WNPP Episode #51 Book Review Remembering Bears

I have just published episode #51 of my Wild Nature Photography Podcast. In this episode, I review the all-new Remembering Bears book; the latest project by Remembering Wildlife. Full disclosure: I am featured in this book in the section on Polar Bears. Overall I found this to be an outstanding book well worth owning and it should be part of any Nature Photographers’ photographic library.  Four out of Five Stars.

Remembering Bears will be the seventh book in the highly acclaimed Remembering Wildlife series of charity books and features a foreword by Gordon Buchanan MBE and an afterword by Jill Robinson. The book is full of beautiful images once again donated by more than 80 of the world’s top wildlife photographers including Joshua Holko, Greg du Toit, Marsel van Oosten, Frans Lanting, Art Wolfe, Tim Laman, and Daisy Gilardini. It will feature images of all eight species of bears from around the world:  American black bears, Andean bears, Asiatic black bears, brown bears, giant pandas, polar bears, sloth bears, and sun bears with the aim to raise awareness of their plight and also to raise funds to protect them.

Finland Wild Wolves of the Taiga Forest Workshop Report 2022

In early October 2022, I ran my wildlife workshop in northern Finland for Wolves, Bears, and Wolverines – Wild Wolves of the Taiga Forest. This is a workshop I have been running for some years now and is something I always eagerly look forward to. Put simply, Finland has rapidly become one of my all-time favorite destinations for Wildlife photography. It offers a fantastic variety of wildlife in a stunning setting in late Autumn and Winter. I believe it is currently the best and most reliable place in the world to photograph wild wolves.

As per previous years, we based ourselves about two and a half hours drive north of the small town of Kajaani and roughly an hour sideways of the small municipality of Kuhmo. Thanks to the post-pandemic flight schedules and FinnAir canceling all flights to Kajaani, we were forced to fly into Kuopio this year; which meant a drive of about three and a half hours (instead of the usual two and a half). The particular area of no man’s land where our hides are located is ordinarily inaccessible to the general public, but with permission from the military police, we were able to enter and use this area for our photography. No hunting is allowed in no-mans land, and as such, this area has become somewhat of a haven for wildlife. Wolves, bears, and Wolverine can all be found regularly in this area.

Day one of this workshop saw us straight into the action with both Wolves and Bears turning up at the hide within just a few minutes of us entering. In recent years the Wolves seem to have become more accepting of the hides and are now approaching quite quickly and often very close – within just a few meters. As above, I believe this area of Finland is now ‘the’ premiere place in the world to reliably photograph wild wolves.

There are roughly a dozen permanent hides set up in the area we based ourselves, and we utilized a good deal of them for our time in Finland. One of the key advantages of multiple hides is the ability to change the background and create a more varied portfolio of work. There have been several improvements to the hides in recent times and many of them now sport ground-level ports for shooting at eye level with the wildlife – a big improvement.

Telephoto lenses are ideal for this workshop, and most photographs are made between 400 and 600mm. Wolves are generally shy and move very quickly, so there is some benefit to telephoto zoom lenses. I shot almost exclusively with a 600mm F4 prime lens with a 1.4 TC, and most of the participants were using either 600mm or 400mm lenses. Lenses such as the 200-400 and 100-400, or 100-500 can also be used effectively for this workshop. Smaller form crop sensors that provide extended reach can also be very effective.

Although the Wolverine remained elusive during our time in Finland, we did see and photograph several different brown bears throughout the trip. The bears are preparing to hibernate this time of year, and late October is the last chance to photograph them before their long nap and the Spring thaw. They are fat, and lethargic, and move much more slowly than the Wolves.

We also saw and photographed both White-tail and Golden Eagles and many smaller bird species, including Eurasian and Siberian Jays and many of the Tits. Ravens, pied crows, and Eurasian magpies were also seen in abundance. 

I am already looking forward to returning in September next year for my next Finland Autumn workshop for Wolves, and Bears, and with a little luck, the Wolverine will also make an appearance. Full details of the trip are available on my website HERE (some places already spoken for – please contact me for details). For 2023 there will also be an optional extension for both Golden Eagle and Eagle Owl at a separate nearby location. More to come on this in a future post.

Iceland Land of Fire and Ice Impressions of a First-Time Traveller

Back in 2015, I guided a private client to Iceland on their first experience with the land of fire and ice. By their own admission, they were a beginner photographer, but keen to experience the country firsthand. Yesterday I received the following eloquently crafted correspondence on their impressions of Iceland that they have generously allowed me to publish.

An all-pervading stink of sulfur filled the air. Standing in the Hverir thermal region I saw white steam billowing from fissures in the stony ground. 

It was mid-week of my expedition to explore the wilds of Iceland with my private guide Joshua Holko in our truck with its 36-inch wheels, the two of us had left Reykjavik and traveled through the Highlands taking the Sprengisandur route, the Highlands’ longest and loneliest track. We had crossed bleak desert moors, forded many rivers fed by glacial melt water from the icecaps seen in the distance, and endured the windswept black tephra sand as it coated everything in grit. We were now based in Reykjahlid, with our accommodation a cabin, set on a black lava field. 

Starkly beautiful, the Hverir thermal area is an astonishing landscape of sputtering mud pots, weird lava formations, steaming fumaroles, volcanic craters, and the ever-pervasive smell of sulfur. Mother Earth has many faces and surely this must be one of her harshest. I could detect no faunal life in the immediate area. No insects buzzed, hummed, crawled, or flew nearby. No flowers or foliage added color or perfume to the landscape but in some places, a touch of texture was added by an algae bloom. My main impression of this remote landscape was underpinned by the smell of gas and the heat emanating from the ground beneath my feet. I could sense the raw power of nature and how insignificant we humans can feel when in a situation such as this. 

