PROFILE

Valtteri Hirvonen

An orange tent is surrounded by snowy trees in Finnish Lapland.

This photograph was taken in -25°C conditions in Finnish Lapland. "I just wanted to shoot some snow-covered trees, so I took my tent and skied for a couple of days," says Canon Ambassador Valtteri Hirvonen. "It was worth it." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 35mm, 1/250 sec, f/4 and ISO400. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Wilderness photographer and Canon Ambassador Valtteri Hirvonen braves some of the toughest conditions imaginable in his work. Widely recognised for his dedication to his craft, when it comes to capturing his powerful and dramatic images he isn't fazed by temperatures of -35°C.

Valtteri's adventurous streak and love of nature developed during his childhood in North Karelia in Finland. "If I think back to growing up, I only remember being outside, so I have a special bond with nature," he says. "It always inspires me.

"My family are very outdoor-orientated. It didn't matter if it was raining or freezing, we'd still be out walking or skiing. It was second nature to me to be out all day, every day, and I still feel that way."
Valtteri's passion for photography was ignited during a snowboarding trip to France when he was 18. "I had a film camera with me, a Canon EOS 30, which my mum bought me when I was 15," he says. "At that time, I just wanted to capture what we were doing. I hadn't even thought about a career as a professional photographer.

"I met lots of people while I was there, and a professional skiing photographer said I could sell some of my pictures. I earned a few hundred euros from them, which made me think maybe this is something I could do in the future."
A headshot of Canon Ambassador Valtteri Hirvonen.

Location: Helsinki, Finland
Specialist areas: Wilderness, nature
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
A dog wearing a backpack sits at the side of a lake.

"We got a dog, Morris, in January 2020, who is my travel companion," says Valtteri. "He's very photogenic! When the Covid-19 pandemic started, I lost five months' work in a day, so we just got out in nature as much as we could." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 50mm, 1/600 sec, f/2.8 and ISO640. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Joshua trees in California surrounded by light trails. The orange night sky is dotted with stars.

This photograph of the night sky in Joshua Tree National Park, California was a happy accident. "I lost my camera in the dark desert," Valtteri explains. "I triggered it with my radio-controlled remote to try to spot its green light. The light trails were created by my headlamp while I was searching. Sometimes you get lucky!" Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 30 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Valtteri enrolled in photography school back home in Finland, but left after the first year, and in 2008 began assisting photographers at a news agency instead. "The pace at school was much too slow for me," he says. "I was hungry and I wanted to evolve my skills much faster.

"I built up a name for myself with the agency and it evolved naturally from there. We travelled all over Europe and I got to see all kinds of things. It was so important for me to be given more and more responsibility. It was really fun – even better than I could have imagined – and I'm so thankful I was given the opportunity to learn so much."
Blue-tinted snow offsets a pink and purple sky in this image taken at noon in Finnish winter.

This shot was taken at noon in Finnish Lapland during the winter months when there's minimal daylight, Valtteri explains. "Light during the Polar Night season is amazing," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L III USM) at 120mm, 1/320 sec, f/3.5 and ISO400. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Today, Valtteri travels the world capturing stills and video for a range of international brands and he has worked on commercial campaigns for Ferrari and BMW. The most challenging part of his job? Carrying everything and surviving – which is why choosing the right kit is key.

"I take a lot of photos in the mountains and the Arctic, and sometimes the temperatures are -35°C – that's when you get picky with what you're shooting," he says. "So, I'm also really choosy about what kit I take because I have to carry food, water and clothing. I know my camera gear so well and I can visualise beforehand what setup I need."

As for the future, the adventurer feels privileged to be able to combine his love of the outdoor world with photography – and to still be enjoying it so much, more than a decade after starting. "I feel so happy that I still love what I do, and that I'm still learning," he says. "I know that I have chosen my profession well. Whenever I get back to nature with my camera, I don't have to force that – I'm at home."
How would you describe your photographic style?
"I would say I combine documentary and commercial styles. I have a technical background, but I also like to shake that off every once in a while. I sometimes like to be anti-technical and do the complete opposite! I'm always inspired by nature and landscapes, so that shapes my style too."

When did you begin to explore videography?
"When I was a child, my dad used to take lots of videos documenting my childhood and we used to watch those a lot, and so I always knew video's power for triggering memories. The move for me happened when the Canon EOS 5D Mark II was released. That changed the video world. When clients heard that was something I could do, I started to work more with video and it slowly evolved from there. Today, I shoot 60% video and 40% stills."

What would you say are the key elements to successful wilderness photography?
"Just get outside and go to places you know at different times of the day and in different weather – even if it's misty or there's a storm. If it's a beautiful day, it's not necessarily anything special. It doesn't give you that spectacular photo. If you go out when it's stormy and the sun is setting, that's when you find those special moments. That's also when you get inspiration to discover more places to achieve those kinds of pictures. Don't underestimate how the weather can affect the mood. Visit places when nobody else wants to go there."

What is next for you? Which ambitions remain unfulfilled?
"I want to get better at videography; there's a huge difference in how stories are told compared to stills photography and I'm keen to learn so much more about this. Storytelling is my biggest ambition now and I want to tell stories that matter, about nature and global warming."

One thing I know

Valtteri Hirvonen

"You never know where your next job is coming from, so be nice to everyone! Even people in seemingly small roles on a particular production can be key in other situations, so never underestimate anyone. Also, speak your wishes out loud because there is always someone listening. That's something that happened for me many times. You may think it's too much, but someone will be listening and will make it happen for you."

Instagram: @valtterihirvonen

Website: www.valtterihirvonen.com

Valtteri Hirvonen's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Valtteri Hirvonen's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses, a water bottle and a first-aid kit.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20 frames per second, or cinematic 12 bit 8K RAW video using the entire width of the camera’s sensor. "It's such a capable camera in multiple situations. I can travel and trust that I will get the results I need, whether I'm shooting stills or video," says Valtteri. "It's solid and the grip is amazing; the ergonomics of the camera are key for me. Many months of the year I'm shooting with gloves on, so small things like where buttons are placed are huge for me. When you have to hold a rope in one hand and operate the camera in the other with your gloves on, these details are important!"

Canon EOS C500 Mark II

A 5.9K full-frame sensor packed into a compact and reliable Cinema EOS body. "The ergonomics are great," says Valtteri, who uses this cinema camera for his video work. "I really love this camera."

Lenses

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "It's how I see and visualise what I want to shoot," says Valtteri. "This would be the lens I would always have with me; the quality is fantastic. When I have to be selective with my kit, It makes more sense to carry this than three different prime lenses."

Canon EF 16mm-35mm f/2.8L III USM

The successor to the classic wide zoom that Valtteri uses offers stunning sharpness throughout the range. Valtteri says: "This lens has a fantastic wide angle. If I'm in an icy cave, for example, it really comes into its own and it's great to know that I have the option to create that kind of picture."

Canon EF 70mm-200mm f/2.8L III USM

The latest version of the lens that Valtteri favours is a favourite with professional photographers: fast, flexible and built for any assignment. "Whenever you need to get more reach, this lens is so reliable and it's great with video too," says Valtteri.

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and a low-light performance that’s simply remarkable. Valtteri says: "I use this with the EOS R5. This is my most natural choice. If I could have only one lens, I would pick this one."

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