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Jari Peltomäki

The World is my office!

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Featured Photographer

Jari Peltomäki


Already in 1978 I got my first camera, manual functioning and a very sturdy Russian camera; Zenit TTL. I also had some very poor 400 mm lens with it. Together with my birdwatcher friends we were practising bird photography mainly with black/white film. We even processed films ourselves and made prints. The results were not very impressive! I had hoped I had saved some of my very first bird pictures, but I think I didn’t…

Then some of my friends turned out to be wildlife photographers, but like many others, I started birdwatching as a serious hobby. During the years I was drawing, studying, counting, ringing and twitching birds all over the planet. I always had a camera with me but that was mainly just to record the odd rarity, if I happened to find one. I was seriously interested in bird identification and was a member of the Finnish Rarities Committee for 7 years.

In 1989 I started to work for WWF as a warden in the best wetland in Finland -Liminganlahti. During that time I worked for many years as a chairman at the local nature conservation association. At Liminganlahti I started my own birdwatching tour company in 1992, and after that the company changed name to Finnature Ltd. Because of my work as a guide, I met plenty of foreign birdwatchers and wildlife photographers. That was the inspiration to restart my wildlife photography in a serious way. I was using a lot of slide film and I was travelling to many of the same countries where I had been birdwatching before, now to photograph. I still have many processed slide films which I haven’t put in frames and I doubt that I ever will.

The biggest boost to my wildlife photography has been the change to a digital camera body in 2003. At first I was using the digital camera like it was a film camera, taking just a few images of each subject. Soon I realised, that one of the main advantages of digital photography is that you are able to take more frames of fast moving subjects! This is great for action photography; birds in flight or birds fighting etc. Also with new camera bodies you can use higher ISO figures and that gives you so much more speed!

The fact that I am shooting nearly 200 000 frames in a year (which would have been 5555 rolls of film!) also causes problems. I have many hard drives full of data and it takes so much time to go through it all! If I only kept 10 % of images that would mean that I would still need to process 20 000 images in a year! Completely impossible for one man! Therefore in the future I would need to be more critical with my images and only keep and process “the best of the best ones”. You really don’t need duplicates of the good frames anymore, do you? However, I love digital photography!

I have own hides e.g. for Golden Eagle photography and for many other bird species. I take photographer clients to the best places to photograph Brown Bears, Wolverines or Wolves in Finland! If you are interested in photographing Finnish owls, I would recommend you to subscribe to the newsletter at the Finnature website, since I will let the newsletter out immediately when the good owl photography opportunity is on!

Websites: www.finnature.fi/ and www.birdphoto.fi/


Why nature photography?
Since I am not a great painter, photography is the easiest way for me to share my experiences, and the beauty of bird feathers and bird behaviour with other people. I can get the satisfaction when I make a pleasing image of a bird and I believe that gives me the passion needed for wildlife photography. It is also great to see the results of my work published in magazines and books - that is called sharing!

What's best about it?
When you have a passion for wildlife, then wildlife photographer is your dream job. Many times in the field I’m thinking what a privilege to be out there and witness all what is happening in nature. So many people just ignore or pass by without seeing all the beauty in nature, and that is such a shame. I hope the Wild Wonders of Europe project will bring European nature and wildlife closer to the wider public!

One of the great things involved with this profession is the travelling; “the world is my office”. I enjoy meeting new people and getting to know different cultures. To have a local friend or a guide is a great way to get to know a little bit more about the culture.

What's worst about it?
If you want to have a lie-in, then wildlife photographer is not your job! Fortunately I don’t have any problems getting up in complete darkness after just a few hours of sleep to prepare for photography in the field. I am away from home more than 200 days/year and that is quite hard sometimes, especially for my family. I must also admit that quite often I feel lonely on my travels.

Nowadays a photographer needs to spend a lot of time in front of the computer editing the images. I find this fairly hard work and that can be a real “pain in the ass”, especially if there is good weather outside and plenty of subjects waiting to be photographed. I am fortunate, since my girlfriend Minna is helping me with my images and while I am away, she is able to send out the requested images!

Favourite species and places in Europe?
My favourite species is the Great Grey Owl. I think it is the sexiest bird species in Finland with a very characteristic facial pattern. I have spent a lot of time with these silent hunters of the taiga forest, and I have managed to build a special relationship with some individuals!

In Europe there are so many wonderful places for wildlife photography; Hungary, Greece, Spain etc., but somehow I’m in love with the Varanger peninsula and fjord in Northern Norway, and every year I spend 2- 4 weeks there for photography.

