Walking with Wolves

by Dr. Robert Berdan
June 25, 2016

Head shot of wolf by Robert Berdan ©

Photographing wolves is hard, wolves are difficult to find, they are secretive and most are wary of people. Still some photographers have captured great photos of wolves like Peter Dettling, but only after a very concerted effort. I have photographed wild wolves on a few occasions in Banff National Park, the Great Bear Rainforest and on the Barrens in the Northwest Territories, but most encounters were fleeting. As an alternative, I have also photographed captive wolves in Golden at the Northern Lights wolf centre as part of wolf photography workshop.

Wolf looking out of the bush by Robert Berdan ©

The animals are bred in captivity and its possible to go for a walk with them with their handlers in a wild location and photograph them in their natural habitat. It's not the same as photographing a wild wolf, but it has many advantages. I don't disguise the fact that these wolves are captive nor do I wish to take anything away from photographers that have taken beautiful photos of these animals in the wild. I am also aware that some wildlife photographers think it's wrong to do so based on the premise that animal handlers only care about the money and often mistreat the animals and that may be the case with some animal handlers, but not with these wolves.

Shelly and Casey Black in Blaeberry Valley with one of their wolves by Robert Berdan ©

Shelly and Casey Black have been caring for and educating the public about wolves at their Northern Lights Wolf center near Golden, BC for almost 20 years, shown here in the Blaeberry Valley with one of their wolves.

Wolf ialong river bank by Robert Berdan ©

I have worked with a couple of animal handlers and I can say that the owners of the Northern Lights Wolf Center, Casey and Shelly Black care more about their wolves than anyone else I know. The have sacrificed a lot to care for the wolves and are actively engaged in educating folks that it is wrong to shoot wolves. In both Alberta and BC you can shoot a wolf anytime. I hope this changes.

Wolf and reflection in water by Robert Berdan ©

In Banff National Park this year some wolves became aggressive because people were feeding them and parks staff shot the alpha female of the pack and put collars on several of the other wolves. Just this past week a young wolf was killed by the train in the park. In the past decade most of the wolves in the Bow Valley have been killed by cars. Parks closes the Banff highway 1A in the morning to try and reduce car -wolf collisions, but I believe answer is to lower the speed limit to 30 km\hr and enforce it with photo radar - something parks seems unwilling to do. Last year they had posted signs in areas the wolves frequent so folks would slow down and this was a good thing - but I believe more can be done to help them.

Wolf in motion with blurred background by Robert Berdan ©

I panned while following this wolf and shot at 1\8 of sec to blur the background using a 70-200 mm lens.

I have also photographed wolves at the Calgary zoo in their tiny enclosure. I have mixed feelings about zoos. On the one hand I think they play an important role in educations and I see children get excited and want to learn more about animals. On the other hand I also see large primates in housed in concrete jails, Polar bears kept in tiny enclosures. I don't believe that larger primates or polar bears should be in a zoo - they need too much space.

Getting back to our walk with wolves I took two folks with me for this adventure in order to get some closeups of the animals in wilderness setting. Being close to the wolves is exciting and it's even more fun to take pictures of them. The fee I know is going to good use to feed them, provide medical care and educate the public about the importance of wolves in our environment.

Wolf surrounded by mountain averns by Robert Berdan ©

Head shot of a white wolf by Robert Berdan ©

Wolf shaking off water by Robert Berdan ©

Wolf and reflection in river by Robert Berdan ©

Wolf along Blaeberry river by Robert Berdan ©

Photography Tips

If you visit the Northern Lights wolf centre and take a walk with wolves a couple of tips will help you bring back the best photos. The ideal lens is a 70-200 mm, you may also want to bring a second wide angle lens for when the wolves come close enough touch. Make sure your batteries are charged and bring lots of storage space. Each walk is about 2 hours and during this time I took about 1000 photos. Experiment as I did in several photos using really slow exposures to blur the background and when the wolves shake water out of their fur. You don't need any filters attached, a tripod isn't necessary either. Although you can get closeups of the wolves I find the pictures look more realistic if I capture the wolves at a distant and include their natural habitat.

Two wolves in Blaeberry Valley by Robert Berdan ©

Wolf and wild flowers by Robert Berdan ©

Two wolves in Blaeberry Valley by Robert Berdan ©

Wolf on branch by Robert Berdan ©

Two wolves by Robert Berdan ©

The Blaeberry valley is actively logged, but there is also some nice scenery and there is a waterfall which makes for some beautiful photos. After the workshop went looking for waterfalls and wild flowers to photograph.

Blaeberry river and canyon by Robert Berdan ©

Blaeberry river and canyon

Blaeberry waterfalls

The weather and light is not something you can control outside. We were lucky and had soft overcast light for our two walks and this was ideal for photographing the wolves. You can use a fill flash with the wolves if you want. The bottom line almost anyone can take beautiful photos of these wolves but remember to try and learn something about wolves and/or become involved in protecting them. If there is sufficient interest I may run another wolf photography workshop next winter. RB

Links and Resources

Northern Lights Wolf Center - http://www.northernlightswildlife.com/
Five Reasons to Oppose BC's wolf cull - http://www.raincoast.org/2015/01/bc-wolf-hunt/
Perfectly legal to bait and kill wolves - http://wolftracker.ca/?page_id=203
Alberta wolf hunting. - http://albertawolfhunting.com/
Stop Shooting Wolves, You Maniacs - http://www.popsci.com/science/article

Other Wolf Articles on the Canadian Nature Photographer

Eye to Eye with Wolves of Banff National Park by Peter Dettling
Photographing Canadian Wolves by Dr. Robert Berdan
Of Wolves & Turkeys by Peter Dettling


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Robert Berdan and a couple of wolves Robert Berdan is a professional nature photographer living in Calgary, AB specializing in nature, wildlife and science photography. Robert offers photo guiding and private instruction in all aspects of nature photography and Adobe Photoshop training.
Did I mention that the wolves are friendly!

Email at: rberdan@scienceandart.org
Web site: www.canadiannaturephotographer.com
Phone: MST 9am -7 pm (403) 247-2457.

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