Last week I returned from Eastern Poland where, along with fellow photographer, Marek Kosinski, I led two back to back tours. The target species was the European bison and Bialowieza (and it’s surrounding meadows and forests) is the only place in Europe where you can see large herds roaming freely. We led a successful tour last year (see HERE for the trip report) and hoped for more of the same on this occasion! Although not as cold and, at the start at least, not as much snow as last year, with Marek’s skill and knowledge of this vast area we were able to enjoy photographing them in a variety of situations and conditions. Undoubtedly, the most memorable for me was in the heavy snow as it transforms the landscape and adds real atmosphere to the images.
As last year, the accommodation and home cooking provided by Viera for both breakfast and evening meal was outstanding! Varied and delicious and washed down with a glass (or 2!) of her herb and fruit infused vodka! It’s worth returning for her cooking alone!
Thank you to all those that attended…James, Marie-Laure and Ian, Mike and Bea, Chris, Anna, Kevin, Patrick and Jim. It was hard work for some, sometimes, but with your enthusiasm and tenacity, I am sure you have returned with some memorable images.
A day was dedicated to entering the Strictly Protected Area (SPA) of the Bialowieza forest which you can only do so with a licensed guide. Although Bialowieza National Park covers an area of about 105 km.sq; much of this is managed with smaller protected areas within. The finest part is the SPA, a truly spectacular forest covering an area of 57 sq.km. An untouched, primeval forest, the largest and finest of it’s kind in lowland Europe. Massive, several hundred year old oaks, maple, hornbeam, ash and spruce stand 40 metres plus as a result of the nutrient rich soil and their need to reach for the light in this crowded environment. A stunningly beautiful, yet eerie, place where no forest management takes place and the only means of transport within the forest is by horse and cart and a, practically, silent buggy used by the rangers. Where trees fall, they remain and among the tangled vegetation and fallen, decaying trees, wolves, lynx, boar and bison roam. Black storks, lesser-spotted eagles and all 10 species of woodpecker exist within this area, not to mention the endless list of flowers, fungi and insects.
Marek has a marvellous garden bird hide where you can photograph a number of species including these, spotted nutcrackers. They are such great characters and would use their massive, powerful bills to open a hazelnut by wedging it into the crack of a tree.
There were occasions when we were unable to locate the bison and with the light casting a warm glow on the forest, we made the most of the situation.
Occasionally, the conditions were quite difficult to work in but were most definitely worth it!
With half the group, (on my 2nd week) Marek went out looking for bison while myself and 2 others were booked into his garden and forest hide for woodpeckers and the like. Marek, however, put a spanner in the works (in the nicest possible way) by saying to us that the white-tailed eagle hide was empty and would we like to try that instead? I was more than a little keen as was (it has to be said, Kevin!) and when I suggested this to Patrick, he also felt it would be worth a go. So, by 5.30 the following morning, we were settled in the hide, waiting. We did see the eagles. 2 infact, perched in the distant trees, plus ravens and jays but, sadly, they never came down to the bait. It was a real pity but nothing ventured. Kevin, with his bionic eyesight, spotted this gorgeous fox in the distance which gave us a few moments to rattle off a few images.
While half the group were enjoying (as we later found out) a bumper session in Marek’s hide, we were out looking for bison which he duly located. And what a herd it was. 60+ animals.
From here, we revisited a forest that had 3 bulls and for the next hour and a half, followed them and, while keeping a very respectful distance, enjoyed them as they relaxed and fed.
My kit bag (Think Tank Airport Acceleration) consisted of 2xNikon D300′s, 12-24, 28-105, 70-200 f2.8 and a 200-400 f4 with, occasionally, a 1.4x tele-converter attached. Support was provided by a Manfrotto 055 CX3 carbon fibre tripod fitted with a Markins M10 ball head. I’m not a big fan of those Manfrotto’s where, in order to use at ground level, you need to adjust the centre column so it runs parallel to the ground. Far too fiddly for my liking, especially when working in the snow!
From the forest, they entered the clearing providing us with wonderful opportunities to photograph them without any trees obscuring them.
Yellowhammers would fly back and forth, feeding at the bison’s feet.
A fantastic end to a great trip. Marek and I will be doing the same tour next February from the 3rd to 8th so, if you are interested in joining me to this amazing region, do get in touch. Alternatively, click HERE to get more information from my website.
