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Markus Varesvuo

I prefer to not have to worry about being eaten by my subjects.

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Featured Photographer

Markus Varesvuo


At 11 I took my first bird notes; at 16 studying and observing birds became a passion; at 30 photography superseded other birding hobbies and at 45 bird photography became my profession.

I worked 20 years in the real world: first as a head-hunter for a while, and then as the Managing Director of a group of media companies. Now this Master of Science in Business Economics is a happy full-time bird photographer.

My top three bird species: Red-flanked Blue-tail, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Skua. All elegant, graceful, perfect in colouring or flying skills, or just plain beautiful. And then there’s the Siberian Jay, and the Black Woodpecker, and…

On my free time, I am a lepidopterist ("a person who catches and collects, studies, or simply observes butterflies and moths").

Website: www.birdphoto.fi/


Why nature photography?
It’s about saving great moments, like the arctic migration. And then finding new great moments. And there’s always the challenge of successfully capturing that moment. The elation of seeing my picture in a magazine for the first time led to wanting to repeat it, and gradually photography turned from catching random moments to consciously hunting great moments.

What's best about it?
The unpredictability is stimulating. You can make the best of plans and get zero pictures or, by sheer luck, stumble into a fantastic opportunity and get super shots. The success rate is improved in direct relation to the level of species knowledge but success is never guaranteed, there’s always a challenge. It’s a hunt. As a wildlife photographer you get to go to amazing places and see the wonders of the natural world.

What's worst about it?
For me the downsides are few and far between but don’t ask my family. After 20 yrs in the corporate world, hey, all I can ask is: what downsides? At worst I sit doing nothing for days despite complicated arrangements, when the birds never come; or I sit 24/7 by the computer wading through hundreds and hundreds of pictures. These are easily forgotten in the next great photography session, with the next fantastic shot.

Favourite species and places in Europe?
Varanger Peninsula, Northern Norway. The nightless night, the utterly fantastic golden light at night. Weather granting of course. Varanger is rich in interesting species, mostly photographer friendly. And again, the spectacular light in wintertime, created by the snow and the vast boundless openness. Many splendid arctic species winter on the Varanger Peninsula.

What's in the bag?
My main gear is a 500 mm telelens that I got as soon as it came out nine years ago. Camera bodies have changed many times, even during the digital era, but not the 500mm. Weight of the camera bag is a problem. With two digital bodies, 500mm and 300mm and many smaller lenses, my bag’s soon bigger than me. And tripods. I keep leaving them behind. They should be trained to follow the photographer.

Your specialities / skills?
I believe in specializing and getting really good at something, always being better than yesterday. Birds have been my thing since early childhood so I know the species and the behaviour of the Western Palearctic birds. So, as a basis, I am a good bird photographer, and my trademark is action shots. I work without flash, in authentic surroundings. I try to tell it as it is without compromising photography.

What will you do in your next life?
I will be a lepidopterist with bird photography as a hobby.

3 tips for beginners
1) Start with a subject less commonly photographed. Browse the images on offer in stock agencies and find out what’s missing. Don’t do what everybody else is doing.
2) Learn everything there is to know about your subject.
3) Don’t settle for an ordinary shot. Don’t compromise. Be passionate.


In Hungary I will work mostly from hides, at drinking places, in tree tops and at wetland areas. I aim for Rollers, Bee-eaters, Spoonbills, Golden Orioles, Sparrow Hawks, Hawfinch, especially when drinking, their reflections on the water. I’ll use my 300 and 500mm tele lenses but plan to use remote control too, with very short lenses. The other main goal is flight shots. Normally early May has lots of light but it can also be cold and wet. May in Hungary is quite a safe bet though. Fingers crossed that the birds are cooperative. It’s long days in hides in primitive surroundings, unpredictable subjects and at the mercy of the weather. But I am an optimist. My other mission, Moldavia and the Red-footed Falcon in 2009, are in the distant future.

Best Picture

Best Picture

It is a fresh image. The truly best picture is still to be taken. For a fleeting moment, some pictures make me feel like “this is my best image.” Here I felt it. One of my favourite species. The picture is typical me, a flight shot. But it has one new fresh element, it is shot with 85mm focal length.

What's cool about it?
It is a fresh image. The truly best picture is still to be taken. For a fleeting moment, some pictures make me feel like “this is my best image.” Here I felt it. One of my favourite species. The picture is typical me, a flight shot. But it has one new fresh element, it is shot with 85mm focal length.

Could it be better?
Could have been taken with a higher resolution camera allowing a bigger file size for this crop. Two snowdrops are slightly misplaced.

Behind the Scene
Thanks to Hannu Hautala and Petteri Törmänen who let me take this shot in their holy place. It was -30°C outside and not much warmer inside, and it was hard to keep the lenses from the frosting.

The light is authentic; the subject both backlit and frontlit; the background a wintery taiga forest in shadow; the deep blue caused by light reflecting from the opposite hillside; snow falling from a tree. It’s a flight shot and landscape shot rolled into one.

Date: 23 February, 2008
Location: Posio, northeastern Finland
Gear: Camera body Canon EOS-1D mark III, Tele lens Canon Zoom lens 70–200 mm F2.8 (85mm actually used). Exposure: 1/2700 sec, Aperture: F7.1, ISO: 1600

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