Emma Dennehy wanted to experience the wilderness of Västerbotten - and to become a better photographer. So she decided to travel to Kalvträsk and Conny Lundström.
"That one," says Emma, pointing at the screen. "I'm really
pleased with that picture."
We're seated around the kitchen table in a small house in Kalvträsk. Emma and I. In front of us is Emma's laptop and the photo Emma is pointing at shows a great spotted woodpecker flying away.
"It might not be the rarest bird in the world, but it's a good action photo," comments Conny praisingly. "The focus is right and the colours are nice."
Conny Lundström is a wilderness photographer who offers photo safaris in the countryside around Skellefteå. Emma is from Ireland. She's a wildlife biologist and has studied, among other things, the impact of the increasing use of wind power farms on Spanish wolves. She's also an amateur photographer.
Emma's been in Kalvträsk for ten days and her visit had two purposes.
"First, I've never been this far north before," she explains. "I love being outdoors and in the northern reaches. That feeling that everything is real, that an elk can suddenly appear, or a Siberian jay, at any time is simply priceless."
As well as a good dose of subarctic fauna, Emma also intends for
her northerly visit to make her a better photographer.
"Before, I just pressed the shutter button. If I saw a bird on a branch, I took a picture of the bird and the branch and carried on with my life as though nothing had happened. Now it's different. Thanks to Conny, I've raised the bar considerably. I try to really think things through before I press the shutter button. What's the best composition for the subject? How's the light falling? Is there anything distracting in the background?"
Emma also explains what she now thinks of clear blue skies.
"They're overrated. Clouds, on the other hand, are good. They improve the entire image and give the sky character. Cloudy days are also good days. They offer a wonderful, soft light that's great if you want to take animal portraits, for example."
Water and light nights
The Skellefteå region is home to 1,500 lakes, 5 rivers, 300
kilometres of coastline and innumerable streams and marshlands and
this made quite an impression on Emma.
"All this water is fantastic," she says and carefully blows her hot tea. "Lakes, streams, marshlands, rivers. It's never-ending. A correctly exposed sky reflected in still water, somewhere in the middle of that breathtaking landscape…Need I say more?"
Another thing that fascinates her are the light northern nights.
"The second night we were in a hide photographing the mating displays of black grouse. It was about three o'clock in the morning and shortly before the grouse started their display I thought that I ought to feel tired, but I didn't. The light was remarkable, dreamlike even. The birds were so close and the water on the wet marshlands was splashing everywhere. The grouse didn't seem to pay any attention to me or my camera. It was magical."
Aside from the black grouse, Emma has also managed to photograph
elk, boreal owl, Ural owl, reindeer and osprey. Among other
"We saw the osprey the very first day, when paddling among ice floes on Lake Kalvträsket. Just before we spotted the bird of prey, a large bull elk came down to the water's edge."
Unfortunately, the elk was out of range for a photo, but the bird photo turned out good. And Emma was to get a second photo opportunity for elk.
"We found a cow elk with its calf just outside the village," says Conny.
"After driving around most of the countryside looking for elk without any luck," laughs Emma.
Emma continues to show her pictures and explain. Her enthusiasm is tangible. I learn how the reindeer picture came about. How the Ural owl with the mouse in its mouth sat and waited for Emma to take his portrait.
"He sat there so patiently and waited for the signal from his mate to return with the prey. And that was lucky, because we could wait for the clouds to soften the harsh sunlight."
Then she stops and says:
"But this is probably still my favourite picture."
It's a boreal owl that's just woken up and is peeking out from a hole in a tree trunk.
"In a way, I can relate to that owl," laughs Emma.