Wandering this landscape requires care and respect for the force of nature. Geysers of boiling water spray into the air and grey mud holes bubble and hiss a warning of DANGER. As I watched and listened to this hubble and bubble I wondered at the geothermal power locked under the surface. The steaming water is piped into homes for heating and washing. It is also used for warming greenhouses to produce food in a country where six months of the year is cold and dark.

I had felt so excited when the chance came for me to explore this remote part of the world and now it felt somewhat unreal to acknowledge I was here! Always attracted to visiting somewhere different, Iceland offered so many unique opportunities for adventure with its extremes of heat and cold, its magnificent unspoiled landscape, Icelandic ponies, poppies, and puffins, and the magnificent spectacle of the Aurora Borealis. Visiting in August meant seeing the Aurora was not on the agenda, however, there was plenty of time to view the sights as the nights were very short indeed, with barely any darkness at all. (That can be a trap for novices as one has to ensure one goes to bed!) I also felt very grateful that I could share this special time with my guide as so much of his time is spent on photographic expeditions in polar regions. This was his world of expertise, and he was sharing it with me. What better guide could I have for a visit to The Land of Fire and Ice?

Greenland Scoresby Sund 2022 Winter is Coming Expedition Report

In late September of 2022, I ran a landscape expedition to Scoresby Sun on the East coast of Greenland. This expedition was originally scheduled to run in September 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic saw us delayed until 2022.  My sincere thanks to all those who were patient with the pandemic delay and kept the faith that we would finally be able to make our course to the world’s largest fjord system in search of stunning icebergs and landscapes. I do want to emphasize the point that this expedition was only possible due to the understanding and patience of all who participated – to them all I am eternally grateful. I am also grateful to my very good friends Martyn Lucas and Daniel Bergmann who assisted me tirelessly with expedition duties.

Just as an aside, I have now almost cleared my backlog of delayed workshops and expeditions. An updated list of new trips for 2023 and 2024 is now on my website at www.jholko.com. Please feel free to contact me if you have an interest in traveling on a future workshop or expedition.

Our scheduled departure for Greenland was the 24th of September 2022 with a private charter flight from Reykjavik to Constable Point on the East Coast of Greenland. We were, however, regrettably delayed two days in Reykjavik due to a combination of Iceland Air operational issues and a large storm front moving south down from the Arctic with near hurricane-force winds.

Delays are commonplace in expedition sailing in the Arctic and fortunately, we were able to make our way safely to Constable Point to begin our photographic adventure. After two years of COVID delays, it seemed a trifle for all to manage a forty-eight-hour delay.

During this expedition, we had what was without doubt the most sublime sunrise I have been fortunate to experience in the Scoresby Sund region. A combination of low wispy clouds, gently rising fog, and stunning dawn light bathed the landscape in a golden glow that lasted hours as we silently sailed through the fjord system. The early morning dawn transitioned into one of superb reflections of the snow-capped mountains in the pitch-black waters of the world’s largest fjord system. It was an unforgettable day of photography that saw everyone on board photographing from first light until sunset. I do not believe it’s overreaching to say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

During this expedition, we also experienced the change of season as Greenland transitioned from Autumn to winter and shed its brief Autumnal tundra colors, and began to don its winter armor. We witnessed the first snows of winter and the very first formation of sea ice – which provided outstanding photographic opportunities for foreground against the gigantic icebergs.

The timing of this expedition was deliberately late in the season to allow us both a low angle of the sun, proper sunrise and sunset as well an opportunity for the first snows and sea ice. The dark night sky also provided us with an Aurora Borealis display on our first night in Greenland. Having traveled to this region of Greenland on many occasions in many different months, it is my experience that this time of year offers the most dramatic light and experience. The weather and conditions are always a mixed bag in the Arctic, but the timing of the expedition can heavily stack the deck in your favor if ideal photographic conditions are your aim.

The East coast of Greenland and Scoresby Sund is of course best known for their incredible icebergs that drift slowly through the fjord system on gentle currents. Many of these icebergs are truly monumental in scale and would easily dwarf city buildings and even entire city blocks. We estimated several of the icebergs we photographed at well over one and a half kilometers long and in excess of one hundred and fifty meters in height (keep in mind more than 7/10ths of their mass also lies underwater!).  Their castellated sculptural formations frequently comprise a myriad of shades of blue, turquoise, and aquamarine that are simply superb subject material for the camera and were our primary focus for the expedition.

In a world where most iconic landscape photography locations have become nothing more than a matter of repetition by hordes of visiting photographers, it is refreshing to photograph icebergs. Their transient nature means they are never the same minute to minute. They are unique sculptures of Nature that stand alone as iconic statues impossible to repeat. Viewers must simply dive into the image and revel in the transient nature of these incredible icebergs. They are here today and gone tomorrow and that finite nature is what makes their beauty so attractive.

In my experience, there is nowhere else on earth that offers the unmissable opportunities the East Coast of Greenland provides. Whether you are a rock hound in search of incredible geology, or an iceberg junkie, there simply is no better place to sake your photographic thirst.

My next expedition to Greenland is in September 2023 with a Sold Out expedition to Scoresby Sund. Following this, my next expedition will be in September of 2024 with an expedition to both the South East coast and Scoresby Sund for otherworldly landscapes and icebergs. At this time of the year, the sun is low in the sky, and the landscape is bathed in golden light. There are still several places available on the expedition before it will be sold out. Please drop me an email for more information, or to secure your place.

Footnote: As a result of my continuing ongoing travel, I have not as yet had time to edit or post-produce any of the photographs from this expedition. I will update this post at a future date with photographs from the expedition. I arrived back in Australia very early this morning and hope to have some images up later this week (once I clear the significant jet lag fuzz).