Cape Ingolfshofdi is an isolated headland on the coast half way between Skaftafell in Vatnajokull National Park and Jökulsárlón ice lagoon. This historical nature reserve is home of thousands of nesting seabirds, from Puffins to Great Skuas. The headland is named after the first settler of Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson, who spent his first winter in Iceland there in the year 874 AD. To get to the headland we had to ride on a trailer on the back of a tractor to get across the 6km of shoreline as there is no way a car would get across. We arrived early in the morning while the sun was still quite low in the sky as this would give us a better opportunity to get some well-lit images. After 30 minutes crossing the beach we arrived at the nature reserve where we were greeted to a long uphill walk to the top of the reserve.
The first wildlife that we camer across were the Great Skuas and they were not happy to see us! Our guide explained to us that we had to walk by their nests to get to the Puffins and the Skua’s were very keen on telling us that we weren’t welcome! Mobbing very close to my head and not giving up until we moved on. Trying to photograph them was quite difficult as you needed to have eyes in the back of your head to see what’s flying in! I got a few shots I was happy with so we then moved on and that’s when I spotted my first Puffin, just so you know this was the first time I had ever seen one and I could feel the excitement suddenly rush to my head. I slowly made my way closer to the little guy, they’re still quite shy so I didn’t run in like a tourist hoping it would stay still. I took my time and when I was around 3 metres away I got down on my stomach to use the grass as foreground in my image and I got the shot below. It was a great start!
We carried walking around the cliff edge where we saw other birds like Fulmars and nesting Guillemots but unfortunately they weren’t that many and no shot presented itself to me. Up until that point we had only seen two Puffins, I started to worry that we weren’t going to see many more and I wasn’t going to get the shots I was after. We walked over a hill where we were greeted witha view of the whole north side of the reserve and dotted along the cliff edges were lots of small black and white birds with red beaks. Jackpot! My heart was racing, all I wanted to do was run down there like a child on his way home from school. So we made our way down to the cliffs and instead of finding the first Puffin and taking a million shots of him, I sat down by my bag and relaxed. Taking in my surroundings, considering what shots I could take, which birds were in good light and organise my gear so nothing went wrong. I had the 70-300mm on my D800 but I also put the D3 over my shoulder for when I needed those 9fps as Puffins can bloody move fast.
I first went around getting the classic portrait shots, the low sun was making some beautiful light but it did create a lot of harsh shadows depending on your angle to the Puffin so for some shots getting in the right position was a little difficult as I didn’t want to fall 200ft to my death! The D800 was performing beautifully, shooting at 4-5fps wasn’t an issue even when I was photographing them flying which was surprising. I did wish I had a 300mm f/2.8 as it’s a lot faster lens but beggars can’t be choosers. I walked around all the cliff getting a feel for where the light was falling on the birds and trying to come with lighting scenarios that you don’t usually see don’t see in the UK so I found area where the birds were back-lit and when correctly exposed was crating a very dark background due to the cliff wall being completely in shadow.
Photographing the birds in flight was difficult to say the least, especially with the cliff wall in the background as the lens would sometimes hunt to lock on focus. So I quickly learn’t their flight path which would greatly improve my chances of getting more shots in focus, it doesn’t help that they’re extremely fast either! There was an area which they seemed to be landing on more than others so I went and sat near the edge of the cliff to photograph them coming into land instead of them just flying by me and below is one of my favourite shots of one coming in.
Ingólfshöfði was truly an amazing place to visit, the Puffins performed beautifully and the group seemed to walk away with some really nice shots as well which was great to see. We spent around 3 hours on the nature reserve and I feel I got some amazing shots, I do wish I had the time to do some filming while I was there but I just didn’t have the time. When I return to Iceland in the future I will be definitely returning as this place offers a great experience for photographing Puffins and other seabirds.