Arctic Adventures

This was the entrance to the ice cave. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/800sec, f/5.6, ISO 100.

This was the entrance to the ice cave. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/800sec, f/5.6, ISO 100.

The beginning of April I was invited to go to Svalbard with Canon Norway. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. It’s main city, Longyearbyen, is the northern most city in the world with over 1000 inhabitants (there are settlements further north, but they are small and/or not inhabited all year round).

One of many abandoned coal mines near Longyearbyen. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 50mm, 1/200sec, f/8, ISO 200.

One of many abandoned coal mines near Longyearbyen. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 50mm, 1/200sec, f/8, ISO 200.

Svalbard was discovered in 1596 by Dutch explorers. However, it’s mentioned in Icelandic texts as early as the 1194. Early on whaling was the main industry around Svalbard, but in the 20th century it was transformed into a coal mining community. Till this day, Russian and Norwegian mining companies continues to the quest for coal in the mountains, however tourism and research are emerging as new important industries for the island. The University Centre in Svalbard is the northernmost institution for higher education in the world and Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 and now contains a collection of 840 000 seeds from 4000 species!

The dog sleigh guide warned us not to take photos, because there's a risk the camera will be yanked out of our hands if we hit a bump. I could, however, not resist this beautiful view and just had to get a shot! Dog sleigh riding in Svalbard in this weather is quite the experience! Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/1000sec, f/18, ISO 500.

The dog sleigh guide warned us not to take photos, because there’s a risk the camera could be yanked out of our hands if we hit a bump. I could, however, not resist this beautiful view and just had to get a shot! Dog sleigh riding in Svalbard in this weather is quite the experience! Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/1000sec, f/18, ISO 500.

I spent three days up north in this fascinating location. I went on a dog sleigh expedition, snowmobile expedition, got to visit an ice gave, an old huntsman lodge and a glacier. Well, almost a glacier. The fjord was not frozen so we could not get across. We had to admire the glacier from a distance this time.

All in all it was three busy days! The only thing missing was a chance to photograph polar bears. Except for the sleigh dogs I didn’t get to do any animal photos, just landscapes. Don’t get me wrong the landscapes up there are amazing and very unique. I guess I will have to come back some other time for the polar bears!

For those of you interested in the equipment used for these photos: I decided to travel light. I only brought a Canon 5Ds, 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II and a 17-40mm f/4L USM. I was expecting to mostly do landscaped and travel photos and for that this was a great combo. I guess I could have managed just with the 24-70mm, but the extra wide angel was nice to have for some of the impressive landscape. Canon 5Ds and the new 24-70mm is a killer combo. Love the high-resolution for landscapes, but it lacks a bit on the ISO, and so things got a bit difficult in the ice cave.

See more images in the gallery below!

Wild Beasts in Norway

A lone musk-ox in the mountains. Shot with Nikon D4s and Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR @ 500mm, 1/1000sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600.

A lone musk-ox in the mountains.
Shot with Nikon D4s and Nikon AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR @ 500mm, 1/1000sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600.

It’s only about a month since I got back from my trip photographing bears and wolves in Finland, but chance would have it that last weekend I got the opportunity to go on a second photo trip. A little closer to home this time. The destination was Dovrefjell, a mountain range and national park, in Norway and this time I was hunting musk-ox!

The musk-ox is a big mammal and is typically about 2 meters long and weighs about 200kg. They are herbivore and live in arctic climate hence their wool is about 40% warmer than sheep’s wool! The musk-ox was extinct in Norway, but after some railroad workers discovered a fossil at Dovrefjell in 1913 some people started to play with the idea of bringing the musk-ox back to the Norwegian fauna. After a few failed attempts elsewhere, they released the first animals at Dovrefjell in 1932. During the second world war however, the population died out. They released a new population in 1947, and this population still survives till this day at Dovre.

Photographing musk-ox is somewhat easier than a lot of other animals. We did not need any hides or bait, nor did we have to sit and wait for the animals to come by. Quite the opposite, we had some great professional guides who did research and kept track of where the animals were. It was just a matter for us to load up our gear and start hiking.

