Puffin / Sand eel lunchPuffins are such cute things!  I’m writing this from a hotel bar in Lerwick, Shetland whilst waiting on some light for costal landscapes.  Now, I associate Shetland with ponies and hand-knitted woollen jumpers.  Not with Puffins!  Anyhow, they are clearly a tourist attraction and the local shops are filled with them. No, not real ones, but photo books, pictures and little knitted woollen ones!  I guess tourists fresh off the tour ships that dock in Lerwick will buy anything!

These images are not from Shetland but from another part of the world that has lots of puffins – Skomer Island off the West coast of Pembrokeshire. The Skomer puffin chicks must mature slightly ahead of their Northern cousins as they usually depart the nest about a month earlier in July.

Puffins are about 6 to 10 inches high and a mix of black and grey, almost white, feathers but as they nest underground their feathers can often be coated in an earthy muddy brown.  Puffins, unlike all other flying birds I know, are not bothered by the presence of humans.  They will stop and look at you, perhaps come and have a closer look and then walk past just inches away before taking to the air.  But if they are returning to their nest with food they are very nervous things indeed, looking to get underground as quickly as possible and before they are attacked by other birds seeking to snatch their catch of fresh sand eels.

Puffin in flowersSo, to photograph puffins on the ground a big lens is not required.  In fact a 70-200mm does just fine; it also helps to have something even shorter – a 50mm perhaps 🙂 Whatever the lens tho, it really helps if it has a wide aperture, something like f2.8 or better.  This helps blur backgrounds and keeps the puffin as the centre of attention.  They watch the sky far more intently than any surrounding humans and in doing so often tilt their heads slightly to the side to gaze up at the sky.  In doing this they place a lovely catch-light in the otherwise dark eye 🙂  The effect can really help make a picture pop. 🙂

If you like to photograph wildlife and haven’t been to Skomer, Farne Islands or the Shetland Islands, then what are you waiting for?  Late Spring to Summer is the time to go 🙂

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