This year I spent my birthday in a Forest in Finland with no company other than about dozen (wild)! Eurasian brown bears and more mosquitoes that I care to count.

I stayed at Martinselkosen wilderness centre, in the North of the country. Comfortable enough, plenty of rustic food, and surprisingly decent coffee.

Forest Hide.

After a night in the Wilderness centre we were to stay in the Forest hide, which is regularly visited by a dozen or so bears and cubs. On the way to the hide, one of the other photographers suggested that my 500mm lens was too long. She was right, the large communal hide was directly in front of a clearing where food was left to attract the bears . At times the bears were so close all I could shoot was a patch of blurry fur.

Fortunately at the far side of the clearing there was enough distance to get the the bears in frame, and in the middle of the clearing I could get some decent mug-shots of the beasts.

This huge male was set on stuffing himself with salmon. It pays to be big in the bear world; this guy gets to eat first.

A close up of the big male. Notice the droopy lip, probably the result of an injury sustained in a fight with another bear.

A profile of the big male.

A mother and her cubs. Bears don't make great fathers. Whenever any of the males got close, the cubs were straight up the tree.

The cubs were adorable!

This was a younger bear, not quite fully grown. No longer with its mother.

Night 2. Pond Hide

Second night I opted to stay in the pond hide. Now, when I hear the word pond, I think something a few meters across lilly pads and frogs in somebody's back garden. This body of water was, to my eyes, a lake.

The pond hide couldn't be more different from the previous night. Where the forest hide was a large wooden hut with about 20 or so bunks and a composting toilet, this thing was just wide enough to contain a single bed and not tall enough to stand up in. Facilities were provided in the form of a bucket.

I was there for more than three hours poised with my camera and trying not to nod off before the first bear turned up. Bear paws in wet bog make quite a distinctive noise. Here's a video of one that wandered right past my hide...

I was a bit worried that I would lose the light, as it was already dusk, but fortunately dusk lasts for hours in that part of the world. I did have to push the ISO really quite high but I think the photos came out better that the previous night, because the setting seemed more natural.

I think this shot might be my favourite shot of the trip. I like the bokeh, and how it is naturally quite thirdy.

This bear had just seen another male approaching from the left. Most people seem to like this shot the most. I guess because it's quite dynamic. There is enough blur to suggest movement.

I have another version of this with the tree 'shopped out. But I decided to not do that kind of editing to my wildlife photos.

Gear Talk

I have both a Canon 5D mk III and a Canon 7D mk II. The 7D is often touted as being best for wildlife and sports shooters because the 1.6X crop factor gives you extra reach for free. I think that's often true, but only when the light is good. I was shooting at dusk, and the shots that came out of the 5D were much less noisy due to the larger sensor. Even if I was to crop a 5D shot to be the same frame as a 7D, the result would still be better. I think the takeaway from that is that the 7D is a better choice only if the light is good.

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Will! thanks for the information and the great pictures!, amazing shots!. I am travelling to Finland to do Bear photography any recommendation? Did you get there by plane?


Will McGugan

I got a flight from London. The lodge (in the post) was excellent. I'm sure you will get some great shots. Only recommendation would be to protect yourself from the mosquitoes...