A Return To Skomer Island

January 19, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Last year for the second year running I returned to Skomer Island for another two night stay. This time I visited with my wife so it wasn't a full on photography only trip, that said there was a little bit of time for photography. This time I stayed from Tuesday to Thursday so there was day visitors on both days we were staying. Even though there are only 250 day visitors it does feel very busy during the day especially when you are used to only  seeing other overnight stayers, volunteers, researchers  and wardens wandering around. That said during the day trip hours I usually staying around the accommodation, lounging in the sofas or making dinner. The point of staying over is getting out during the best hours when the day trippers aren't around. 

Skomer Landscapes

This year I wanted to spend some time on landscapes. Last year I didn't take any of my ND filters and I really regretted it. It seems weird dedicating time to landscape photography when on the wildlife paradise that is Skomer Island, but the coastline can be quite dramatic in places.  The volcanic rock coastline of Skomer especially around Garland Stone, High Cliff, Mew Stone and Pigstone Bay can make for some interesting compositions as the waves crash against the rocks. On our first day it was quite windy and it whipped up the waves. Although it made for a rough and wet morning crossing (one tip- don't sit on the wet side of the boat!) it did make interesting long exposure landscapes. Using a Hitech Firecrest 10 stop filter I was able to get exposure times of around 5-10 seconds, just perfect to capture enough movement in the waves. The only problem with the windy conditions was my tripod was moving slightly reducing the sharpness of the images. I had to try timing the exposures with lulls in the wind, this resulted in much trial and error (and battery use- live view and long exposures really eats battery power). I returned on the second day to try capturing a sharper image of my favourite composition from the previous day. The wind had dropped, although it was easier to get a sharper image the calmer sea made for a less interesting image (as the images below show). The rough sea the previous day made a moody image that suited the dramatic rocks.  

Rocky CoastlineRocky CoastlineLong exposure of breaking waves on the coast of Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire.

Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 145mm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 145mm.

The 70-200 allowed me to pick out sections of the coastline rather than a wider view. I love the 70-200 for landscapes, when I started landscapes I first purchased a 16-35 falling into the trap of thinking landscapes was all about the ultra wide view. Over the last year I've noticed I'm drawn to longer focal lengths, especially the 150-200mm focal range. The 16-35 has now gone due to lack of use and has been replaced in favour of a 24-120mm lens, even with this lens I often find I'm using the 50-120mm focal range more than the wider 24mm end.

Skomer RocksSkomer RocksLong exposure of breaking waves on the coast of Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire.

Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 150mm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 145mm.

The Puffins

The chance to photograph the Puffins in the best light of the day is the obvious draw of staying on Skomer. Although many day trippers come to photograph the Puffins, the harsh sunlight at midday and the sheer number of visitors trying to all use the narrow path at the Wick doesn't make it easy. I avoid the Wick until the day trippers have left for the day. The weather forecast for the two days I was staying was far ideal. On the first evening it started very overcast, so overcast the photography workshop group also staying decided to pack up early about 2 hours before sunset, leaving me with the Wick to myself. Knowing the forecast was worst the next evening I decided to stay until sunset prioritising closeup portraits that I hadn't captured many of the previous year. Having the whole of the Wick to myself sounds ideal but I found it more difficult than the previous year. It seemed the Puffins are more at ease with several people around rather than just the one person lying on the path trying to get to their eye level. Quite often they would move just out of range and I didn't want to be chasing them around so I sat tight and waiting for them to come to me.

Even though it was overcast there was plenty of soft diffused light that was ideal of portraits without having to worry about blown highlights in the white feathers. With 2-3 hours to go before sunset the light was nicely diffused yet still allowed good exposure settings. As I was able to get an exposure of 1/800 at f8 and ISO800 I decided to use a 1.4x teleconverter to get a little closer and try some compositions I missed the previous year. The 1.4x teleconverter works very well on the 70-200 f2.8 VRII with very little, if no degradation of IQ or focus speed. In many ways a 70-200 lens is the perfect Skomer Puffin lens, there really is no need for long lenses like 500mm or 600mm unless you want to capture some flight or 'boating' images.

With the overcast sky I used the cliffs as backgrounds to add colour as the sky was completely washed out. The cliffs diffuse nicely into soft interesting backgrounds even at smaller apertures like f8 due to the long distance to from the Puffin to the cliff background. With wildlife I use f4-f5.6 most of the time but at these apertures due to being so close to the puffins on Skomer means depth of field is very narrow. It's easy to get the eye in focus but the beak or feathers out of focus. Even at f8 depth of field at 3m is only about 3-4cm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII with 1.4x teleconverter at 280mm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII with 1.4x teleconverter at 280mm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII with 1.4x teleconverter at 280mm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII with 1.4x teleconverter at 220mm.

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Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII with 1.4x teleconverter at 280mm.

D75_4016D75_4016 Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII with 1.4x teleconverter at 250mm.

I'm already looking forward to this years trip, it will be my third successive year visiting the island. The problem this time will be trying to get some more original images. I will be trying not to repeat any image if thats possible, behaviour shots will again be high on the agenda along with trying for some 'boating' images too. 


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