From tiny to giant, dry to wet, below the sea and above the clouds, Jay McLaughlin took on the challenge of photographing the many worlds of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Beneath my many hats and fashion photographer facade, I’m basically a geek. I love nothing more than watching documentaries and, like most people in the country, I’ve been brought up on a staple diet of Sir David Attenborough. My favourite London museum has always been the Natural History Museum, ever since I was a child and would go to see the blue whale. At the main entrance, at the top of the stairs, you’ll find a statue of Charles Darwin, whose Theory of Evolution changed the world after his trip to Galapagos – an archipelago a couple of hours off the coast of Ecuador. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d ever get to follow in his footsteps and have the chance to photograph a world I’d only seen on TV.
For this trip, the basic premise was to take a group of travel influencers and arm them with Olympus gear. Their differing photographic styles, along with my own, would hopefully yield a wide variety of images, while at the same time promoting the Olympus product range to photographers who had never used it. Before I set off, I did plenty of research. This involved watching an extensive amount of Attenborough, but I also needed to know if there were any conditions I might not be aware of, and what equipment would be best suited to the trip.

Image by Jay McLaughlin


Other than being very hot and sunny, the thing that really stands out about Galapagos is the animals are giant and, not only that, they’re everywhere. Ninety-seven per cent of the islands are national park, and therefore protected, so
the nature is abundant. There are strict rules for tourists, like staying at least two metres away from the animals, so long lenses were essential. I used the M. ZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens combined with the MC-14 1.4x teleconverter a lot in order to get in close without disturbing the wildlife. Giant tortoises, sea lions and marine iguanas are pretty sedentary for most of the time, so fairly easy to capture. A lot of the birds, however, required a bit more skill to capture. The use of panning, continuous autofocus and high shutter speed was essential for the faster flying subjects. For landscapes and more candid images, the M. ZUIKO 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO was a great secondary lens and I would often switch between them.

One of the major highlights for me was snorkelling with sea lions and turtles. This was partly due to how unexpectedly they appeared in the water, but also because I can’t swim, so never imagined it would be something I’d experience! The great thing is I was able to capture it all on the Olympus Tough TG-5. I’m by no means an underwater photographer, and there are many things I’d change compositionally, but I was really impressed with how this little camera performed.

Image by Jay McLaughlin


After Galapagos, we had a couple of days in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital. Here we got to do some street photography while soaking up the local culture. The lens choices between the group were pretty interesting. It was an even split between wide angle and telephoto, where I opted for a wider field of view for walking around the city. I found this great for shooting some of the artisan craftspeople in their shops.

One of my favourite shots is of the ‘sombrerería’ I bought a couple of hats from. She didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish, but I asked to take her photo and she lit up, before putting on a hat and checking her make-up in the mirror. I love the personal connection you get through photography.

Image by Jay McLaughlin


Our final stop on our mini tour of Ecuador was Mashpi Lodge. This was a place like nothing I’d ever experienced, and a real test for the weather sealing on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Humidity was pretty constant between 90 and 100%, and with regular rainfall, as well as hikes through rivers and waterfalls, the camera never missed a beat. Night hikes posed a challenge for shooting, but the M. ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO and a couple of torches really helped create images like nothing I’d ever taken before. Mashpi also offered up the biggest photographic challenge I’ve ever been faced with: trying to get a sharp image of a hummingbird – in the rain! After endless frustration and a good amount of trial and error, with the constant buzz in our ears as they zipped past, I finally managed to nail the shot.

Image by Jay McLaughlin

Compact Companion

There’s so much more I can say about this trip. I have over 8,000 memories captured on the OM-D E-M1 Mark II to help me share my experience. It was the perfect camera to have with me. The small and compact nature of the Micro Four Thirds system made it perfect for travel and the weather sealing meant I never had to worry about missing the shot, whether I was in the baking hot sun of Galapagos, the streets of Quito or knee-deep in a river in the clouds of Mashpi.Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 62 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.