Focus on Wolves

I spent last Sunday afternoon listening to Jim and Jamie Dutcher speak about the six years they spent living with a pack of wolves in the Idaho wilderness. Those years have been documented in their still photography, films and books. Using photographic and scientific talent, they revealed many elements of a wolf pack’s life and in so doing, created understanding of the valuable part that wolves play in the wilderness ecosystem

The Dutchers raised the pack members from pups while they, themselves, lived in a yurt compound in the midst of the wolf containment area. Jim and Jamie stayed throughout all the seasons in the high wilderness for the duration of the project. By careful observation and documentation, the individual wolf personalities and ranking were revealed.

Wolves communicate via body language and through a complex vocabulary of yipping and howling. Focusing day and night on the wolves with an almost complete immersion in the life of the pack, the Dutchers created photographs and film that revealed new knowledge about wolf behavior and verbalization. For example, the omega or lowest ranking wolf, although larger in size than his brothers, always appears smaller in the photographs because of his slinking and submissive body language.

What does this have to do with your photographs? The Dutchers made a commitment to the wolves. They focused their entire lives for a period of time on documenting these shy and often misunderstood wild animals. As a consequence, their images are sensitive and evoke deep understanding and empathy in the viewer.

Another photographer with the same patient approach to his work is the Japanese photographer, Mitsuaki Iwago. In the mid 1980’s I saw a photo on the cover of National Geographic of a lioness and cub that spoke to me. I had to have a print. A picture agent friend in Tokyo knew Iwago, contacted him and purchased a print for me. Iwago had spent over a year in rural Africa hiding in blinds waiting and watching the lions in order to get incredible images like the one that I still have.

The lesson from these two stories is that when you find a niche subject that speaks to you whether it is documenting animals in the wild or wild people; volcanoes or exploding concepts, the more you immerse yourself in the subject, the better your images will be.

Few people have the luxury of spending six years in a yurt…oops that’s no luxury in my book. Canvas walls in 10 below zero? No thanks. Anyway you may not be able to take years away from other duties to focus on one subject but you don’t have to live in a tent to do so. The deeper you become involved with your subjects, the more the ‘real’ picture of what you are drawing or photographing will get. The essence will emerge. When you get to that place, the image will speak to others and become more than mere documentation. This brings power to the image. Power to change minds, power to teach and ok, let’s admit it: the power to sell.

© Mirefa

What is the subject that gets you off the couch and out shooting? What would you like to photograph but just haven’t? Give yourself the goal of shooting that subject until you think you have exhausted it. Then go back and shoot it again and again. Artists understand this if they work in a realistic style. First is the sketch, then the details, and then more details emerge from the subject. The more you look, the better you’ll see.

(Obviously the images here were not taken by the Dutchers or Iwago but by patient and skilled Dreamstime photographers.)

Where to find more about Living with Wolves and the photographer Iwago:

Living with Wolves

NPR audio interview with Dutchers

Iwago and Climate Change

Iwago's website

Photo credits: Chavdar Dobrev, Geoffrey Kuchera, Holly Kuchera, Jay O'brien, Olga Mirenska, Photoka, Zastavkin.

Your comment must be written in English

November 14, 2007


Beautiful article about the wolves. Thank you for sharing.

November 13, 2007


Ellen... love the way you write!

November 07, 2007


Ok so we replaced the coyote image with another great shot of a wolf. (This points out the need to always be as careful as possible with keywords. The coyote shot was keyworded with both 'wolf' and 'coyote' but an animal can't be both. The user relies on the keywords to be authentic so use care!

November 06, 2007


Beautiful. Just beautiful. And it's so true, what you said about observation skills. A friend of mine is a bird lover. And when she first got a camera, what the photos came out! She just knew, WHY she is pressing the button, cause she knew her birdies so well. Thank you for the great story! When I first started wandering in the internet I used a user name WhiteWolf - wolves are incredible creatures. Thanks once more.

November 06, 2007


What a wonderful blog! I love wolves, really I love them. They are so gorgeous animals. I have seen many photos and also filming about wolves and I always must admire them. Like the images chosen in this blog. Since small I was admiring tham as much as my parents never could tell me the fairy-tale about Little Red Hood :-) My mom had to create a new verison for me where the wolf remain with the granmother :-) Thanks for such a beautiful blog!

November 06, 2007


It's a coyote. You can tell by the coat and the more slender / sleek face. I easily recognize them because they abound in my area. :) Shy little critters, but they're everywhere.
Most images I see of coyotes are running, because they don't let you get a good look at them very often. But just becuse you don't see them doesn't mean they're not there. They are very curious creatures, and will watch and follow you without you being aware of them. Many people don't like them because they hunt livestock. They even have coyote hunts in many states. I think they're beautiful. They are also incredibly smart, and people seem to misunderstand that. Smart animals are often seen as tricky or sneaky, or worse. It's a shame, too, because I find these kinds of animals very beautiful and incredibly intriguing.

November 06, 2007


I need an expert opinion. Is the running animal above a wolf or a coyote? It looks like a coyote to me but I'm not the expert. Thanks

November 06, 2007


thanks again, Eti, as now I see that I can download my favorite wildlife image from the National Geographic site you referenced and make it a wallpaper on my monitor. Super

November 06, 2007


Yes, you have located 'my' Iwago photo in the ***.com My version was cropped to a vertical so that it looks just like the image on the cover of the Nat'l Geographic.

November 06, 2007


Just beautiful!! Thank you for sharing ...

November 06, 2007


Thank you so much for this interesting article and useful links. Photographing wolves in the wild is a dream that I wish I'll have the chance to realize someday; they are majestic creatures. Photography of animals in the wild is in my opinion the ultimate challenge :) Those pictures are so beautiful!

November 06, 2007


I was very intrigued by this subject as I believe alot of creatures are misunderstood. I googled National Geographic and Iwago and came up with the image that spoke to you. If I did find the image I can see how you were impressed by it. ***.com Thanks for describing how our lenses can capture moments seldom observed by many.

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