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Wild wolfs, Denali National Park

As a follow up to my previous post “wolf pack kills moose calf” last week, in which a colleague and I photographed a predator/prey scene in Denali National Park, I thought I’d make a few comments on the photographic equipment and technical side of that shoot, and then share a few pictures taken following the attack scene.

Cow moose defends her newly born calf from the Grant Creek wolf pack in Denali National Park. In the end, the wolves got the baby moose. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS, 1/400 sec @ f/4 ISO 400, Hand held. I'm still amazed that none of the wolves were injured by the kicking and stomping of the mother moose. She was one giant package of furry, and watching her in full defense is enough to make one very cautious around a mom and her calf.

Cameras

I used a pair of Canon 1Ds Mark III cameras, one with a 500mm f/4L , and the other with a 100-400mm f/5.6L . I shot a total of 562 pictures, which could have, and would have been a lot more if I had a faster frame rate and a better buffer (oh how I wish canon would increase the buffer on the 1Ds series full frame camera!) While I did not fill up a media card, I certainly could have with a faster frame-rate camera. I can just imagine having to change out a media card in the middle of this scene. Also, things like this happen so fast that unless you are always fully prepared, and have your media cards next to your body (which I don’t always do), you could easily end up without them. I use 32GB flash cards since they offer a lot of captures. Some argue that large flash cards increase the risk of loosing too much material by having it all on one card. That has yet to happen to me in my career, and I think the risk of running out of media space poses the greater risk for missed shots.

Lenses

We were about 25 yards from the scene to the near edge of the pond. The 500mm was tight for the overall scene, but I knew it could deliver some cool close up views (as in the picture above), so I used it hand held initially, I grabbed the tripod later (it is amazing how much I use that 500mm  hand held with outrageously sharp images). The 100-400 sings its true song in this case with total versatility. It is the lenses shining attribute. And while I know much argument exists over image quality in this lens, the one I now use is quite sharp and very satisfactory. If anything in the shooting process, I tended to frame tighter rather than looser, which excludes some of the surrounding points of interest like the wolves on the outer edges of the frame. But hey, things happen fast and at this point, you operate more out of habit than critical thought.

Exposure

I use manual and automatic exposure modes with a preference for manual for ultimate control. In this case I shot in AV mode because the light was changing due to some passing clouds. It worked pretty well overall, but sometimes large back lit water tricked the meeter a little bit. Because I wanted high shutter speeds given the intense action, I shot 400 and 800 ISO. I really did not have many throw away exposures, and very few that I did not keep.

My one regret is not getting my 5DII out sooner and let the video run, but the shooting area was tight and partially blocked by willows. For some of the post kill shots, I was able to add the 1.4x to the 500 and frame some tighter stuff that was happening at a bit of distance.  While the “kill” event only took 10 minutes, the wolves took a while to eat and and eventually carry off the carcass. Meanwhile, the angry cow moose stomped around the willows and chased the wolves. As things calmed down, I was able to get a few shots of the wolves as they dispersed across the landscape. These are less intense and capture the animal in a different context. In the end, they probably have a greater future for publication.

Wolf runs across a ridge in Denali National Park, interior, Alaska. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f/4L w/1.4x (700mm), 1/2000 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400

Wolf on mountain ridge, Denali National Park, Alaska. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS w/1.4x (700mm), 1/320 @f5.6, ISO 400

Wolf wades into a tundra pond for a drink after feeding on a moose calf recently killed by the Grant Creek wolf pack, Denali National Park, Alaska. Canon 1Ds Mark III, 500mm f/4L IS w/1.4x (700mm), 1/400 @f5.6, ISO 800

  • Tere - I believe your shooting would have been much more effective with 30-06!ReplyCancel

  • Tere - I believe you shooting would have been much more effective with 30-06!ReplyCancel

  • jerry - i cant believe ur all talking about ur cameras and lenses.
    do any of you have feelings??? about a baby moose??
    Heartless ppl in the world.ReplyCancel

  • Marissa Tabbada - Great eye contact in that last shot. Must have been unnerving to have the wolf look right at you (or your lens).ReplyCancel

    • Patrick - Hi Marissa, the drink in the pond was especially interesting considering the events that took place in that very pond just a few minutes before. I love the eye contact in that shot, and the slightly bloody face, really tells the thirsty story!ReplyCancel

  • Milo Burcham - Wow, Patrick, these images blow me away. What an incredible opportunity you guys had and you did well. Love the contrast of the closeups and wider images with the 100-400.
    Speaking of flash cards, I just had some images corrupted writing to the SDHC slot on my 1DIV. Not sure what the problem is yet but of about 60 images shot yesterday, the last 10 or so could not be reviewed in camera or opened after downloading???!!!ReplyCancel

    • Patrick - Milo, incredible it was, and amazing to watch the wolf pack work in cunning syncronicity. That’s a drag about your card, have you tried a rescue program, like Sandisks software? I’ve never used the SD slot on my 1d cameras.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Landers - Patrick–The fed wolf shot may be among your greatest, and tbat’s saying something. Yet I’m glad I wasn’t there. Must have been emotional. PatReplyCancel

    • Patrick - Pat, Alaska awaits your return, and the odds are in your favor of not encountering the scene depicted in my photos. It was hard to watch, and equally hard not to watch. It was both life and death in real time, which happens all the time in nature, just rarely observed.ReplyCancel

  • Dave Taylor - Incredible shots again Patrick – especially liking the second image, “Wolf on mountain ridge”. Love the solitude of the shot.
    And the eyes on the last one… great look.
    Thanks for sharing and stay safe.ReplyCancel

  • Kathy R - Great photos, Patrick. Wish we’d been there to see this drama unfold but your pictures convey it all so well.ReplyCancel

    • Patrick - Kathy,
      Most of the event was shot without a tripod :-) but I know Hugh set you up with a good one. I hope it is working a little better than the previous one.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick - Skip and Gayle, Outside of luck, and occasionally serendipity, just spending a lot of time in the field doles out a few golden opportunities. This was perhaps a mix of all of the above. Glad to experience it and glad to share it. The photo gods did indeed reward. If you were there, you would have the whole thing on video, which I would really, really want to watch!ReplyCancel

  • Gayle & Skip - Amazing, amazing photos! When opportunity knocks, its great to have the skills to capture the drama and allow others to share the experience– at least to a degree. The gods of photography rewarded you and Hugh for your discipline and persistence of effort over the years.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick - Mike,
    I agree that its hard to go wrong with larger cards save that of a complete card failure. I’ve had to rescue accidentally formatted cards before. Its a pain but it works.ReplyCancel

  • Eli Mitchell - I thought the 1Ds IV would’ve been here this spring, but we may have to the wait until the fall. It had better be good!ReplyCancel

  • Mike - Love both posts! Just wanted to point out that I use 32gb cards as well for 1) the same reason you gave and 2) there’s all kinds of simple recovery software that will rescue anything short of a hardware failure. My cards also work perfectly all the time.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick - Eli, No Mark IV yet, I was going to hold out and see what the next version of the 1Ds is, but I may have to bend and pick one up.ReplyCancel

  • Eli Mitchell - Incredible photos! Have you gotten a 1D IV yet?ReplyCancel

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