Fritz Pölking

Puffins and Camera Formats

Almost all nature photographers started with 35 mm and most stuck with it for the rest of their lives.

But each and every one was sure to have thought, dreamt or speculated about whether or not switching to 6x6, 6x7 or 9x12 at one point of time or another in their lives.

In the beginning of being a nature  photographer I also worked with a camera with large format. As for instance in 1961 on Fair Isle from the Shetland group or 19962 on the island of Skomer off the coast of Wales, by Haverfordwest.

That is where I let myself be transferred to, in what you´d call a nutshell, in order to photograph puffins for a few weeks – in black and white and with the Linhof Technika and the Schneider Xenar 3.5/105mm and the Voigtländer Telomar 5.5/240mm lenses, as well as a 6x9 cm rollfilm-holder for the camera. This way I did not need separate flat film cassettes, but was able to expose 8 pictures per film.

The good old Linhof Technika 6X9, here
with the Voigtländer Telomar 5.5/240mm.

To work with such a large formatted camera is pretty funny.

First of all you have to open and set the central shutter and open it.

Then you disappear under a sheet in order to compose and adjust a motif that you see up side down on the screen plate in front of you.

Following this you try to set the correct exposure time with a light meter or manual spot light meter (depending on the motif).

Then you have to set the open aperture for adjustment to the setting desired and close the shutter.

After that the focussing back has to be replaced by the rollfilm-holder.

Now you have to remove the slide with the cassette and you can expose the picture.

Then you have to replace the slide with the cassette and set the shutter once more.

Again, you open the shutter to the largest count in order to have a very bright picture in the view finder.

After that you replace the rollfilm-holder through the focussing back and open the shutter once more in order to adjust the next up side down and backward motif on the screen.

You have two advantages: There is no mirror click and no click from the roller blind of the shutter slot. Besides this, you can easily "scheimpflug", in order to get the ideal level of sharpness.

But..... you need time, lots of time and good strong nerves. You are always worried that the bird will fly away or change its position slightly, and you have to start from the beginning.

This was forty years ago and some landscape photographers still work this way; some customers specifically ask for large formatted slides or only because the photographer loves these exalted and solemn feelings which come along with working on large formatted cameras.

On the island of Skomer forty years ago
the bird warden built a solid block rest
for bird photographers
directly into the center of a large
colony of puffins

A picture from the good old days:
taken with the Technika you see
Above with an aperture of 11 and 1/60 sec.
on Agfapan-100 rolled film.

These black and white pictures from 1961/62 were up to now the last pictures of puffins I had taken and I thought that it may be the right time now to try and take pictures of these motifs – after forty years of slightly advanced technology (8 pictures per second, inside measure, stabilizer, auto focus, great slide film material) – and see what can be done with all that.

So I flew to the island of Iceland in the summer of 2001. Approximately 6 million breeding birds are living on Iceland. Since they do not come to maturity until the age of 5 in order to breed for the first time, you can add 10-20 million non-breeding birds to that number. So they do seem to have the majority in comparison to the 280.000 people living there.

300.000 of those millions of puffins live about 350 km away from Reykjavik on the cliffs of the Ingolfschofdi Highland. Now this does not seem to be many in comparison to the total population, but it should be plenty for a few suitable pictures.

The Ingolfschofdi cliff is about 1200 meters long, 750 meters in width and 75 meters high and belongs to farmer Sigurour Bjarnason, who brings visitors to the cliff on the back of his tractor trailer through about 9 km of swampland.

Here, in south-east Iceland near the renown Breidamerkurjökull glacier with Lagoon Jökulsarlon and its famous blue icebergs did Siguour Bjarnason begin to take tourists to the cliff Ingolfschofdi with its many puffins. That was ten years ago. Meanwhile he brings more than 4.000 tourists in the summer months to this majestic cliff.

Of course the puffins have enemies on Iceland as well: rats, ice-foxes,  seagulls, Icelanders and Skuas. The Icelanders catch the puffins with butterfly nets in the air above their breeding colonies. A catcher can get up to 900 puffins a day – one every minute. For this he can get up to $2.000 a day. So he can earn up to $70.000 per season with dead puffins. They are served as entree in the restaurants of Reykjavik.

The loot of one day.
Taken from the Iceland Daily Newspaper
DV dated July 23., 2001

Another enemy would be the great robbing seagulls (skuas). When the puffin is only about 100m from his breeding tube, he is intercepted with a nose dive and has no other choice but to give up his fish or his life.

That is very bitter for the puffin: He dove for many hours and flew up to 150km in order to catch food for his offspring and now it was all for nothing.

Another beautiful place to photograph puffins are the cliffs of Latrabjarg, the westerly tip of Iceland and Europe at the same time. While you can take pictures of large groups on Ingolschofdi, there are noticeably less Lunde here, but this is made up by the fact that they are absolutely not shy, which in part is more than likely to attribute to the fact that there are not great robbing seagulls (skuas) here.

Never have I heard of puffins that are so trusting than these here. You can approach them without problem. Certainly another reason is that through the beacon tower and the many tourists that are so close, they have become accustomed to them, and that enemies, especially the polar fox, would rather hunt puffin somewhere where there are not as many observers.

The steep cliff is 14 km long and up to 450 meters high and is home for millions of see birds. Here, a nature photographer feels as if he is in paradise.

You can find more pictures of this tour of the puffins under "portfolios". The pictures there are all taken with the EOS-1V and lenses 3.5-4.5/24-85 mm, 4.0/70-200mm and the 4.0/500 mm, partially with a 1x4 converter. All of them on Fujichrome Sensia-100 II with 81-A filter and a tripod.

* * * * *