Funny group of puffins
Focus On..

A Wise Old Puffin

You gotta love a puffin.

If you read my blog Picture Perfect you may remember I am preparing for a very special trip.

Botswana. Bound for a “serious” session with the camera.

And I am still wrestling with this new lens. For anyone who is remotely interested, it’s a Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM on a Canon 800D. It is cumbersome and mostly needs to be on a monopod or tripod. It does have image stabilisation but, still, after five minutes trying to balance it, focus it and zoom it, it’s me who needs the stabilisation. Serious muscle shake [raises eyes].

But practice makes perfect, I am told. Or maybe it’s like weight lifting. The more you do the steadier you get. So last week we had another day on the Scottish coast. This time, the destination was east coast Scotland, and its fabulous cliffs, where it is said you may see puffins.

We arrived at the location.

First issue – these birds were far out. Not in a cool way. But in a “I can barely see them with my own eyes” way.

Okay, this was going to be a challenge.

Second issue, gulls and guillemots galore! No sign of the damn puffins. Though several folk were heading off, like sheep on a sheep trail, around the cliff top. Not keen on an audience we opted to take the high road.  Yes, I still feel very silly with this massive camera when there are folk there just with their iPhone 7 (other mobile phones are available).

This could only go one of two ways. There was nobody on this side. Maybe the birds don’t hang out over here? But confidently we strode on, like we knew exactly where we were going. We hadn’t a scooby of course. But we looked the part.

And then this wee bird did a lap of honour down in the cove below. Was that a telltale sign of orange?

Bingo! We had found them. The puffins were in our sights. Not many granted. But ‘not many’ puffins is all you need.

You should have seen me do my happy dance.

Four puffins on the east coast

Now before I go on I think these little birds are worth more of a mention.

For most of the year, Atlantic puffins live on the open ocean, with a range spanning from the eastern coast of Canada and the northern United States to the western coast of Europe and northern Russia. 60% of the world’s puffins live near Iceland. Puffins are specially adapted to living on the open sea.

Impressive! Great respect to you, little guys and gals.  

Look, I have never seen a puffin before, okay. I didn’t even know they existed in the UK until this year. I had this romantic notion they were an exotic South African bird.  So thanks to the Animal fact Guide for Kids for bringing me up to speed. I like my wildlife facts kept super simple. 

Anyway, back to the job in hand. Cameras at dawn, we were off. Anxious to find the best spot and the best shot.

Competitive? Who me? Never.

We spread out, conscious we would end up with identical photos otherwise. And when the puffins weren’t playing for the camera, I turned my attentions to other subjects. Now try wielding a 600mm lens over your head. And still with the monopod attached. Honestly, it felt like a blooming bazooka. 

Gull flying off the coast of Scotland

200 shots later and we were homeward bound. Eager to get them downloaded and processed, the race was on to get the images off the cards and onto the screen.

Back at the office

At first glance, I wasn’t blown away by any of my photos. Though I did find a handful worth a share on my Facebook page

I had a few guillemots which would pass muster. I also had a super “bum shot” of a gull – maybe even my best image of all. A few gull chicks. All there on the “Puffin Heaven” Facebook album. But I still wasn’t feeling it. They say if you get one great photo out you have done well. I am just greedy 😀

Anyway back to those puffins, and I had finally found one I was prepared to call my shot of the day. It had taken a while, and to be fair, Mr Smith had given up his place to let me get a closer opportunity – I know his game, he had “the one” in the bag 🙂

Shot of the day then? Cute?

Puffin head and shoulders

No contest

But we still had to find out if the mighty Sigma could equal that of the cool Canon. So there was only one thing for it. A shoot out.

Now I was pretty pleased with this. Nice lighting, clear. A sort of wise puffin wouldn’t you say? 

Puffin on a rock

But just hang on a cotton picking minute. What’s this I see? Enter Mr Smith and his own take on that wise puffin. Same rock, almost shot from the same distance (he being slightly further along the cliff top).

Showing a Puffin in profile

You have to hand it to him. That is amazing. Straight out of the tin too. 

Now Mr Smith uses a Canon 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 LIS on a Canon 80D body. 

So maybe big is not beautiful. Or even powerful?

He also shoots in Raw. No, not, like naked, because that would be so wrong. Meanwhile I go straight to Jpeg. Now before you start the lecture, I know, I know. Really bad idea. Pretty well processed already, less opportunity to correct it. But give me a break. Point and press. Sony Cybershot kid remember. One thing at a time, yeh? Thanks..

So the jury is still out, but it’s leaning towards trading the “truck” in for a slightly more “sporty number”. It will all shake out.

But what I do know is I have developed a little soft spot for the puffin. Especially when they present you with a comedy moment like this.

Funny group of puffins

“I didn’t push him, he jumped”


If you would like to see more of Mr Smith’s awesome photography then head to Stephen G Smith Wildlife Photography