Planning a Photography Trip to Lundy Island
Lundy Island is a small island in the Bristol channel, just three miles long by half a mile wide. The island consists mainly of granite, with steep cliffs rising out of the sea, and a flat plateau above.
The vegetation is mainly heathland, grassland, and bracken, with a few small patches of woodland, and the island is surrounded by lush seas, including one of the only fully protected marine conservation areas in the UK.
The island is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmark Trust, who have renovated the buildings in the village into holiday lets. There are 23 properties on the island which can be rented for any length of time from a few nights to several weeks, as well as a campsite.
There is a shop and a pub on the island and, if you are camping, you may be able to charge your batteries in the pub. In the summer months you can also visit the island for a day trip on the MS Oldenburg from Ilfracombe or Bideford, or on a charter boat.
The advantage of staying for a longer period is that you can have amazing opportunities to photograph the wildlife in the beautiful evening light, long after the day visitors have left.
The ferry crossing takes a couple of hours and can be rough, but if you are lucky you can see dolphins or porpoises! Also, look out for seabirds: manx shearwaters, fulmars, gannets, puffins, guillemots, and razorbills are all frequently seen from the boat.
What you can expect to see
The best time to visit the island is in the summer, because this is when the seabirds are breeding. Also, the gorse and heather is flowering, and the sika deer are in their spotty summer coats, rather than the duller brown colouration they have in winter.
The seals are there all year round, but tend to be present in greater numbers in the summer.
On a typical summer’s day you could expect to see:
- Numerous species of seabirds on the west coast: puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, great black-backed gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, and herring gulls
- Peregrine falcons anywhere on the island
- Various terrestrial mammals: sika deer, feral goats, soay sheep, and free-ranging highland cattle and ponies
- Various terrestrial bird species, including wheatears, skylarks, meadow pipits, ravens, linnets, and willow warblers
- Grey seals around the coast, particularly in the north-east corner of the island.
Kit to take to Lundy Island
Most of the wildlife will be quite far away, so you’ll need a long lens. An easily hand-held setup is also an advantage, because you will be walking around the island and could have chance encounters where you need to respond quickly.
Something like a 150-600mm or 100-400mm on a crop sensor body would be ideal. A wide-angle lens and a tripod are essential if you want to photograph the spectacular landscapes, and wireless remote triggers can be useful for taking wide-angle images of animals in their environment.
Camera-wise, the main concern is having good autofocus to track seabirds in flight, and good image quality at high ISOs if you want to stay out late into the evening. For underwater photography, you could either use a GoPro or a DSLR in an underwater housing.
My own equipment is a Canon 7D MkII with a Canon 100-400mm MkII lens, a Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle, a Samyang 8mm fisheye, and Ikelite underwater housing for underwater photography.
Being fairly small, the island can easily be walked around in a day. However, a longer stay will give you more opportunities to explore the nooks and crannies, and find the best locations for certain species or lighting conditions.
Arriving on Lundy Island
As you arrive on the island and walk up the track to the village, look out for oystercatchers on the rocky shore to your right. These eye-catching waders breed in small numbers around the coast of the island, and their alarm calls are a constant feature of spending time on the shore.
To isolate your subject against a blurry, non-distracting background, try getting as low down as possible by crawling along the beach or hiding behind rocks, and positioning yourself so that the background is fairly homogeneous, such as dark rocks or the sea.
In my experience, this is probably even more important than using a super wide aperture lens. Alternatively, you could use a slow shutter speed to blur the motion of a subject in flight. If you’re lucky, you might spot a grey seal gliding through the water, or hauled out on the rocks of Rat Island (on your left as the boat approaches the jetty).
From late summer to winter, the seals are having their pups, and you might even spot one tucked up on the beach. Be careful to keep distance though as human disturbance is the leading cause of seal mothers being scared away from their pups.
As you head up the track, keep a lookout for peregrines flying high or perching on the rocky outcrops above. These spectacular falcons are the fastest birds on earth and breed on Lundy. A chance encounter is possible anywhere on the island, but the rocky outcrops of the southeast are one of the best places to see them.
It can be very unpredictable to guess when one might fly past, which is one reason why a light-weight camera and lens combo is an advantage on Lundy. A few hours spent with a pair of binoculars on a high vantage point, overlooking the beach and the east side, is likely to result in some good views.
