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Anyone can photograph an animal. The challenge is capturing a unique image that stands out from the crowd. Such was the situation during a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands. In the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, I had the opportunity to photograph a wildlife icon, the giant Galapagos Tortoise. Lets face it, hundreds of thousands of people come to see these 300 pound giants every year and all of them take pictures. How was I going to capture something unique?
While watching the tortoises, I tried to to think outside the box (or possibly inside the shell). My first instinct when photographing wildlife is to reach for the telephoto lens. The wildlife of the Galapagos, however, is totally unafraid, therefore getting close is not a problem. With that in mind, I decided to take a different approach. Leaving the telephoto lens in the bag, I pulled out the wide angle (17-35mm lens). Next I looked around and realized that everyone was busy taking the same basic shot; standing a few feet away and photographing the tortoises from a height of five feet. So I knew what I didn’t want.
My first step was to get down on the tortoise’s level. I wanted to create an image that took the viewer inside the tortoise’s world and shooting from the subject’s level is one of the quickest ways to do this. With that in mind, I waited for everyone else to finish (it always amazes me how quickly people become bored with new experiences) and then I sat down in the grass a few feet away from the tortoise. Over the next few minutes, I captured several shots. As I photographed, the tortoise approached me to get at the tasty grass I was sitting next to. The repeated pattern of extending the neck and eating the grass got me thinking. With that, I placed my camera on the ground and waited for the next bite. Seeing a tasty bit of grass a mere two inches in front of my lens, the tortoise extended into the frame and helped me to capture what I think is a dramatic and unique image.