On a bear photography tour, it’s possible to photograph the brown bears from unique photography hides in eastern Finland’s wilderness. However, there are many things to consider and prepare for so you’ll get the most out of your visit. Read the best tips from a professional wildlife photographer and a bear guide.

How Can You Photograph the Brown Bears?

The brown bears we have in Finland (Ursus Arctos) are shy creatures in general, and even though we have a healthy population density along our 1340-kilometer-long eastern border with Russia, you don’t see them 99% of the time.

You can go hiking or camping in the forest wilderness, or to pick some berries, etc., but you won’t see them. Most of the times, the bears just won’t “stumble upon you” when you are in the forest, because usually always they will smell your scent or hear your footsteps from a long distance, and they will evade you.

So, it’s impossible to take your camera, wander in the forests, and expect to see the brown bears. You won’t. That is not how bear photography works in Finland.

We also have an accurate saying: “You don’t see the bears, but the bears see you.” And that is absolutely true!

Even though you can’t see the bears while hiking in the forest, they will probably often see you. Sometimes, they may even be very close to you, less than 20 meters away, and you won’t know you are observed.

The brown bears are also masters in hiding among the forest foliage despite their big size. And they can move almost without sound. And that is surprising and impressive from an animal weighing approx. 150-300 kg, isn’t it?!

The Brown Bears of Finland Are Different From Grizzlies and Black Bears

The brown bears of Finland differ quite a lot from their relatives in North America, the grizzlies (a sub-species of the Ursus Arctos) and the black bears, who both regularly approach people. The grizzlies can sometimes be aggressive towards people.

One of the most different aspects of behavior is that the brown bears of Finland are not aggressive toward humans, nor do they deliberately approach people. They would always rather avoid facing humans.

Sometimes you can see a lot of bear tracks and feces in the forest floor. But even if they’re fresh, you seldom see the bears.

So, how can you then take photos of such an elusive creature? The answer is from a bear photography hide.

Two male brown bears having a short, but intense fight at the swamp in early July, 2023, Kuusamo, Finland.

Bear Photography Hides in Finland

Because it’s so rare to see brown bears in the forests in Finland, you must go to a bear photography hide if you want to take decent photos of the bears.

There are several places in eastern Finland where you can go to specially built, small hides to photograph the bears. Most of the hides are located along the eastern border area around Kuusamo (the northernmost place), Kuhmo, and Lieksa in the provinces of Carelia and Koillismaa.

Several companies offer a bit different kinds of environments and hide buildings. Some are more comfortable, and some will only have a small space to set up your camera and wait for the bears.

Some bear photography hides are bigger, permanent wooden buildings with amenities like a dry toilet, beds, and even the possibility of making a hot cup of coffee or tea with a gas stove while watching and photographing the bears.

Then there are some more ascetic hides where there may only be a few chairs in a small space, and a bucket with a lid to “do your thing”, if need be.

The sizes of the hides will also vary from small buildings for 1-2 people to bigger buildings that may fit 15-20 people.

For bear photography purposes, I would strongly recommend getting a small hide privately for yourself. This is the way you can fully concentrate on your photography without other people possibly talking too loudly or making other distractions.

The bigger buildings with many other people are primarily intended for bear watching, even though most also have openings for cameras.


Consider the Surroundings of the Hides

The environment along the eastern border areas of Finland is mostly spruce and pine forests, dotted with birches and small lakes or ponds around. Also, vast areas are covered by different kinds of swamp lands.

It will be totally different atmosphere in your photos if the background environment is only forested areas or if there are also some water elements around.

I would suggest looking for a hide of which surroundings are variable. Including the forest and water elements in your photos will give you many options for different compositions and bring more variety into your shots.

One such place for bear photography is in Kuusamo, where I have also worked as a bear guide for several years. I know the environment is versatile, and you have different kinds of hides to choose from.

We also do privately guided bear photography tours to these excellent hides in the summer of 2024 in Kuusamo, Finland! If you’d be interested in booking a private photography tour with me and Niina, please send me an email to hello@pirittapaija.com

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Short glimpse how one of the hides we use looks like in Kuusamo, Finland.

Which Lenses Should You Take With You to a Bear Photography Tour?

Some might think the closer the bears get to the hide, the better because everyone loves those close-up portraits, right?! Wrong. That is not how it should go. It’s also a healthier model of behavior if the bears will keep their safe distance from the hides and you.

Prepare for your bear photography tour with a longer lens; then, you won’t lose any situation and will get those portrait shots, too.

I suggest having at least a 70-200mm lens, but even better is having a 100-400mm or longer lens. And the “faster” the lens (the wider the possible aperture), the better.

Other good lenses to bring would be, for example, a 24-70mm or 24-105mm. Then, you have covered all the focal lengths for good landscape and portrait shots.

But you can get beautiful photos even with a hobbyist camera with a kit lens. So, you don’t need to have a load of expensive gear to enjoy some good bear photography.