There’s a general warning to stay at least 200 meters away from the animals. However, the aforementioned guides knew how we could safely maneuver closer without upsetting the animals. It was all about taking your time. Our group would stay close together and slowly move closer to the animals a few meters at a time, then stop for a while. This way we were letting the musk-ox get used to our presence. We did spend a couple of hours with two animals and they got so used us being there, and realizing we did no harm, they would just ignore us and let us wander about with our cameras. The result was that we would get quite close to these impressive animals!

Photo tip! Get low. It can create a more interesting angle as well as a nice out of focus foreground.

Wild Beasts in Finland

Shot with Nikon D810 and Nikon 300mm F/4E PF ED VR @ 1/640sec, f/5.6, ISO 400.

Shot with Nikon D810 and Nikon 300mm F/4E PF ED VR @ 1/640sec, f/5.6, ISO 400.

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.

The stay

The outside of the hides at " The Lake"

The hides at ” The Lake”

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.

Inside of the hide

Inside of the hide with holes for the cameras and a simple bench to sit on.

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!

Video workshop in Tromsø

A couple of weeks ago I spent almost a week in a little village a couple of hours outside of Tromsø, in the northern parts of Norway. This is actually my second trip up north lately, however this one was all work.

I had been hired by the Center for Northern Peoples to arrange a four days video workshop, teaching them how to make better videos. They have started a project using videos as part of their work, and they are going to use videos in documentation, promotion and on larger cultural projects. My job was to give them proper training and teaching them the equipment and techniques needed to master the trade and make good videos.

It was four intense, but very fun days! We went through everything from the basics of the camera to actually shooting some video, and editing video and sound. It was a workshop with a perfect mix of theory and practice, and a steep learning curve I imagine. Just as it should be!

In the end the client was very happy and ready to make videos, and I had spent four days in the beautiful scenery of Manndalen outside of Tromsø. Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to explore the area properly and take more photos, but below you can see some of my snapshots. Some of my photos were also published on the Center of Northern Peoples’ Facebook page here and here.

Changing technique for a creative boost

With modern digital cameras and their workflow it’s easy to just let the camera do all the work. Today’s image files are cheap and too often I just fire away and come home with way to many images, much more than I need. Just a couple are useful. The rest is either out of focus, badly composed or badly exposed. I’ve been lazy or my creativity has run dry.

Used film rollsThough the way we capture and process images have changed when moving from analog to digital photography, the very basics of photography remains the same! We compose and expose in much the same way, using the same tools. However, today modern digital cameras have a vast number of options, buttons, dials and possibilities. It’s easy to get confused and end up focusing on everything else, but the actual picture. Therefor I find it refreshing to sometimes step out of the digital work flow and back to the analog world. Stripped of electronics I can focus on capturing images.

As a photographer I like to get back to basics every once in a while.Think before I shoot. The best way for me to do so, is to load a roll of film in one of my old analogue cameras. These cameras are 30-50 years old and they’re stripped of electronics and automatic modes. All they got is good old mechanics and sometimes some low tech light metering. This frees my mind from all the technical details such as ISO or white balance. These parameters are set with the film. There are no buttons to push or menus to enter. Just adjust exposure with aperture and shutter, frame the shot, focus and click!

Now I only got 24 or 36 exposures. I better make them count!

This restriction is a great way for me to force myself to think before I shoot. Instead of just firing away, I closely consider each shot. Is it worthy of being photographed? And if it is, can I make it even better? When shooting analogue I only use fixed focal lenses, no zooms. This means I have to move around, and the moment I start moving, I start thinking of different angles. Not just the regular ones. I start being creative!

Of course this doesn’t mean every shot turn out to be a master piece. Most of it is useless. But it’s about the process. It’s about taking the time. It’s about getting in touch with the craft that is photography not just taking photos. It’s about taking a different approach. It’s about having fun!