Wednesday May 8th – Friday 10th 2013
Group size: 6
Those of you that are on my mailing list will, already, know of this workshop. I decided not to waste any time in preparing it for the website as I had interested parties priorr to me making it official. Well, I have just 1 place remaining! So, if you are interested in joining me on this short break to The Golden City then contact me on 07939 117570 or by email at email@example.com
Full details can be found here at Prague Photo Break
An extract from the itinerary.
I would hazard a guess that there are few photographers, residing in the UK, more acquainted with Prague and Czech traditions than myself. Over a period of 5 years, I visited Prague on no fewer than 50 occasions photographing for my agents and my own library, as well as providing articles for magazines, one of which was featured in Outdoor Photography. Oh yes, and visiting my girlfriend, Martina, of 8 years who now lives here!
Although Prague is not a big city, it is incredibly easy to get lost due to the myriad of cobbled, medieval lanes and alleyways. Why struggle to get your bearings and seek out that perfect vantage point at sunset when you can have someone take you straight there!
Around 2 weeks ago I returned from a 7 day trip to Finnish and Norwegian Lapland where, along with Finnish photographer and guide, Antti Pietikäinen, I led a tour for 5 guests.
Having visited this region twice before, in autumn, I was keen to run a tour to this beautiful region. Autumn or Ruska, as the Finns call it, occurs approximately 5 weeks before ours and there is no better place to witness it than in Lapland! The unending landscape of fells, bogs, mountains, fjords, streams and waterfalls are ablaze with yellows, browns and reds. A photographer’s paradise! The season also marks the beginning of the Northern Lights when they start to become more frequent and 2012/13 will be the best in over 10 years when solar activity reaches it’s peak.
For the first part of the trip we were to be based in the municipality of Muonio which lies around 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle (just over an hours drive from Kittila airport) and lays claim to having the longest snow season in Finland! Our days were spent shooting autumn colour, waterfalls and forests and reindeer.
As Antti prepared lunch around an outdoor fire-place and shelter, a pair of Siberian jays arrived, obviously waiting for a tit-bit or two! They are a common feature of such places, taking advantage of food thrown by people and a species I had yet to photograph. Although not shy, it never quite perched in the “perfect” position.
As the day rolled on the prospect of a good sunset started to waiver. Instead, we had dramatic, ever-changing storm clouds which was far more interesting.
After dinner and with clearing skies, we headed out for our first northern lights foray. Antti is a northern lights nut! He understands their science, reads aurora forecasts, photographs them constantly throughout the winter, leads watching and photography tours and has produced a short film using moving, stills and time-lapse images to show the legend behind them. We drove a short distance and there they were, straight ahead of us. We jumped out of the minibus, set up tripods and shot what we could of the fading phenomenon. It was wasn’t the brightest display but if left everyone wanting more!
From here, Antti, took us to a small beach on the edge of a lake where we stayed for the next hour, or so, running lengthy exposures and simply taking in the night sky. Coming from South East England there is an enormous amount of light pollution and to see the stars so big and bright and to clearly make out the milky-way was just awesome!
Exposures to record the northern lights is entirely dependent on the speed of your lens, iso setting and their brightness. A good starting point, if you want to record it as you see it and without too much movement is to start with iso 1600, f4 (my widest setting on the 12-24mm) at 30 seconds. Do a test and go from there.
With the prospect of a clear morning we got our heads down for a few hours then reconvened at 6am where Antti took us to a viewpoint which gave us wonderful views of the landscape and ruska. Full credit to the group for making the effort to get up so early after a long night. All had the same opinion that you never know if it will be our one and only sunrise opportunity. After a few hours of shooting silhouettes and landscapes we headed back for breakfast and a well earned sleep.
Later that afternoon, Antti drove us to Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park, Finland’s 3rd largest, where a remarkably tame herd of reindeer was photographed against the backdrop of the autumn colour of the fells. Reindeer are synonymous with Lapland and we a common sight as we drove from one location to another.
For this and others of the reindeer, I used a 70-200mm f2.8 with a 1.4x tele-converter which I find a very useful combination when travelling where wildlife photography is secondary to landscapes.
On our way back we stopped at an old-growth forest. Unfortunately the persistent rain had us packing up earlier than we would have liked but I had just long enough to shoot a few compositions.
Temperatures were typical for Lapland at that time. 10-15 degrees C during the day, dropping to around zero at night. It’s certainly not uncommon, however, for temperatures, at night, to drop to -5 and below.