Ultimately, it’s always more about the person behind the camera than the gear itself.

A brown bear male running at a swamp. Bear photography in Kuusamo, Finland.
A brown bear male running at a swamp in mid-August 2023 in Kuusamo, Finland.

Is It Guaranteed You Can See the Animals on These Bear Photography Tours?

They are wild animals, so it’s never 100% guaranteed. It’s not a zoo you are going to, after all. It’s the genuine wilderness. And the animals will always move as they please.

But how do you then see the bears? Why do they come to the proximity of these hides?

The answer is that there is some food put up for them. Otherwise, you couldn’t see the bears, as there wouldn’t be any reason for them to approach an area with some human scents around.

I fully understand how controversial this subject of “baiting” may be, especially among the more puritanical wildlife photographers and other people.

Some people are absolutely against this type of photography and argue that it’ll only make the animals too habituated to people, and that’ll cause several problems in the long term.

However, for example, almost all bird photography uses the same food offerings. So, where does the line go? Is it harmful to the animals or not?

I have to admit that I was also a bit skeptical about this hide photography some years back, before I started to work in one of the best bear photography and bear watching hides in Kuusamo, northern Finland.

During the Borealis summertime, I have been a bear guide for three years now. During this time, through my personal experience, I have learned that this can be done ethically without causing any problems to the bears or the local people.

Is Hide Photography Ethical Photography?

The key to ethical bear photography is that there won’t be too much food provided for the bears. This prevents that they could become dependent on that food. Instead, when food quantity is kept small, the brown bears will stay as wild animals who fend for themselves in nature – as they should.

The amount of food provided at the hides is like a little “snack” for the omnivorous bears. Many of the best bear photography places will use only fish scraps and don’t provide any meat.

As said, brown bears are omnivorous, but only about >30% of their diet contains meat, and the rest is plant-based. That may also be a bit surprising fact, when many people may think that the brown bears are heavy meat-eaters – on the contrary.

But all the commercial hides in Finland, whether for birds or the larger predators (bears, wolves, or wolverines), use food to get the animals in front of the hides to be seen and photographed.

The wolves and wolverines will not appear without some meat provided for them, but the brown bears do. So, if you want to go to a hide specializing in wolves or wolverines, you must be prepared for this fact.

It then depends on how the stashes of food are put into the surrounding area, will they be visible in your photos or not. The best places will position the food so that it won’t be visible, of course. But this is one aspect you should consider and probably ask from the company beforehand on how they do it.

More Ethical Photography Principles to Know

Every place is different and will do things differently. And it may be hard to decide on which place to go to. Unfortunately, all the bear photography places are not doing things ethically.

Recently, there have been a lot of public discussions about these things, and the Finnish Association of Nature Photographers has started to make official, ethical guidelines for photography hide businesses.

I hope this will effectively promote the ethical operating principles to all companies in Finland, so they would all adopt these better operating models. It will be in the best interests of the wild animals and people. But the interests of the wild animals should always come first here!

But what are some of the places doing then that is not ethical?

For example, they may put food too close to the hide buildings, maybe even less than five meters away. This again can quickly lead to the animals getting too used to humans and too strongly connecting human scent to food. And that spells only trouble on the horizon in the long term…

How this should be done then? It requires consistent adherence to two essential guidelines: 1. Not putting food closer than 20-30 meters from the hides. And 2. not putting too much food for the wild animals. The intention is not to upkeep the animals. On the contrary, it’s only meant to be a small supplement.

These guidelines also support the general safety of the animals and people alike.

An old female brown bear (nicknamed
An old female brown bear (nicknamed "Hittavainen") with her two cubs in mid-August 2022, Kuusamo, Finland. Photo by Piritta Paija Photography.

How Much Does It Cost to Visit a Bear Photography Hide?

Visiting a bear photography hide is not cheap, so planning is needed to make your visit the best possible.

Usually, the prices of a bear photography tour range from a 4-hour evening session of approx. 80€ per person as a big group tour, to a whole night’s experience of approximately 300€ per person (or even more, depending, i.e., on the comfort level of the hides).

As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the tour, the less guiding is offered and the bigger the group. Some places don’t provide any guidance; you will just be alone in the hides.

But if you want to get some profound understanding and learn deeper information about the brown bears, I suggest getting a tour that involves good guidance.

A Private Guided Tour or a Group Tour?

Getting a private guide is by far the best option. It may cost you more, but you will also get so much more out of the experience! I can guarantee that, based on my personal experience. There are only a few expert bear guides in Finland, so booking one in advance is strongly recommended.

It’s a very different experience if you are in a group of 15-20 people and only hear some fragments of the things that a guide will speak (if you even have a guide) than to be with your private guide the whole time who will tell you all the bear facts and stories you want to hear and can answer all your questions. Also, if you want some practical photography tips, you must have a guide who knows wildlife photography.

