06/05/2019

Photographing sea turtles for 12 years

It all started in 2007, when Kostas Papafitsoros, now well known for his unique sea turtle pictures, saw a poster announcing ARCHELON’s conservation projects on the Athens metro and joined as volunteer. Since then, he has been joining our projects every year, and his interest in sea turtle conservation brought him to photography and to research. We asked him how did this special interest in sea turtle photography evolve and below is what he answered.

"Strangely, both the object and the technique of my photos evolved alongside with the tasks I was entrusted with as a member of the ARCHELON team on Zakynthos. The sight of tens of hatchlings rushing to the sea during a nest excavation in east Laganas, provided my first photo opportunity back in August 2007. Next came a series of snapshots of sea turtles coming up to the surface to breathe, taken from a turtle spotting boat with the use of telephoto lenses, during the 2008 and 2009 breeding seasons.

My first participation in ARCHELON’s night surveys was in 2008, and nesting turtles caught my attention. To capture these moments I tried to combine the light of the full moon together with long exposure of a high ISO sensitivity camera. (I assume you know that artificial lights disturb the nesting turtles and their use is not allowed on the beaches of the the National Marine Park of Zakynthos as well as in all of their nesting sites in Greece).The first results were mediocre, but soon the technology of digital cameras advanced to the point it allowed a real breakthrough in the quality of the photos. I have been using this technique in Zakynthos and in the vast beaches of Kyparissia Bay, which is another great sea turtle nesting site monitored by ARCHELON for more than 35 years now.

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And then came the underwater photography passion. I still remember the first time I swam with turtles in Laganas Bay, in the summer of 2009! The first underwater photos in 2010 were nothing special, but soon I learned how to make the most of the camera I had then. The important factors for good photos were snorkeling at the times of the day with the best light, being patient, persistent and staying in the water as long as possible. The real boost of photo quality came after 2014, when I started using a proper DSLR camera underwater. Typically, I would learn about new techniques in online underwater photography forums during the winter and I would try to apply these during the summer. It is a never ending learning process.

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Photographing sea turtles has led me to visit remote parts of the world on volunteer and photographic expeditions, like Hawaii (green sea turtles), Ghana (leatherbacks) and recently to the Galápagos islands (“black” green sea turtles). My activities have evolved into several research projects, and their results are presented to the international sea turtle symposia around the world.

The most important element of sea turtle photography for me is understanding their behavior. I often encounter sea turtles that I have seen in all previous years. They exhibit a series of interesting behaviors like foraging, being cleaned by fish or being involved in antagonistic interactions with other turtles. At times I am very excited to encounter individuals that I have not seen for a decade!

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Nothing of the above would have happened if I had not joined ARCHELON’s projects in the first place. I strongly recommend them".

You can get a taste of Kostas Papafitsoros’ Sea Turtle Photography here. Maybe you will recognize several of them, as they appear in ARCHELON’s website and social media pages. Thank you, Kostas.

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