There is an old adage that admonishes travelers to “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” These five photo tours have taken that to heart — and upped the ante by working to protect the places they visit, while ensuring their photographers do them no harm.
The Galapagos Islands
National Geographic Expeditions • A National Geographic Expeditions trip to the Galapagos gives participants a chance to play Darwin. While living aboard the 80-passenger research vessel Polaris, photographers have at their disposal a National Geographic photographer, as well as resident conservation biologist Dr. David Silverberg. While participants capture schooling sharks and dive among sea lions, the photo expert helps with technical fine-tuning down to the f-stop, and Dr. Silverberg explains why iguanas here have taken to the sea. For ten days this ecological wonderland will be both a photo studio and adventure playground, complete with plenty of diving, hiking, and paddling.
Cost: $4,320-$7,120 (choice of lodging, includes round-trip travel from Miami)
The Payback: National Geographic partners with Lindblad Expeditions, founders of the Galapagos Conservation Fund and the Galapagos Teacher Aboard Program; the former benefits local projects on the island (like the eradication of feral pigs), and the latter is a continuing education program that hosts South American high school teachers.
Terra Incognita Ecotours • More than 40 species of lemur, half of the world’s chameleons, and 170 species of frogs call this 224,534-square-mile island home. What’s more, new species are discovered here every year. And on a 15-day tour of the island with Terra Incognita, photographers have a good chance of capturing some yet unknown creature. The tour’s real strength, as guide Ged Caddick points out, is its pacing: “We stay at least three nights at each park and never drive or fly between places during the mornings or evenings, when there’s the best light.” The traveling squad is low impact, with a group of only 13 along with Caddick and NANPA photographer of the year Kevin Schafer. Participants will also learn from local photographers and naturalists familiar with the island’s spectacular flora and fauna.
Cost: $7,499 (includes round-trip airfare from Paris)
The Payback: A portion of each trip goes to Project Angonoka (durrellwildlife.org), a captive breeding and research program that is working to save the highly endangered ploughshare tortoise.
Torres del Paine National Park
Chile Andean Trails • With Dr. Seussian rock spires, snow-covered peaks that seem to glow in the predawn light, and blinding white glaciers calving into emerald lakes, photographers will find it hard to believe their eyes, or their images, in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park. Beyond the landscapes, the guanacos (like llamas), Chilean flamingos, and South American pumas should keep their shutters clicking. Leading this trip, in its inaugural year, is Bruce Percy, a frequent visitor to Patagonia and contributor to Outdoor Photographer magazine.
Cost: $2,669 (includes lodging, meals, daily transportation, and park fees)
The Payback: Andean Trails uses fair-trade, biodegradable products, supports and employs local farmers and businesses, and trains staff to abide by high standards of environmental care and sustainable behavior.
Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks • A high-tech ship is the HQ for this tour to the Antarctic Peninsula led by Tom Bol and Rosanne Pennella. The tour is planned with Norwegian Coastal Voyages to make sure views from onboard are always picture worthy. Smaller excursion vessels help photographers get closeups of local wildlife, including elephant seals, chinstrap penguins, and killer whales, set against the stunning scenery of sparkling ice and turquoise waters.
Cost: $6,366-$10,597 (choice of lodging, with round-trip airfare from New York City)
The Payback: Tour members learn about ways they can help protect the gentoo penguin colony on Petermann Island.
Yellowstone National Park
Wildshots • In Yellowstone in autumn, the megafauna gather in droves on America’s answer to the African savanna. Put aside the grizzlies, the herds of elk, the packs of wolves, the superheated water shooting a hundred feet into the sky, and there, in the middle of it all, is the majestic American buffalo. With Wildshots, a U.K. based company that deals in photo-ecotours, photographers get 13 days worth of bison sightings, not to mention hikes, drives, and climbs in the most dramatically intact ecosystem in North America.
Cost: $3,950 (includes lodging, meals, daily transportation, and park fees)
The Payback: Wildshots organizers are careful to create tours that have as little impact as possible on the park’s delicate environment. Participants are educated about ways to use images to aid conservation efforts and to protect the animals they see.
Even with so many Earth-friendly photography tours to choose from, the bigger the trip, the more likely you are to impact the environment. Conservation International, a non-profit organization that sells carbon offsets and supports other conservation efforts, is asking summer travelers to pledge to make their trips as low-impact as possible. The Travel Pledge prompts those who sign up to commit to measures such as patronizing responsible travel companies, reducing energy consumption and garbage output, and avoiding ill-gotten food and souvenirs. Almost 2,000 people had signed the pledge within the first few days, and a partner organization, Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation, has agreed to donate $5 to Conservation International for each person who takes part. For more information go to getinvolved.conservation.org/travel.