a group of puffins on one of the headlands photographed during the natureslens shetland puffins photography holiday

Photographing Shetland’s Puffins of Fair-Isle

Article written by illustrated with images contributed by .

Fair Isle is a truly unique place to photograph Shetland's Puffins. It's unspoiled, natural & very remote, which brings me to the first stage of this trip: getting to this tiny Island that sits between Shetland & Orkney!

It's a fantastic adventure to get to Fair Isle & in my opinion, really adds to the excitement of this photographic holiday.

The first part is getting to Sumburgh in the Shetlands. I decided to fly from Edinburgh on Logan Air which is a great airline. From there on in, NaturesLens takes over & it's a small seven-seater plane that flies you to Fair Isle in around 15-20 minutes. Our hosts greeted us upon arrival & then took us on the very short drive to our lodgings, which was to be our base for the week. We enjoyed some refreshments as the staff gave us a great introduction about the island & what to expect & see during our stay.

We headed to our very comfortable rooms after the briefing to unpack. Our group then met back in the reception area to go out & meet the tiny inhabitants of this island, Shetland's Atlantic Puffins.

We encountered one of the colonies after a short walk. They seemed unconcerned by our presence, so we spent a little time photographing them until it was time for dinner.

The meals at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory are great & varied. If you have any special dietary requirements, they can accommodate you. Just make sure you let of NaturesLens know.

The photography sessions are typically carried out in the morning light & evening light, both at sunrise & sunset, but we found that during some of the days, especially when it was raining, (it is after all!) that we managed to get some fantastic images of the water beading on the Puffin's feathers. So whatever the weather, you can achieve stunning images.

We tried to keep our distance so that we did not block a Puffin from walking back to its burrow. However, this didn't stop these curious ‘clowns' of the sea from approaching us. On one occasion, I was sat down watching the world go by & a Puffin came up to me & decided to have a go at my boot!

It was an experience I won't forget in a hurry.

Photographic kit wise I took my 300mm F2.8 (which I used the most of the time with some extenders on occasion), a 70-200mm & my 17-40mm. I found these Focal lengths to be perfect on a full frame camera. Waterproof clothing is a must as laying down & sometimes crawling along the ground is going to get you wet & dirty! I used over trousers & a top from Decathlon. They are very light & cost around £20 so if they get ruined it's no big deal.

You can always find photographic opportunities even if the shot you had planned doesn't work out. One morning, we decided to head to the colony before breakfast, to try & get some sunrise shots. The sun went into a cloud bank just as it rose. Luckily, there was a short period where there was a beautiful red streak in the sky. We took a few shots before going back to the excellent cooked breakfast that awaited us at the Observatory.

One afternoon, we photographed the Great Skuas in flight, which was great fun & for some, it helped them practice tracking birds in flight. Since they are much bigger, it was easier to get them in focus, so it was a great way to hone those skills needed to capture the faster, more erratic Puffin! Another thing I tried was some fill flash photography. I had some success with some sunset shots & I am looking forward to giving it another go next year. All I can say is the variety of shots on offer, that is achievable, is just incredible!

After our last morning session, we had to board the boat back to the mainland. We were fortunate to have very calm seas that day, so the journey was smooth & relaxed. Bring on the 2019 trips; they are going to be awesome!

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