Wolverines and Wolves of Finland Workshop Report 2019

In October of 2019 I lead a dedicated wildlife workshop to the northern region of Kajaani in Finland. This workshop was dedicated to the photography of Wolves, Wolverines and Bears. I arrived a week early to pre-scout many of the locations I wanted us to try to photograph in order to ascertain which hides (and in what locations) were having the most activity and at what time of the day. By pre scouting I ensured we had the best possible opportunities with the most action for our time in this beautiful part of Finland. This was well worth the effort and time as everyone who participated in this trip came away with a spectacular portfolio of photographs.

To my knowledge, there is no where else in the world you can get so close, so reliably and so often to wild wolves and wild wolverine. At various times during our photography sessions we would have Wolves, Wolverine and Brown Bear within just a few feet of our hides. This provided us with unique and incredible opportunities to produce a really strong and powerful body of work of these apex predators.

Wolves, Wolverines and Bears are typically most active first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening so this is when we concentrated our efforts. As it turned out, most of the action ended up occurring in the afternoon and early evening so we quickly abandoned the mornings and focused our efforts on the afternoons. With the evenings being so incredibly productive we were able to make many thousands of photographs during just a few hours each day. It also freed up our mornings for some informal landscape photography around some of the lakes at the peak of fall colour. The landscape opportunities in this area of Finland at this time of year are well worth a visit alone.

Many of the hides we used to make our photographs are actually located in no mans land between Finland and Russia and special permission is needed to enter this demilitarised zone. The benefit of being in this remote restricted region is that we have it completely to ourselves. No other human being for many kilometres. Of perhaps even greater importance is that there is no hunting allowed of any kind in this zone. With hunting pressure across much of Finland (for Grouse, and unfortunately also for Bear and Wolves) the animals are pushed into this region and concentrated more closely than they might otherwise normally be.

During the week we spent in this remote part of Finland we had what can only be described as some of the most amazing, unusual and incredible encounters with wildlife anyone could ever hope for. We had a pack of six wolves (two Alphas and four one year old pups) that were consistently coming within just a few metres of our hides on a daily basis. To have wild wolves within just a few meters of you is virtually unheard of. We also had close encounters with Wolverine and brown bears; often close enough that they were approaching minimum focusing distance!

During one early afternoon we were waiting to go into the hides when a wild wolverine emerged from the forest and promptly came straight up to us to investigate. This is extremely unusual behaviour for what is notoriously an extremely shy and elusive animal.  With the wolverine so close I took the opportunity to use my iphone and grab some video of this once in a lifetime encounter.

Due to my continual travel schedule this year, I have not as yet had time to sort, edit and process the many thousands of photographs I made during this week in Finland, so rather than delay my trip report I am instead including a few snippets of video I shot on my iphone during the workshop. I will post final images at a later date once I have had time to edit and process them.

This years workshop was such a success that I have decided to repeat the workshop again next year from the 14th of October until the 21st of October. As per this year, I will take just five photographers with me for this experience. We will be based in a quaint and cozy remote cabin just a few kilometres from the Russian border where we will make daily sojourns to our hide locations for photography of Wolves, Wolverine and Bears. Drop me an email to register your interest as places are strictly limited and some are already spoken for. Full details on my website at www.jholko.com 

Polar Bears of the High Arctic 2020 – Now Limited Availability

There is now only a few places left available on my Polar Bears of the High Arctic expedition this July before the expedition will be sold out (Read the report from last years expedition). The expedition runs from the 6th of July until the 15th of July and is strictly limited to twelve participants.