What's in the bag?
Since 2003, when I went digital, I have used Canon equipment. At the moment I use two bodies; Canon EOS 1D Mark III for action photos and Canon EOS 5D Mark II for larger files and for peaceful situations. Most often I have a Canon 500 mm (f4) attached to the first body and a Canon 70- 200 mm (f2.8) to the latter body. For close fight situations I have a Canon 300 mm (f2.8) lens which is really fast focusing and so sharp that it almost cuts your eye when you look at the images ;) For landscapes and when I get really close to the birds I use a Canon 16-35 mm (f2.8) zoom lens.

The coolest thing that I always bring along with me is a ground pod and angled viewfinder, which makes it possible for me to get really low for my photos! I like to be at eye-level with my subjects!

Your specialities / skills?
I guess I am one of the bird photographers in Europe and therefore invited as one of Wild Wonders of Europe photographers? I am very glad that my mission was not a snake or a rodent, but one the most beautiful birds in Europe - the Dalmatian Pelican!

What will you do in your next life?
Definitely I will be a wildlife photographer! I’m planning also to skip birdwatching, birdringing and other nonsense and I will take my photography seriously from the beginning. I’m also planning to be born into a rich family, so I don’t need to do any other work ;)

3 tips for beginners
1. Save money for good lenses. At the end it will be much cheaper not to buy those fairly cheap zoom “pirate lenses” to start with, but go straight to the top fixed lenses! With digital camera bodies you can save money, since they don’t hold their value anyway, but a good lens is valuable even after ten years of use!

2. Be patient and continue photography as long you can. If you have a good photography situation going on, never think that I’ll have a break and come back after a few hours or tomorrow! The very best photography opportunities can rarely be repeated in a lifetime!

3. Speak with, and listen carefully to older and more experienced wildlife photographers. There is so much useful information available that it feels almost unreal! They probably have tried many of the things and tricks with all the species long before it appears in your mind. Finnish retired (but still going strong on his photography) wildlife photographer Hannu Hautala is my source of useful information!


While writing this text this is the last day for my mission at Lake Kerkini for Dalmatian Pelicans. It is raining heavily, so it is nice to stay indoors and do some writing and image deleting work.

My friends were smiling when I told them that I will go to Greece to photograph a bird that they haven’t even heard of! They probably thought that this kind of photography mission is just an excuse to escape the Finnish winter… I told them that this is definitely not a holiday! Days are very long (from 7am until midnight) and after a good photography day in the field there will be too many images to go through just to delete the unsharp ones. This is hard work, but someone have to do it! The feeling of going through the images of the day´s work and finding some pleasing images amongst them is like a drug for a photographer! (How could I know, since I haven´t tried drugs ;)

Although the weather has been mainly grey here most of the time, this mission exceeded my expectations. (I hope also my bosses like my images ;) Without the help of my Greek friend Dimitris Vavylis, I couldn’t have done so well here. The key here for some special images was to get to know the local fisherman; Tom and his Pelicans were a really great subject to photograph!

For my mission Dimitris built me a floating hide and with that I made some pleasing images with different angles to the birds. I believe I also managed to get some pretty unique images of Pelicans with the wide-angle lens at close range and some of the action shots are very strong.

My plan was also to take some underwater shots of Pelicans, and I even bought an underwater bag for my camera for it. But the water in Lake Kerkini was so muddy that visibility under water was only max 10 cm! Maybe this was because of heavy rains and an unusually high water level?

After 10 days here, I am in love with the Dalmatian Pelicans, and it is now competing with the Great Grey Owl, which has been my favourite species for a long time. The Dalmatian Pelican with its beautifully elongated and curved head feathers has a really funny messy expression - the bird always with a bad hair day!

Best Picture

Best Picture
Brown Bear cub playing peekaboo, Finland

What's cool about it?
This is my best picture because it makes people smile! They see a Brown Bear playing peekaboo, although it is not exactly what is happening... The young Brown Bear was climbing the pine tree and I kept shooting even when the bear suddenly went behind the tree. I’m happy that I didn’t start to save film at that point!

Could it be better?
It would be better if it would be a bird! However, it is impossible to take this kind of photo of a bird ;) This is as good as it can be, since this is the way the bear appears in my original slide. I always say that one needs to be lucky at some point!

Behind the Scene
This is also my best picture, because it has been my best-selling image ever.

If only all of my tens of thousands of bird images taken would have sold as well as this one, I could retire as a wealthy man right now… However, this kind of humorous images are quite difficult to take with wildlife.

Date: 10th June 2002
Location: Martinselkonen, Suomusalmi, Finland
Gear: Nikon F5 + Nikkor 300 mm (f2.8).

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