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Timber wolf, Austria. Photo © Louise Murray

Timber Wolf, Austria - Louise Murray, 2013

1 December 2013

I waited two years for this shot. I needed snow in Austria where the Wolf Science Centre is located at a time I was available. In January it all came together perfectly. This was a self-funded project to add the winter dimension to a commissioned summer shoot that I had done the previous year for Flipside magazine. The resulting portfolio of images with my text describing research at the centre has since been syndicated globally.

The Nikon D800 came into its own for the fine detail, showing every hair follicle around the beautiful eyes of this grey timber wolf. I was shooting through a fence into one of the enclosures where the packs have been hand raised for cognitive research that investigates the differences between identically reared wolves and dogs.

Dominant wolves use this staring gaze to assert rank over lesser-ranked individuals. I have photographed wild wolves in Montana, but these extreme closeup shots are only really possible with captive animals.

At times during the week I was there I was allowed into the enclosures accompanied by wolf trainers who have some pretty strict rules designed to protect your kit from wolf investigation. No fur trim on parkas, gloves or bags are allowed in, and you are encouraged to tidy up any straps etc that might prove enticing.

The image was shot at 1/1000th second with the ISO also set at 1000 and I used a tripod as the light was beginning to fail. That evening I swapped over to the Nikon D3S which has less noise at high ISO. Obviously it was cold, about minus 10° C, so I was well wrapped up in insulated boots, down parka, hat and mitts to keep my hands warm.

The wolf enclosures are surrounded by forest at the top of a hill and there was no way that my hire car was going to make it through the deep snowfall and up the gradient, although I did try once. Physically lugging the kit up the hill and around the enclosures through the snow was hard work – vindicating my triathlon training, at least I made it!

I’m used to working in extreme temperatures – minus 42°C is the coldest that I have had to shoot in, so this felt relatively mild. Although after an hour or so waiting for the right shot you need to take a short break for some hot chocolate. The cameras cope remarkably well in the cold, better than we do, and it’s not until minus 20 plus that you start to see the effects of cold on the lubricant in the lenses and tripods and everything starts to stiffen up. I always keep a spare battery warming up on the inside of my jacket.

It was a busy week at the Science Centre, I was not the only one who had been waiting for a good snow fall. Crews from the BBC Natural History Unit, and a German TV station were also there, the BBC to shoot in 3D HD.

Louise Murray is an award winning photographer. For over twenty years her work featuring the natural world – wildlife conservation, marine, and polar issues has been published around the world. She loves working in the cold and has travelled to Russia, Greenland, Antarctica and Nunavut in High Arctic Canada for stories. She has written and photographed features on science and conservation for The Times, The Guardian, BBC Wildlife and Focus, amongst many other publications worldwide. Her photography specialises in the marine environment (she is a highly skilled underwater photographer) from the tropics to the polar regions, as well as extreme adventure travel, nature and science. She is also adding video to her skill base.

Photographer since 1992, EPUK member since 2011.

See more work by Louise Murray

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