The High Arctic is a place to inspire the imagination. Nowhere is it more accessible than the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located deep within the Arctic Circle. Nowhere else can the Polar Bear be seen more reliably in its natural habitat, and photographing these magnificent animals will be our main objective. We will also search for walrus and the other wildlife of the region. Dramatic glaciers, plunging cliffs and beautiful drift ice formations will be present as well.Our intention is to sail directly north from the small town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard to approximately 80o degrees north, to the very edge of the permanent pack ice. At our northerly most point we will likely be less than 600 miles from the North Pole and depending on the sea ice we may get even closer. We will be using the ice hardened expedition ship M.S Freya that will enable us to skirt the edge of the pack ice searching for and photographing Polar Bears. M.S Freya is widely regarded as the best ship in the Arctic for Polar Bear Photography. With low-lying decks we can photograph at eye level with wild Polar Bears. Our expedition ship has private cabins (no need to share unless you wish) and is also equipped with sufficient zodiacs (2 x Zodiac MKV models) and crew for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment – So bring what you need! Watch the expedition video ‘Kingdom of the Ice Bear’ to get an idea of what this expedition entails.If you are excited by the idea of traveling to the edge of the permanent pack ice to photograph Polar Bears in their natural environment with a small group of dedicated photographers now is the time to secure the very last place. You can download a detailed PDF itinerary HERE. Drop me an email to register your interest or to register for one of the last remaining places.

In Search of the Wolverine in Finland in Winter

Late yesterday I wrapped up six days of personal photography in northern Finland (in no mans land on the Russian border) trying to photograph Wolverine in winter. I decided to keep a daily video journal of the time I spent in the hide trying to photograph this elusive and shy animal. I uploaded the videos daily to social media via a pretty good 3G connection, but have now compiled them into a chronological time-line that I hope gives some insight into what it is like to spend day after day in a hide waiting for the opportunity to photograph rare and elusive wildlife. Peta-Pixel have now also picked up this story and have published it on their website.

I am now headed to Iceland to lead my annual expedition to the Hornstrandir Nature reserve in the North West fjords to photograph Arctic Fox in winter. I am really looking forward to returning to this remote area and the opportunity to again photograph these incredible animals with a small group of dedicated and passionate photographers. Perhaps best of all is that no hides are required in this area!

2018 A Retrospective and 2019 Whats in Store?

As is tradition on my blog, I like to do a “What’s Coming Up” post for the new year as well as reflect back, and wrap up the year that was (its a great way for me to keep a record of my travels and photography and also helps me prepare for the coming year). Even though I ran less workshops than the previous year, 2018 was a frantic year and when I look back at all the destinations and all of the photography its actually hard to reconcile that it all happened in a single year. It was a year that included some absolutely superb photographic destinations and some really incredible experiences.

In equipment terms 2018 was relatively quiet for me with no major changes to my camera line-up. As I wrote both last year and the year before, the Canon EOS 1DX MKII remains the best DSLR camera I have ever used regardless of price, brand or model. I actually managed to get through an entire year without purchasing a new camera or a new lens! I cannot recall the last time I managed to do that! It was a close call on the new Canon mirrorless camera, but after trying one I decided it did not really offer me anything that would improve my photography at this point. Perhaps future generations of the mirrorless system might better suit my needs.

My gear pick for the 2018 year (I always choose something I actually own) is somewhat of a tough choice as I did not actually purchase a new camera or lens. I did however purchase the newly designed Sachtler Flowtech 75 tripod and this has definitely become my favourite tripod. Its super fast to set up in the field, its light, strong, exceptionally sturdy and extremely versatile with its spiked and rubber feet. I also very much like the flexibility that comes with different positions when splaying the legs.

2019 should be a fairly interesting year in equipment terms. I expect to see several new L series lenses from Canon that will predominantly be in the new RF mount. I highly doubt we will see any new pro DSLR bodies until early 2020 – a 1DX MKIII announcement late 2019 is probable. The much rumoured 600mm F4 DO lens (a patent has been filed by Canon and they have shown a prototype) has not as yet eventuated and my gut feeling is that when it finally does it will almost certainly appear in an RF mount only. In fact, I expect the majority of new lenses Canon releases in 2019 to be in RF mount only.

Last year I am gave the nod to Ragnar Axelsson’s excellent Faces of the North for my book pick of the year. For 2018 I am giving the guernsey to Inherit the Dust by Nick Brandt. Nick has continued to lead the charge in black and white elephant photography; producing absolutely superb imagery that is both emotional and timeless. His style and approach are highly imitated, but rarely if ever matched. Inherit the Dust is a wonderful (although sombre) look at what we are doing to our planet. I definitely recommend you check it out and consider adding it to your library.

