I put my backpack on the scales and check the reading. 25 kg – way too heavy for a hiker of my size! Kaffe's backpack, which contains food for four days and a sleeping mat, is not exactly light either. I take out one bottle of water, deciding to trust that the blue line I can see on the map means that I can find some fresh water along the way. As I start my hiking trip, the only thing I carry that actually doesn't feel heavy at all is the Canon EOS M6 Mark II camera hanging around my neck.
Harri Tarvainen is a professional photographer specialising in outdoors and action photography. Accompanied by his Insta-famous, curly-coated retriever Kaffe, he goes on hikes and takes great photos. You can follow Kaffe’s adventures on his Instagram account @kaffegram. You can also check out Kaffe and Harri’s tips for pet photography here: https://www.canon-europa.com/kaffe/.
When you’re going on a hike, you have to carry everything you need in your backpack. So you tend to only pack the essentials. However, when it comes to photography equipment, I am not ready to make too many compromises – after all, my main reason for going out into nature is to take pictures!
I'm used to packing my trusted equipment: a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera body and EF 24-70mm f/2.8 IS II USM and EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM lenses. This makes a rather heavy package, but I admit that I prefer heavier cameras. To me, weight signals quality, durability and reliability. And those are precisely the things I demand from my equipment in different weather conditions and challenging terrain. However, when I look at the reading on the scales, I decide to change my mind and leave the heavier equipment at home. For this hike, I decide to take the Canon EOS M6 Mark II camera instead, and the 22mm f/2.0 and 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 lenses. This camera only weighs around 400g including the lens. It doesn't need to be packed in the backpack, as it's light enough for me to wear around my neck.
Portraits and depth of field control
Outdoors and in varying light, I shoot mainly with the Aperture Priority AE shooting mode. With a large aperture I can separate the subject from the background, while with a smaller aperture I can bring out all the details of the scenery. And when I set the aperture value I want, the camera measures the right shutter speed for the right exposure. The M6 Mark II's shutter button is surrounded by a dial that allows me to quickly select the aperture. There is a second dial behind the shutter button, which allows me to adjust the exposure compensation with my thumb. I call this “semi-automatic photography”. In most cases, when shooting a black dog, I need to compensate by underexposure – making the image darker.
Along the hiking route, there is a deep-green fern field where light is beautifully filtered through the leaves. The harsh midday light doesn’t make me want to take pictures, but I still ask Kaffe to get in the middle of the ferns. I zoom to the widest focal length of 15mm to get as many ferns as possible in the picture. When shooting at a wide focal length, the depth of field of the image will be expanded. This means that almost all the elements in the picture are sharp, when I want some to be soft. I breathe a sigh of relief when I check the portrait I just shot. Kaffe's eyes and face are sharp, but the ferns right behind his head look nice and soft. Initially, I was admittedly a little in doubt about whether compact cameras allow me to control the depth of field. However, this camera certainly rises to the challenge: even with a wide lens, I can control the depth of field just fine. And it's even easier when zooming closer to the subject.
Our hike in the mountainous landscape of northern Norway continues. It's a warm day, and the bloodthirsty horseflies attack us as soon as we take off our backpacks and stop to have a drink. Swimming in the cool water of a nearby lake feels good, and dinner made of pasta in a bag is like having a feast. As the sun goes down, the horseflies leave us alone and go to sleep. We decide to follow their example.
Dependent on the screen
To my mind, I'm not at my best when I shoot using a screen. I inadvertently left the electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the car and now find myself using the 3-inch screen area of the camera, completely out of my comfort zone. I feel that using the viewfinder helps stabilise the shooting when the corner of my eye supports the camera, in addition to my hands. With heavier equipment, it's the best way to shoot, but with a light system like this, you can shoot by using the screen as well. In addition, the tilting screen allows for shooting from different angles, such as from the ground or even directly from top to down. I especially like shooting from the ground as it allows me to arrange lots of elements in the foreground, outside the focus area, to frame the subject itself.
Out in the wild and off the grid, the battery life of a camera is crucial. The M6 Mark II's battery can be conveniently charged on the go with a power bank. Although modern cameras have all features available on the touch screen, in the M6 Mark II all the key features can also be found as buttons and dials on the body of the camera. This kind of user interface makes shooting faster and saves battery life too. You have to learn how to use the camera first, but once you have the buttons memorised, using the camera becomes very intuitive.
When shooting a black dog, focusing is challenging. Especially in backlit or low-light conditions, Kaffe becomes a solid black blob in the picture, making it difficult to find a point suitable for focusing. Usually, I select a single point focus in the camera and place it in the centre of the image. The M6 Mark II's face detection, tracking and eye detection functions do work, particularly in front light.
Staying by the landscape mirror
We spend the next two nights in a tent on a stunning sandy beach. Besides us, there is a reindeer flock, a sea otter couple, a seal peeking at us curiously from the coastal waters and white-tailed eagles in the area. The falling stream nearby has created a shallow but wide pond on the sand. The beautiful landscape is reflected upside down on its surface. The closer I bring the camera to the water surface, the more the pond mirrors the landscape. I set the camera shutter for fast burst mode and guide Kaffe to stay by the mirroring water. Normally, when you're shooting pets and children, the keys to happiness are patience – waiting for the right moment – and angles that are low enough. This time, however, my guidance creates the picture I want: When Kaffe is in place on the beach, I throw a treat in the air. As he jumps, I press the shutter and the camera shoots almost thirty images during the next two seconds. It's easy for me to choose the right image from them – it’s the one where Kaffe has risen to his back legs to reach for the treat flying in the air.
Always on the go, always ready
Photography and spending time in nature go perfectly together. When you're on the go with your camera, you'll see things that might otherwise go unnoticed. A seagull’s tracks on sand, clouds coloured by the evening sun or another world reflected from a small pond. With a camera, I learn more about nature, and in nature, I also develop as a photographer and – I daresay –as a human being.
Hundreds of images have been shot in one day, and my photographer colleague asks which feature I like the most in the new M6 Mark II. I reply without hesitation. The best feature is that when I shoot with a camera like this, I don’t miss a single moment. As the camera is hanging around my neck, I am ready to shoot right away and am also able to react to even sudden situations. As if to prove what I have just said to be, Kaffe decides to sit next to my colleague and start admiring the landscape. So I take a few steps back and look at the pair through my camera lens, making sure they are in the centre of the picture. The pine twigs in the foreground serve to guide the viewer’s gaze to these two relaxed travellers. As I take the picture, I still feel the weight of the backpack on my shoulders, but in this moment it actually feels pretty good.