How I Made It: The Story Behind Debbie DiCarlo’s “Howling Lesson” Photo

Photo of three coyotes howling

Debbie DiCarlo’s image, “Howling Lesson,” is the kind of photo that appeals to just about everyone, which is probably why it’s become such a viral sensation. It’s hard not to look at this shot, which shows an adult coyote surrounded by two pups in the midst of a full-throated group howl, and not smile.

While DiCarlo’s photo has been popping up in our social media feeds for the last few years now, we’ve never heard the full story behind this classic wildlife image. So, when she agreed to answer a few questions about it for the latest installment of “How I Made It,” we couldn’t wait to find out more. You can see previous “How I Made It” behind-the-image stories hereherehere, and here.

Q: Can you give us a little background on you as a photographer?

Debbie DiCarlo: Many years ago, I found a Kodak Instamatic X-15 camera with my name on it under the Christmas tree. That camera was followed in the early 1980’s with a Minolta X-700. Many years were spent learning the nuances of shooting film and then developing B&W film in the darkroom of a local college.  

In 2007 I made the leap and purchased my first DSLR and photography became an obsession. While I’ve enjoyed experimenting with various genres over the years, I am mostly drawn to the beauty of our natural world and its wild inhabitants and specialize primarily in macro, landscape and wildlife photography.  

Q: What’s the story behind this photo?

Debbie DiCarlo: Howling Lesson is a once in a lifetime image that I never could have imagined or predicted ahead of time. I was attending a photography workshop at a nature preserve in Minnesota in the spring. There were baby animals galore, but the coyote pups stole my heart. Their playfulness and glee while picking up small sticks, chasing each other through the woods and over downed branches, and interacting with one adult coyote had me smiling ear to ear.

At one point the adult coyote was listening intently to some far-off sound then it sat down and started to howl! As if that wasn’t photo worthy enough, the pups ran over to participate in the beautiful moment. It looked as if they were being taught how to live up to their reputation as a song dog thus the name – Howling Lesson.

Q: Why do you think the image has resonated so much with people?

Debbie DiCarlo: When the photo first went viral and reported on by numerous media outlets, I received dozens and dozens of messages/emails from people around the world who felt a strong emotional connection to the Howling Lesson. Many told me about their love of coyotes because of their intelligence, playfulness and devoted family structure. Others shared their love for adorable baby animals. Many told me that the image reminded them of their role as a parent teaching their children how to use their voice in life. And others couldn’t quite describe how or why, just that the photo spoke to them and touched their hearts. I’ve sold the print hundreds of times because of those connections which still astounds me in a very good way.

Q: Photos of nature – whether it’s backyard birds or exotic wildlife – have been quite popular during the pandemic. Why do you think that is?

Debbie DiCarlo: When COVID–19 came into our lives bringing travel and social restrictions in addition to uncertainty, I underwent a quest like others, to find little slices of peace and quiet from the daily noise. Being in nature with my camera has always filled that need quite nicely for me. It’s ideal that nature is free and can be found everywhere. The pandemic seems to have fostered a connection between nature and people who were looking for something to help them maintain their mental, physical, and artistic health. And with that newly found link to nature came an appeal to photograph it, understand it and rally around it.

Q: Can you share some technical details about how this image was shot including gear used, settings, etc.?

Debbie DiCarlo: I’ve upgraded camera bodies several times since the photo was taken but at the time, I was shooting a Canon EOS 7D camera. The lens was my trusty Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. The exposure was 1/250 sec, aperture f/5.6 and ISO was 400. Post editing was done in Camera Raw and Photoshop. 

Q: What’s next for you?

Debbie DiCarlo: Seeing the beauty of nature near and far either by myself or while leading photography tours/workshops is truly a passion that persists in my life. While the pandemic side-lined many of my workshops, I did see pent-up demand for them in 2021 leading to much optimism going forward. I’m happily adding workshops and excited to share the beauty of the natural world with like-minded nature photographers. I continue to sell prints on my website, on Etsy and at local art shows. Helping photographers along their journey through in-person or virtual mentoring continues to be extremely fulfilling. Oh, and I just invested in a mirrorless camera so I’m exploring some new functionality. So, what’s next for me might be a new project or two!

You can see more of DiCarlo’s work on her website and Instagram page. See information on her Focus on Photography tours/workshops here and visit her Etsy shop here.

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