Puffins of the Farne Islands, by Colin Carter
Summer is here again in the UK and that means the Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula Arctica) are back on the Farne Islands in their thousands to breed. Puffins spend most of the year out to sea feeding only coming onto land during breeding season from May to the end of July. Each pair produce a single egg. Puffins main diet is Sand Eels which they are continually bringing back to their borrows in their beaks. Puffins Nickname is the Clown Bird because of its comical looks.
The Farne Islands are located off the Northumberland Coast in the North East of the UK. The town of Seahouses is where people board the boats and take the one hour crossing to Staple Island located 3 miles out in the North Sea. The famous Sheil family currently headed by Billy Sheil sails daily during the breeding season with their fleet of 7 boats, named Glad Tidings 1 through 7.
For photographing the puffins a focal length of around 300mm on a digital SLR is all you really need. My favourite lens for the Farne Islands has been my Nikkor 70-200+1.4x tele-converter. Photo opportunities are everywhere and you certainly don’t need a long lens to get really good shots of static or flying birds. In fact tripods are really a hindrance on the wooden slatted boardwalks and rocky walkways.
Weather conditions on the islands can change very quickly and you need to keep an eye on your histogram. If the conditions are bright you need to be careful of the whites, I shoot RAW and underexpose my shots by 2/3rds which retains detail in the whites of the puffin but is not too dark to block up the shadows to a point that some detail cannot be recovered in your Raw converter. Overcast conditions are much easier to expose for and I usually find that the cameras exposure meter, when set to Matrix (Evaluative for Canon shooters) does a very good job without having to dial in any positive or negative compensation. In dull conditions I sometimes use fill in flash to give a catch light in the bird’s eyes. I set my SB-900 to TTLBLFP mode and adjust the flash exposure compensation to suit the subject distance and amount of light that I want to project.
If anyone has not been or are planning a trip I’ve included a link to Billy Sheils website which should give you all the information you need. The All Day Bird Watch trip is the one that I recommend as it gives you 2 hours on each of the 2 main islands. Billy Sheil is the only company offering this tour.
Check out more of Colin Carters images... here