How to take the perfect puffin picture

Monday 3 July 2017

A puffin with a beak full of fish

This summer the RSPB is asking you to train your cameras on the puffin, to help with our work saving this iconic bird. Will you become a part of the Puffarazzi?

Puffin numbers have declined dramatically in recent years with a mystery surrounding the reasons behind their struggles. What could be pushing one of the nation's most charming and recognisable birds to such a cliff edge? This summer RSPB scientists are aiming to find out more by taking a closer look at the fish they eat - and they need your help!

We’re asking people to send us their snaps of these unmistakeable seabirds carrying fish in their bills. These images will be used to learn more about what mamma and pappa puffin are feeding their pufflings, to build up a better picture of their feeding habits in the UK and Ireland!

But where do you go to see puffins? How do you snap the perfect ‘Puffarazzi’ picture? We’ve asked our resident wildlife photography expert Ben Andrew for his top tips!

(Header photo by Derren Fox)

1. Know the hotspots

Throughout June and July is the best time to photograph a puffin. Coastlines around the UK will come alive with the sights, sounds (and smells!) of parents raising their pufflings. During this period a bustling puffin colony is usually a frenzy of energetic parents busy foraging food for their little ones. 

There are puffin hotspots all around the UK, from the tip of the Shetland Islands all the way down to St Helen’s Island in the south west of England. Although the most impressive can be found at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, Lunga near the Isle of Mull and Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland.

To find your nearest puffin hotspot, visit www.rspb.org.uk/projectpuffin 

2. Grab your gear

For this project, high resolution photos are better, as they allow the scientists to more accurately ID the fish. The use of a digital camera is ideal, but you’ll still be more than equipped to pap the perfect shot using a smartphone. 

So it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got the latest professional kit, or something simpler - all you really need is a camera, a keen eye and a little bit of patience!

3. Picture perfect

Wildlife photography can be tricky but there are a few simple things you can do to help grab a great Puffarazzi photo!

  • Getting a perfect image of a bird in mid-flight is extremely hard as it’s continuously on the move. Try photographing when the puffin has just landed with a break full of fish after a trip out to sea.
  • Puffins can be very sensitive to movements and noise so be careful not to get to close. 
  • Colour images are best, as this will allow the scientists to easily ID the fish. 
  • There is no need to waste time cropping the images, just upload them to the Project Puffin portal in JPEG format.  
  • Don’t forget: Try to make sure the beak of the puffin and the fish are the main focus.


Why we need your help

Together, you make up a huge collective of on-the-field conservationists from all corners of the UK. Your images will play a pivotal role in helping our scientists in their work to save the puffin from disappearing from UK shores. Learning more about what these charming seabirds feed their young, and how this differs between colonies, will help build a clearer picture as to why some populations are thriving whilst others struggle. 

Top five puffin facts

  • A puffin weighs around 500 grams. That's about the same as a can of Coke.
  • Puffins may chatter up a storm at their breeding colonies, but they remain perfectly silent while at sea. 
  • A puffin’s beak (or bill) changes colour during the year. In winter, the beak has a dull grey colour, but in spring it blooms with an outrageous orange. It’s thought that the bright colour helps puffins choose a potential mate. 
  • Puffins are amazing flyers, they flap their wings up to 400 times a minute and speed through the air at an impressive 55mph. 
  • When starting a family, puffins dig out a burrow about two to three feet long using their sharp claws and beaks. At the back of the burrow, they build a nest lined with feathers and grass for the female to lay her eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for the next 36-45 days. 

Last Updated: Monday 10 July 2017

Project Puffin

Puffin Fratercula arctica, group, Isle of May National Nature reserve
To share your photos, learn more about how Project Puffin is helping to save the UK puffin population, and how your images can make a difference, visit the Project Puffin page.
Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Get involved Topic: Reserves Topic: Wildlife