Standing at the edge of the towering cliffs known as the albatross airport, I watched as a seemingly endless procession of birds sailed past. Rising out of the turquoise blue waters of the pacific ocean, the island of Espoanola sits just below the equator and is home to the only nesting population of waved albatrosses in the world.
The sheer number of birds here is overwhelming. Red billed tropic birds are in bewildering numbers and Galapagos endemics such as the swallowtail gull are a constant. Below, marine iguanas battle the monstrous pounding surf as waves topping out at nearly 20 feet crash into the rugged coastline knocking the lizards from their perches along the rocks. In the distance, the roar of water being forced up and out of a blow hole is so loud at times that you not so much as hear it as feel it in your chest.
I was here for the waved albatross. Even though these birds are a smaller race of albatross, the term small is relevant. With wing spans of 7 and a half feet, the wold small doesn’t quite come to mind when watching them soar by just a few feet away.
With this collection of images, I want to show you exactly how I approached photographing these birds and what I ultimately came up with. Shooting the albatrosses on the Galapagos was something of a process as we go from cliche to unique.
I made this first image just a few seconds after walking out to the edge of the cliffs. This is a standard run of the mill bird in flight photograph. Nothing distinct about it. Nothing that tells a story. Personally, there is nothing that lures me in or attracts me to a bird against a plain blue sky.
What I needed was a background. So with this thought in mind I captured this next photograph of an albatross with a piece of Espanola in the background. Once again this just didn’t do anything for me.
For me the problem with these images is that they just didn’t capture to essence or heart and soul of these birds. Albatrosses are NOT just another seabird. These birds are the great ocean wanderers of the world. They will cover up to a thousand miles of open water in a single flight as they search for food. The Albatross is one of the most extraordinary species of birds on Earth and their life story is inextricable from the sea.
For this reason, including the ocean was vital to me and my vision of the story I wanted my images of the waved albatross to tell.
Given the success I had already had with photographing swallowtail gulls above the swash of the ocean against the cliffs, I decided to try that first. This just didn’t work out partially because of the angle and distance that these birds were flying at in relation to the cliff I was on and the ocean below.
The second shot I tried with the ocean was with the cliffs and crashing waves behind the albatross. Once again this was a no go. These are birds of the open ocean. Portraying them next to cliffs just didn’t float my boat and so after just a couple images, I decided against it.
Considering that the albatross IS a bird of the open ocean I decided that this was what I wanted to focus on. I wanted to convey the vast nature of their world, with them placed firmly in that scene.
The resulting images were thus made at eye level with the birds slightly above the horizon. Not only did this convey what I wanted by showcasing the the ocean as it stretched out to the horizon, but it also created the feeling of being right there, flying along with the albatross. Bingo!