Photographing Puffins on Skomer Island

The weather recently has not been fantastic so we had been waiting for a pleasant interlude to make the trip over to Skomer Island. Skomer Island lies just off the west coast of Wales near Marloes (although the boat departs from Martin’s Haven which is too small for our Sat Nav) and is a sanctuary for birds. It is home to the largest number of Manx Shearwaters in the world and has a substantial colony of Puffins. It is the latter that many photographers go to photograph as the puffins are quite oblivious to humans (probably far more worried about those vicious gulls catching them).

Puffin With Fish For Young
Puffin With Fish For Young

Puffins start feeding their chicks around the end of May so we wanted to try to get there in June to see this.

A visit to Skomer needs a bit of planning because the boat to the island can’t sail in bad weather (particularly a strong northerly wind) and tickets are allocated on a first come, first served basis. So after a quick review of the weather forecast we got up at 6.00 a.m. for breakfast and a shower etc. before heading off to arrive at Martins Haven about 8.30 a.m. where we managed to get tickets for the first boat at 9.30 a.m.

We then headed up to ‘The Wick’ where it is one of the best places to photograph the Puffins returning with food for their chicks. Photographing them in flight is extremely difficult as they can fly very fast; they also fly very low and straight to their burrows so as to avoid the marauding gulls. This area can get quite busy with visitors to the island.

Puffin in Burrow
Puffin in Burrow

Lots of photographers there with huge long lenses, which to be honest you don’t need in most cases. You can easily photograph these Puffins here with a compact camera or a standard lens. Liz’s photo above is taken with an 85mm lens on a crop sensor SLR. The photo below was taken by John with a 300mm lens on a full frame camera. The longer lens and choice of a wider aperture gives a nice diffuse background but often I felt I needed a shorter lens and did indeed switch to my 100mm lens for some of the time as it was far more useful generally. However, you definitely do not need fancy kit to take good photos of Puffins here. Although you may need to be quick!

The next challenge is to get back and get a good shot in flight. But my goodness it’s hard (rather like trying to photograph someone throwing a cricket ball towards you!) as they travel at up to 70 m.p.h. and are not very big birds. Shooting large birds of prey in flight is a ‘doddle’ by comparison!

Puffin on Skomer Island

As well as all the other amazing bird life here the island makes a great place for a walk (approx 4 miles round). But be aware that there is no shade on the island and that there are no provisions there other than bottled water.


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