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Wildlife Photography in Varanger: a Photo Tour with Chris Kaula in Norway

Puffin in snow
Varanger in Norway: a birdwatcher's paradise


Chris Kaula is a renowned nature photographer and biologist from Germany. He has spent several months in the Arctic Circle on research assignments and has a special love for the far North. Last winter, he and his buddy Fabian Fopp spent two months traveling by car on the Varanger Peninsula in north-eastern Norway to photograph the unique wildlife.

Varanger has become a top spot for photo trips for many photographers. The region is home to a variety of different species, from seabirds to reindeers, polar bears and arctic foxes. Varanger is particularly popular as a birdwatching destination, with over 230 species of birds found in the area. The rugged landscape, pristine wilderness and Arctic climate make Varanger a unique and challenging place for wildlife photographers like Chris, who spent two months there, studying the untouched and unique wildlife on the peninsula.

Reindeer in snow with village in background
Frequent encounters with reindeers on the peninsula of Varanger

Why Photography Gloves Have to Be Part of the Photo Equipment For Me

Wildlife photography in the Arctic climate on Varanger is a real challenge. The harsh winter conditions, with temperatures as low as -30°C, require equipment and clothing tailored to the conditions. Next to snowshoes, enough camera batteries, which unfortunately discharge faster in the cold, special photography gloves are very important. My gloves from THE HEAT COMPANY can be worn and used in layers like clothing. There are a variety of thinner finger gloves, the LINER, which all come with a touch textile on the thumb, index and middle fingers. On top of that you can wear the SHELL gloves. The SHELL is a mitten with a zipper that can be opened when you need your fingers free for photography and handling. I can comfortably mount the large telephoto lens on the camera for wildlife photography or switch to a fast wide angle lens for landscape photography with the liner. My top combo for very cold days is the WIND PRO LINER glove with the SHELL FULL LEATHER mitten. I always carry an extra pair of liners. As a spare pair, I like to pack the thin finger glove MERINO LINER PRO: this liner is made of merino wool, keeps me super warm and is comfortable to wear. Cold hands quickly spoil the fun and that's why my photography gloves are always with me on my photo tours.


The Wildlife on Varanger

Fabian and I really wanted to travel to Varanger once, because the peninsula in the north of Norway is an insider's tip for every wildlife photographer. Apart from reindeers and elks, Varanger is known for its remarkable biodiversity. Especially in early spring, when the days are getting a little longer again, Arctic duck species can be observed. Steller's ducks, king eider and long-tailed ducks spend the winter on the peninsula. They like to swim into the harbours of the small villages to find some shelter from the waves. Seals can also be seen along the coast and sea eagles soar along steep cliffs.

If you want to photograph puffins in the snow, you have to take a passenger ferry to a small offshore island called Hornoya. Countless seabirds, such as black-legged kittiwakes, common murres and puffins, cavort there. The right time to go there is late March/early April.

Puffins in the snow
Huge colonies of puffins live on Varanger

Photo Motifs Along the Road

You can also spot animals everywhere along the road. Black-legged kittiwakes nest on the window sills in the villages and rare sea ducks and seals seek shelter from the weather in the harbour basins of Vadso and Vardo.

Tips and Tricks: Photography in the Snow

Taking pictures in the snow can pose a challenge for many photographers, especially on Varanger, where there is snow on the coast even until April. It's actually not that difficult to photograph snow: always overexpose a bit so the image doesn't become too grey. Don't walk too far out into the open areas, because you might sink one or two meters deep into the snow.

When it snows, the camera really gets to work. Autofocus often fails when it has to deal with thick flakes falling from the sky: the only solution is manual focusing. Zoom into the image in Liveview or in the digital viewfinder to find the right focus and only release the shutter when you're sure it's right.

You can concentrate on taking pictures in winter with special photography gloves

Photographing Northern Lights on Varanger

Northern Lights are a must on any photo trip to the far North and we were lucky enough to see Aurora Borealis several times. But capturing these fascinating phenomena is another challenge. The temperatures alone, which can drop to -20°C, plus the hours of waiting and frozen lenses on top! For the cold temperatures my solution is called "warmers" from THE HEAT COMPANY. Whether hand warmers in the gloves , the body warmer or the insole warmers for the shoes - the cold can't put me off! You can capture the phenomenon with a fast wide angle. You also need a tripod and a cable release.

Some auroras move very fast, others rather slowly. Therefore, the exposure time also varies from 2-20 seconds. The aperture should not be smaller than 4 and the ISO goes up to 12,000.

Batteries and the Cold

Store your batteries close to your body and close to a multiwarmers so that they are not exposed to extreme cold and thus discharge quickly. Multiwarmers are natural warmers that provide warmth for up to 20 hours and protect batteries from the cold.

Northern Lights - photographer with a tripod and photography gloves
Photographing Northern Lights on Varanger - a highlight on any photo trip
Green Northern Lights on dark-blue night sky
Dancing Northern Lights on the coast of Varanger

Want to know more?

Varanger is truly a dream destination for wildlife photographers. The diverse fauna, breathtaking landscapes and challenging weather conditions make the region a unique destination for wildlife photography. Do you have more questions about Varanger, the photography gloves, or questions about photography? Feel free to contact me hello.chriskaula@gmail.com

About the Author:

Christoph Kaula grew up in Central Germany and studied biology in Vienna. The biologist and passionate ornithologist captures the most diverse creatures on his travels time and again. His enthusiasm for the beauty and diversity of nature is clearly reflected in his images.