The following day we headed to our second destination, Kilpisjarvi, where we would stay for a further 3 nights. Kilpisjarvi was a drive of around 4 hours further north towards Norway but with the road hugging the river and with so many opportunities to stop and take photos, the time just flew by! Plus, there was a souvenir shop on the way where we could all buy gifts and buy a cup of coffee and doughnut for 1 Euro! As we headed north and our elevation increased, you could clearly see a noticeable change in the terrain. There was distinct feel of being on the tundra. Birches were shorter, less upright and more dispersed. It was colder, too!
After a long day’s travelling and as our cabins were in such a photogenic spot with streams and a lake just steps away from our doors, we decided to stay in the vicinity and shoot scenes. The forecast was for a clear night and, according to Antti, strong possibilities of a good northern lights showing.
As the sun set and twilight cast it’s blue glow across the lake and nearby birch forest, I headed into the tangle and ran time exposures. Really, just savouring a northern forest at night.
So that we may enjoy the experience well into the night, Antti lit a fire in the small kota-like building where we would sit on reindeer skins, talking, drinking and snacking. Could it be more perfect?!
At around 11 o clock I stepped outside to see if the lights had started as between 11 and 2am are the most likely times for them to show. And, low and behold, they had begun!
This was far brighter that what we had seen a few days earlier, in Muonio. It just got stronger and stronger. At times, it would form a complete arc above our heads and, occasionally, sway like a lace curtain. It’s little wonder seeing this is on so many’s wish-list.
At one point a strong 180° arc formed over our heads.
The display lasted for an hour and a half, finishing Sunday morning at 12.40! It was particularly special as it was one of our guest’s, Wendy, birthday on Sunday and so spending the night witnessing this aurora made a wonderful birthday gift.
That afternoon, Antti took us to a very photogenic spot, close to the Norwegian border, which had a fantastic waterfall and view of the distant mountains.
I found it hard to do the scene justice as a vista so spent my time concentrating on details and aspects of the area that I felt conveyed the colour and beauty of Lapland in autumn.
After we had our fill, we returned to the cabins. Some decided to rest while myself, Wendy and Chris thought it’d be nice to walk part of the way up Saana Fell. Boardwalks leading though old birch forest soon give away to 100s of steps leading to the summit. As we walked higher and cleared the tree line we had the most spectacular view across Finnish and Norwegian Lapland. We didn’t bother with walking all the way to the top. We had more than enough to keep us occupied and anyway, this wasn’t a “bagging” trip!
Our following day was to be spent in Norway. More precisely, Lingen Fjord, about 90 minutes from our base. The forecast was for a bright morning so, once again, an early start was in order. I had visited this area a few years ago and wanted to take the group to a very picturesque fishing village at it’s south end, called Skibotn. When I was there last, the conditions were far from ideal. Cloud and continuous drizzle. This was to be completely different. Due to the height of the surrounding mountains we enjoyed quite a considerable while, shooting sunlit mountain tops until, eventually, the sun appeared above the peaks and flooded the scene with crisp, warm sunlight.
With the tide out we ventured onto the shore shooting mirror-like reflections. We couldn’t believe how warm it was! It stayed like that for the next few hours.
As we drove along the fjord, waterfalls, one after another, cascaded down the mountain sides. It was hard for us to resist pulling over every few hundred yards. To top it off, as we photographed this very waterfall one of our guests, Mike, spotted a pod of dolphins. A couple of us, myself included, were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of them as they hugged the edge of the fjord.
Antti and I will be running the exact same tour next year so if this has whetted your appetite and you would like to enquire or book a place, then do get in touch.
Click HERE to take you to the tour page
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01795 428481 Mobile: 07939 117570
I’ve been on several photographic holidays and workshops, and I can honestly say I have not enjoyed a trip as much as I enjoyed this one. From the start, Bob’s arrangements were problem free. Travelling, the hotel rooms, the cabin, catering – I can’t fault them. And our small and companionable group was an absolute delight to be part of.
From the start it was evident we were going to be kept busy, and no problem with that either, because the photographic opportunities were almost overwhelming. Bob and our Finnish guide – driver and Cook In Charge, Antti – knew just where to go for the best pictures, and we didn’t waste a moment. Lakes and waterfalls, fast running streams, fjord and tundra, ancient woodland, mountains. The whole 6 days were full of colour and variety. A couple of days we were up at dawn, out all day, back for sunset and then out into the small hours for the Northern Lights. One or two hours of sleep, then back out for the next dawn. It was worth every yawn and bleary eye!
