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