Photographing sparrow hawks (or not)

Quarreling jays

Two jays having a little quarrel over some food. Shot with Nikon D5 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL @ 400mm ISO900, f/2.8, 1/1000

A couple of weeks ago I was at Dalen Villmarkssenter (Dalen Wildlife Centre), a great place for wildlife photography in Telemark, Norway. In the middle of the deepest woods in Norway you can find a vast number of animals here, ranging from a lot of different birds including eagles as well as foxes, beavers, pine martens, elk, deer and maybe even lynx if you’re very lucky!

When I was there sparrow hawks was the main attraction. Apparently it’s very active this time of year. I did photograph a bit of sparrow hawks in Finland, but then it was just a bonus. This time I was looking to give the birds my full attention.

I was there for two days. Day one I spent at the lake location. We got up bright and early and hiked for about half an hour. Supposedly, this place great for getting backlit shots of the birds and mirror images in the water. Unfortunately we had a lot of haze and fog on the water. The sun came just for short periods, so most of the photos turned out quite dull. Also we had no sparrow hawks. We had a massive amount of jays turn up, but no sparrow hawks. After about six hours in the hide we gave in and in stead traveled to the location by the stream to photograph squirrels.This turned out a great success and we got a lot of good shots of squirrels.

Day two we got up equally early and hiked to the hillside location. A good location for morning light and again sparrow hawks and jay the main attraction. The other team who had been here the day before reported a lot of activity and a lot of hawk, but today it was all quiet and no hawk to be seen. Meanwhile the other team now staying at the lake location reported of a lot of activity there, including jays, sparrow hawks and moose! You can’t control wild animals and sometimes it’s just not your luck. I got an excessive amount of images of jays and a whole a lot of squirrel, but not a single photo of sparrow hawk this time…

So, my gallery is not as spectacular as I had planned. Photographing sparrow hawks is not an easy task. Especially when there are no sparrow hawks around…

Photo tip!
When photographing fast birds like this or jumping squirrels you need high shutter speeds to freeze the motion and get sharp images. Probably 1/500-1/1250 depending on the bird. Also fast autofocus is an advantage, however if you lack fast AF, lock your AF at a point you know the bird will come to for instance a branch and be patient!

Long exposures in the night

Summer nights is Norway can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. The sun sets late and rises early leaving the summer nights almost as bright as day. This is great can be great for photographers as you can continue to shoot with ease long into the night!

I took these photos on a cabin trip last weekend because I was curious to see how the Fujifilm X-T10 handled long exposures and I wanted to do a little test. I didn’t have any ND-filters so I decided to wait until the sun had set and the moon came up. So, when the others went to sleep, I went out and set up my camera.

I took these photos at about 1.30 in the morning. I used a tripod and up to 30 seconds long exposure time to capture the liquid motion of the sea. I also stepped down to f/16. Partly to get good depth of field and partly because it allowed me to use longer exposure times.

It was not a planned shoot, so the set up lacked remote and the tripod was a bit wobbly, but I got a few nice shots and I’m pleased to see that the X-T10 handles long exposures very well!

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!

Den store kroppen

Earlier this week I was contacted by performance artist Sidsel Christensen. Last year I did a job photographing her performance called “Christine Schriber utenfor rammen”. This time she had another performance called “Den store kroppen” and wondered if I could take some photos.

Being a little short notice I didn’t get the time to scout the location before hand. It turned out it was a dark room lit only by a projection. Low light and harsh lighting was hardly the best conditions, but it’s all about making the best of it.

The performance, named “Den store kroppen” or “The Big Body”, was a performance art piece that brought the viewers on a journey from a cellular to a cosmic level.

This was also the first time I tried my new Fujifilm X-T10 with Fujifilm 23mm 1:1.4 lens for a job. It was actually a great kit for the job because the 23mm is very sharp at f/1.4 making it a great combo in low light. The X-T10 is also a lot smaller and discreet and more silent than the my Nikon D800. Unfortunately 23mm (or 35 full frame equivalent) was not the best focal length for this job. Most of my shots was either wider, like 24mm, or closer to 70mm.

Despite the low light challenge, it was a fun shoot and a good performance. Check out some of the images 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.