The Arctic fox is one of the most seriously endangered mammals in mainland Norway. It was only a wild dream five years ago to think it would be possible to photograph this species on the mainland. However, a 20-year decline in the population appears to have been reversed with the success of a joint Norwegian-Swedish captive breeding program started in 2005.
Despite strict protection since 1930, the population had never recovered to a viable level. From 1998 to 2008, only 111 Arctic fox litters were registered on the mainland. In 2009, no litters were registered after the populations of lemmings and other small rodents collapsed.
In 2011, things started to change for the better and the Arctic fox had a remarkably successful breeding season. Forty litters were documented and at least 270 cubs were born. Almost half the litters were born to foxes released in the mountains of south and central Norway as part of the captive breeding program. By 2012, the Arctic fox population had doubled.
It’s as a result of this joint recovery program that there’s now a real possibility to see and even photograph wild Arctic fox on the Norwegian mainland.
In 2013, I was told by a fellow photographer of a location in Dovrefjell National Park (central Norway) where a group of foxes had become extremely “habituated” to humans. The area was used by many people for hiking and bird watching, so it was easy to see how the foxes had become use to, and curious of, people. With a friend I traveled there and spent five days photographing the four foxes that were using this particular den/area. It was wonderful to be able to just sit and watch these fascinating animals go about their day-to-day business completely relaxed in our presence.
In this first photo I was able to use the curious nature of these foxes to get the shot. I wanted to show the fox in its environment, so I positioned my camera on the ground with my wide-angle zoom lens attached and set to 17mm. To the camera I attached my CamRanger so I could remotely trigger and adjust camera settings from my iPhone. I moved back about 20-30 meters, set the exposure and focus and then turned the AF off. It was then just a matter of waiting for a fox to come and check out the camera, hopefully approaching from the right direction (towards the lens).
As it happened, the first fox approached from behind and, deciding that my camera neck strap looked more interesting, grabbed it and gave it a tug, which of course moved my camera out of position. Once repositioned, it didn’t take long for the foxes to come out again to check out the camera—sometimes alone, at other times together. When I felt they were in the right area, I triggered the shutter with my iPhone. I had set the camera to silent continuous shooting mode (3 frames per second) so as not to startle the foxes.
For the second image, which was taken at sunset, I positioned myself towards the setting sun. Using my 500mm lens handheld allowed me to be extremely mobile and move around with the foxes keeping the most colorful part of the sky behind them so I could create silhouettes as they played, walked and stalked along a ridge. To determine my exposure settings, I spot metered off the brightest area of the sky and added one stop of light to the metered reading.