In the footsteps of a wildlife photographer

Vitbergen is a nature reserve. It is an undulating mountainous area with patches of ancient woodland, covering a total of 900 hectares. A few years ago I went up Vitbergen with Conny. We walked to the top and then we climbed the 17-metre-high viewing tower. It was a night in high summer and the view was breathtaking...

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER

Imagine leaving all the stress and bustle of your everyday life behind you for a few days. Imagine spending your time in the forest as a wildlife photographer, experiencing the natural scents of the woodland and meeting the four-legged and winged inhabitants face to face.

The rain is beating hard against the window. Along the bumpy country lane, the rainwater is forming into small streams which here and there are filling the potholes in the tarmac.
– I didn’t think it was going to rain today, I say, looking out of the window.
– We’re not in a hurry, replies Conny.
He reaches over for the coffee pot and offers me another cup. Conny Lundström is a wildlife photographer, based in Kalvträsk who specialises in photographing golden eagles. The plan is for me to accompany him and play at being a wildlife photographer for a day.

– Although the weather isn’t actually ever really bad, says Conny. Photography is all about making the best of the conditions and doing what you can. You know, the most spectacular pictures are often taken in what most people would regard as appalling weather.

A PROPER HIDE

Conny angles the screen on his laptop and shows me a portrait of a golden eagle with its face covered in hoarfrost.
– You can only take a picture like this if it’s minus 35 degrees.
– Minus 35,”I repeat and can’t help wondering whether you don’t get cold being a wildlife photographer in winter. Conny shakes his head. He explains that he has a proper hide at the foot of the Vitbergen nature reserve.
– It’s like a cabin with a toilet, a stove and space for four photographers, so it never gets really cold.

Outside, the rain continues to fall.
– We’ll wait for a while, says Conny and I nod.
We spend the time looking at Conny’s pictures. He talks about them with a great deal of insight and I begin to understand that there’s a story behind each photo that appears on the screen.

STUNNING VIEWS

The lake is as smooth as a mirror and the rain has almost stopped. The canoe glides silently over the water.
“There,” says Conny and points to a mountain in the distance. That is Vitbergen.
Vitbergen is a nature reserve. It is an undulating mountainous area with patches of ancient woodland, covering a total of 900 hectares. A few years ago I went up Vitbergen with Conny. We walked to the top and then we climbed the 17-metre-high viewing tower. It was a night in high summer and the view was breathtaking. I remember how the mist-shrouded forest landscape began to take shape. Freely and easily. Distant blue mountains lay on the horizon and here and there the evening sun glittered on the surface of lakes.

A perfect background for nature photography. Even I understood that.
– Last summer I had my own little project. I photographed sunrises from the tower. I took my sleeping bag with me and spent the night up there, explains Conny.

ATTENTION TO DETAILS

Attention to detail The more time I spend with Conny, the more obvious it becomes to me that wildlife photography is all about brief opportunities and paying close attention to detail.
– You must understand the interaction between nature and light, he says. For me to photograph exactly the sunrise I want, the layers of mist must be in just the right place, the light must fall in the right way and, when everything is perfect, I have only 15 minutes to take my shot. Then the moment has passed.

–  What’s that? I ask and nod towards a promontory in the lake. One of my mobile hides. I photograph ospreys in July and August. That’s also the mouth of the Sikån river.
– Where you took the pictures of the Whooper swans? I ask, remembering the pictures he showed me while we were drinking coffee earlier.
He nods and tells me to put down the paddle.
– Now it’s your turn to be the photographer.
He passes me the big DSLR camera.

ALL YEAR ROUND

When Conny isn’t taking photos himself, via his company Wildshots Sweden AB, he escorts groups of people into the countryside around Kalvträsk to allow them to experience nature as it really is. In the autumn and winter, it’s mainly about watching golden eagles. But ravens, red foxes, goshawks, different species of woodpecker and other small birds can also be seen from the hide.
– Not to mention the Northern Lights, the full moon and the starry sky, he says.
– I can imagine that the stars glitter like they do in fairy tales.
During the spring, there is also a good chance of spotting blackcock and capercaillie, together with golden eagles. And in summer there are beavers, Whooper swans, black-throated divers and elk. And all of these can be seen from a canoe, of course.

HARD TO REHEARSE

The photographers who come to Kalvträsk are serious amateurs and are often as knowledgeable as the professionals, or even more so.
– You could call them semi-professionals. They understand that there are no guarantees and they know when everything falls into place, says Conny.
– Of course, experiences involving wild animals are hard to organise, I say.

We follow the meandering path of the Svartån creek. Conny steers the canoe and I keep a lookout, holding the camera tightly. Here and there we spot beaver slides and, just as we are about to navigate a sharp
bend, Conny whispers:
– Beaver lodge, and points with his paddle.
I raise the camera, put the viewfinder to my eye and do what a real wildlife photographer should do:
I wait for the moment…

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