copyright: Veloy Cook

Taking a chance, we decided to try and anticipate what the movement of the Wapiti wolf pack would be over night.  The risk paid off and we came upon the pack at first light.  What followed was one of the most magical days of photography I have ever been gifted. 

Climbing into the rattle trap called a bombardier that was originally build in 1936 and somehow kept in commission, we headed off in the grey dark hours of pre-dawn.  That day offered a short encounter with the wolf pack near heat vents and a bend in the river.  I had never had the opportunity to be anything other than spotting scope distance from wolves. I was entranced.

We had a decision to make.  Where next?  Wolves can cover a tremendous distance over night and they could be thirty to fifty miles away.  Making our best guess we headed out very early the next morning. As we came around a bend we saw a carcass well off the road and resting next to it were three wolves.  The pack had taken down a full-sized bull elk.   We climbed out looking for the best position and light to photograph these amazing creatures.  Pushing through waist and chest deep snow I moved around to a vantage that felt right and would offer great perspectives and directional light.

Being in the presence of wolves created within me a feeling that is impossible to truly convey.  It was almost a tangible presence, a warm and glowing emotion that settled in my soul.  I find that animals give off energy that communicates their state of being. I remember very distinctly making a connection with one of the lead wolves.  I had gotten into position and set up my tripod.  I stood by the side of my gear and looked up at the scene where the intelligent yellow eyes of a magnificent grey wolf connected with mine. I felt electricity striking like lightening through my entire body.  It was as if I peered into his soul, and he peered into mine.  We were locked together, connected and frozen in place for a long moment.  It felt as if he were seeking what our intent was.  Were we a threat? Were we going to challenge for the carcass? Coming to some conclusion the wolf broke eye contact with me and I was released from our connected grip.  He went about feeding and I sat there stunned as shivers tremored through my body.  It took me a bit to recover myself and to begin photographing such incredible creatures.  We spent hours hunkered in the snow watching as one part of the pack bedded down up hill and hidden in the pines and the other portion bedded in the sun down in the valley.  Eventually, the white alpha female emerged from the pines and approached the carcass.  She carried herself regally and it was very evident that was royalty.  All other wolves submitted to her presence.  Observing these creatures in their natural surroundings and the hierarchy that clearly permeated the pack was incredible.  Towards dusk one wolf started to howl and then others picked up the call until every member of the pack was howling in unison.  Their mournful calls echoed around and through the mountains and through me, never creating a sense of fear only the feeling of respect and peaceful reverence.

It may or may not be surprising that I write little about technique and the mechanics of photographing wolves.  They are important, but they are secondary. My experience is that connection with the scene or animals always leads to the most magnificent photographs.  For me, photography is about emotion and stories, not dials and settings.  If I can create an image where I feel again, what I originally felt being there then that image is a success.

Canon 5D Mark IV, F5.6, 1/1000 sec., ISO-400, 600mm lens

– Veloy Cook