Our contributing photographers have seen hundreds of islands through their lenses. But in all of their travels, a few destinations inevitably stand out. We asked them to narrow down their favorites to these six. Their selections reveal what photographers love about islands — from wild animals to wild cultures, colorful landscapes to colorful people. We also asked them to share their secrets to help you get the best photos on your own journeys to equally photogenic locales. Get your shutter finger ready.
ST. JOHN >> Macduff EvertonI like islands that are an authentic small world. St. John is such a special place because of Laurance Rockefeller’s environmental dream of preserving the treasure he found here. Half of the island and most of St. John’s beautiful beaches still have easy access for the public. Most of the development has been contained at Cruz Bay, at the far end of the island. That in itself makes this island different than most other places.
St. John has also proved to be a small world literally. One time when I was shooting St. John from the water, I asked the captain of a sailing ship if I could use his gaff-rigged ketch as a platform. It turned out he was a fellow ISLANDS contributor, Peter Muilenburg. He did everything he could so that I’d get the photos I needed. Showcasing St. John’s natural beauty can be as simple as pointing a camera in practically any direction. But when you point toward the water, keep in mind that the best blue colors appear midday, when the sun’s rays are entering the water directly and bouncing back. Earlier or later in the day the rays bounce off at an angle, making the water look more opaque and darker.
HONG KONG >> Matthieu Paley I strive to show the diversity of hong Kong through images. I can be surfing or climbing or trekking or biking and then hop into a tuxedo and go dancing — all within 30 minutes. The city exists in close quarters with nature, and it’s great to show that by capturing a building surrounded by jungle or a tree growing on top of houses — basically just contrast ing cityscape and landscape in one frame. I’ve lived here now for six years, and I remember once paragliding from the mountain just behind my house, looking below to my village and the beach.
When you are in the heart of the city, you will need to shoot with a really wide angle to frame the diverse scene. It can be very cramped, and everything is vertical; the wide-angle helps to fit it all in one shot. A long lens, such as a 200 mm, would also help to squeeze the contrast of nature versus city into one frame. As for equipment, I like to use medium format for architectural shots, and I shoot on negatives that I later scan and retouch in the computer. I usually try to apply darkroom techniques such as burn-and-dodge, which darken and lighten the photo respectively. You can apply these techniques selectively to an image for the effect you want.
SICILY >> Andrea Pistolesi The amazing variety of Sicily’s dialects, cultural details and local costumes make it a continuous experience for the travel photographer. To capture it, I think like a storyteller. When I shot the Holy Week of 2004 there, I discovered an intensity of human characters and strong feelings, which I used to trace the continuity of the event. I practically didn’t sleep for four days to follow everything from a night procession in Barrafranca to the Spanish grandness of the Enna Good Friday to the exciting finale of the Scicli Easter Day celebration. I woke up on Monday with an incredible number of pictures to edit.
Even without a specific event to cover, you can fi nd the story of your travels just by walking the streets of Sicily’s cities. You’ll find dynamic scenes everywhere, from the markets of Palermo to the morning fish market in Catania. I’d say you should direct most of your effort toward meeting and interacting with the people. And that is a very easy thing to do. When shooting in Sicily, especially if you go old school and use film, remember that it is a land of shadows — not only because of the local lore. Choose well-lit subjects and use the shadowy areas to frame them. Sometimes it is really better not to show what happens in the dark.
ISLANDS OF TAHITI >> Bob KristThe geography here is astonishing. an aerial excursion is a must to capture the incredible blues and greens of the water set against sandbars and reefs. I also like to get in the water and try to shoot “over/unders” in this region, where the camera shows half above the water and half below. They’re hard to pull off, but when they work, they’re fun. Straight underwater snorkeling shots showcase the fantastic coral in shallow depths, and the shark-and ray- feeding trips available here allow you to get up close and personal with these creatures. Bring a polarizing filter to draw out the colors, as well as a waterproof camera … and patience.
Beyond the physical beauty is the friendliness of the people. It’s a welcoming attitude you don’t often experience in the heavily touristed areas of the island world. For lively images of the people, plan your trip around a festival. Bastille Day is a French holiday, but the Polynesians have made it their own and schedule their folkloric events to coincide.
SOUTH GEORGIA >> Jad DavenportI’m fascinated with wildlife and wild places, and South Georgia, a sub-Antarctic island some 1,100 miles east of the southern tip of South America, has that in spades. While there, I was surrounded by fur seals, king penguins, southern elephant seals, albatrosses and even reindeer. The one time I shot there, I’d been walking through a king penguin colony to photograph some fur seals, and when I turned around I realized I had a whole parade of curious penguins following me in single file. They almost seemed embarrassed when I stopped and would look anywhere but at me. Then they scuttled along after me, bellies out in front and wings wheeling like excited toddlers.
Hike along beaches where penguins, fur seals and elephant seals congregate, and get down on your belly for eye- level wildlife shots. Bring a nice wide-angle (12-24 mm) lens and a fast 70-200 mm/2.8, but leave the 400 mm and 600 mm lenses at home — you can reach out and touch the animals, they’re so close. The weather will be stormy, so be prepared for wet, windy conditions and invest in a nice waterproof camera pack, like the DryZone Rover from Lowepro. Limit the washed-out sky and set your white balance warmer to make the colors pop. A polarizer will help add some contrast and bring out the deep blues of the glaciers. The flip side is that overcast skies make for ideal portrait lighting. Also, bring some sort of seasickness remedy because the Scotia Sea is reputedly the roughest in the world, and it’s a two-day sail to South Georgia.
GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS >> Shelly StrazisThe purest underwater encounters can happen in the Galápagos. The Ecuadorian government is vigilant about preservation here, so humans aren’t the threat they are elsewhere. This is a place where it is hard to “wing it” and still experience its full potential. Research your trip carefully. On one trip, I was shooting underwater with a friend in a spot I had determined was the ideal place to find sea lions. Sure enough, about five or six sea lions started following us around and playing. They would swim right up to my mask, spin around and then disappear. We even got them to play follow the leader; my friend would dive down and swim around while they fell in line behind her.
Underwater shots can look better in black and white because the water can be murky. Also, a polarizing filter is effective for getting rid of glare on the water and darkening the sky. Olympus is making a great point-and-shoot digital camera that can go underwater without a water housing. It is also shockproof up to 5 feet, which can come in handy if you drop it. The animals are not afraid of humans, so a super-long lens is not necessary. On some of the day trips, you can find yourself in a dingy or climbing on rocks to reach an island, so don’t bring a heavy pack full of camera gear. Pack a few hand towels, garbage bags and gallon-sized Ziploc bags to put camera gear in if venturing out on a boat. Cameras don’t react well to saltwater spray.