Over the course of this year I also published my own favourite twelve photographs here on my blog. Please be sure to check them out and let me know what you thought. I don’t usually have an overall favourite from a given year, although I definitely have a soft spot for the Wolverine I photographed in northern Finland in Autumn this year during a scouting trip. As below, I have a new workshop for Wolverine and Wolves that will kick off next Autumn in Northern Finland (only two places remaining before it will be sold out).

In competition terms, 2018 was a great year for me with the overall win as the Victorian Documentary Photographer of the Year. This was the second year in a row I have taken out the win in this category. This year I was also a finalist  in the AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards – Science, Wildlife and Wild Places Photographer of the Year. I was also short listed in BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, ANZANG Australian New Zealand Nature Photographer of the Year and was also Highly Honoured in Natures Best Photography Nature in Motion Category for Ghosts of the Arctic as well as being a Finalist and Highly Commended in the Hot and Cold Category of Travel photographer of the Year. Overall, it was a solid year and I am very pleased with the results.

2018 was also another huge year for me both with destinations visited and sheer number of international miles travelled. The year kicked off in early February with a winter workshop to Lofoten (Read the Trip Report).  The landscape of these islands are really quite something to behold. Precipitous and ominous peaks that rise straight out of the ocean loom over small fishing villages that comprise of bright red houses lining the shorelines. With a dusting of fresh snow and arctic winter light the entire scene is akin to a fairy tail location and subsequently the photographic opportunities were truly superb.

From Lofoten I travelled to Iceland to lead my annual expedition to photograph Arctic Fox on the north-west peninsula in Winter (Read the Trip Report).  This was only the second time I have taken a small group with me into the nature reserve as this is an area very near and dear to my heart. During the expedition the participants made between ten and twenty thousand plus photographs per person which gives you a really good idea of just how many incredible opportunities and encounters with Arctic Foxes we experienced during our time in the Nature reserve. Many of our encounters lasted several hours and on multiple occasions we had the luxury of choosing our backgrounds and angle of view for our photographs.

From Iceland I travelled north to Svalbard for both a personal snow mobile expedition to photograph Polar Bears on the sea ice in Winter and to subsequently lead my annual winter workshop in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and dramatic Arctic landscapes (Read the Trip Report).  I spent nearly three weeks exploring the archipelago of Svalbard in winter via snow mobile in temperatures as low as -30º Celsius in search of Polar Bears. Bears were thin on the ground and extremely hard to find this year. In three weeks I drove over three thousand kilometres on my snow mobile and found only one Bear. My winter ship expedition was much more successful with some fantastic bear and wildlife encounters. 

From Svalbard I travelled closer to home to the South Island of New Zealand where I lead my annual landscape workshop with my good friend Phillip Bartlett (Read the Trip Report). Although this was a very successful trip for all who participated it was a difficult and somewhat frustrating trip for me as I was suffering quite badly with a torn lateral tendon in my right elbow at this point and was unable to lift my camera for most of the trip. As it turned out I did actually make some photographs I was very happy with during the workshop. I was also finally able to get my elbow back in shape with some very intensive physiotherapy on return to Melbourne.

From New Zealand I returned to Svalbard for my yearly expedition north of Longyearbyen to photograph Polar Bears living and hunting on the sea ice (Read the Trip Report). With our small group of just twelve photographers and our ice hardened expedition class ship we were perfectly prepared for ten days of Arctic photography under the midnight sun and it turned out to be an absolute gem of an expedition. July and August are just a fantastic time of the year to visit Svalbard. With twenty four hours of daylight (the sun never sets this time of year) the opportunities for photography are literally non-stop and we took advantage on many occasions to photograph late into the evening and early hours of the morning.

