Our planet abounds with many beautiful places. But one of the most stunning – a place with rainforests, mountains, and almost unparalleled biodiversity – is the tropical Andes. It is the mountains around the South American equator that I consider the most beautiful place in the world for photography. In fact, the word equator is also reflected in the name of the country that boasts the highest number of bird species per square kilometer: Ecuador.
If you’ve seen my articles, you’ve surely seen my photos from Ecuador. And because I would like to share this magical place with you in a different way than just in the form of articles and photos, I decided to take you there personally. In May 2023, you will have the opportunity to travel with me to the epicenter of biodiversity, the Ecuadorian Andes.
The great ruggedness, the impenetrability, and the sheer height of the Andes all lead to the remarkable diversity of wildlife in Ecuador. Each valley, each hundred meters of altitude, creates different conditions for life. It is this environmental variability, together with the physical barriers that make it difficult for plants and animals to migrate, that has resulted in such a diverse mix of life forms.
This is also why it’s such a rare and beautiful place to photograph, a far cry from over-visited wildlife hotspots elsewhere around the world. Having been to Ecuador many times, I know where to go and how to get there for the best wildlife sightings possible.
During our photography workshop, we will cover most of the Andean habitats. We will search for high-altitude species at elevations around 4000 meters / 13,000 feet above sea level, in the high Andean páramo steppe. We will photograph on both slopes of the Andes, from the chilly forest border to the warm and humid lowlands. We will stay in the middle of a pristine cloud forest and spend two nights in the Amazon jungle.
As a highlight at the end of the workshop, I am thrilled to offer an optional extension to the Galapagos Islands. We will spend four full days on this remote archipelago. Like Darwin nearly two centuries ago, we will be amazed at the endemic species of turtles, iguanas, finches, as well as blue-footed boobies and other representatives of the local flora and fauna. We will observe the rich underwater life and maybe even swim with the sea lions. Simply a paradise.
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Safety and Security
Ecuador is generally considered a safe country within South America. However, large cities such as Quito and Guayaquil are potentially risky. Although we’ll arrive in the capital of Quito, we won’t be there long. For almost all of our time in Ecuador, we will be in the wilderness areas and wildlife reserves. The locations where we will be staying and photographing are completely safe for you and your precious gear. We will be transported between locations by a reliable and proven driver who knows the local conditions well.
2023 Workshop Dates
The workshop will take place from May 13 to 26, 2023, and will be seamlessly followed by the optional Galapagos extension, which will end on June 1, 2023.
In order to give you my full attention, the number of participants will be limited to 5 people. This way I can guarantee you a truly individual approach and a pleasant environment for bird photography. I will be available at all times during the photography session to help you take the great photos that you are coming to Ecuador to capture.
There are more than ten flights a day to Ecuador from various airports across the US. The airfare is highly dependent on the flight. The cost of this flight is not included in the total price of the workshop.
Since participants’ arrival times in Quito may vary, our first location will be relatively close to the airport (approximately one and a half hours away). Our driver will take care of your transportation from the airport to our first hotel. Transportation from the airport is included in the price.
Transportation and Entrance Fees
All participants, along with the instructor, will be traveling in a van or a minibus. The cost of transportation, along with entrance fees to all reserves, are included in workshop fees.
Accommodation will be provided in hotels and lodges directly at the locations where we will be photographing. For our workshop, I have chosen hotels and lodges that are surrounded by the beautiful Andean nature.
We won’t be sleeping in large hotel complexes, and therefore you need to consider that we will be sharing a room with a participant of the same gender. If it is your wish to spend the nights in a separate room, an additional $1400 will be charged for the entire workshop (depending on availability).
What to Bring
Although we will have our own van or minibus, it is advisable to keep the volume of your luggage to a minimum. We will be changing locations frequently and a lot of luggage would soon be a burden. You would be fine with one large suitcase and a photo backpack.
Cameras and Lenses
Since we will be photographing mostly birds, which are very agile and fast creatures, your camera should be able to keep up with them. You don’t have to have the fastest camera in the world, but a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses will ensure that nothing will hold you back in the field. The specific brand doesn’t matter.
Wide-angle / ultra-wide-angle: Landscape photography will be rather minimal in our workshop, but a lens in the 16-35mm range (full frame equivalent) will certainly find a use. If nothing else, for the Galapagos extension of the workshop, you will have the typically rare opportunity to photograph wildlife at wider angles.
Normal range: A 24-70mm or a 24-120mm is the lenses to use for general landscape shots or for documenting your trip. Due to the low light levels of the Andean rainforest, I recommend also bringing a 50mm f/1.8 prime or similar.
Telephoto range: Most often, you will have one of the telephoto lenses mounted on your camera. For hummingbird photography, a short telephoto lens with a 70-200mm range may come in handy. Most of the time, however, you will need a lens with a focal length of 300 to 600mm. In the dim environment of a tropical forest, a fast lens such as a 400mm f/2.8 or 600mm f/4 will come in handy. But a zoom lens like the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 will also do a good job. If you have a macro lens, like a 105mm f/2.8, there will certainly be an opportunity to use it as well.
A tripod or a monopod is an absolute must for this workshop. Please take a good, sturdy model that can safely support the weight of your camera with the heaviest lens. A tripod head is equally important. Gimbal heads are best suited for telephoto photography. Ball heads are also usable, but with heavy telephoto lenses, there is a risk of collapse. In some situations during this trip, a monopod may be a better choice for wildlife photography, as it allows for faster height changes and more maneuverability.
See our article on choosing a tripod for recommendations. Don’t forget your tripod quick release adapters (I have had people before who forgot those).
For landscape photography, a polarizing filter comes in handy. If you want to capture the movement of water, a less dense neutral density filter (ND 64x) may also be useful.