However, for decent images you’ll still need a long lens.
As you round the corner into the woods, the best option is to turn right onto a path that heads up the east side of the island. Here, one of the main attractions are the sika deer. In autumn, winter, and early spring, they can be seen easily, grazing or resting in the sheltered combes.
In the summer, seeing them becomes much more difficult because they are hidden by dense bracken, but they often move up onto the livestock pastures on the top of the island to graze in the evenings. So, an overnight stay will provide better opportunities to photograph them.
The key to photographing deer is the quality of your fieldcraft: moving quietly, using tree stumps, vegetation, and rocks to hide behind, and approaching them slowly. A piece of camouflage netting can also be useful to break up your outline.
As you walk up the island to the areas less crowded with visitors, you will see more grey seals. Three quarters of the way up the island on the east side, you will come to a large, rocky outcrop (known as Brazen Ward), where you can get down to the water level.
If you move quietly and slowly, you can have close views of the inquisitive grey seals floating around just off the rocks. As with the oystercatchers, getting low down is important to achieve nice blurry backgrounds, as well as making you less obtrusive to the seals. Visiting this location at sunrise will give you the best lighting conditions.
On the west side of the island, the main attraction is the seabird colonies. It isn’t possible to get as close to the puffins on Lundy as it is on most other seabird islands, as the numbers are relatively small. This is because they are still recovering after the eradication of rats, and the terrain is less accessible.
However, you can still have some fantastic views of fulmars because, unlike the auks, they often soar high up around the clifftops.
The key to getting good images is to watch their behaviour. They often repeat the same loops around the cliffs over and over again. So, if you can identify a location where they are passing close to the ground, and manage to get in position, hidden behind rocks or under bracken, you can experience some incredibly close flypasts.
You’ll need a camera with good autofocus to track them in flight, and a lens which can blur the background. But, what’s just as important is positioning yourself so that the fulmars are well lit, against a clear, uncluttered background, and flying at a speed that makes them possible to focus on (they often slow down as they turn in the up-draughts of narrow gullies).
A good thing about photography on Lundy is that it is long and thin, and orientated north-south. This means that the east side reliably gets good sunrise light, and the west side gets good sunset light.
Also, look out for wheatears hopping about on the rocks on the west side, particularly where the soay sheep (a primitive breed originally from St. Kilda) have grazed the grass short.
If birds are not your thing, when wandering back to the village you will probably see some of the feral horses or highland cows. Although not wild animals, these are important for maintaining a patchwork of habitats in the heathland and grassland on the top of the island. They also look very charismatic in the golden light of sunset.
Swimming with Seals
The most amazing experience you can have on Lundy is to snorkel or scuba dive with seals. You can join one of the snorkel safaris with the island warden, visit on a dive boat, or take your own equipment.
Some individuals are very inquisitive and, if you float around calmly, they may approach you. For underwater photography, you will need a wide-angle lens and to get close to your subject in order to minimise the impact of sediment in the water on the image quality.
You will also need a fairly narrow aperture to give you more leeway for focusing, as it can be hard to see through the viewfinder while wearing a mask. Close to the surface on a sunny day, natural light should be sufficient, but if you want to take photos whilst scuba diving, a more advanced set-up with strobes may be required.
If you stay overnight on Lundy and the weather is clear, it’s definitely worth going for a night time walk to see the amazing stars. Looking west, there is nothing between you and North America, so light pollution is low.
For photography, you’ll need as wide a lens as possible, and a camera with good performance at high ISOs, as well as a tripod to keep the camera steady for a long exposure. The many old buildings and ruins around the island can make good foreground subjects.
In the summer months, any night time walk along the coasts of the island will be accompanied by the sound of manx shearwaters calling as they fly into their burrows. There are thought to be several thousand breeding pairs on Lundy.
Although this is not as many as some other islands, this is a huge conservation success story. Their population has recovered spectacularly after the eradication of rats from the island in 2004. They are very difficult to photograph because they fly so quickly, and a flash would disturb them, but it is still amazing to listen to their calls and glimpse them flying past in the darkness.
Lundy Island is home to a host of incredible photographic opportunities, and I would thoroughly recommend visiting. If you can, be sure to stay overnight to really make the most of your time on this incredible island.