With the countdown well and truly underway to my Wolves and Wolverines workshop this October in northern Finland (now less than a month away), I have begun making plans for what equipment I plan to take with me and starting to get my mental game together for a return to leading workshops. After more than 18 months away from leading trips, there are a few things I have planned to help me be at my best – both for my clients and for my own A-game.
Checked Luggage: Historically, I am often doing back-to-back trips when guiding, and leading workshops and expeditions and often travel with two large North Face duffels for my checked luggage to accommodate all the different clothing and equipment I may need for the different trips. In this instance, I will only be leading the one extended trip to Finland, and as such am trying to keep myself to just one bag to make it easier to navigate the travel sectors of this trip. Although two duffels provide a lot of packing room, it is also a real pain to move around airports and hotels.
One of the primary reasons I have been using two duffels for travel is to pack a camera backpack inside one of the duffels for use on location. I long ago grew tired of schlepping heavy backpacks full of camera gear through airports and shifted to a roller bag for this purpose. The downside to a roller is once on location, they are not very practical for most workshops and expeditions, and as such, I would typically re-pack into a backpack. The big downside to this approach is the requirement to pack a backpack in my checked luggage – which takes a lot of space. However, I have come across a new (or new to me) product that addresses this problem, and I will be testing it during my travels to Finland. More on this later.
Clothing: At this time of year, the temperature will be plummeting fast in northern Finland as winter is rapidly approaching. Average temperatures are likely to hover around 0º Celsius and drop far lower in the evenings. As almost all of the photography on this Workshop will be done from hides, it is essential to pack warm clothing as we will be sitting inactive for long hours at a time. Although the hides all have small portable gas heaters, it has been my experience that it is still really easy to get cold when inactive for long periods. As such, I like to pack for a full winter trip with down jackets and pants and then layer with mid-layers. I can then easily remove an outer jacket if I become too warm. One thing I have learned over the years is that active outdoor wear is not necessarily the best choice when you are spending long periods inactive in hides. Outdoor clothing for hunting or that has otherwise been designed for spending long periods sitting in cold environments is generally far more effective at retaining body heat. Activewear is usually designed to breathe exceptionally well when you exercise to avoid sweat build-up, which also allows body heat to escape very quickly. When you are inactive, you want to trap as much heat as possible. I have tried many different outdoor clothing brands over the years and have found the choice of active or inactive wear far more critical than the brand label associated with it. One of the benefits of hunting (inactive wear) clothing is it usually costs a lot less than many of the very expensive activewear labels.
Camera Equipment: As this Workshop is primarily about wildlife, I will be taking both my Canon EOS 1DX MK3 cameras along with a selection of lenses, including EF 16-35mm f4L IS, EF 24-70 f4L IS, EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS MK3 and 600mm f4L IS MK3. In addition to my Canon kit I plan to take my Go Pro, and if I can squeeze it in, I may also bring my EF 400mm f2.8L IS MK3. 600mm is generally a more useful focal length in this part of Finland but can be a little tight in some of the forest hides.
What about the Canon EOS R3?: Unfortunately, it does not look like Canon will be able to supply me with a new EOS R3 for testing before I leave for Finland on the 3rd of October. Hopefully, on my return to Australia in November, I will pick one up for testing in Mongolia later this year.
Mental Games: One of the keys to creating successful wildlife imagery is the ability to go with the flow and take advantage of what Nature presents. I have found that going into a workshop or expedition with too strong a preconception of what you want to capture almost always results in missed opportunities. It is far better to try and keep an open mind and work with what Nature presents on any given day. To this end, I try to avoid pre-visualizing too much in my head before I actually get into the field and understand the weather and light conditions I have to work with. Once in the field, I can then offer far better advice on how to approach photographing the wildlife optimally.
Returning to Workshop Leading: To get into the ‘rhythm of the landscape’ and provide the best possible opportunities for all participants, I plan to arrive in Finland more than a full week before we are scheduled to commence. This will give me ample time to get into ‘the groove’, pre-scout the various hides, and ascertain where the most activity occurs. With more than a dozen hides scattered across the border of Finland and Russia, it takes a little time to find out where the most action is. This investment in time means we can hit the ground running at full speed when our Workshop officially kicks off on the 14th of October.