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Photographing The Brown Bear In Finland

Kyle Moore and Harry Read are passionate young wildlife photographers who have achieved some stunning photographs of brown bears.

|  Animals / Wildlife
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Kyle Moore and Harry Read are young multi-award-winning wildlife photographers based in Suffolk. When Kyle was commissioned as a photographer for the Finnish bear centre in 2015, the opportunity arose for the two friends to embark on a project to photograph and intimately document the seasonal habits of Europes' largest land predator. 

The pair have collectively spent over 2000 hours in the field in the hopes of encountering the bears. Here, ePHOTOzine talked to them about themselves, and this ambitious project.

Find out more:


'Enchanted forest' by Harry Read -  "As the sun dips close to the horizon on a clear evening, golden light is cast over the tagia forest, and bear activity increases. The dense woodland acts as a filter, which dapples the dreamy midsummer light creating a vibrant colour symphony."


How did you first become interested in photography?

Kyle’s first experience with photography was after receiving his first ever digital camera on his 12th Birthday in 2010. Almost instantly the interest grew into somewhat of an obsession, and before long he was totally hooked. Harry first picked up a camera aged 13 to document the impressive diversity of birds in his home county of Suffolk. Through spending many hours out in the field, a focus on wildlife photography soon became the priority, for the both of us.


Have you always loved wildlife?

Harry was first introduced to birds and invertebrates from a very young age, and he quickly developed a passion for all things wild. Growing up on rural farmland, Harry closely followed the charismatic bird species such as kingfishers and barn owls on his doorstep developing an ardent obsession for the natural world and is now a Zoology graduate. Kyle also developed an interest in wildlife at a similar age, however, it was the frequent visits to his local nature reserve, Carlton Marshes (Suffolk) that ignited his obsession for the natural world.


'Midsummer Rain' by Kyle Moore - "It is hard to believe such a large powerful creature could show fear from a little rain, but that is just the case with the secretive European brown bear. Periods of heavy rain can make bears feel uneasy while in open areas such as swamplands and forest clearings. The heavy rain can restrict their hearing ability, making them more wary of their surroundings."

Tell us how the idea of the Bear photography project came about?

Over the past few years, we have both taken a particular interest in mammal photography. These highly complex and intelligent animals are notoriously difficult to document well. From very early on in our photographic careers, Europe’s largest land predator (Brown Bears) was at the top of the list of species to photograph. We wanted to observe these extremely timid and enigmatic ghosts of the forest in untouched wilderness and document the seasonal habits in specific individuals. We saw the potential for this unique project – and after Kyle was commissioned as a photographer for a Finnish Bear Centre in 2015 it enabled us to spend prolonged stints working solely on this secretive predator, thus gaining a unique insight into their individual lives.


How did you choose the country/location to max chances of seeing the Bears?

As Brown Bears are distributed throughout most of Northern Europe and as far south as Greece and Spain, we wanted to travel to a location with a healthy, stable population allowing reliable views. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Kyle’s ‘lucky break’ came back in Spring 2015, when a Finnish naturalist commissioned Kyle to travel to a location in Eastern Finland where the country borders Russia. The location remains one of Finland’s most untouched areas and is a protected reserve, situated just a few hundred meters from ‘no man’s land’, an area between the Finnish-Russian border where bears use the ‘wild corridor’ to travel freely. The healthy untouched habitat of the Kuusamo region of Finland was the perfect location to observe these enigmatic mammals moving naturally through the endless expanses of taiga forest.


'Reflection' - Harry Read - "During June and July, both the coniferous and deciduous trees are full of leaves, creating a consistently vibrant tree line. On still summer evenings, the placid waters of the lakes produce glassy reflections."

Tell me about the kit you both use and why you like it.

Harry uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with a 300mm f/2.8 lens. The impressive noise performance of this full frame camera body means the ISO can be pushed up to 1600-3200, and images retain significant quality with little noise. Bears vary in the distances at which they approach photographers. With the 300mm f/2.8 lens, a wider field of view allows for images showing the surrounding untouched habitat, as well as achieving close up portraits when bears venture closer. In summer, Finland’s long days (short hours of darkness) mean light is plentifully available. However, bear activity reaches its peak just before and after midnight when the large aperture of the 300mm lens is ideal in low light situations. Kyle also uses Canon equipment, favouring the EOS 1DX, however, prefers to take a different approach when it comes to long telephoto lenses often associated with photographing wildlife and instead favours the use of wide angle lenses. Through this approach, he aims to capture close and intimate portraits whilst retaining the Bears among their wild surroundings. This is a challenging technique, and specialist equipment is often required, such as remote camera trap triggers etc.


