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Suomenlinna Island Fortress

The Suomenlinna Island Fortress is an easy day trip from Helsinki. I took the ferry over mid-morning and spent about 3hrs wandering the island before heading back.

It’s a fortress that was built over several islands and has actually defended three different nations – Sweden, Russia and Finland. Nowadays, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – although there are some people that live on the island.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t find it the most fascinating photographic subject, but if you’re into history, that can well make up for the visuals.

The Nitty Gritty

What to ExpectA series of islands with a stone fortress and tunnels and historical artifacts. Very nice for a photo walk in the spring or summer.

A lot of good information at the Suomenlinna FAQ
How to Get ThereYou take a ferry from the Kauppatori market. You can check the ferry times here.

Once on the island, you can explore for free but the Vesikko submarine is €7 for adults.
More info here.
Versatile Gear
A walkaround lens should work for this one. And of course you could also use your phone or a point and shoot. Recommended walkarounds below.

Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
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Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens
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And here's an excellent point and shoot, if you want to go super light
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II (Black)
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The Suomenlinna Ferry

To start with, you take a ferry over from the dock – roughly around where the Kauppatori Market Square is located. You need a ticket beforehand so arrive a bit early to sort that out.

The ferry’s cool – or maybe I’m a dork for all things nautical. The ride is definitely part of the journey – wander around and see what you can shoot.

Up on deck, be sure to get a few shots of the city as you pull away. It’s a great way to get some skyline shots – although I wish the sky had been a bit more interesting or dramatic on the day I was out there.

On the other hand, something tells me I should be thankful for the great weather we had!

Exposure
1/640s ƒ/8 @ ISO 100
Focal Length
35mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 9:42 am

Down below, with the windows streaming bright light in, it’s a chance to play with your settings and decide what effect you’re going for.

For the indoor shots, the light coming in through the windows is going to make your exposure challenging. Your camera will probably underexpose a whole lot. If you want to capture the scenes inside, you have to over-expose or “blow out” the windows. You can do this either by using exposure compensation or lock exposure inside the cabin before shooting.

Some photogs prefer to use HDR to balance the indoor/outdoor light, but in a situation like this – shooting toddlers that aren’t related to me – it would be impossible to set up that shot without seriously creeping out Mom here.

I don’t mind the blown out windows – this shot is about the kiddos’ excitement. Not what’s outside right now.

Finnish children on the ferry to Suomenlinna

Exposure
1/40s ƒ/8 @ ISO 125
Focal Length
19mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 9:52 am

There’s also random hardware around the boat that has an interesting look. I have no idea what this is but love the analog mechanical look of it.

Perhaps if I had moved it, we’d have ended up in St. Petersburg.

Suomenlinna Island Ferry

Exposure
1/40s ƒ/8 @ ISO 160
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 9:50 am

Suomenlinna Island Fortress

Once we got to the island, we docked at the main quay or Landing Dock in the map.

You might catch some people fishing out here, which is I suspect is the definition of an exciting day out when you’re one of the 900 people that live on this island.

Suomenlinna Island Photography

Exposure
1/800s ƒ/8 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
35mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 3:17 pm

You can check out the Suomenlinna Church but it was closed when we visited, so we wandered further down to explore the tunnels of the fortress.

They’re pretty interesting and you can get some great repetitive patterns like these doorways within doorways.

It was a bit hard to shoot in here and balance the exposure. The bright light and the shadowed pathways were hard to capture at once.

The trick here is to shoot raw so you can bring out some details later and to compensate the exposure to something in the middle, between the brightness of the light and the shade.

Suomenlinna Fortress Tunnels

Exposure
1/10s ƒ/7.1 @ ISO 2000
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 10:54 am

I didn’t have my tripod so I had to rely on hand-holding these shots. The one above is a 1/10s shot, so it took some tricks to hold steady for that one.

What I like to do is put my feet about shoulder-width apart, then put the camera against my face with my elbows close to my body. This gives three points of steadiness to the camera, each hand braced against my body and my face as the third.

Finally, breathe out gently and press the shutter as you do so. Some people prefer to press the shutter at the end of the out-breath. Practice this technique and you will someday wow someone at a firing range.

Here’s another where I really liked the sheen of the cobblestones and the iron door.

Tunnels on Suomenlinna

Exposure
1/40s ƒ/7.1 @ ISO 500
Focal Length
22mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 10:51 am

Tomb Raidin’

The next spot to check out is the tomb of this Swedish guy, Augustin Ehrensvärd. The whole fortress was kind of his thing, spent his life designing and building it, and called it Sveaborg back in the day.

Like I mentioned before, the island has had a couple of different owners, and Sweden was one of them. The swedes still call it Sveaborg.

Ehrensvärd’s tomb

Exposure
1/800s ƒ/4.5 @ ISO 100
Focal Length
24mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 10:58 am

It’s always hard to shoot statues in sunlight due to the harsh shadows, but sometimes black and white can bring out the beauty in the contrasts.

I like the way this post-process made the image seem almost silver-toned.

Detail from Ehrensvärd’s tomb, Suomenlinna Island Fortress Photography

Exposure
1/30s ƒ/7.1 @ ISO 100
Focal Length
24mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 10:59 am

Submarine Vesikko

After the tomb, we headed over to check out the submarine which sank a Soviet ship named Vyborg in WWII.

It wasn’t made super clear because I imagine they don’t love this part of the story, but apparently this submarine was secretly commissioned by the Germans! It had to be done on the DL since it was against the Versailles Peace Treaty at the time.

Along the way, I got this nice shot of the bridge connecting the two islands and the church in the distance,

Beautiful day at Suomenlinna

Exposure
1/2500s ƒ/5 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
62mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 2:05 pm

Once we got to the submarine, we paid €7 to board. It was a tight fit inside, can’t imagine being underwater in that!

Just the thought makes me claustrophobic.

My favorite photo from the submarine is this one of the periscope. It wasn’t quite so green-tinted down there, that was added in post-processing.

But I just loved the steampunk old machinery inside the submarine. Very Jules Verne.

Down Periscope on Finnish Submarine Vesikko

Exposure
1/10s ƒ/3.5 @ ISO 1600
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 1:52 pm

After the submarine, I think we got some lunch and headed back, and I got this one final shot relaxing on the boat.

Suomenlinna Island Photography guide

Exposure
1/500s ƒ/13 @ ISO 160
Focal Length
20mm
Camera
Canon EOS 70D
Date & Time
May 22, 2015, 3:26 pm

That’s It, Folks

Okay, so I realized after writing this up, that although I thought the island was a bit boring visually, I did get a nice variety of shots.

And it was after all, a pretty nice day for a photowalk.

Got any questions about Suomenlinna Island Fortress? Let me know in the comments.

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Shimona Carvalho
Photographer, Engineer, Traveler who wants to help you take incredible photographs on your next trip.
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