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We’d been in the hide for around five hours, slowly watching the summer evening envelope the view before us: a still lake fringed by forest.

Bears in Finland

The lake had begun to steam as the sun began to set – the hot day cooling – and mayflies flickered in the golden brilliance.

Bears in Finland

“Bear!” Chris whispered.

I couldn’t see it a first, then a snout peeked from behind a tree, followed by the furry bulk of a bear as it emerged from the forest to the edge of the small lake.

Bears in Finland

It took a moment to find the bear through the lens on my camera, I’m not used to using a longer lens. I pressed the shutter button. The bear was ambling hesitantly towards the hide; it edged around the lake before reaching a stop and looking straight at us. I fired the shutter again.

All of a sudden the bear was alert, spooked. It turned and headed back towards the forest. I realised I’d been holding my breath!

The bear meandered around the curve of the lake and came to a stop, snuffling at the water’s edge.

Bears in Finland

The sun had just dipped behind the forest leaving a golden glow filtering through the trees and the night had taken on an ethereal light. A mist danced over the still lake.

Sniffing the air, the bear was reflected in the watery mirror; I couldn’t take my eyes off the magical scene.

A second later the bear vanished back into the forest yet the magical moment hung there for a second: did that really happen?

We were in a tiny wooden hide deep in the wilderness – just a few kilometres from the border with Russia – at Wild Brown Bear Centre, a company in Kuhmo, eastern Finland, specialising in wildlife photography of wild bears and other wild animals.

After the bear had vanished back into the forest nothing much happened for the rest of the evening except a brief appearance by a red fox. I curled up in the lower bunk of the hide and read a book for a while before drifting off into a light sleep.

Bears in Finland

An hour after midnight Chris woke me: “There’s another bear!”

I crawled sleepily out of the sleeping bag and perched onto the chair, squinting into the twilight, my eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness.

The bear was walking towards us, and he was big!

Bears in Finland

He strolled casually past the hide, so close we could hear him snuffle.

I remembered my camera was still set up and I fired a few sleepy shots. The settings were all wrong and the photographs were woefully underexposed. It didn’t matter: I won’t be forgetting this moment for a long time.

To be so near to a wild brown bear was thrilling: just a thin plywood wall stood between us and this majestic carnivore yet I felt perfectly safe.

I’m sure those bears wandered through my dreams that night, I slipped back into bed and the next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight was streaming into the hide and the view beyond the window had transformed with the dawn.

Bears in Finland

It had been an unforgettable night, woven with moments so magical that they seemed improbable in the harsh light of day.

The moments were fleeting yet enchanted: a fantastic story rather than a wildlife spectacle.

A few days later, I was walking through the forest in a Patvinsuo national park late in the evening, the low sun burned through the boughs as I gathered blueberries. I wasn’t alone in these forests, somewhere deep in its heart were bears, I’d now seen them with my own eyes!

As well as the wildlife observation hides, The Wild Brown Bear Centre has accommodation, however we stayed in our camper on site for a small fee instead and had access to showers and sauna.

The bears are completely wild, they are encouraged to wander into the vicinity of the hides with tiny amounts of food left in photogenically strategic places.

Bears in Finland

As well as photographing bears, there is also the chance of seeing wolverine, wolves, and lynx.
Bears in Finland
We visited Wild Brown Bear as independent travellers, through our own choice and paid for the experience with our own money as part of an amazing two month road trip around Finland over the summer of 2016.

This story was originally posted on my own blog www.vagabondbaker.com, I have re-edited some of the text for this post.

Wild Brown Bear Oy: www.wildbrownbear.fi

Almost three years ago we got interested in local traveling with my wife. We had visited some national park before that but it wasn’t a thing yet. Then we found a cave near to where we used to live and immediately got hooked for Finnish caves. On a grand scale they might not be as impressive as their larger kind but they are entwined with folklore and amazing  atmosphere. And of course they are easier to reach – especially while traveling with a child.

Photography has always been a second nature to me. Taking shots of the caves and their environment was interesting but  my photographing equipment was not well suited for dark caverns. Thus I needed something else that I could use to capture the essence of these wild locations. As toys have also always fascinated me I decided to take some with me for our trips and take photos of them in interesting places.

Reading our book to my son, 2014.

Reading our book to my son, 2014.

At first I had no preference about the toys I would take with me. But since my son was playing with Lego at that time I noticed that they were a perfect toy to take with me. The actual minifigures come in endless appearances and can be varied to my liking with ease.

I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. I noticed taking photos of Lego in the wild was not enough. Suddenly I found myself writing a story for my son and taking pictures to illustrate it for him. The Tale of the Crystals was an interesting project. I thought me search the story in a picture in a way I had not previously even thought of. While taking classes in photography at the University of Lapland, I had discussed about photographs in great length. But this was something new.

While traveling with Lego these boxes come in really handy.

While traveling with Lego these boxes come in handy.

Back then Instagram was not as big as it now. I had been using it for a while before abandoning it for changing the details of user agreement. But now I realized I could spread my these little stories with it. I redefined my account and began posting my photos there. And got swept away with its Lego community.

Of course now most of us (at least in Finland) have heard about the Finnish photographer Vesa Lehtimäki. He takes amazing pictures of Star Wars minifigs. But back then I had no idea about his work. And in a way I’m glad I didn’t. Since I had no idea about how popular these kinds of photos were I started on a clean slate and came up with my own style. Without the need of comparing my shots to the work of masters.

As with any photography it is important to get to the level of your target while taking photos.

As with any photography it is important to get to the level of your target while taking photos.

The Finnish nature has always been the premise for my photos. I still carry a box of minifigs whenever we go hiking or searching for new caves and ravines with my family. The feedback I have had from my work has been positive. People all around the world are interested to see Finnish nature photographed this way.

One of the most interesting things I have learned is that to some people might find pictures of nature without people haunting and terrifying. I have been walking in the woods for my whole life and this was a point that had never occurred to me. By placing even plastic toys in the shot I’m making them more alive, warm and friendly. At least this is what I have been told.

It has been interesting to get involved to this subculture of Lego enthusiasts. I have befriended many people all around the world and shared with them the experience of Finnish nature. People whose only contact to Finnish forests and wilderness might very well be my photographs. This has taught me both humility and pride at the same time. It has also inspired me to continue this hobby and to challenge myself to view the world differently.