In February of 2020 I ran my annual workshop / expedition to Hornstrandir Nature reserve in the extreme north-west of Iceland for Arctic Fox. Winter has hit northern Iceland this year with its full force and for the first time in recent years there has been a huge amount of snow in the north with consistent wintery conditions. By contrast, recent years have seen warming temperatures and little snow so it was very nice to see the landscape blanketed in a beautiful white carpet of snow.
The conditions this year were in fact the best I can recall in recent years. Next years expedition is a couple of weeks earlier than this year which should promise similar conditions with deep, soft snow that makes for superb backgrounds for this tenacious little predator. Blizzard and blowing snow are my absolute favourite conditions to work in with Arctic wildlife and we experienced an abundance of this during our stay in the reserve.
It is perhaps not well known outside of Iceland, but what makes the Hornstrandir Nature reserve so truly special is that it is the one place in Iceland where the fox are protected and not shot by farmers and hunters more or less on site. Their protection inside the reserve and close proximity to the cabin means that they are far more approachable than on the rest of the island and thus they can typically be approached much more easily. It was common during our expedition this year to be photographing the fox with 70-200mm lenses. In fact, the majority of photographs I personally made this year were with my 70-200mm lens. Anything longer than 200mm this year was almost impossible due to flying snow and poor visibility.
Our accommodation for the expedition was a cozy but rugged haven for photographers to enjoy a great atmosphere after a day out in the cold photographing Arctic Foxes. The house was originally built in 1921. In 1948 (just 27 years later), the last inhabitants left this isolated arctic peninsula in search of a better life. The cabin was abandoned for many years and has only recently been restored. Although no one lives here permanently, the cabin is a great getaway and the perfect place to accommodate us whilst we photograph wild Arctic Foxes. Curious Arctic Foxes frequently stop past the cabin to investigate visitors and it is possible to even photograph them from right outside the cabin on occasion; which we did so on many occasions during our expedition this year. In fact, we did most of our photography within 50 yards of the cabin this year with one particular female Arctic fox frequenting the cabin every day.
As an interesting aside, this years expedition was also the first chance for me to truly test the Canon EOS 1DX MK3’s auto focus system in the field (in winter). Conditions were absolutely ideal for testing during the expedition with strong wind and blizzard conditions that were perfect for torture testing the cameras autofocus. Visibility was often near zero and the air was literally full of blowing snow. During our shooting sessions we had to frequently clean the front lens elements from blowing snow. With temperatures hovering around -6º Celsius the cameras were frequently covered in snow and frozen. Despite the difficult conditions the 1DX MK3 auto focus proved truly superb. I was consistently and reliably able to obtain focus lock and tracking in white out blizzard conditions where focus would previously have been all but impossible (or at best extremely unreliable). The new tracking system (when set to Case 2 for these type of conditions) provided an extremely high keeper rate; even in the heaviest blowing snow blizzard conditions. I doubt there could have been more difficult conditions for any camera to auto focus and in comparisons between my own findings and those shooting Sony A9 MKII cameras we found the results comparable in terms of the cameras ability to lock and track focus. If there are any differences between either cameras ability to lock and track focus in these sort of conditions they are a quibble. The differences however between the 1DX MK3 and other DSLR cameras ability to lock and track focus are huge. The 1DX MK3 represents nothing short a significant quantum leap in auto focus capability for DSLR cameras. Of course, you can also lock up the mirror on the 1DX MK3 and expand the focus points further and add eye tracking on top of head tracking for even better performance.
If you are keen to photograph this mischievous little predator in a spectacular winter setting then I am now taking bookings for the 2021 expedition. The 2021 expedition will run from February 1st until February 6th (6 Days / 5 Nights) and includes return private transfer in a charter boat to our private cabin (departing from the town of Isafjord), accomodation in private rooms in the cabin, breakfast, lunch and dinner for the duration of the expedition and all photographic instruction. If you are interested in photographing one of Nature’s greatest feats of engineering in a beautiful and private winter setting then please drop me an email to register your interest.