Thursday, June 23, 2022

Trying to capture photos of Puffin in a storm. Some of the most challenging photos I have ever taken!

Two weeks I was in Scotland teaching on another photo tour, and on our third day in the country we were scheduled to take a boat ride out to the Isle of Staffa. On this tiny island there is a large group of puffins. If you have not seen a puffin, you are missing out. These are awesome looking birds, which I have been wanting to photograph for years.

So...the good news was that the boat ride was booked and we were ready to go. The bad news was that the weather had turned from beautiful blue skies to high winds and rain. But that was not going to stop us. We were determined to get out to the island to see these little beauties. 

Little did I know what was ahead of us. This turned out to be one of the most challenging photo shoots of my life, all in the span of 15 minutes.

We took a 30 minute boat ride out to Staffa fighting the swells, and they pulled up against a small cement dock. The captain informed us that we should carefully climb up the steps and head to the far side of the island where there was a pink flag flying.  We had one hour on the island before they picked us up. I put a small red "x" in the photo above to show you where we had to walk to.  During a dry day this would be a 10 minute walk, but with the rain and high winds, this took at least 15 minutes.

We walked as fast as we could towards the flag, while also being careful not to slip on the wet rocks ground. By the time we got to the puffins, I lifted my camera to start shooting and realized that the camera and lens were soaked. This is not a problem for the weather sealed Canon R5 and Canon RF100-500mm lens, but the problem was that the front of my lens was so full of rain drops that my images looked terrible. See above.

I tried to dry off the front of the lens, but there was nothing dry on me, so I was out of luck there. Also, the winds were so high, that the rain was blowing sideways. I knew that I could not turn my lens too far to face the birds without a new layer of water being blown onto the lens. 

What to do now? We had made the trip out there. There had to be something I could do.

Then I realized that I had my Tiffen HT UV filter on the front of the lens and that I could just remove it to have a totally dry and clean lens, at least for a couple of minutes. This is something I never do, but felt that it was the only option I had. I yelled over the high winds to the others to tell them to try this as well (for those who had filters on their lenses).

I removed the UV filter and started shooting, trying my hardest not to point the camera in the direction of the wind. And voila - I was able to get some shots. I scooted down towards the edge of the cliff to get tight shots of the puffin. They were not fazed by us at all.

It was amazing to watch the puffin navigate the high winds as they came in for landing.

This was one of the first times that I have ever shot in this type of weather. I could barely see through my eyepiece, so I just pointed the Canon R5 at the birds and fired, hoping to get good images.

The muted light from the clouds did help to get nice images without any harsh light and shadows. 

I was amazed at how close we could get to the puffins. 

You can really see the direction of the rain in this shot. Totally sideways!

When I zoomed into the previous image, I saw that a drop of rain had landed on the head of this puffin and bounced off again. Because of the high resolution of the Canon R5, I was able to crop the image like this and still have a 5MB file. 

I think this puffin was checking out my camera gear. Or he was thinking "Why would you be out here in this weather?"

Once I had shot images of the birds on the island for a minute or two, I decided that it was time to risk getting the lens wet by trying to get photos of the birds in flight. 

I looked for birds that were flying in front of me, to avoid turning left and having the rain splash onto the front element of my lens.

That worked well for about one minute...

I was happy to get some shots of the puffin in flight. Well...I really didn't know if I got anything because it was too wet to see anything through the eyepiece, but I felt that I had something. This was my favorite shot, and one of the last photos I took before the lens was once again drenched.

I headed back to the other side of the island with the rest of the group to get picked up by the boat. I was able to dry the lens off enough to get this shot.  We were soaked, freezing, but also really happy. Well...most of us. :)

Once back on the boat, I whipped out my laptop and downloaded the images to see if I got anything useable. I was happy to see that myself and our guests got decent images from this highly challenging adventure. 

The rest of the afternoon, we toured around in soaked clothes. My only pair of shoes were so wet that I was not sure if they would ever dry. Thankfully, the hair dryer in the room worked really well for drying them out. Hey - I finally had a use for hair dryer!!!


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OnlyInCA said...

Sounds like typical Scottish coastal weather! When we were in the Farne Is photographing the puffins we had several of our trips cancelled due to sudden squalls and wind. You almost have to plan to be there a 5-7 days to make sure you get some good weather with not too much sun or too much rain! LOL. Good job considering the circumstances!
Catherine D.

Gina F. said...

What a terrific read. Thanks!

Teramis said...

Thanks so much for your persistence in getting some decent shots. I love these birds! These pics are really fascinating for how they show the puffins balancing as they battle that shear wind you were experiencing.
Puffins look so charming! I really enjoyed this and the story of your island adventure. (I think this is the first comment I've ever left here but I've subscribed to your blog posts for years, so here's a shout out to say thanks! I enjoy what you share. :)