Can you explain the shooting setup - do you have a camo tent? Is there a lot of sitting quietly?

So far, during this project, we have collectively spent a total of 2000+ hours in dedicated bear observation hides (amounting to 83 full 24 hour days). Patience is of absolute key importance during observation, and sitting in silence for extended periods of time is vital. Small wooden observation hides are 6 feet tall and 3 meters long, with just enough space for a cramped bunk bed and two small chairs. During summer and autumn, the hide session begins at 5pm and lasts throughout the night until 7am the following morning (14 hours).

Bear and cubs

'Mothers protection' - Kyle Moore - "Mother bears protect their young fiercely at all times from potential threats. One such threat is that of adult male bears, which may attempt to kill younger bears that aren't their offspring. This is all in the hope that the female will come into heat once again and become a potential mate."


Do you use a method of attracting the bears?

This protected reserve, owned by a Finnish eco-tourism company provides a safe haven for passing bears. Bears are fed at this site using locally sourced meat, which is very strictly limited to around one small ‘chunk’ of meat in approximately 30 locations over a large site (250 acres). The restricted supply of food means sightings aren’t always guaranteed at this location, and bear movements are sporadic. The composition of the bear's diet isn’t compromised by unhealthy amounts of a single food source. On many occasions, we have observed this omnivorous species plucking berries from blueberry bushes and even removing tree bark in search of invertebrates, this kind of natural behaviour is usually very difficult to observe elsewhere.


Is there a lot of post processing to your work?

Both myself and Harry adopt a similar approach to post processing. We believe that achieving the correct settings in camera is of utmost importance to retain maximum image quality. Our basic workflow is usually carried out in Photoshop Camera Raw and includes minimal tweaks to Exposure, Contrast, Highlights/Shadows and finally colour adjustments if required.


Kyle's favourite image

Were there any ‘hairy’ situations where the Bears got a little too close?

Bears have exceptionally large home ranges, and can, therefore, pass through an area at any given time. On many occasions, whilst walking to the hides to set-up for the night, we entered the swamp area where a cacophony of gull alarm calls would alert us to a Bear’s presence. On another occasion, we were walking through the forest to maintain camera-traps when suddenly a huge adult male Bear emerged from the forest depths perpendicular to us both, only 25 meters away, and walking straight towards where we were positioned. This is an exceptionally unusual encounter though, and after finally catching our scent, the Bear peacefully turned back. Unlike their North American relatives, European Brown Bear are extremely secretive, so this happens very rarely.


'Ghosts of the Forest' - Harry's favourite image - "During early autumn, clear days lead to cooler nights, meaning layers of mist rise slowly from the water's surface. In the stillness of the night, bears can be heard walking across the swampy terrain, as they appear like ghosts out of nowhere in the ethereal light of the blue hour."

Do you have a favourite photo each?

Harry’s favourite photo was taken during the end of summer. A long night’s wait between 5-11pm with not a single bear was suddenly transformed. A drop in the temperature of the swamp prompted a thick layer of mist to form rapidly over the lake. In complete silence across the water, the distant splashes of a bear walking across the marsh echoed around the clearing. A large male bear sauntered past the edge of the lake, almost floating through the mist like a ghost, pausing for a brief moment in the cool hues of the blue hour. Kyle’s favourite image, was captured earlier this year (April 2017) and shows a large male Bear getting down low to investigate his remote-camera-trap under the night sky. The image was one of Kyle’s most difficult to achieve images to date throughout this project, taking 30 consecutive nights in temperatures low as -19°. Each morning Kyle would review the images from the night only to find the front element of the lens had frozen over night, and on one occasion the camera was completely buried by the persistent driving snow! This resulted in many deleted images which may have otherwise worked very well.

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5 Aug 2017 4:53PM
Beautiful pictures Harry and Kyle am very envious.

Ruth Tyrrell
6 Aug 2017 11:53PM
amazing picture

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