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Written By onci on Friday, August 14, 2009 | 7:24 AM

Shooting Terns by Colin Carter

If you want to shoot Terns in the UK, there is really no better place than the Farne Islands located off the Northumberland coast near the town of Seahouses.

The Farne Islands are host to Common, Arctic, Sandwich and the occasional Roseate Tern. Inner Farne, the closest to the mainland is the only island where the general public are allowed to land. Fortunately this is the island where all the Terns breed from May to the end of July.
I have been shooting terns on this island for the last 5 years and I have found that fill flash is almost a must for getting the best shots on bright days.

This is because if you don’t use fill flash the green grass on the islands reflects up and turns the underneath of the predominately white tern green. Early July is also the best time, in my opinion, the Islands are full of Tern chicks from newly born to almost ready for their first flights, it’s a great time of year.

Because of the close proximity of the birds on the Farne Islands, interesting perspectives can be made with very short lenses. A focal length of between 17mm and 70mm is great. Because the terns nest next to the walkways as soon as you walk near, the adults fly up in front of you and attack you ferociously stabbing their sharp beaks into your head. This works to the photographers advantage because you can get a great shot of the tern about 3 or 4 feet in front of you and the fill flash works a treat.

My settings last trip, because of the very bright conditions were matrix metering on the camera, exposure compensation set to -1 to darken the background a little and bring out the lovely azure blue sky and the flash set to TTLBLFP with flash exposure compensation set to +2 1/3 ev to give the birds a little more shadow detail.

I also carry my 70-200 or 300mm lens for a different perspective of birds a little further away. A lens of this focal length can be used for flight shots as its an easy lens to track fast flying close birds. I often carry a camera with either of these lenses attached slung over my shoulder to capture quick action shots.

A 400mm to 600mm lens is also great and allows the photographer to get shots at a distance or to use differential focus to seperate a subject from a busy background. As I said with my puffin article, long lenses can be useful on the Farne Islands, especially for the Sandwich Tern colony which always seems to nest further away, but they are not necessary and I find tripods a hindrance as the legs get stuck between the wooden slats that make up the walkways on Inner Farne.

Long lenses are hard to handhold and become tiring over the course of the days shoot but if you put the lens down between shots its not too bad. A 300 F4 or a 400 F5.6 are what I would suggest for most photographs, on the islands, as they are light and also provide very high quality images which will allow you to capture close intimate portraits with loads of detail as well as shots at a distance.

As a final point, a trick we adopted this year was to walk past the terns, let them attack then sit down and wait for them to settle down. Now you are in the prime position to get shots of the terns as the attack everyone else. Because you are sat down, you are able to get shots of the terns hovering with their wings and tail feathers stretched out and hopefully, if the unpredictable British weather is on your side, against a lovely blue sky.
Thank you for reading.

Best wishes
Colin Carter
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