Puffin Photography on Skomer Island

Updated: Mar 7

This summer I finally got around to visiting Skomer Island. It’s famous for its seabird colonies, and mostly for its puffins.


I’d wanted to visit for a few years, so with a couple of keen friends, we booked 2 nights, in order to give us the opportunity for 2 sunsets and 2 sunrises, weather permitting. As it happened, we had amazing luck with the weather, and got to make the most of both sunsets and a sunrise.


This post is a collection of my favourite photos taken in my time there with a little background about each of them, and some further information and advice for visiting yourself.


First off is probably my favourite, and it was a shot I had in mind before going – though I didn’t necessarily expect to actually get it. On our second night, the sunset wasn’t spectacular, but with a thin band of pink cloud on the horizon, it was possible to use it as an interesting background, using a longer focal length. This shot actually looks quite surreal, with the blues & pinks, and the puffin posing so perfectly…

The iconic Atlantic Puffin, standing for his portrait with the blue sea and pink sunset sky behind.
Puffin Sunset Portrait

That is kind of a dream shot for me in many ways, as I love to catch an animal in a seemingly intentional pose.


The puffins aren’t that wary of people. As long as you don’t make any sudden movements, they’ll walk right up to you, or inches past you. It’s a real relief to be out with wildlife so forgiving, so you can simply concentrate on compositions and photo ideas.


Taking advantage of the close proximity in which the puffins will allow you to work, I tried some head shots too…

Close up of a puffin at sunset, from Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire.
Puffin Sunset

Isolating subjects from their surroundings is another theme I enjoy for wildlife portraits, and although this photo perhaps lacks context because of that, I love the fact that I captured it against such a lovely soft colourful background.

Portrait of a puffin against the blue sea & sky, on Skomer Island.
Puffin Portrait

This is a large crop to get tight into the plumage of the puffin, which creates a more intimate feel than the standard portrait.

Close-up of a preening puffin

Before I went, I had a couple of in-flight shots in mind, which I didn’t manage to get. It’s fair to say they’re considerably faster in flight even than I had expected, and getting good flight shots takes real practice. I got better as time went on, but I think it’s a skill I’ll need to work on for my next visit. Still, here’s a couple of flight shots I did manage…

puffin in flight

A very fast shutter speed was required to capture the puffins in flight, and a bit of luck to spot the ones which are approaching close enough.

flying puffin, coming in to land

As the sun gets lower in the sky, you start to receive the best light of the day, and there you get the potential for low-light photography, which is a favourite style of mine…

Puffin in low evening light
Puffin in Low Light

Just before the sun sets, you can catch the subject in light, with the surroundings in shade. By under-exposing, I can retain the highlight details, and throw the background into complete shadow. And the most extreme example here; Side-lit, I underexposed the background enough to retain only the highlight detail

Puffin on a black background

Similarly, having made the very early start for a 5am sunrise, we were rewarded with light like this…

A puffin, with it’s iconic bill back-lit by the rising sun.
A puffin, with it’s iconic bill back-lit by the rising sun.

The puffins live in burrows on the cliff edges, which they’ve reclaimed from rabbit holes.

With a bit of luck, and some laying in dirt, you can get low enough to isolate a puffin against the grassy green background.

The shot below is of a puffin standing on the cliff, looking out to sea…

Atlantic puffin, looking out from the cliffs of Skomer Island

It’s also worth trying a few wide-angle photos too, if you have the time. This was probably my favourite wide-angle photo, but I hope to get some better ones next time…

A wide-angle photo of the puffins at Skomer.
A wide-angle photo of the puffins at Skomer.

VISITING SKOMER YOURSELF

You can visit Skomer on a day trip (approx 10am-5pm) – information here. This is a great option for nature-watchers, casual visitors, and families, and it also benefits from the flexibility of being able to choose your dates nearer the time (on the day, even).

But if you’re going for photography, I recommend staying over for the best light – information here. The accommodation is basic, but it’s really nothing to worry about. Much nicer and more civilised than I was expecting! Booking for summer 2015 opens to the public on 20th October, but members of the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales can book from two weeks before then.


As well as the puffins, you should also be able to see razorbills, guillemots, manx shearwater, chough, little owls, short-eared owls, grey seals, and potentially dolphins and porpoises – though I didn’t manage to see any last year.

Generally, you’ll find the best puffin opportunities at an area to the south of the island, known as The Wick…


Puffin at "The Wick", with the sea behind
Puffin at "The Wick"

Sun on sea, and puffin on sign. A common sight at the Wick on a summer Skomer day.


If you do visit, let me know how you got on in the comments section below. Or if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.


George

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