So, you have a lot of choices to consider when you want to have a bear photography tour.

And, if you want the best opportunities to get great shots of the bears, wolves, or wolverines, I suggest you opt for a several-day visit and spend at least two or three days in the hide. You can also spend the night(s) in the bear photography hides.

This way, you will exponentially increase your chances of getting the photos you want. Spending only one evening or night will provide only so many photo opportunities and may leave you unsatisfied, especially since it’s not ever 100% guaranteed that you will see wild animals.

We also do privately guided bear photography tours to excellent hides in the summer of 2024 in Kuusamo, Finland! If you’d be interested in booking a private photography tour with me and Niina, please send me an email to hello@pirittapaija.com

Book Your Tour With Us
An old female brown bear (nicknamed
Water droplets are reflecting the golden light when the brown bear wades in the water in September 2020 "ruska" time, Kuusamo, Finland. Photo by Piritta Paija Photography.

The Best Times of the Year for Bear Photography in Finland

The Borealis summertime is between approximately May and September, the most common season for bear photography and watching.

The brown bears will hibernate roughly between October and April in northern Finland. This also depends a bit on how much snow there will be, when the first snow falls, and when the snow will start melting in the Spring.

In the southern Finland their hibernation time is getting shorter as the winters have been getting warmer in recent years (but in south Finland there are no commercial bear photography hides because of the denser human populations).

However, the actual weather conditions may vary greatly depending on the year. On some years there have still been some snow on the ground in early May and still a bare ground in late October.

Weather Conditions Between May and July

Early Spring in May can still allow you to get photos of the bears on snowy grounds.

Maybe the most memorable time is around June/early July when the sun won’t set below the horizon in the northern Finland (for example, in Kuusamo area), and you will have enough light to take photos 24 hours a day. This is the magical time of the Midnight Sun.

The brown bears’ mating season is usually in June (give or take a few weeks). And this time of the year, it’s possible to get awesome fighting pictures between big male bears while they sort out their hierarchy and mating rights with the females. But during this time, the bears may move less frequently in the areas of the hides as they are more concentrated on mating than eating. Especially, less male bears are seen than later in the summer.

The best part of summer between June and July provides the most extensive light. Also, the new bear cubs are still tiny in size.

The Autumn Charm of August-September

August is also a great month, as the bears start to be fatter than in the early summer months and they are still concentrating in getting more fat under their skins, which means even better chances of seeing them.

Then, in late Autumn (very late August-September), is a season we call “ruska,” when the trees get their spectacular multicolor foliage of greens, yellows, and reds. This makes a superb background for the bear photos. The light starts to fade in August, but the bear photography tours also start earlier in the afternoon to catch the best lighting conditions.

And in late Autumn when the weather starts to get chillier, you often get great fogs above the water surfaces, adding a lot of character and depth into your photos.

So, every part of the Borealis summer has some benefits and different scenes to photograph. The variety is magnificent. It’s the beauty of the northern summer; it has like several different “mini seasons” inside itself.

It’s up to you what kind of photos you want to get and then visit at the right time accordingly.

During the whole summertime, it’s also possible to see eagles at the bear photography hides (especially in Kuusamo), as they are also interested in the fish scraps provided.

We also do privately guided bear photography tours to excellent hides in the summer of 2024 in Kuusamo, Finland! If you’d be interested in booking a private photography tour with me and Niina, please send me an email to hello@pirittapaija.com

Book Your Tour With Us
Five white-tailed sea eagles in a same tree top in Kuusamo (2020), Finland.
Five white-tailed sea eagles in a same tree top in Kuusamo (2020), Finland.

Where to Stay in Eastern and Northern Finland?

This region has hundreds of accommodation options, from basic wilderness huts to luxury cabins and SPA hotels. There are also a lot of self-catering wilderness cabins available to rent in these areas.

But you can definitely find something for every budget. I urge you to check out some of our best accommodation suggestions here.
One lovely wilderness lodge near the bear-watching place in Kuusamo, where we arrange privately guided bear photography trips, is Isokenkäisten Klubi.

Also, to get to the bear photography hides, you usually need your own transportation. The hides are in very remote areas, away from the towns and population centers, and there won’t be any public transportation to nearby areas.

Renting a car is the best choice if you don’t have your own wheels.

Sometimes taxi options may be available, but they may be so expensive (because of the long distances) that renting a car is usually more cost-effective.

But experiencing a bear photography tour is something I highly recommend when visiting Finland! I can guarantee that you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.

Seeing the “King of the Forest” in its natural habitat is a transformative experience and usually awakes a new respect towards the wilderness and its wild inhabitants.

This bear photography experience will bring you closer to nature.



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Piritta Paija

I'm a travel blogger and writer and a professional wildlife and conservation photographer. Full-time adventure traveler. Explorer. A wildlife conservationist at heart.

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