This was my third trip to Skomer Island, off the Pembrokeshire coast, for a few days of puffin photography (Here's a link to a post from my first visit).
Generally speaking, I don't like to repeat trips too much (since there's a whole world out there to see!), but Skomer truly seems to be one of the best wildlife experiences in the UK. And more to the point; it's certainly one of the best wildlife photography opportunities - and at a time of year when there's less else around. The harsh light, early sunrise, late sunset, and heat of summer generally combine to make it the most challenging season, photographically. So having a few action-packed days to break up the summer is always welcome.
There are benefits to revisiting a location multiple times. I'm familiar with the different areas of the island; where I want to spend my time and at what time of day. And I know the different sections of those areas, which I can use in different ways to create different results, depending on the light.
The first time I visited I over-packed food and clothing, but I've been able to be more economical with space on subsequent visits. When it comes down to it, you need surprisingly little for just a couple of days/nights on the island. Similarly, I'm more aware of the lenses I'll need and which ones I can leave behind. The latter as a result of familiarity with the opportunities and the shots I can go for.
But there are also drawbacks to returning to the same place several times. It's easy to repeat myself, and spend time trying to get shots which I've taken before. Believe it or not, it's also easy to become blasé at being surrounded by puffins, which was incredible first time around! So I do try to stop taking photos at times to make sure I take the time to enjoy the experience.
I guess the only real drawback of Skomer, photographically, is it's popularity. That's great for the prospect of the island wildlife, for the Wildlife Trust, and for anyone who gets to visit. But as a photographer I see so many photos from Skomer these days, that coming back with something that feels like mine is getting more difficult as time goes on.
For example, on my previous visit in 2015 I got some wide-angle photos, taking in more of the scene and The Wick as a seabird colony. But since then I've seen plenty of other people doing the same. So although I shot a few this time around, they feel less original than before.
So far I think my Skomer photos reflect my style quite well, and don't look too generic. It takes a little more work, but I feel like I'm still able to create something interesting and appealing. And given the opportunity, I'd love to go again. I have plenty more ideas to play with. But realistically, as much as I like Skomer, I might try seeing puffins somewhere else next time, just for a change of scene.
Of course one ongoing project of mine is to remove the context and surroundings altogether, by shooting On Black. I was able to capture these darker portraits by shooting against a dark section of cliff face in various lighting situations.
Puffin On BlackPortrait of an Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica), shot low-key on a black background.
I usually choose a relaxed 'pose' for these portraits, but I like the character and tension created by the open mouth here. Although it looks like a rather human 'calling' moment, puffins spend a lot of time opening their mouths, and 'chattering' to one another quite happily.
Fine Art Nature Photography, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK.
I shot these last two portraits intending to push the shadows to black (as above), but I later decided that I preferred them with a little of the green background for context.
Low-Light PuffinAn Atlantic Puffin on a cliff top in low light.
Taken in the traditional low-key style, to retain focus on the subject and allow the background to fall into shadow.
Fine art nature photography. Taken on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, off the coast of mainland Wales.
If you've never been to Skomer, I'd highly recommend it. It's popular for good reason. You can book one of many one-day or multi-day photography workshops run there, or you can book directly via the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. They sell out early though, so you'll need to book in the autumn for the next summer. If you're not a photographer and you just want to see the puffins, you can just turn up on the day and get the boat across for a few hours with them. Again though - do get there early to reserve a place on the boat.
Post by George Wheelhouse, 2017.