Laptop / Tablet
Be prepared for your cards to fill up very quickly. A small laptop or tablet will allow you to back up your photos to your SSD drive in the evening. I recommend having two drives, just in case one fails.
Don’t underestimate the amount of batteries for your camera. I recommend two to three batteries so you don’t have to charge during the day. Since we will be using continuous shooting a lot, your memory cards will fill up quickly. It’s better to take several smaller cards rather than one large one. Don’t forget to bring a headlamp as well.
Although Ecuador is right on the equator, the mountains we will be in most of the time can be on the cold side. Morning temperatures at altitudes above 3,000 meters are around 5℃ (41℉). So, take multiple layers of clothing to have available in case of cold. A lightweight hat may also come in handy. Most of the time, we will be at altitudes where daytime temperatures will range from 20 to 25℃ (68℉ – 77℉).
It also rains a lot in Ecuador, as expected of a rainforest. I recommend a waterproof/breathable membrane (e.g. Gore-Tex) jacket and pants, or a waterproof poncho. Also, think about protecting your gear with protective sleeves. Your clothing should be quick-drying if possible. Merino wool clothing is great as a base layer (shirt), as it stays warm even when wet, and resists odor for a long time.
I recommend comfortable, waterproof boots and spare lighter (running) shoes. You will definitely use sandals in the Galapagos, too.
Workshop Schedule for 2023
Below is the workshop schedule for the workshop in 2023:
May 13 – Arrival in Quito, transfer to the Amazon side of the Andes, hotel check-in, meet and greet / planning session in the evening
May 14 – Photography in the mist cloud forest at around 2800 m above sea level. In the afternoon, transfer to lower elevations. In the evening, we will search for the San Isidro Owl and Mountain tapir.
May 15 – Bird photography in San Isidro. In the afternoon, drive to the foothills of Wild Sumaco volcano.
May 16 – Full day of photography around Sumaco volcano. Hummingbirds, antpittas, toucans and much more.
May 17 – Departure to the town of Coca. Transfer by boat to the lodge in the Yasuní National Park in the Amazon.
May 18 – Photographing and exploring Amazonian nature from the water and land. (And from the air, thanks to a unique 36-meter high suspension bridge and a 45-meter-high tower above the canopy.)
May 19 – Photographing parrots and other animals at a clay lick. Day and evening walks in the rainforest.
May 20 – Departure from the Amazon, photographing Hollin Falls on the way. If the weather is good, Antisana Volcano in the Papallacta mountain pass. Accommodation in a hotel in Quito.
May 21 – Photographing unique mountain species, such as Sword-billed Hummingbird, Chestnut-naped Antpitta, Rufous-banded Owl and many more. Accommodation in the Mindo area.
May 22 – Photographing hummingbirds in the Tambopata Valley. In the evening, we will photograph the Andean cock-of-the-rock bird.
May 23 – Antpittas and tanagers in Paz de las Aves, Mindo, and surrounding areas.
May 24 – Photographing on the Long-wattled Umbrellabird lek. Río Blanco lookout. Birds at 1000m above sea level.
May 25 – Plate-billed Mountain-toucan and many other species. Afternoon crossing to Antisana volcano at 3500m.
May 26 – Photographing Giant Hummingbird, Andean Condor, and other high-altitude species. Departure to the airport (flight home for those finishing the workshop here).
May 27 – Departure to Galapagos (Baltra airport). Hotel check-in. Visit Charles Darwin Research Station.
May 28 – Morning photography and swimming at Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island. Afternoon boat transfer to Isabela Island.
May 29 – Visit the Tortoise breeding center, the Flamencos Lagoon, and Tintoreras. Afternoon snorkeling, and in the evening, return to Santa Cruz
May 30 – Cruise to Isla Bartolome. Photographing Pinnacle Rock. Snorkeling and discovering the rich underwater life of the Galapagos.
May 31 – Hike to the higher elevations of Santa Cruz Island. Photograph Giant Tortoises. Walk through the lava tunnel and to Las Grietas.
June 1 – Fly home, and look forward to editing your great photos!
Cost and How to Sign Up
The cost of the workshop in the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon is $6,000. The optional Galapagos Extension costs an additional $4,000 per participant. We are currently taking a deposit of $1,000 to secure your spot. Full workshop payment is expected at least 60 days prior to departure.
Here is what is included in the above workshop cost:
- Hotel accommodation costs
- Meal costs*
- All ground transportation costs
- Round-trip airfare to the Galapagos (In the case of the Galapagos Extension)
- All entrance fees to the above-mentioned locations
- Photography instruction / workshop fees
* Please note that this is a photography workshop, not a tour. At times, when traveling or hiking extensively, we might be limited to snacks instead of full meals. The price does not include meals in restaurants. Most of the time, however, we can have three full meals a day as part of our accommodation. If you have any dietary requirements, they must be communicated in advance. Price does not include alcoholic beverages and meals in restaurants.
What’s not included:
- Round-trip airfare to Ecuador
- Travel / medical insurance
- Hotel incidentals
- Room service, beverages, phone service, Internet fees, etc
- Photography equipment
- Extra costs due to unanticipated changes in the itinerary (flight delays, closures, etc)
In order to sign up for the above workshop, please use our secure Workshop Registration page.
Please note that the workshop deposit fee is fully refundable 90 days before the workshop commences. We will not be able to provide a refund after this date due to group reservations, planning and coordination issues. Full payment is expected 60 days before the workshop date. In the event of workshop cancellation due to unforeseen circumstances (natural disaster, government closures, injury, death, etc), collected workshop fees will be refunded (minus potential processing fees, non-refundable hotel accommodations and permits acquired in advance). Photography Life will not be held responsible for airfare and other potential expenses incurred due to workshop cancellation.