Puffins in Flight

Puffin in flight July 5 8419

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 240 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

The first day I walked onto the Farne Islands, I was overwhelmed by the scene before me.  Tens of thousands of birds had made this their nesting grounds and home for several months of the year.  For someone new to bird and wildlife photography, this was more than I could process.  Coming from Arizona, I had never seen so much wildlife concentrated in one location.  I had a glimpse of a similar habitat on Hornoya Island in Norway a month ago, but these islands dwarfed even that.  Initially, my goal was simply to photograph a puffin in flight.  At the time, it didn’t matter if I caught the puffin from the side, as long as I got a sharp image.

Puffin flying July 5 1070

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 370 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

When I captured what I thought would be a decent image, then I focused on the light and whether or not there were harsh shadows on the puffin.  This was difficult since the first 5 days on the island were sunny.  If I caught the bird in the correct angle with the sun behind me, I was able to get a shot without the harsh contrast being so apparent.  This worked well when I caught the backside of the puffin correctly.

Puffin flying July 7 9006

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 640, hand-held.

On some days when the brightness of the sun lessened slightly, I tried to experiment with some images of the puffins flying towards me.  Of course, it was always a bonus if fish were in their mouths, as this was the season for them to bring back the fish to their pufflings.

Puffin flying July 8 7928

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 290 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

There was one bout of clouds for 15 minutes during those first 5 days and I maximized those 15 minutes by focusing only on puffins in flight.  I tried some direct head-on shots after watching their flight patterns and moving just below the hill where they were launching.  I was lucky to get this image below with no fish and its legs crossed and the first image in this blog above with fish.

Puffin flying July 5 8617

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 240 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

From there, I knew there were many more angles and images I could capture when the puffins were flying.  I tried to capture some when the puffin was banking left or right.

Puffin flying July 8 7838

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 310 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

I saw some puffins going almost horizontal in their turns and was lucky enough to catch this image below.

Puffin flying July 8 8278

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 270 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

I then worked on images of the puffins putting on the breaks as they slowed down in their journey from the sea.  I had to make sure the shutter speed was high to capture the wings in focus as the speed of these birds was quite fast.

Puffin in flight July 5 8707

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 240 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

As they flew closer to land, their legs and feet started to descend to a landing position and I could capture the details in the webbing of their feet.

Puffin flying July 8 7833

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 310 mm, f/6.3, 1/4000 sec, ISO 800, hand-held.

I know I could have been more selective in the images posted here, but I had too much fun with them.  The expression on the puffin in this last image just makes me smile.

Puffin flying July 5 8593

Image: Atlantic puffin in flight, Farne Islands, England.  Nikon D500, Nikkor 200-500 mm at 260 mm, f/6.3, 1/5000 sec, ISO 1000, hand-held.

When I started photographing the puffins the first day, my shutter speed was quite a bit lower and I had to increase it due to the speed of their wings and their flight speed in general.  With the cloudy skies, I kept the ISO around 800-1000 and my aperture stayed constant at f/6.3 since the birds were far enough away from me that this was an appropriate setting for the depth of field.

Author: Dr. Amy Novotny

Amy Novotny is a physical therapist, marathon/ultra runner and nature photographer. She treats patients for a variety of conditions but specializes in chronic pain and calming an overactive nervous system using special diaphragmatic breathing. She has used this technique to help her qualify and run in four Boston marathons! She enjoys the outdoors and can often be found running and hiking on trails in throughout Arizona. She attempts to capture the beauty of nature with her photography both locally in Arizona and also throughout the United States. She is becoming more interested in wildlife photography and attempting to capture the emotion of animal interactions. In her spare time, Amy volunteers as a photo guide for the Arizona Highways PhotoScapes nonprofit and shares her joy of nature with others. Please feel free to contact her regarding her photography, physical therapy or running.

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