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Puffin Machias Seal Island Photography Workshop

Down East Adventures

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Puffin Machias Seal Island Photography Workshop

Workshop Description

Explore Maine with acclaimed photographer John K Putnam on this 1.5 day photography workshop all about the Atlantic puffin! Machias Seal Island is the only place accessible from the U.S. where the public can photograph Atlantic puffins from land, and Bold Coast Charter Co. is the only U.S. tour authorized to make landings on the island. The birds are viewed from hides and are often only a few feet away.   We may also have a chance to photograph harbor seals and gray seals resting on the rocks. We will also have the chance to photograph other birds including razorbills, common murres, arctic terns, common eiders, and occasionally bald eagles, peregrine falcons, shearwaters, guillemots, and northern gannets.

Instructor Bio

John K. Putnam is a professional nature and landscape photographer based on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, where he leads tours and teaches photography workshops while also operating a gallery of his own work. John has been a working photographer for over 13 years and in that time has amassed an image collection that spans five continents, six countries, 20 states, and more than 30 national parks, while his work has been published, awarded, and exhibited internationally. However, in recent years John has dedicated himself to documenting Acadia National Park; photographing its flora, fauna, landscapes, and hidden details. When it comes to photography, John's knowledge of Acadia is unparalleled and he uses that knowledge to put himself and his students in the right place at the right time based on the tide, weather, light, and time of year. He loves teaching, showing off Acadia, and, most importantly, gets outside to photograph every day.


August 2nd

We'll meet at 4 pm (location TBD) followed by an early dinner in town and then a sunset field trip.

August 3rd

We'll depart in the morning for Cutler to catch the charter to Machias Seal Island. The boat usually returns to the harbor around 1 or 2 PM. We will break, meet for an early dinner, and then go out again for sunset, parting ways after that.

Please note that landings on the island are not guaranteed and neither are departures to the island. Bold Coast Charter Co. has been running this tour for many years, and they put the safety of their passengers above all else. If a landing is not possible, the boat will instead cruise the shores of the island where we’ll have the chance to photograph puffins swimming in the water and flying through the air.

Bold Coast Charter Co. does not offer refunds for non-landings, therefore, we cannot either. However, if the tour does not depart at all and is canceled due to weather or any other reason, you will be fully refunded the cost of the Bold Coast Charter tour. In this case where we are not able to depart for the island, we will instead spend our time photographing the incredible scenery along the Cutler Coast and at Quoddy Head State Park, which is arguably more beautiful and more dramatic than Acadia.


Getting onto the island from the boat can be an adventure all in itself. Bold Coast Charter Co states that "island landings involve participants transferring from the tour vessel into a large outboard-powered skiff which is navigated to a designated landing area on the rocky shoreline. Depending on the sea conditions, there is a possibility of wet feet, although most days we manage to keep everyone completely dry. While assistance is provided at every stage of the landing, conditions are slippery, and a degree of physical mobility and surefootedness is required."

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a lot of experience or expensive gear to take this workshop?

No. You can make great images right away with simple equipment, and that’s what this workshops aim to teach you. If you have photographed before and aim to update yourself on the latest techniques in digital photography, this is definitely for you. If you are just starting out and have a new camera you want to learn, this is for you, too. If you are a seasoned veteran who doesn’t need much help, just wants to go to great locations and have fun with like-minded individuals, well, this is for you, as well! You will need a basic DSLR camera and a tripod, but you don’t need a lot of fancy gear. I’ve put together a list of recommended accessories.

What does my tuition cover?

The price of the workshop includes all fieldwork, group instruction, and individual tutoring. It does not include travel insurance, meals other than what has been specified, transportation, and lodging.

What about transportation?

Participants are responsible for their own transportation to Bold Coast Charter Co, and we encourage carpooling.

What about lodging?

Maine is a popular place, and many hotels and B&B’s fill up fast. We ask that you stay close to our predetermined meet-up locations.

We suggest staying either the Eastland Motel or The Inn on the Wharf, both in Lubec, Maine.

What should I wear?

The most recommended piece of gear is a pair of sturdy shoes. We walk across the hard and angular rocks in many of these locations, so hiking shoes are very helpful. We also like to layer, which usually means a base layer of synthetic, fast-wicking material, a warm fleece or soft shell, and a down jacket for cool mornings. You will want warm clothing for windy days and for the boat ride out to Machias Seal Island. Other suggested items are found below:

  • Insect and tick repellant
  • Sunscreen
  • Waterproof outerwear
  • Wool socks
  • Gloves
  • Two hats, one for warmth, the other for sun protection
  • Rubber boots (not absolutely necessary, but there may be mud or wading in some locations)

Should I bring a laptop?

Yes. We recommend you bring your laptop to follow along during classroom time and to take notes. We also recommend you bring a card reader so that we can share and critique your photos if you’d like. 

What camera equipment do you recommend I bring?

  • DSLR or mirrorless camera
  • Wide-angle and telephoto lenses or an all-purpose zoom
  • 100-400mm lens (large, telephoto lenses are not necessary)
  • A sturdy tripod and head
  • Camera backpack and waterproof covering for gear
    • A backpack is necessary for the Machias Seal Island landing! You must be hands-free.
  • Extra camera batteries (optional)
  • Extra memory card (optional)

Should I be concerned about ticks?

Yes. All outdoor activities in New England carry the risk of picking up these nasty hitchhikers. Please use bug repellent that you can apply to your skin, or even better, permethrin, which you apply to clothes you plan on wearing in the field. Also, give yourself an extensive review when you get home at night to check for ticks.

What happens if the weather doesn’t cooperate?

Bad weather is good weather to landscape photographers. If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes. There are many idioms that apply to the weather, and if you don’t already know, following the weather is one of our favorite things to do! Ben’s been running workshops for years now, and he can honestly say that there hasn’t been a single day where we haven’t enjoyed being out photographing, even in the rain. Please keep an open mind when it comes to your expectations about what ‘good’ conditions are. We want to teach you how to shoot in all conditions!


    The payment is 50% refundable in the event you have to cancel, as long as the cancellation is made 21 days before the trip. After that time, your payment is non-refundable. Alternately, 100% of your payment will be refunded if a replacement can be found prior to the trip.

    COVID-19 Info

    Please refer to the CDC website for the latest guidance on COVID-19 and travel.

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