After a short break I returned to the deserts of Namibia to lead my bi-annual workshop for both landscape and wildlife to this fantastic country (Read the Trip Report). This was my fourth workshop to the desert of Namibia and the first time I had ventured north into the wildlife rich region of Etosha. It was also the first time I have scheduled this workshop for October (instead of April / May when there is often more cloud). October was a deliberate choice for this safari as it is the end of the dry season in Etosha. Water is at its most scarce and the wildlife is thus forced to congregate around the last few remaining watering holes whilst they wait for the rains and the start of the wet season.

I then wrapped up the year with my expedition to photograph Emperor Penguins on the remote sea ice at Gould Bay in Antarctica (Read the Trip Report). The colony at Gould Bay is actually the most southerly Emperor Penguin colony in Antarctica and is also one of, if not the most, difficult colonies to reach. This was my third expedition to this remote region of Antarctica and it proved extremely productive. This was also the first time I have been able to properly explore and photograph one of Antarctica’s dry valleys – a location not far from Union Glacier known as the Elephants Head. I also took the opportunity on this expedition to shoot some video and I hope to get some time in the new year to edit it all together into a short experience video to share here on my blog and website.

All up I led a total of seven separate international workshops and expeditions in 2018  spread across the globe (not including personal work, some local private workshops to the Great Ocean Road as well as one-on-one Print workshops). A brief count tallies up over fifty plane segments and nearly sixty thousand exposures (not all keepers unfortunately!) It was a fantastic year and I just want to thank all of you who I was fortunate to meet, travel and photograph with throughout the year. It was real privilege to share in such remarkable destinations with so many fantastic passionate photographers – thank you.

2019 is ready to get underway and I am really excited about whats in store. In mid January I will be making my first trip to northern Canada in winter to photograph Snowy Owls. Snowy Owls have been on my wish list for many years and I now finally have the right local contact to photograph them in the wild on private land. This exploratory trip is the precursor to an already sold out workshop to photograph these magnificent birds that I will lead back to this part of Canada in late 2019.

From Canada I will travel back to Finland in winter to lead my Sold Out workshop for Wolverine, Wolves, Eagles, Owls and winter landscapes. Northern Finland has quickly become one of my favourite destinations for wildlife photography. Not only does it offer fantastic opportunities for wildlife, but it does so in an absolutely superb winter setting. The opportunities for a landscape draped in fresh winter snow and the stunning Aurora Borealis can make for incredible photography.

From Finland I will travel back to Iceland for my annual SOLD OUT expedition to photograph Arctic fox in the Hornstrandir Nature reserve in winter. Arctic Foxes are unfortunately hunted and shot across most of Iceland making them extremely shy and difficult to find (and even more difficult to photograph). In the remote north-west however the Arctic Foxes are protected inside the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and can be more easily approached and photographed. We will be staying in a small remote cabin that is rustic, but functional and clean and we will have up to 10 hours of good light during the day with which to photograph the Arctic foxes. With luck, we may also see and photograph the spectacular Northern lights.

From Iceland I will travel directly to Svalbard for both personal work (on snow mobile) and to lead a brand new SOLD OUT expedition via snow mobile  for both wildlife and landscape in a stunning winter setting. I have been returning to Svalbard in Winter for quite a few years now and have found the opportunities afforded by exploring via snow mobile to be truly unique and very special. Be sure to check out the video below that my friend Abraham shot during the filming of Ghosts of the Arctic.

At the conclusion of the snow mobile expeditions I will lead my SOLD OUT annual winter ship expedition in search of Polar Bears, Arctic Fox, Reindeer and Arctic landscapes. The main focus of this expedition will be Arctic winter light, landscape and wildlife. In March and April the light conditions in Svalbard are magical. The 2019 expedition is long sold out and places are already limited for the 2020 expedition. If you would like more information or would like to reserve one of the remaining places for 2020 please drop me an email at any time.

From Svalbard I will return to Australia for a short break before I lead two brand new back-to-back landscape workshops to the Great Ocean Road and wild landscapes of Tasmania with my New Zealand co-leader and friend Phillip Bartlett. I am really excited about these new Tasmania workshops. Tasmania is still very much an undiscovered gem on the global scene with huge potential for dramatic and unique landscape photography. The first workshop is long Sold Out, but there are still two places remaining on the second trip if you would like to join Phillip and myself. Just drop me an email to register your interest.

