Interview: Olli Lamminsalo

Winged Beauties of Kuusamo By Olli Lamminsalo

Olli Lamminsalo is a Finnish ace photographer who lives in the eastern border town of Kuusamo. It is his love of birds that uprooted him from Helsinki to Kuusamo.

He is the go to guide for bird and landscape photography in this European hotspot.

Tell us a bit about yourself and also how long you have been “behind the lens.”

I’m 56 years old, I live in Kuusamo, and I shoot with Canon.

Birds have been an important part of my life for the past 40+ years, and I’ve photographed them more or less actively since 1973. There were periods, when I wasn’t behind a camera that much, such as when I was starting a family, but since the beginning of the 90s I’ve been a keen bird photographer. In 2003 I acted upon my longtime dream and moved from my native Helsinki, the capital of Finland at the south shore, to Kuusamo in the northeast, near Finland’s eastern border with Russia. Kuusamo is one of Europe’s most famous hotspots for bird and landscape photography.

This is when I turned my birding hobby into a career by becoming a birding guide. Around 2005-2006 more and more people visiting Kuusamo started to have digital SLR camera bodies, and I started to guide bird photographers too. So much so, that today my job is all about guiding bird and landscape photographers. I’ve also set up an extensive network of photo hides with opportunities to shoot many species, and I rent these to photographers. I swear by cooperation and can warmly recommend this to all photographers, professionals and amateurs alike: connect & network!

Each passing year makes me more aware of the importance of the welfare of wildlife and nature in general - birds, mammals, forests and all. I never miss an opportunity to speak a bit about it, be it on the radio, in an article or in the social media.


What would be your top 3 tips for shooting great landscapes?

Get to know your target, your subject, the object of your photography, and know it well. Go back again and again. 
Shoot in different seasons, and at different times of the day.
Make a habit of checking the weather forecast first thing in the morning, and again late in the evening.

We all have our likes and dislikes. Is there anything you don’t like about Nature photography?

As an interest, nature and wildlife photography has grown fast, bringing in a lot of new people, but also those who have no respect for either nature or wildlife. I see too many cases where the goal is to get the picture by any means. It’s an unfortunate phenomenon and should be addressed whenever noticed.

Birds are certainly a prominent subject across your work. What triggered this interest ?

A lifelong interest in birds has helped me gain a deeper understanding and knowledge of their behavior. The better you know your target, the more of good opportunities you get. And having often been close enough to a super shot, just short of success, makes you try again and again.

What started first – birding or photography?

Birding. I was a small boy in the early 70s and got interested in birds. Bought my first camera in 1973, a Canon FTb. Birds were a hobby, an extra interest in my life for decades but now, unfortunately, less so. I often say that I ruined a great hobby by making it my job. But no, seriously, watching and following birds is still as alluring as ever, and I get into it as much as possible.

Your favorite bird species and why?

So many: Golden Eagle, owls, Galliformes (our gamebirds) and probably the Black Grouse is the number one. The Black Grouse display season lasts two months and is a sure sign of spring after a long winter, even if snow is still half a metre deep on the ground.

I shoot Black Grouses in snowy settings a lot, yet I’ve still not taken my best shot. Luckily my clients share this interest in the Black Grouse and I get to chase my top shot. I’m aiming for a blurry picture with out-of-focus motion, taken just after sunrise, with loose powder snow flying in the air and the fighting males etched against a dark backdrop. Maybe I’ll get lucky this spring.

Bird photography is almost always about the action. How do you manage to get a good pose during this short span? What should one look for? How would you prepare for such shots?

It’s true that most photographers chase action shots. Know your target’s behavior, spend a lot of time with it, and return to the same subject often enough - all this will improve your chances at succeeding. And don’t forget to study the camera’s technical features really well.

You are obviously a bird person. If you were to be a bird in your next life, which one would you pick?

I’d like to come back as a Black Grouse alpha male, the one that rules the lek site year after year.

Conducting courses and capturing your best shots – how do you find the balance between these two? Also, how do you think training others helps you grow as a photographer?

When I’m out with clients, it’s always their show. This of course puts some restrictions on my own ideas. But on the plus side, I get to be out there, year after year, working on the same fascinating species (about 50 altogether), at different times of the day and in all kinds of light conditions. I’ve learned a lot about the birds’ behavior, which helps me with my own photography. Besides, being open-minded and receptive with others is a twoway street - I guide about 150 people each year, and in return, somebody always teaches me something new.

What equipment do you use and why?  What’s your favorite Nature photography lens - the one you just can’t do without?

Canon camera bodies 5 D Mark 3 and 1-D X. My favourite lenses would be the 16-35mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8 and 200-400mm, plus the 1.4 extender.

I shoot a lot with my clients in the hides, and due to the flexibility it offers me, the 200-400mm is absolutely the top lens. I seldom miss any of the longer tele lenses anymore.

If you had to share one important lesson you think every bird photographer needs to learn, what would it be?

Don’t try to get too close to the birds. Observe them, and let them grow used to you. You’re guaranteed to make better pictures this way. Be considerate, also to other photographers.

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