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Humpback whales, eiders, reindeers – a trip to Arctic Norway

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO • F2.8 • 1/400 • ISO 250

Northern Norway is a magical place, especially during the winter. When preparing for this trip, I decided to capture several strategic objects: fjords, eiders – the biggest diving ducks – whales and reindeer. In fact, the biodiversity of the region is rather scarce, but very unique, and species found here can be searched for in vain in Central or Southern Europe.
Shortly after arriving, I started working in the landscape. The hired car gave me me not only a shelter but also mobility, which was invaluable. I decided to emphasise the unity of man and nature, yet also to highlight certain adjustments made by man in order to coexist with the natural environment; building houses, roads and bridges. So, shortly after sunset, when the light was not so intense any more, I came back to the shooting location I had discovered by daylight.

I wanted to use the Live Composite Mode. I had already picked my favorite lens, the one I often use when travelling, which is the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO with OM-D E-M1 Mark II. I set up the ISO value at 200 with a 2.5-second exposure time. The camera automatically opened the aperture to level 14. Having all this set, I took my first picture. With every subsequent shot, in a series of a 2.5-second frames, the camera added only newly emerging bright pixels to this very first capture. I decided to take pictures right next to the bridge leading to Skjervøy Island. I had to wait for the actors in this scene first however, cars, but they were flowing over the bridge rather infrequently. Yet, after numerous attempts, I finally got what I was waiting for – cars passing from each side, together with a dream truck. And they all did a great job.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO • F14.0 • 1/2.5 • ISO 200

At some point, from a distance I noticed a peculiar, moving pattern on the water. Another quick glance through the binoculars convinced me that this phenomenon was one on the list of my expedition goals – eider ducks. I knew this would not be an easy task to attempt. So, to capture the wild nature of these birds, I considered two photographic solutions: constructing a lookout point or hiding myself in the car, so that the birds would not see me as a possible threat. The first solution is time-consuming; but increases the odds of success. Unfortunately, there was no time to lose so I decided to hide myself in the car. At this time of year, light there is only available for a bit longer than four hours a day. After the last sunset, which happens in the second half of November, the sun only rises again in mid-January.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II •  M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO • F4.0 • 1/550 • ISO 500

The perspective of long nights made me shoot from the car, which became an important element of the trip. As it was getting darker and night was falling, I knew that I would not be able to capture the birds that day. All the same, I did not want to lose them again, so I decided to stay in the car, so as to be as close as possible when dawn arrived.
To capture the eider flock, I set up my tripod in such a way that they could approach me naturally while feeding. This method yields far more effective results than the opposite approach, in which the photographer gradually moves towards the target animal to shorten the distance. The latter is the worst of possible shooting approaches, as the object of interest may sense the danger and simply run away.

Tough TG- 5 • F2.0 • 1/60 • ISO 500

The obvious idea was to use the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 IS PRO lens with the MC-14 converter. I rapidly noticed that the flock of feeding birds was led by one bird which dived first, followed by the other birds, forming a submerging wave. Eiders hunt molluscs living underwater on the stony sea floor. Thanks to the Tough TG-5 camera I was able to get a shot of the food of the biggest diving ducks in Europe.
Having photographed the eiders, I left the fjords the same day, moving inland to look for reindeer. Without a doubt, these are surprising animals.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 IS PRO • F4.0 • 1/160 • ISO 1600

After a few hours spent following the reindeer herd, I finally decided to return to the Norwegian sea coast. The arctic wind was exquisitely intrusive that day. After taking off a glove for a couple of seconds to find something in my backpack, I needed to warm my hand for ten minutes so as to regain the sensation in my fingers. I decided not to leave the warmer coast again and focus my photographic attention on the whales.
I already knew this would be the most demanding task. Strong winds, high waves, a rib-boat and this unique, unpredictable spot, where marine mammals emerge to breathe for just a fraction of a second. This time, taking all these factors I just mentioned into consideration, I decided to use the sealed M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO with its unbelievable stabilisation mode. The onset of cold air arriving to the arctic shores of Norway brings shoals of herring, which are hunted down by humpback whales. These usually hunt alone. I eventually met them after days of searching. I heard them first. Then, I felt them breathing and after a while I located a cloud of steam thrown up along with exhaled air, a few meters away. These exceptional animals are also famous for producing unique songs, composed of low sounds that can be heard from hundreds of miles away. Weather conditions allowed me to spend just a few few hours with the humpback whales and the orcas that while I was there. However, it was long enough for me to remain extremely impressed by these majestic animals.

OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 IS PRO + M.Zuiko Digital ED 1.4x teleconverter MC-14 • F4.0 • 1/640 • ISO 250

The northern regions of Europe are fascinating, especially in winter. In photography terms, they are well worth exploring when the sun stays in the sky for a few hours a day. These unbroken golden hours can only be disturbed by heavy clouds carrying more snow. The polar night would not allow us to capture eiders, reindeers or whales in the ambient light, though it created the perfect setting for photographing the northern lights. This, however, is a completely different story.

Featured products:
OM-D E-M1 Mark II
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO
M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4.0 IS PRO
M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO
M.Zuiko Digital 1.4x teleconverter MC‑14

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