My alarm clock woke me so early that some people will still call it late. I was out the door and on the first flight from Stavanger to Oslo. My final destination was somewhere near the Finnish-Russian border and the goal was to photograph some of Scandinavia’s most impressive predators; brown bears and wolves!
After three flights (one of which on a plane so small I had problem stuffing my camera back pack in the overhead compartment) and a two and a half hour bus ride later we arrived at Kuikka base camp. The place is run by Finish nature photographer Lassi Rautainen of Wildfinland.org. He organizes a set of hides for photo and video and feeding of the wild animals, so that chances of observing them increases.
In the afternoon we traveled out to the hides, set up and waited for the animals to show. The usually came sniffing around after an hour or two. We photographed like crazy while we had the light. After sundown at around 9 o’clock it would be too dark to get usable pictures. Then we sat there. Enjoying these magnificent and impressive animals. Listening to the sounds of the wilderness. Eventually we would head for our sleeping bags. We got to bed rather early, but then again we woke at the crack of dawn. If we were lucky we might get a glimpse of the animals in the morning as well. A couple of hours after sunrise at around 8 o’clock we wold head back to base camp for breakfast.
The hides were a simple wooden construction, four walls and a roof, with openings for the cameras. No water or heating or anything. There were different sizes and the smallest hide only took one person, while the largest had room for five. Most hides however were made for two to three persons.
We spent a total of four nights in the hides. I spent the nights in different hides in two different locations. One was called “Paradise” and was a swampy area with a couple of threes and the other we called “The Lake” though it was more like a pond. The chances of seeing wolf was greatest at “Paradise”, but here the distances was quite long. At “The Lake” distances was much shorter and you could get much closer to the bears, but there was just a slim chance of seeing wolves.
Four unforgettable nights later my memory cards were filled with pictures of brown bears, wolves, white-tailed eagles, sparrow hawks, ravens and some landscape shots. Below are a set of images I shot during my stay. I also shot video, but it will have to come later.
Camera set up
Most hides had room for two cameras. I also had a double camera set up for my trip, but unlike most who had a long tele lens and a 70-200 zoom I had a photo and a video set up. I primarily used a Nikon D810 and a Nikon 500mm F/4E AF-S FL ED VR. I used this for most of the nights. Borrowing and switching lenses with the other participants I also got to use a Nikon 600mm F/4E AF-S FL ED VR, 300mm F/4E PF ED VR, 200-400mm F4 G AF-S IF ED VRII, and even a 20mm f/2.8 AF-D for some shots. In addition I had a video set up, a Canon XA20 video camera with a Røde NTG-1 microphone.
I have previously written about my first impressions of the Nikon D810 and I didn’t think it was a worthwhile upgrade from the D800. After using it for a couple of days now, however I will have to revise my conclusion! The D810 is a much faster and more responsive camera than the D800. The auto focus is also a serious upgrade! I’ve lately been annoyed by the autofocus on my D800, feeling I’ve missed several shots where the camera have back or front focused. I was really surprised to find that the D810 nailed almost every shot, even shots of fast-moving sparrow hawks! The focus was a lot faster and more precise than that of the D800. After spending almost a week with this camera I’m reconsidering that upgrade!