Ian’s Memories of Skomer’s Puffins

I count myself fortunate; I’ve been able to take photos from Alaska to South Georgia, India to the Masai Mara. What’s the relevance to Skomer? Well, Skomer, on our own doorstep, presents one of the more challenging environments to ‘get the shot’, the shot being that of Skomer’s Puffins.

A puffin lands at The WIck with a mouthful of sand eels - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

Put aside the “will I get there” conundrum – it’s only a 15 minute boat ride, but if the wind’s from the North & over 10 knots, “you ain’t going” (been there, done that), the climb once you get there (87 steps carrying everything you brought – teamwork to the rescue – you make friends quickly), & the basic living conditions (all very comfortable & clean, but ‘snug’ bedrooms, solar battery powered lighting, & the prospect of a cool shower (if you time it wrong!). The real challenge is your reason for being there – puffins.

A puffin calling at The Wick - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

Those loveable, comical, ‘clowns of the sea’ are not very big (woodpecker-ish size), fly surprisingly quickly, are aiming straight for their burrows on landing, & are flying an unpredictable course so they can avoid being pounced upon by the gulls who want an easy meal.

One of Skomer's puffins returns to further line it's nest - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

Put all that together &, at times, you have little more than a second to acquire your ‘target’, get the camera to focus, & then maintain that focus whilst you track & ‘machine-gun’ it with the shutter button!

Make no mistake, on this photographic holiday, you will be challenged. Thank heavens for digital, because the ‘delete’ rate is phenomenal, especially until you get your eye in, learning the flight patterns, how the birds use the wind, & sharpen your technique. Black & white blurs with a hint of orange against a dark background could easily be the Skomer signature shot!

Flying against the rain, one of the Skomer puffins braves the weather - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

Sounds fun! I’m not trying to put you off. In fact quite the opposite. Puffins are a brilliant subject, Skomer is an excellent location, & with NaturesLens you get the privilege of staying on the island for 3 nights, & the opportunity to shoot in the glorious morning & evening light. What’s more, given clear conditions, the ‘dark sky’ environment means that astro-photography will keep you awake all night. With the NaturesLens leaders, you get on-hand technique guidance, suggested camera settings, & ideas for location/framing etc. Hell, they’ll even cook dinner for you!

The June 2016 holiday was a bit of a trial. The night before we sailed, the wind was high & from the North. By 8am the next morning, it was almost flat calm. First hurdle complete – we sailed. First day weather was almost perfect, good light & a bit of wind which slowed the puffins down a bit on landing.

Skomer Island is home to many other bird species - such as this Meadow Pippit - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

However, by evening, it was drizzling & that continued through the next day, turning to low cloud, rain & stronger wind. But, guess what, we still went out, getting the shots in different light & proving the waterproofing of modern cameras! We got a roaring fire going in the residents quarters, dried off waterproofs & cameras, & anxiously watched the weather forecast. There was mixed enthusiasm to go out that evening!

The final day the weather was due to clear & it did. The wind dropped almost completely & the puffins became a real test – popping up over the cliff edge at a high rate of knots & heading straight for home. The air was blue with frustration.

Literally the last rays of sun setting over Skomer Island - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

But we still got the shots & puffin portraiture became a ‘go to’ option. In addition, as it was a Monday, there were no day trippers & we spread out all over the island, taking advantage of the quiet atmosphere to seek out the great variety of land & sea birds, seals, & lizards.

Incoming - a gullemot attempts a landing on one of the Skomer cliff faces - photographed during the NaturesLens Skomer's Puffins Photography Holiday

Departure day dawned cloudy but we still went looking for the sunrise. Let’s say it wasn’t a stunner, but some of us got a good hour with a Little Owl that was pottering about inland, & others went back to The Wick for a final fix of puffin before catching the boat back to the mainland.

Those 3 days went so quickly & were so much fun. Want to get some great photos & meet new friends? Book now for 2017.

WHY NOT PHOTOGRAPH SKOMER’S PUFFINS FOR YOURSELF?

Skomer is one of the most important locations for the colonies of Atlantic Puffins in Europe & it is easy to see why. For photographers keen to add puffin images captured in different conditions & lighting to their wildlife portfolio, a three night stay on the island provides an abundance of opportunities to photograph Skomer’s puffins. Our focus, rather obviously, during the NaturesLens photography holidays are the comical puffins, which can be seen on Skomer in abundant quantities from mid-May through to July.

Our puffins of Skomer photography holiday for the dates of June 17 – 20, 2017 still has spaces available & costs £499 for the 3 night stay on the island! There will be a second 2017 holiday, to be held in July, over the dates of July 15 – 18, 2017.