On my recent trip to Iceland there were two birds I particularly wanted to avoid. One was the Puffin!
Why ? Because I knew I was soon to return to the Isle of May where I would be surrounded by them.
At first I resisted the temptation to photograph them, I have been there and done that too many times so I didn't really need any Puffin pictures to add to my collection but eventually my will to resist was broken, particularly if the light and background was particularly suitable.
If you only have a few hours to spare you might have to just accept what is available.
The cold hard rock in the background isn't nearly as nice as the soft yellow bokeh of litchen covered ones especially when shot at a small aperture.
But with the lens wide open it's altogether different.
This at f5.6
or this at f4.
Why would you use anything different then? Wide open is fine if your subject is side on but if it isn't you need to be careful, especially with longer telephoto lenses, to maintain sufficient "depth of field" to get both the nearest and furthest part of your subject in focus. The nearer you are the less the DOF.
To get the classic Puffin headshot with a bill full of Sand Eels I narrow the aperture right down.
The trouble is once you have taken one shot you are hooked again.
I'm a self confessed addict.
Strangely on this visit I hardly bothered with Puffin flight photographs
I kept that for other species but the wing spread and shake down makes a very appealing shot.
In actual fact they sometimes look better without a bill full of fish for those shots too.
The facial expression seems to change totally
and they are oh so cute.
The one word of warning though is that you shouldn't hang around with the same birds for too long. Yes they will stand and pose for you for ages but that's because you are seen as a potential threat and you are probably somewhere between the bird and the entrance to the nest burrow. Approach too close and there is every chance they will fly, sometimes making several huge circuits before returning to land in the same spot. The same happens when Lesser Black-backed Gulls attack them in the hope of getting them to drop their fish.
The Puffin is the smallest sea bird on the Isle of May and bottom of the food chain to a large extent. The adults aren't predated to a great extent although I have seen a Greater Black-back taking one, it's the chicks that are most in danger but that is only when they have just left their nest and heading to the sea. The bigger threat is to their food supply. Puffins can fly as far as 80 miles out to sea to find a food source but when they return to the island they are often attacked by the gulls in the hope they can be persuaded to drop their food. There are different forms of attack too, sometimes launched in the air, sometimes on the ground. Much depends it seems on the positioning of the burrows from what I could see. If a burrow entrance is in open ground it's easy for the gulls to wait near the entrance but if they are surrounded by long Sea Campion plants even the Puffins can't always make a direct approach. It's sad to see a Puffin lose it's catch but that's the way it is. The Gulls have evolved by being efficient scavengers, they even team up in gangs to hijack a single Puffin. Possibly that's why Puffins are able to catch many fish at once so that when they do get through, they have a good food supply for what is usually just a single chick or Pufflet.
Anyway, it makes fascinating watching. The researchers on the island spend hours doing so as well as monitoring catch sizes which indicate the health of our seas.
The one thing I haven't previously been successful with is Puffins on the water. On the Isle of May there is an artificial fresh water loch and the Puffins use it to bathe.
Not many people bother to go there but there is a spot where you can take near water level shots on a solid platform, unlike being on a rocking boat.
You can even choose the colour of the water reflection too! Pretty flat water too.
The last shots I took of a Puffin were the most unusual. Something I have never seen before too. A Puffin in it's burrow, well at the entrance to it anyway. Christian and I were actually on our way to the departure pier when we spotted it and hurriedly unpacked our gear. I managed two shots of not the best quality before it disappeared back inside.
As you walk past the Puffin burrows the most you usually hear is the odd sound coming from well inside the burrow. It's a cross between sounding like ET and an old man groaning softly.
Well, that's enough about Puffins, I shall think what to share next!