WE ARE F-STOP: Journey to the alpine tundra king with Michal Krause

Michal Krause has been a photographer for almost 20 years and currently focuses mainly on wildlife photography. His passion has taken him to four continents and numerous biotopes ranging from a tropical rainforest to African savanna and temperate forest to mountains and Arctic plains. He says the cold north is a matter of the heart to him and likes to go back to the Arctic wilderness. Michal’s photographs have been honored in several contests including Czech Press Photo, Wildlife Photo Contest, and Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards, and he is proud Fujifilm X-Photographer.

Michal has authored several hundred educational articles and three successful e-books on postproduction, gives regular lectures, and runs individual photography workshops. Last but not least, he is the co-founder of the Czech Nature Photo contest and has chaired its jury three times.

words and images by Michal Krause

The cold north nature is one of my favorite destinations for wildlife photography, and I wanted to set out for its distinctive representative, the muskox, a long time ago. In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjell National Park for a single day, and right after my first encounter with these amazing animals, it was clear to me that I have to return here again, preferably in the winter when the surrounding mountains are covered in snow. Half a year later, my friends Mirek Daněk and Peter Delaney and I boarded a plane for Oslo to photograph the uncrowned king of the alpine tundra.

It is easy to get to the Dovrefjell mountains, which gave the park its name — you can travel comfortably around Norway by car or train. The real challenges of such a trip are the conditions in the park. In March, the winter begins to subside slowly, but during our visit, the temperatures were still falling to 12 °C below zero and the wind-chill effect reduced subjective temperature even more. The area of the park that we chose as our destination, with an altitude of up to 1600 meters above sea level, was still covered with snow and it was only possible to walk using snowshoes. For someone like me who lives in Central Europe where winter has been low in the snow in the last few years, snowshoeing is definitely not the most natural way to move. Of course, walking on snowshoes is not difficult, but it involves different muscles which started to ache after a few days of hiking. The nature of the snow didn’t help much — even wide snowshoes were sinking deep sometimes.

I'm used to the fact that you can't be sure of almost anything when photographing wildlife, but when half of our stay passed, we walked dozens of kilometers in quite difficult conditions, and apart from a few older tracks we have not yet seen single muskox’s hair, it was hard not to be nervous. So we decided to go to another part of the park, where I met muskoxen during my first visit. Although they are relatively large animals with dark fur, it is not always easy to spot them from a distance, even using binoculars. I don't count how many times I've almost started to rejoice, only to find out after a while that I'm looking at the rock, which resembles muskox in shape and color.

However, this time, we had good luck — something in distance attracted my attention and after a short while there was no doubt that I found a small group of animals. And indeed, after another hour and a half of walking, we could finally photograph three muskox bulls that were resting and looking for food on a flat ridge. They allowed us to spend the whole afternoon around and nature rewarded us for our efforts with changing weather, thanks to which I captured a series of quite different shots in a relatively short time. But that's exactly what wildlife photography is about — almost everything is out of your control and it often takes some effort to get a reward, but it's always worth it. Yet, this time, another unexpected circumstance occurred, which subsequently affected the lives of us all. The next day we found out that Peter's flight from Prague to Paris, from where he was to continue to South Africa, was canceled due to COVID-19, so instead of another two days of shooting, we had to quickly decide how to help him to get home. This accelerated our departure — we found an earlier flight for Peter from Oslo and Mirek and I returned to the Czech Republic just two days before our government closed the border for weeks.

This time, we were close to returning without a single photo. It took me a long time to accept it as an integral part of my adventures, but today I enjoy it. In my opinion, the element of uncertainty together with invested effort brings a far greater joy of success. And if I don’t succeed? Time spent in nature is a reward in itself. One successful photographer told me once: “Be focused, but stay flexible”. I translated it into more specific advice: “Keep going, even if things go bad, but don't get annoyed and enjoy what is around you“. It’s probably one of the most important pieces of advice I've ever received in my career.

Northern nature is a perfect place, where I don't have to worry about whether I reach my goal. Just being here is a great experience for me and I will definitely continue to explore it with my camera. You can find photos from my other trips to Norway or Svalbard and many other locations.

Gear used during this story:

  • I love to travel light and even my camera gear is more lightweight and compact than typical for a wildlife photography.
  • I carry my stuff in aloe green f-stop Lotus backpack.
  • My cameras and lenses fit into Pro ICU Small.
  • I pack my clothes into Packing Cells.
  • I use Gatekeepers straps to fasten snowshoes to backpack.
  • To capture my images, I use Fujifilm gear — particularly X-T2 and X-T3 cameras with Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, XF16mmF1.4 and XF60mmF2.4 lenses.

You can find Michal's work on Instagram and Facebook

 

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