From Tasmania I will head north again to Svalbard for my annual SOLD OUT Polar Bear expedition to the High Arctic. We will depart from the small town of Longyearbyen and sail up to the edge of the permanent pack ice where we will spend out time searching for and photographing the king of the Arctic. With 24 hour daylight under the midnight sun we will have hours and hours of light for photography.

We will search the sea ice north of Svalbard for Polar Bears, Walrus, Arctic Fox, Arctic Birds and spectacular Arctic landscapes. Whilst Polar Bears and other wildlife are the main attraction on an expedition such as this it needs to be said that the landscape opportunities in Svalbard are nothing short of breathtaking. Soaring bird cliffs, plunging glaciers and dramatic mountainous scenery means there is quite literally something for every photographer. If you have never been to Svalbard you should absolutely put it on your bucket list. As above the 2019 expedition is sold out, but I am already taking bookings for 2020 – full details on my website in the Workshops section.

From Svalbard I will head to the Faroe Islands to co-lead a brand new ‘small-group’ landscape workshop to this spectacular archipelago with friend Martyn Lucas.The Faroe Islands are comprised of eighteen small rugged and rocky islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The island’s position is unique and is the frame for breathtaking views; beautiful mountains, majestic fjords, dramatic sea cliffs; all in all a photographers paradise. The islands have a rich bird life, Including the largest colony of storm petrels in the world and over 305 bird species including Razor Bills and Atlantic Puffins. There are still two places remaining if you would like to join Martyn and myself. Just drop me an email to register your interest.

From the Faroes I will travel back to Iceland to co-lead back-to-back ship based expeditions to Scoresby Sund and the incredible east coat of Greenland with Daniel Bergmann. Both of these expeditions are ‘fly-in, fly-out’ trips that will depart from Reykjavik via charter plane and land at Constable Point in Greenland. Flying to Greenland saves us two days sailing across open ocean in either direction and means we have more time for exploration and photography.

A few words on Greenland: Home to some of the most extraordinary geology to be found on earth, the red and orange glacial scarred landscape of Greenland stands in stark contrast to the electric blue icebergs that carve off its many glaciers and drift slowly down its precipitous fjords. It is a remote land of untamed and unbridled beauty that is rarely visited and even less rarely photographed. It is an incredible place to inspire the imagination and fuel your photographic desires. There are still a few places remaining on each expedition if you would like to join Daniel and myself. Just drop me an email to register your interest. You can check out a portfolio of photographs from Greenland on my website at www.jholko.com

After Greenland I will return to northern Finland to lead my new workshop for Wolverine and Wolves in a fiery Autumn setting. I first scouted this trip in Autumn this year and found it to be an absolutely superb time of the year for photography in Northern Finland. At this time of year the Wolverines and Wolves are active and the bears have not yet begun to hibernate. Additionally the Autumn colour is in full swing which makes for outstanding backgrounds. This workshop is for a small group of just five photographers – only two places remaining before it will be sold out.

And finally to round out the 2019 year I will again return to Northern Canada to lead my new Sold Out workshop for Snowy Owls. 2019 is going to be a very exciting (and very busy) year and I am looking forward to getting underway. For those of you who have made it this far – A sneak peak into 2020 includes brand new expeditions and workshops to the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica as well as a new and very special expedition to the remote east coast of northern Greenland on the very cusp of winter. More on this later.

I wrote last year that it was my hope that 2018 will be the year I published my new fine-art book on Antarctica. Unfortunately time conspired against me and I simply ran out of days to complete the project. I wont jinx myself by making a statement that I hope to finish it in 2019, but I will say I am going to try and allocate more time to completing this project. I have had some preliminary negotiations with a large international publisher and am now in the final throws of deciding wether to self publish or take up their offer for publication and distribution.

Lastly and certainly not least, I want to wish all of you a very safe and happy New Year and may 2019 be one of amazing light and experiences for all of you. See you in the New Year!