Ok so you packed everything, camera, lens, memory cards, extra battery and charger just in case. Water, snacks, sunscreen… check.
Wait! Don’t forget to pack a plan! Things to plan for days before your photo safari, the obvious one is weather, plan for rain, snow, dust, wind, spray from crashing waves messing up your lens.
It’s no secret that the best time to shoot outdoors is 2 hours before sunset or 2 hours after sunrise, the light is warmer and casts a yellowish tint and creates richer images. So lighting is the key ingredient to any successful plan.
I recently spent a few days in Quebec’s lower north shore to see the sights. It’s a region I wanted to visit for a long time and was really worth the 1100 km drive. That scenery slowly transformed along the way from dense Boreal forest to less dense taiga regions near Natashquan Quebec , a sub-arctic zone south of the tundras.
Aside from wanting to see the end of the 138 highway and do a little fly fishing for wild river trout, my photography objective was to capture the Atlantic Puffin.
This is where the plan begins.
Before leaving home, I did the usual quick Google search to see what was organised in the area as far as tours are concerned. Then once in Havre St-Pierre i started asking questions and found a couple of possibilities. One seemed really fun, it involved a 12 passenger zodiak ride to a bird sanctuary 40 km north east. The other also had a boat ride but to a tiny island a few nautical miles south west. After talking to a few people and getting details from the tour operators, I was torn between the two because they were so different.
I then took out a map, turned the page so that north was the top leading edge of the page. This gave me the correct angle as to where the sun will shine a two specific times of any given day, early morning at left and late day at right. Next, i noted the departure and arrival time at destination for both tours.
Turns out the zodiak tour was early morning only, the majority of the birds would have been in dark shadow areas. Also they were calling for brisk winds that meant choppy seas, heavy boat rocking and an impossible photo opportunity. The local regulations also required that the boat operator stay 200 meters away from the cliffs as to not disturb the nesting Puffins. This meant that I would have needed to be full zoom out, on rough ocean, would have nothing but blurry movement in the pics.
The second expedition turned out to be the better choice. They had 3 departures, early morning, noonish and 3:30 pm. However this small island was a protected Atlantic Puffin nesting zone which meant that visitors were only permitted on a small portion of one side of this island called Île aux Perroquets.
Now this narrowed the photo opportunity even more, so the perfect puffin plan was needed. Turns out the photo op zone was on the west side of the island, so I chose the 3:30 departure. If i had chosen the morning or noon departure the cute birds would have been in the shadows.
I got lucky because we visited another island called Île Nue de Mingan first, which turned out to be great as well. This had an effect of delaying my arrival to the island full of Puffins, bringing me closer to the lighting sweetspot of 2 hours before sunset.
I could not have planned the plan any better. The lighting was perfect, the Puffins were a plenty, the sky was blue and not a cloud to be seen… well almost.