Read. Learn. Return.

Skomer Island: The Magic Hour

Skomer. The beautiful island just off the Pembrokeshire coast hides a (well known!) secret. Long after the day trippers have boarded their boats for mainland and the harsh light has mellowed as the sun lowers in the sky, the true magic of this wildlife haven is unlocked. For, it’s only then that Skomer and it’s puffin colonies immerse you in a world that is so far removed from daily life, that you could almost forget it exists.

A puffin in the last light on Skomer Islands

Nikon D800 with 200 f2 + 1.4x TC

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and not for the last time I expect), light it everything. I’m not really a ‘subject’ person. Sure, there are some animals I want to photograph more than others but first and foremost, I want the right light. Give me that and I don’t care what subject is bathing in it. Puffins however are one such bird on my list of animals I ‘want’ to photograph, and so putting them in the right light is guaranteed to get my juices flowing! But of course, even during summer in the UK you can’t take anything for granted and my time on Skomer proved that. Of the two evenings and mornings I had to shoot in, only one, the first evening, provided the light I was so desperate to photograph these wonderful birds in.

A puffin in evening light on Skomer Island

Nikon D800 with 200 f2

Sometimes though, that one opportunity is all it takes. If you know your equipment and you know how you want to work with the light, even the briefest of window can be enough to secure photos you’re happy with. I was determined to come away with a mixture of not just the usual, but also some more dramatically lit puffin images than those I already had from previous trips to the Farne Islands. My style and tastes have evolved a little since then and I wanted to try and convey a more atmospheric feel where possible, rather than the more comical ‘cute’ factor associated with these birds. Of course, I took the safe option with some photos, because there are times when that is the photo to take, but I did enjoy having a range of light to work with during my visit – and to experiment with the 200 f2 VRII, which I hired for the trip (read my review).

Using black and white to create a more surreal foggy feel.

Using black and white to create a more surreal foggy feel.

As a wildlife photographer there really is nothing like it. Having the island almost entirely to yourself, laying on the ground as the sun drops, puffins flying in the from the sea, pruning themselves a little before walking practically right up to your face to check you out before vanishing in to their burrows. Being eye to eye, less than arms length from an inquisitive wild animal that knows you mean no harm is an experience everyone should have at least once in their lives. I’m convinced a lot of peoples attitudes towards the welfare and protection of the inhabitants we share our planet with would change for the better if they had such an encounter.

Playing with side light and shadows

Playing with side light and shadows

Nikon D800 with 200 f2 + 1.4x TC

Nikon D800 with 200 f2 + 1.4x TC

Finally, there are a few things to consider with being an overnight guest of the island. Accommodation (which sells out fast), boat fees, working out what food and toiletries to bring and not bring. I was lucky in that some last minute availability came up, which is quite rare so close to high season. The pufflings hadn’t hatched so we were maybe a couple weeks early in our visit, so feeding had not yet begun but otherwise no complaints from me. They took the hassle out of arranging everything and got me where I needed to be so I could concentrate on getting the photos I wanted. It was a superb trip. It was tiring, we overpacked (whilst also under packing!), we got soaked and we got sunburn but crucially, we were privileged to spend some quality time with some wonderful wildlife. And that’s what it’s all about.

A more traditional mushy surroundings puffin

A more traditional mushy surroundings puffin

Skomer Island in the Magic Hour. One of my favourite places on earth!

Nikon D800 with Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART

Nikon D800 with Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART

Nikon D800 and 200 f2 + 2x TC

Nikon D800 and 200 f2 + 2x TC

About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

If you'd like to know about Richard's latest blogs, workshops and more, all designed to help you improve your photography, join the newsletter today.

menu