Being greeted by timber wolves is an experience of mixed feelings. The raw force as they knock me flat is shocking. Two sets of jaws gaping to fasten round my head is absolutely horrifying. Then as I realise they don’t actually want to rip my head off there is a tide of relief. But their need to explore every inch of my head – inside and out - to find out who I am, involves drenching my face, eyes and mouth in stinking wolf saliva, and that is utterly revolting.
So I’m surprised to find that my overall reaction is exhilaration and feeling privileged – not many folks can say their days work involved being initiated into a pack of young wolves….and not many go away smelling so proudly bad!
The next challenge, having picked myself and my camera out of the dirt, and stopped gagging, is to capture the essence of these two young wolves. For they are hybrids that are all wolf on the inside, but have a slightly more doglike appearance than the pure wolves I’ve photographed before. I watch them for a while and realize that success will depend on capturing movement and behavior – any static shots here will look like domestic pet portraits.
To make things more complicated, whenever I get down low – my default wildlife photography stance – they launch themselves at me again. I quickly learn to spring back up to a dominant standing position just in time to avoid another “attack” and shoot while they stalk each other through the woodland, spar and spat, and chase around a small pond.
Back at home, many antibacterial washes and Listerine gargles later, the challenge of post processing presents itself. I go for a gritty desaturated look which suits the textures and expressions of the wolves and lends drama to the movement and action.