Photographing wolves and bears from a hide during the fall season

After a long corona-themed spring and summer it was time for a little vacation. A much needed recharging trip alone with my cameras

A wedding photography gig in Ikaalinen defined the timing. Beautiful fall colors where slowly making their way from north to south. I had 4 main targets for my trip:

  1. Kuhmo, saying hi to Lassi Rautiainen and the wolves that move around in the area
  2. Golden eagles in Kuusamo, visiting Kuusamo Nature Photography hides in Juhtivaara
  3. Autumn landscapes in Kuusamo
  4. Golden eagles in Finnature hides in Utajärvi

I started making my way from Ikaalinen to Kuhmo. I had modified the inside of my car to include a bed and arranged everything in a way that allowed me to take breaks on the road or even stop and go to sleep at a short notice.  Audiobooks kept me company, some of them being so captivating that I didn’t want to stop even though I was getting tired.

I had cameras and lenses to fit every need and no plans except to get back home after about two weeks. I had Canon R6 with me as a new companion.

In the coming blog posts I will share my stories from the journey and unpack the photos I took on this trip. I will share thoughts on what I might do different and what I would do the same way.

Early on I want to thank the three wildlife safari businesses that made it possible for me to see and photograph these wonderful beings.

 

DAY 1 – Wildlife Safaris Finland, Kuhmo

Photographing large predators in autumn scenery has always fascinated me. One appealing factor is the gorgeous colors and the other one is the length of the day. The light isn’t what it is on summer nights but at least the days are shorter. You don’t have to stay awake for 14-16 hours which is a long time to stay focused.

At the end of September the daily routine was to stay in the hides from 2 pm to 7 pm, depending on the light conditions. For the first day I chose a little hide in by the pond. I will refer to the hide as tuna can. The hide had holes for a higher and a lower angle to shoot from, which can be seen used in the photos I took that day.

The lower angle worked super well, but the tuna can was a tight fit for me. I can’t imagine spending a night there with my 190cm and 100kg athletic build. My legs were starting to go numb from being in a not so ergonomic position but I also had two backpacks with me to take up even more space.

 

The weather was rainy and cloudy but very calm. I’m glad I wrapped my wellies in a rain cover so they were dry in the evening.

Young wolves and babysitters

The wolves were active for most of the day, I took a ridiculous amount of photos. I partly blame the silent electronic shutter mode in Canon R6 with the shooting speed of 20fps.  I had no previous experience on this kind of speed so it was hard to control the amount of shots. With my 1 D X II at least the sound gives me a hint on the sheer amount of shots that I have to delete later.

I can’t imagine getting these shots without the R6. Mostly because of the flip screen, simply because I wouldn’t have gotten myself in a sensible position too shoot from with a DSLR. In that case I should have made multiple trips between my car and the hide to get everything I need with me but take the backpacks back to the car to free up space. The newbie showed the oldie what it’s made of right away.

There were a lot of good opportunities and they came in often so I got to have some retakes and chances to get the focus right. Although the eye focus (R6) worked really well right way. When deleting photos there was more overlap in good shots than unsharp images which is a new problem.

As lenses I chose EF 400 2.8 L IS USM and 70-200 2.8 L IS II USM and 1.4x and 2x extenders. The best option would have been to replace the 70-200 with a 100-400mm!

Bears

Many individuals visited the place which made it possible to get a lot of shots. I got to photograph the from a super low angle, right from the waterline, perfect! Nobody went swimming, I wouldn’t have either.

The bear were their peaceful selves, I didn’t witness any wild action on their behalf. Couple of fast food grabs in the distance but not much else.

Lights during September

A rainy cloudy day is a good option for the pond area. Light is really soft and even and by over exposing by a little you can get all the details showing really nicely. The colors look very good all around and with a f 2.8 lens and a decent ISO the shutter speeds are fast enough.

On a clear day during the autumn sun shines directly from the opposite direction, making dark shadows and difficult hard light. As evening comes, the sun descends behind the tree line making it softer. This is the best moment to get gorgeous shots. This can be seen in the day 3 photos.

During the summer there have been amazing opportunities to photograph the wolves in low Nordic summer lights, one day! There are six hides in the pond area so there are plenty of different angles and directions to shoot from.

WOLVES

BEARS

Day 2

Forest hides, a new place for me.

I’ve never stayed at the forest hides when visiting Lassi, I didn’t even know they were this close to the swamp area, located at the right end of the swamp. This painted a clearer picture of the whole area, which is fully located in the border zone.

The weather was cloudy and rainy again. There was just the two of us, Lassi and me, both in our own hides.

Arriving to the hide we were put to work immediately. A big tree had fallen right next to one hide during the night. Glad it didn’t hit the hide, it was so big it would have broke it. We managed to move just enough that it wasn’t in the way anymore. Next day someone had to come with a chainsaw to continue.

The wolves were active and a bear visited a couple of times too. The bear stuck around for maybe a little too well, making the wolves less eager to come. Finally the bear had enough and it was time for the young wolves to arrive. I got nice shots of the showing the gorgeous autumn colored landscape. It wasn’t yet in full bloom so the ground was still green.

In late afternoon a golden eagle stopped at the hides for a short while.

Same lenses as the day before but the images are shot with following focal lengths: 400 mm 8 photos, 560 mm 5 photos, 800mm 22 photos and some with 20-250mm.

A very nice scenery with options to shot in different directions, depending on where the animals are arriving from.

Day 3

Back to the pond, weather forecast promised clear skies. I chose a slightly bigger hide from the leftmost side. This one had options to shoot in all directions and low angles at both ends. It could have fit 10 cameras if I had them!

Wolves moved around very different from the first day and weren’t around as much. All photos were taken on a few short moments. Light was coming from quite high and hit hard so it didn’t make much sense to take a lot of photos then considering that I had so much material from the first day. I think I shot nearly 10k photos on day one, oops!

Cloud were more than welcome

A hazy cloud softened the light but still made the ground glistening. The light was different from earlier days but it was too hard for my taste.

3 days went by fast

That was it for this leg of my trip. It goes by as fast as reading this blog. I met new people and chatting was easy from hide to hide via WhatsApp and later in the sauna.

It’s hard to say how the pandemic will be in 2021, does it allow us Finns to visit the hides extempore as this summer when no one from abroad came or is it going to be fully booked. Many travelers had to cancel their trip to Finland so we will see how the next summer will be, time will tell.

Here are some of the photos I took on the last day:

 


COLLABORATION:

WILDLIFE SAFARIS FINLAND

TILAA ILMOITUS UUSISTA JULKAISUISTA!

JÄTÄ VASTAUS

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