I've always been fascinated by the Arctic, and with the kind of weather we've been having it often comes to mind, but I would rather dream and read about it than be there.
That's when I get out my copy of White Wolf, former National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg's study of Arctic wolves. I love this photo, which he took while on another assignment on Ellesmere Island, the northernmost part of Canada, a few hundred miles from the North Pole -- a photo that literally changed his life. It's my favorite wildlife photo of all time.
Partly its the forlorn Arctic bleakness of the image and the perfect decisive-moment composition showing the wolf and its shadow at the height of its jump. But there are so many photos of wild animals showing amazing moments. What makes this so special to me is how it was taken.
I was using the same equipment as I had for most of the trip: basically a Nikon F3, a Nikon 20mm lens and Kodachrome film. The lens becomes important because most people assume that I shot this photograph from a boat, but actually I was standing on the shore. I composed the shot so the shoreline was just outside the frame. As I was using a 20mm lens, it stretched the scene out slightly and made it appear wider than it is in reality. That's the great virtue of using a wide angle lens - it gives a scene scope and drama.Most wildlife images, especially those of large predators, are shot with very long telephoto lenses. Many are amazing, but they put the viewer at a distance. It's like looking at something very far away through a telescope. The viewer -- and the photographer -- is a voyeur at a safe distance.
When shooting with a 20mm lens you have to be very close to the subject for it even to register as anything but a tiny spot, and the perspective draws you right into the photo and provides a dramatic perspective. That Brandenburg could be close enough to wild Arctic wolves to record this magical moment -- and that the animals would trust him enough to let him be there -- was amazing. The result is this iconic image.