We were fortunate to have two glorious displays of Northern Lights. It is something you feel humbled to have been part of. I remember the suspense, staring at star filled skies wondering – will they, won’t they come tonight? And then a shout from Rob: “There they are!” and the joy of capturing for all time those fleeting colours dancing across the sky.
I am left with the overwhelming memory of some truly stunning landscape, and autumn colours and skies to die for. Wildlife? Lots of deer, including a herd that obligingly walked in and out of shot, an elk, a mink, but not so many birds as I had expected. And we only brushed the tip of the iceberg, coming home with still so much unseen, and well worth going back for.
Thanks Antii. Thanks Bob. And thanks everyone else who made the trip so memorable.
As one of the guests on the recent Lapland tour, there is not much more I can add that Denise has not already so eloquently said.
This was truly a trip of a lifetime, for the colours in the North were spectacular, as were the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above us.
It was amazing how the landscape changed as we moved, from Muonio, farther north to Kilpisjarvi. Fewer trees, and the pines dwindled and disappeared, giving way to the reds, greens, yellows and browns of the undergrowth, with dark coloured berries in between. Wonderful! And the climb up Saana Fell was well worth the effort for the wonderful view.
As always, Rob never seemed to tire of giving help and advice when asked, he has the patience of a saint!
Our Finnish guide, Antti, kept us more than well fed and watered, we wanted for nothing.
It was a nice group of people, and with Rob’s and Antti’s senses of humour, there were plenty of laughs along the way!
All in all, it was an unforgettable, truly enjoyable, experience, one that will remain with me for a very long time, and I would thoroughly recommend participation to anyone who is keen on landscape and wildlife photography.
I would also like to thank Rob and Antti for putting this tour together so well. All their hard work in finding accommodation, places to eat and refresh, and, most importantly, the locations, has paid off.
A wonderful experience, thank you both so much.
Those of you that have been following this blog for the last year or so may recall the trip report I posted on my visit to north west Lapland last September. It’s hard to believe that it was exactly a year ago that myself, my dad, brother and brother-in-law stayed in a small log cabin on the banks of the River Konkamaeno on the Finnish/Swedish border. It all stemmed from the fact that my dad had always wanted to stay in a cabin by a river in the wilderness. Quite a tall order but I knew Finland well and already had a number of contacts and colleagues living there that could help. After many weeks searching for the ‘perfect’ cabin, I eventually found it.
The cabin was basic, had an outdoor loo and no running water. Inside was comfortable with cooking facilities, no electricity (except for very weak solar lighting) and wood burning stove….perfect! The site of the cabin was fantastic. Just under a kilometre from the road down a track, you really did feel in the middle of no-where. To have a wash and brush your teeth, a short walk to the river was needed but this was all part of the experience. To add to this there was an adjoining sauna and rowing boat. The colours of Lapland at this time are absolutely stunning. The bright yellow of birch and aspen and the red of bilberry all combine to produce a kaleidoscope of colour. A day was spent exploring the Norwegian fjords (the size of which just blew us away) and to top it off, on the 2nd night, we had a full 45 minutes showing of the northern lights, all viewed just metres away from the cabin.
This was my sixth trip to Finland, the second during this season. In the past, in spring and summer, I have photographed bears, wolverine, orchids and owls but for landscape photography, nothing beats Lapland in autumn. Click here to see a temporary web page of many of the images taken on last years trip.
Lapland Photography Holiday
I am looking at potentially running a Lapland Photography Holiday in Finland with a visit to Norway the same time next year and at this stage I am simply seeing what the interest is for something like this. The accommodation would be at a lodge not far from where I stayed where meals etc would all be taken care of. If, however, you would like to experience the basic, wilderness version then this may also be possible. As I said, I am merely ascertaining interest at this stage and would very much welcome your thoughts. Price-wise, you are looking at approximately £1200 for 7 days though this is just a ballpoint figure. This would exclude flights but include everything else, including transport.
One thing is for certain, this is quite unique. An adventure. There are no companies that do trips of this kind, anywhere. I will be putting up more details on this blog shortly but if you can’t wait till then and would like to register your interest, please contact me at email@example.com or telephone, 07939 117570.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
Read more about Robert Canis