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Wild Winter Landscapes in Agusalu

Warm weather temperatures have taken over here in Estonia and the snow is melting fast. It is also raining a lot and therefore the snow melts even faster. Winter with snow may not return anymore. Despite this we have had a fantastic winter. In early November snow welcomed us and colder temperatures changed the landscapes into winter wonderland. I knew I had to use the amazing opportunity so therefore I decided to go and explore some wild winter landscapes in East Estonia with my friend. I actually feel relatively uncomfortable shooting winter landscapes because I haven't been able to practice much for the past couple of years. Last years there has been some beautiful winter sceneries and cold temperatures but not for long. Uncomfortable feeling does not mean anything bad of course. It means there is a lot to learn. The uncomfortable feeling is more like this positive anxiety before a photo trip.


With my friend we made a plan about two weeks before the trip where to go and stay. When it was time, we took our way to Lääne-Viru County, Tudusoo Nature Reserve. First we decided to stay one night in a small public hut and then the next morning go wild and explore the area and stay in the forest with our tents. We had forgotten that the hut is a very popular place and some people were already there before us. Therefore we had to change our plans. Quick thinking and we drove about 1 hour more to the East to Agusalu. This decision led to one of the most amazing winter landscape photography trips that I have ever been to. Here in this blog post I also share some of my thoughts and tips that may be helpful to you. Not only in winter but also during other seasons when it comes to hiking, camping and photography.

First night and starry sky

When we were driving to Agusalu we realised that the sky had cleared up and night sky welcomed us. The weather forecast promised cloudy skies but there we were, under the stars. It was a really nice surprise because during that time of the year the sky is rather cloudy all the time. The Geminid Meteor shower peak was also near so we saw a couple of meteors with our naked eyes. First night we decided to take it more easy because the next day was hiking day and we had to be in shape. We visited Imatu lake, which was a couple of hundred meters from the camping site. The trees were under heavy snow and the sight was pretty amazing. Took some photos with the night sky together with the snowy trees. The temperature was about -15. As I love night photography I was pretty surprised that I didn't rush to capture the night sky. I kind of felt inside me that I just want to experience the beauty with winter wonderland conditions and observe it. The rest of the evening we shared some good thoughts near the campfire and later went to sleep to our tents.







Thoughts about clothing

In the morning we packed our hiking and photography gear and started our journey. When I saw the magical winter conditions on daylight then I was even more excited what might be waiting for us in the winter wilderness, because the environment was just so powerful. Here I want to stop for a minute and share some thoughts about clothing. You might think that why I want to talk about clothing because isn't it important to pay attention to gear and other stuff when going out taking photos. Let me explain my thoughts about how clothing is strongly connected to your ability taking good quality photographs. Firstly our hike in the beginning was quite active so I didn't put some thick layers on me, because I wanted to avoid sweating. When your clothes get wet and you don't have spare you get cold and put yourself in danger. Of course there is a possibility to dry your clothes by putting them inside your sleeping bag. Because we wanted to stay overnight in tents then with -15 degrees it is more harder to get your clothes to dry up and I didn't plan doing it. I had winter underlayer, light middle layer and about -10 puffy jacket on me. For me it suited well during the active hike. What about when you're not hiking and staying more passive. In camp I changed the light middle layer with woolen sweater and added a wind protector on top of my puffy jacket. Also when doing landscape photograpy, most of the time you don't move so much and sometimes you stay in one position making your composition right for a long period of time. Here when you get cold your brain starts to focus on the feeling that you are cold. You are spending energy on thoughts that are unnessessary. That can lead to some poor decisions. Poor decisions lead to poor photograpy. When I'm warm, I can 100% focus on my photography and use my brain to make the best decisions in the field. That decision making is under my control and if I don't use it, all I can blame later is myself. What is the point to bring all the necessary gear with you when you don't have the energy to use them well under fantastic conditions? :) For me it is all connected and clothing is very important. Not only in winter but also during other seasons.



