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Musk Oxen: Sovereings of the Arctic

Posted by Florian – April 6, 2010

Wrapped in layers of clothes I am laying on my stomach, watching a large group of longhaired beasts, that seemed to be from a prehistoric world. The wind has picked up in the course of the night to 40 miles and hour. It whips up the mountain sides and sweeps up small ice crystals that hit my skin like needles. In different areas blowing snow becomes thick and travels across the ground like a ghost of fog.

As parts of my face start to get colder and want to turn numb; and my hands can’t handle my camera anymore, I am thinking how lucky I am to be hit with this weather. It is these types of conditions, that I was hoping for. In my photography I really want to convey a sense of place – take people out into the field with me. For that, my images need to convey the harsh weather conditions, the powerful elements of the wind and the cold.

I am laying on the ground to get a unique perspective. The blowing snow creates this mystical atmosphere and ads to my interpretation of an animal that rather belongs to a children’s fairytale than to this world. I also have learned that the Muskoxen are much less mindful of my presence if I stay low to the ground. They often just eye me with curiosity.

As I am out there observing them many hours a day, I become ever more fascinated. What puzzles me the most is how they can live of a few lichen on the barren tundra, that they scratch up from underneath the snow. How can they possibly receive sufficient energy from this bit of vegetation to withstand constant arctic winter conditions?

What gets me even more, is that I seem to always find them on the most exposed and windy spots on the mountain sides and hilltops. They appear completely indifferent to the wind and the cold. It becomes obvious how well they have adapted to their environment. Their wool apparently has 6 times the insulating qualities of regular wool. No wonder they stay warm.

I am wrapped in several layers of underwear, polar fleece and outer shells that keep me warm. I had never paid much attention to high-tech clothes in the past. Part of that was probably the price tag: out of reach for a broke photographer who spends all of his money on camera gear. This time around however, I had received a sample of Patagonia´s winter clothes. I have to say I was totally impressed. The combination of inside layers and outer shells completely kept any wind from getting to me. It allowed me to hang out with the muskox patiently waiting for those special moments that make up a great image.

Posted in: Adventure, Alaska, Arctic, Experience, Photography, wilderness, Wildlife | Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,


  • Dan Ritzman

    on April 6, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    It is so great to see you posting in the blog again. Your pictures are awesome and the stories keep me entertained.

  • Dennis Owens

    on April 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Florian, Great to see your work again! LOVE that first shot! Wish I was there with you making coffee or something like that, you know, where it is still warm. All the best. Looking forward to more of your shots! Dennis

  • Pat Ulrich

    on April 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

    These shots are so awesome — I’m so fascinated by these amazing creatures. I’ve had a few casual conversations where people have asked me what animal I would most like to photograph, and musk oxen are always on my list. Of course, hearing about the conditions you photographed these under makes it sound a bit less appealing, but images like these have to be totally worth it!

  • Emil

    on April 8, 2010 at 5:53 am

    Hello everyone! Thank you so much for visiting our Blog and giving us your feedback! Florian is now out in the snowy landscape of Svalbard and he sent me really cool video material of him sled-dogging!! I will be uploading a rough video cut early next week! Stay tuned!!

  • heike bader

    on April 11, 2010 at 11:22 am

    hallo Florian,

    wirklich mystische Fotos, wir sind begeistert! Aber ganz schön kalt oder?
    Sind die Fotos von den Grauwalen die von “Neulich”?
    Robert hat mir zum Geburtstag “Yellowstone to Yukon” geschenkt – wunderschön!
    Liebe Grüße von Heike und Robert

  • Florian

    on April 19, 2010 at 8:08 am

    ja dann noch Herzlichen Glückwunsch nachträglich!! Freut mich, dass das Buch ein Geburstagsgeschenk wurde! Ja genau, die Bilder der Grauwale sind von diesem Frühjahr. Es war so schön war da unten in Mexiko. Nun lebe ich ein wirkliches Kontrastprogramm!

  • Florian

    on April 19, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Pat, same here – I fell in LOVE with the Muskoxen. They are simply fascinating!

  • Roy Toft

    on April 23, 2010 at 5:27 am

    Great work Florian ad Emil! Love the Muskoxen images…..they really capture that intense environment they live in. Hope to see you both soon.

  • Emil

    on April 23, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Roy! So good to hear from you! How are you? I see you were in Japan, how did that go? All the best to you Roy!

  • John E Marriott

    on April 23, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Fantastic stuff as always Florian, looking forward to seeing you in June!

  • Heinz Hudelist

    on April 25, 2010 at 2:34 am

    This pics are awesome. Mann kann richtig die Kälte spüren. another work from you to my alltime favorites.
    cheers Heinz from austria currently in south africa

  • Florian

    on April 25, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Thanks all you guys for the great comments and feedback!

    Heinz, das freut mich aber riesig, dass die Bilder zu den “alltime favorites” gehören!
    Eine gute Zeit in Süd-Afrika!

  • Florian

    on April 26, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Hey Roy,
    thanks so much for your comments about the Muskoxen shots. Great to come from a awesome photographer like you. Hey we will be at the G2 on the 7th of May. Do you live close by? Be great to see you!

  • Vicki Nordquist

    on June 1, 2010 at 9:56 am

    WOW! Awesome pictures! Can’t wait to see you at our school this coming fall!

  • Emil

    on June 16, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Hello Vicki! Thank you so much for following our work! Florian is delighted to be part of the Adventures in Education program this year! Looking forward to it!

  • Link roundup | weeklypop

    on September 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    […] number of devil rays. The artists’ site is one incredible photo after another. For example, these oxen look like some kind of three-headed god. […]

  • Link roundup | The Onion Buzz

    on September 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    […] number of devil rays. The artists’ site is one incredible photo after another. For example, these oxen look like some kind of three-headed god. […]

  • serkan mutan

    on May 13, 2013 at 5:17 am

    superb….I watched with pleasure.

  • Lisa Wharton

    on October 3, 2013 at 4:43 am

    Hello. My name is Lisa Wharton I am a British Artist living and working in Aosta (Northern Italian Alps). I am considering entering a competition called Wildlife Artist of the Year 2014 and would love to produce a drawing of a musk ox. The regulations stipulate that artists must get direct permission when using photographs they have not produced themselves. I wonder if you would be willing to allow me to use one of your amazing photographs for this?

    Yours sincerely,
    Lisa Wharton

  • Carmen

    on October 21, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Susan – What beautiful pitecrus! Amari you are super talented. Wow. I am so glad you guys were there to capture all the moments that make up the happiest day of my life (just look at the expression on my face) lol Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!And Mad thanks for the super cool words. You’re one cool chick yourself =)

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About this blog:

Sharing the natural world through stories, images and experiences out in the field from conservation photographer Florian Schulz and Emil Herrera-Schulz. Here you will find conversations on environmental topics, conservation, photographing nature and wildlife subjects and professional tips to achieve striking images or managing your image archive. If you have a question, send it to us via our contact form and it might get answered on a post!

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