Patagonia is a slam-dunk prerequisite on any landscape photographer’s bucket list. It had been a dream of mine for years and I finally had the chance to experience it last month. It absolutely lived up to the hype. The landscapes were truly epic… which makes it all the more ironic that my first blog about Patagonia is about wildlife, not landscapes. Let me give you the backstory.
I was on a tour (Joseph van Os Photosafaris) with another dozen avid photographers. We had been in Patagonia for about two weeks and were reluctantly on the long drive back to the airport to take us home. We had to stop at a small border outpost on the Chile/Argentina border to go thru the bureaucratic nonsense that seems to be a characteristic in some parts of the world. While we were waiting in the bus, someone hollered out “Hey, is that a fox?” Sure enough, a Patagonian Grey Fox was crossing the dirt road not more than 50′ in front of us!
Pandemonium broke out as a dozen frantic photographers started wildly swinging their long lenses around in the crowded bus. Fortunately, I had my huge 200-400 already set up and ready to go and I managed to squeeze off a few shots before my view was blocked. I quickly checked the shots and was happy to see that they were pretty good…of course I was shooting through the bus windshield so the shots were never going to be perfectly crisp, but heck, it was the first fox we had seen on the trip. For that matter, I’d only had the chance to photograph foxes a couple of times in my life and those images were, to be honest, pretty pathetic. So I was tickled pink to get a decent shot, especially since I hadn’t hoped for much of anything on the long dusty ride to the airport.
There I am, thinking about all this when someone yells out “Hey, there’s another one on the other side of the bus!” The bus groaned and shifted violently to the right as everyone scrambled to the windows. The shutters started clicking away!
Within seconds, he jumped a stream and scooted off out of sight:
Immediately all 12 of us put our heads down and started checking out our shots on our camera’s LCD screens. Well, that lasted maybe about a half a second until I heard “There’s another one right behind us!” This time there wasn’t anyone in my way and I started peeling off 7 frames per second: And then, this silly fox just plops her tush down in the middle of the road and starts posing for me like a supermodel on a runway!
I took about 75 frames (that look pretty much identical to this one) before my new gal-pal got up and trotted off out of sight.
By now, we really, really wanted to get off the bus…but the border guards wouldn’t allow it since they had a very detailed and inflexible procedure. And that procedure required us to remain on the bus until they were ready to walk us into their office and stamp our passports. Only AFTER that was done, we would be free to get off the bus and photograph to our heart’s content. So we waited patiently (NOT) for what seemed like an hour (probably five minutes). Finally we were led into the shack, did the paperwork and got back into the bus…but by now (of course) there were no foxes to be seen.
“Fox! Fox! Fox!” someone yelled….the ensuing stampede out the door was like something at a Cincinnati Who concert.
Finally able to shoot without windshields between us and our quarry, we fired away. Then someone saw another one behind us:
By now it had finally dawned on us that there had to be at least a half-dozen foxes in the immediate area and they clearly weren’t shy.
At one point I nearly freaked out when one fox casually sauntered toward me and for some reason I couldn’t get a good focus. It took be a couple frantic seconds to realize he was too close for my lens to focus! (my 200-400 can’t focus less than 20′ away). I had to burst out laughing…I mean, how often are you TOO close?!
Suddenly, one fox froze as it spotted something coming out of the brush:
Someone next to me said “Get ready, this could get interesting!” I looked up and quickly saw what they meant: there were two house cats not ten feet away from the fox:
Folks started yelling at the cats to run for their lives…but then, the strangest thing happened. The fox and cats just looked at each other, sniffed once and just nonchalantly walked right by in opposite directions.
In retrospect, I’d guess the border guards feed all of them. So the foxes and cats likely know each other well. Which would also mean that seeing the foxes there was probably not the once in a lifetime thing I originally assumed.
Anyway, we were still scratching our heads trying to figure this out when another fox just laid down in the grass in front of me. I got down low to the ground to get an eye-level perspective and leisurely ripped off dozens of shots capturing the many expressions and moods of this little guy.
We had a schedule to meet and soon had to get back on the road…but by then I had hundreds of fox photos on my image card. I had shots that were perfectly sharp, well exposed, had great compositions, you name it. I was sure that I had the best shot of the day. But I was wrong. That shot was taken by my friend Mark Frey. He was getting off the bus while some of us were concentrating on a fox in the distance. He snapped this classic:
It makes me snicker every time I see it. My thanks to Mark for letting me include it in the blog.
Okay so, why did our time with the foxes make such an impression on me? Lots of reasons I guess…but the feeling induced by massive quantities of adrenaline pumping thru my system probably has something to do with it. It was exciting. It was unexpected. It was fun. It was something I will never forget.
And when you get right down to it, what more can you really ask of life?
Take care my friends,
PS: I promise my next blog will include some of favorite landscape shots from Patagonia…stay tuned! In the meantime, check out my newly published Patagonia Gallery!