First winter wonderland emotions

First steps in thick snow with snowshoes were pure enjoyment. The environment was magical and the first couple of hundred meters we had to go downhill through a snowy pine forest. After that we reached the bog. The experience was unreal. It was like hiking in a winter labyrinth. Snowy trees everywhere. After some time the landscape changed to more open field. This made me feel like we were in the end of the world. There even were no wildlife tracks. Moment after moment I had to stop. Beautiful winter sceneries everywhere that I wanted to capture with my camera. To be honest I had never experienced winter conditions like that before during my photography career. Our hike was going slow and we had to move faster because we had to find our camping site where to spend the night. When we finally found a suitable place then we left our gear to the site and took our photography gear and went exploring. In this trip next to my Sony a7RV body I had the Sony PZ 16-35mm f/4 G, Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art and also Sony 14mm f/1.8 GM lenses with me. The 14mm was for night photography if the sky decided to clear up. Unfortunately it didn't during the night. Sony lenses are pure fun to take to these photography trips because they are so lightweight and offer amazing picture quality. I had also dived into drone photography world recently and therefore I brought my DJI Mini 4 Pro with me for some aerial photography. So we explored the landscapes and when it started to get more dark we went back to our camping site. Conditions were not promising during sunset so we decided not to shoot it. Later we had some food, enjoyed nature and did some night photography with the amazing winter conditions in the forest.







Hiking gear thoughts

Maybe some of you are also having ideas about going hiking or camping like this. When not in winter then maybe during some other season but the problem might be that you don't have the hiking or camping gear? First thought from me is that you don't have to own all the gear. And also you don't need the best gear that is out there. The past couple of winters I have found myself maybe 2-3 times out camping with more colder degrees (about -15). Therefore I have not found a reason to buy a winter sleeping bag. I have rented it and it has been all good. In the future if I start finding myself more often camping during winter with these colder conditions then I'll maybe consider buying. Also my tent is not a special winter tent where the lower part of the top layer is more longer so the tent is more warm inside. Next to my tent I own a self inflating mattress that I use all year long that keeps the cold air away from me during my sleep. I rent my gear from www.hikingbaltnorth.com. This time I rented winter sleeping bag again, snowshoes and leggings. Leggings are really good piece of gear in winter with deep snow, because they protect the lower part of your legs from getting wet. Good thing about renting the gear first is that you can try it out before you consider buying. You can test it and see if it fits your needs. Finally my point being is just rent your gear and maybe start with summer. Go out and have fun. You get more experienced and then you can move further with you hikes and camping trips in nature.







Morning light

We were having breakfast in the morning when we suddenly saw some light between the clouds. It was another surprise moment because the weather forecast promised full clouds. We saw from the woods how the soft golden light landed on the more open field landscape further away from us. We packed our camp and rushed to the open field to capture the winter landscapes. As the conditions were changing fast we didn't know how long the light would last. Some photos I took were the same that I took the previous day. Point was to see later how different can a landscape be under different lighting conditions. I also managed to capture some drone footage. Seeing the powerful landscapes from above on my drone remote control screen made me think how small we actually are between these amazing landscapes. Unfortunately the light didn't last long but we were super thankful that we got to experience it. After that we started our hike back to our cars and after couple of hours the adventure was over. The drive back home lasted also about 2 hours and I had a lot to think about. New winter photography and other creative ideas popped into my head and the amazing winter sceneries were still in front of me.







Less expectations

The time I'am writing this blog post, two months have passed from that winter photography trip. I came across one thought from that trip that I carry on with me to this day and it has helped me a lot when it comes to approaching nature photography. Don't expect anything from mother nature! You don't have to have the exact photo in your mind all the time that you would definitely want to capture during your photography trips. Just go out there and capture what nature offers. Step aside from the usual path and explore. Explore new places with no expectations. I let myself free from these expectations and I feel more free by myself. My mind is free and therefore I see my surroundings better. Nature offers and I am able to see and capture that. With that mindset I have been able to capture one of the best photos during these winter months and it has been amazing. Many of these photos I haven't published yet but one day I will. Just how small simple things can change your approach to something that have a positive impact in your work. Lastly I hope these thoughts and adventures inspired you somehow. Made you want to go outside and enjoy the mother nature by yourself. If winter decides to not come back in the next days or weeks then you can walk towards spring with these positive thoughts in mind.






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