photographic learning…….but I can’t promise the same beautiful weather I had last May!

Krista Rossow Speaking at OPTIC 2016 in NYC

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I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking in New York City as part of OPTIC 2016, a photography event from June 5th-8th put on by the legendary B&H Photo Video and National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions. This “Outdoor Photo/Video Travel Imaging Conference” can be attended for free in person or via livestreaming. Simply visit the website to register for either option.

On Sunday, June 5th, I’ll be speaking for Fujifilm discussing my recent experience using the X Series mirrorless system while traveling in Asia this past winter. For those curious about making the switch from DSLRs to mirrorless, I’ll be discussing my experience while sharing the resulting photographs and teaching why bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to cameras. If you can’t make it in person, read a recap on B&H’s Explora blog here or watch the archived footage here.

Also on Sunday, I’ll be on the main stage speaking about how to “Think Like an Editor.” I will discuss how I believe that for travel photography, photo editing begins even before taking a picture. Today’s photographers are their own photo editors, and not in the sense of using Instagram filters or Photoshop, but in the sense of selecting the best imagery to share with an audience, whether that is in a family album or professional portfolio. I will give tips on how to “improve your photographic odds” by preparing to take travel photographs through research and planning. I will discuss considerations for capturing the best images while in the field and give insight on the process of curating the best images once the images have been made. From my experience as a both a photographer on assignment and as a photo editor needing to convey an effective story, I will give practical insight into improving your photography and telling your own story. Register here to livestream this talk.

Sign up to also hear talks by my National Geographic colleagues Erika Larsen, Jay Dickman, Flip Nicklen, and Ralph Lee Hopkins and many other industry professionals. If you are in New York City, make sure to visit the trade show and to register for portfolio reviews, a photo walk in Central Park, a photo cruise, and a dinner party sponsored by Nikon. All the information is on the website: www.optic2016.com.

I hope to see you in New York or virtually on the small-screen somewhere in the world!

UPDATE: The talks I gave in New York are now archived with B&H. To see my editing talk, click here, and to see the talk about shooting with mirrorless, click here.

Marine iguanas at sunset

On Assignment with National Geographic Expeditions: Galápagos Islands

I’m recently back from my first trip to the Galápagos Islands. I was lucky enough to visit these islands located 600 miles off of the coast of Ecuador while working as a Photo Expert and Instructor for National Geographic Expeditions and Lindblad. Calling these pristine volcanic islands my “office” for two weeks while navigating above and below the Equator on the National Geographic Endeavour was an unparalleled experience.

With my background as a photo editor, you can imagine that I’ve seen quite a few images from the Galápagos Islands. I knew I’d be seeing giant tortoises (for which the islands are named) and the popular blue-footed booby. What I wasn’t prepared for was what it felt like to be on the islands.

My first impression was that I’d arrived in a prehistoric land, sans dinosaurs but, as Darwin learned over a few short months in 1835, teeming with a variety of species who have adapted quite uniquely to their environments. You could not only feel the age of the islands, but you could see it as we traveled from west to east, from the youngest to the oldest islands. At the young age of less than a million years old, Fernandina is still volcanically active and growing while nurturing scores of animals.Visiting older Genovesa you see only the crescent moon of a sinking caldera, an island in the final stages of life yet still home to thousands of seabirds.

During the two weeks on board I met guests from as near as Oregon and as far as Australia, children whose ages were in the single digits and retired folks who made being in their eighties look easy, and eager-to-shoot photo enthusiasts and people who didn’t know they’d have so much fun with their cameras while on the islands. I worked with a talented photo team, namely Jennifer Davidson and Jose Calvo, and for one week had the chance to work a legend of National Geographic, Annie Griffiths. During every outing I was impressed with the knowledge of Lindblad Expeditions’ naturalists, whose passion for the islands is palpable. And every time I was on the ship I was taken care of by a friendly and professional crew.

And the best part is that I get to go back. I’ll be returning to the islands for two more photo-specific expeditions on October 24th and 31st (details here). I hope these photos give you an idea of what it feels like to be on an expedition in the Galápagos. And I’d love to see you there in the fall!

A sea lion approaches people on a beach.

One of the most delightful things about the Galápagos is how close humans can get to the animals. Sea lions, like this one at Punta Pitt, are as curious about us as we are about them. Because the animals on the islands have few predators, they are unafraid. Using their energy to get out of our way would be wasteful, but visitors must keep a 6-ft distance to comply with national park rules.

National Geographic Endeavour ship at sunset.

The hull of the National Geographic Endeavour glistens in the last light as we return from a hike on Genovesa Island. The ship was our base as we explored the islands using small inflatable boats known as zodiacs to ferry us to shore or out on deep-water snorkels.

A red footed booby on Genovesa Island

Everyone hears about the blue-footed booby, but my personal favorite booby is the red-footed species. Their bright blue and purple beaks won me over.

Photographing a Peruvian booby in the Galapagos Islands

Speaking of boobies, we were lucky enough to be present for the first spotting of a Peruvian booby on the Galápagos Islands. Here naturalist Walter Perez and his zodiac full of guests photograph the surprising animal. Read more about the news on the Lindblad Expeditions blog here.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands.

Snorkeling is an almost daily activity while on expedition in the islands. With visions of ancient pirates in our minds, we swam into a cave at Buccaneer Cove on Santiago Island and found a large school of fish. During the snorkels we not only swam with fish, but also with sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, penguins, and cormorants.

Naturalist on the Galapagos.

Naturalist Pato Maldonado explains to some young guests how different animals use the cacti growing on Santa Cruz Islands as food. Every hike, zodiac ride, or snorkel is led by a naturalist guide in groups of 16 or less. All naturalists in the Galapagos are required to be residents of the islands.

Joyful woman hiking in the Galapagos.

One of the guests expresses her joy at reaching the top of the hike near Darwin Lake on Isabela Island. This photograph of her happiness captures what it is like to explore these beautiful islands.

Guests on the bow of the National Geographic Endeavour

One evening before heading to the recap session, guests had a cocktail at sunset while the ship cruised near Daphne Major Islet. The nightly recap sessions in the lounge included a briefing on the next day’s activities and could include mini-sessions on photography or natural history and perhaps a short screening of underwater footage from that day’s snorkel.

The barrel at Post Office Bay

You’ve got mail! There are few signs of the history of man on the Galápagos Islands, but on Floreana Island there is a post office barrel where whalers and sailors would leave their correspondence to be picked-up and hand delivered by others who happened to be passing in the right direction. The tradition continues and I happened to pick up two postcards that I’ll be able to deliver in Oregon.

Lava cactus and landscape in Fernandina

Visiting the islands, you quickly learn how different each one can appear from the others. Fernandina is the youngest of the islands in the Galapagos. It is home to a large colony of marine iguanas and the endemic lava cactus species.

Walking back to ship in Galapagos.

A hike comes to an end as guests walk back to catch a zodiac to the National Geographic Endeavour. On the two photo-focused weeks I taught on, we spent as much time as we could shooting the islands at sunset and sunrise.

Krista photographing a sea lion in the Galapagos Islands. Photo by Naturalist and Photo Instructor Greg Aranea.

A photo of me photographing a sea lion in the Galápagos Islands. Perhaps I’ll see you in the Galápagos this fall? Photo by Naturalist Greg Aranea.