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Behind the lens. My photographic travels.
My photography centres around endangered or threatened wildlife. This means that I get to travel to many wonderful destinations. Generally my photographs are concentrated on the animals themselves which may include a snippet of the environment. Oftentimes I’m asked about my experience, my photographic travels. Essentially my life behind the lens. How I go about getting my photographs. My most recent trip, June 2019, was to eastern Finland to primarily photograph bears but I was also hoping to spot an elusive wild wolf.
One of the realities of living in Australia is that Australia is a large island very much geographically isolated from the rest of the world. Travelling to anywhere on the globe involves many hours of travel and invariably multiple flights. I don’t enjoy this aspect of the journey. Sitting for long hours, not having access to fresh air (possibly my biggest sore point), standing in queues and hauling heavy bags all takes its toll. When I eventually do arrive at my destination there is normally jet lag which takes a few days to adjust to.
Hong Kong airport
5 Hour layover
This trip I travelled to the northern eastern forests of Kuhmo where Finland borders Russia. My route was Brisbane, Hong Kong, London, Helsinki. 33 hours in total. After an overnight stop at an airport hotel in Helsinki I set off again and flew 2 hours to the town of Kajaani. Hiring a car in Kajaani I drove 2 1/2 hours to Kuhmo. The journey was time consuming but as I travelled into the countryside the beauty of the Finnish countryside unfolded. Forests of conifers and pristine blue lakes. Crisp air and clear skies. June is spring time, the countryside was coming alive and the fields were a lush green, many covered with swathes of yellow flowers.
I learnt along the way that Finland has a population of only 5.5m people, most of whom are living in Helsinki. 73% of the country is covered with forest. The countryside was very attractive but time did not allow for any photography stops.
Quite literally at the end of a road, I arrived in the woods at Wildfinland Safaris. The camp was set along the shores of a crystal blue lake surrounded by towering trees. It comprised a central log house from which all activity stemmed. Outside of that were a handful of caravans with a couple of basic cabins.
All the guests I encountered at the camp were photographers, here to photograph the bears, the wolves and the birds. Meals were taken communally and guests compared notes on who had seen what. The living arrangements were again communal, in bunk style rooms, with shared ablution facilities.
The advantages of visiting in June were the long hours of daylight with sunset at around 11pm each evening and sunrise around 1.30am. The downside of this of course, is that I hardly slept in four days.
The format for each day was dinner at 4pm. At 5pm guests were then transferred to photographic hides where we remained for the next 15 hours. Guests were collected at 8am the next morning. This was true photographic commitment.
Hard core photography
After a 9am breakfast guests were free to rest, hike or engage in one of the organised activities. I chose owl spotting.
required patience and speed
The photography hides were all very basic but served their purpose. Sometimes a hide was a wooden structure, another time it was a caravan. Sizes varied from the cosy two-man variety to larger, roomier ‘designs’. In all instances there were bunks and guests took turns to sleep with one person always keeping watch for animals. On occasion I took my laptop with me to do some editing and while away the long hours. Others read books or played games on their phones. Surprisingly enough it was not as cold as I thought it would be although I was prepared with thermals, a couple of clothing layers, a down jacket and pants, gloves, a beanie and a down sleeping bag. I could, however, have benefited from a supply of mosquito repellent.
The ablution facilities were quite basic. Ladies had the “luxury” of a toilet (of sorts). The men had a plastic bottle!
As with everything in life there is always a balance. The facilities may have been basic but I was able to stay up all night and enjoy the sunset and sunrise. The photography itself was difficult with challenging lighting conditions and most times the animals themselves were far away. Luckily there were camera supports in the hide but it would have been helpful to have had an enormous lens. Unfortunately I cannot carry that weight when I’m travelling by myself, halfway across the globe.
bunks, plastic chairs and stunning views
looking past another hide
In my time in the forest, I learnt that we were actually photographing on military land. The Russian border was a mere 1km away. It was on the other side of the line of trees which I could see from the window of the hide. There was a fence dividing Finland and Russia and a 50km stretch of this fence was patrolled daily on foot. I’ve often thought about visiting St Petersburg and here was Russia, so close.
in the early morning light
It is always fun to go away on my photographic travels. It invariably requires (in my case anyway) having to rough it a little bit (others may consider it to be more than ‘a little’). It is nice to have a few days at the end to relax, put my camera down, come out from behind the lens and enjoy the city life. In this case I spent a few days in Helsinki. I found Helsinki to be eclectic. The decor is what I would describe as ‘industrial chic’. The design is decidedly retro and the architecture masterful. The weather was gorgeous. The people were friendly and very willing to engage in English. There were plenty of restaurants with delicious foods. This is definitely a city worth visiting.
I established that it was possible to get to St Petersburg from Helsinki by train without a visa. I was very tempted to adjust my plans but ultimately decided that a 4 hour train journey, each way, was not conducive to a day trip. I would however certainly factor this idea in if I had the opportunity to make this journey again.