Nice Doggy: Wolves love to have their portraits taken.
There's More Than One Way to Shoot a Wolf
Kennan and Karen Ward on the wisdom of nature and the art of wildlife photography
By Leyna Krow
Question: How do you take a wolf's picture? Answer: Very carefully.
After 25 years tracking and photographing wild animals, local photographers Kennan and Karen Ward know how to get close without getting attacked, mauled, eaten or dismembered by one of nature's most toothy inhabitants.
"There is an amazing tolerance in nature for the dumb antics of humans," says Karen. "When you walk around in our environment, it's not quite the same. If you step out in front of a speeding truck, you will be pancaked, but out there a wild creature will actually give you pause and give you a chance to get out of the way. "
Over the past two decades, the Wards' love of nature and passion for photography has taken them all over the globe from Africa to Alaska, and they have seen their work in National Geographic, Scientific American, National Wildlife and numerous other publications. They have tracked grizzly bears, watched moose give birth and were once befriended by an orphaned polar bear cub.
"People could do what we do. Nothing stops them. There are no qualifications," insists Kennan, although apparently, if he is any indication, a background as a naturalist and Search and Rescue Ranger certainly helps.
A UCSC graduate with a degree in natural history and environmental studies, Kennan got his start working in nature as a Park Ranger at Ano Nuevo State Beach and later at Yosemite National Park.
"I wanted to be a biologist my whole life and this was just an offshoot. This was never programmed. I never even studied photography."
Kennan met Karen while she was a student at San Jose State University. They were married in 1986 and have pooled their talents, working side by side in their studio as well as out in the field.
"It's more important than the job you want or the money you want. To have your best friend in your life every day and to be able to travel and work with him is pretty cool," says Karen.
In celebration of Earth Day 2006, the Wards will be putting on a multimedia presentation titled "Wolves: Running With the Pack" on Saturday, April 22 at the Rio Theatre.
Utilizing video and still photography, the Wards' Earth Day show attempts to evoke the beauty and serenity of wolves in their natural habitats.
"Wolves are an essential ingredient to wilderness," says Kennan. "If I go into a landscape and there isn't a wolf there and there should be, I'm going to feel a little emptiness."
This show is the Wards' second Earth Day event. Last year's presentation, "Antarctica: 100 Days in the Wildest Place on Earth," featured photos and video from the couple's three-month stay among the continent's many species of penguins.
Proceeds from Saturday's show will go to the UCSC recreation department as well as Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization of outdoor businesses that supports grassroots preservation efforts.
"Because we make our living off of nature, we try to set the example that you can do what we do a little bit more sensitively, that's why we like having the Earth Day show," says Karen.
In that spirit, the Wards were some of the first in the industry to print on recycled paper and all of their processing is done chlorine-free. "So everything is made with ingredients that are sensitive to the environment," Kennan explains.
While the Wards' life of travel may seem idyllic, Kennan and Karen claim that theirs is as demanding and consuming a job as one can have. With wild animals as their subjects they must be constantly vigilant, lest they miss the opportunity for a truly unique shot.
Sitting on a couch next to her husband in their Santa Cruz studio, Karen insists, "This is an obsessive job and people don't get it. When we go into the field and we have 30 days, we feel pressed for time. For that month that we're in the field there's probably going to be what we call the key 15 minutes. Everybody gets their 15 minutes, and if you sleep through it, you don't even know it happened."
Still, despite working odd hours in extreme climates, often without food or rest, Karen and Kennan insist they could not imagine living any other way.
"We could have a lot more money," says Karen. "We could have a lot of other things that might seem important. But the two of us have been able to carve out amazing adventures together. I think that's worth more."
"Wolves: Running With the Pack" will be presented Saturday, April 22 at the Rio Theatre at 7pm. Tickets are $14 adv/ $16 door. For more information, call the UCSC Recreation Department at 831.459.2800.
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