Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Beyond the Cute Factor

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In the Field

Beyond the Cute Factor? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

While I tend to prefer shooting wider animalscapes...I have to admit that - like most wildlife photographers - I enjoy finding myself in position to shoot tight portraits of many species of wildlife. When the subject happens to be a yearly grizzly cub with eyes (and eyelashes!) to die're talking wildlife photographer ecstasy! This cub is on the calm side when in close proximity to humans, but otherwise tends to be quite timid and terrified of any strange sounds (during the time we were watching it distant sounds caused it to quickly turn, look, and then bolt away several times). Fortunately for us, mom was equally gentle with humans!

After shooting (with a camera!) bears and other carnivores for many years, I've become convinced that there's a lot more going on in their heads than we can even begin to comprehend. It's easy to SAY (or read) things like "Bears and wolves are truly sentient and self-aware animals", but until one of these animals absolutely locks and holds its eyes on yours - and looks almost INTO you - it's really hard to fully appreciate the depth of their being. Yep, this cub is darned cute, but its eyes convey just so much more. I'm not 100% sure how to describe this cub's eyes and its expression (longing...doleful...pleading?) but I doubt anyone could look into its eyes and not feel...something.

For the last several years I've primarily shot with Nikon's FX (or full-frame) DSLR's. During this time my favourite wildlife lens has been the Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR for a number of reasons (like its sharpness, its wide aperture and associated high level of depth of field control, its teleconverter compatibility, and more). With the introduction of the D500 Nikon has finally decided to return to the DX (or cropped sensor) market in a serious way - much to the pleasure (and even thrill) of most Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers. I captured this image (and what's shown here is very close to full-frame) using a D500 with the latest version of the 400mm f2.8 VR lens (the "E" version). Of course, if the 400mm f2.8E VR performed well on the D4s and D5 (which is certainly does), there is no reason to believe it wouldn't work great on the D500 too. But it is nice to confirm in the field that the gear combo actually does what it should! And it's just so sweet...

This little dude has to be seen large, so here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version for your perusal:

Beyond the Cute Factor? Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.7 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

Behind the Camera

Beyond the Cute Factor? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 450.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/400s @ f4.5; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Beyond the Cute Factor? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.35 stop total difference between the variants) and both highlight and shadow retrieval settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, selective colour saturation and desaturation, selective contrast tweaks (using two curves adjustment layers), and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Beyond the Cute Factor? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Special Concern (May 2002).

While Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) are not technically listed as "Endangered" in Canada, they have been extirpated from most of their historical range. Grizzly Bears are far more sensitive to intrusion/disturbance in their habitat than are Black Bears and are being increasingly forced into marginal habitat by human encroachment. The Great Bear Rainforest along the central and northern coast of British Columbia is one of the last strongholds of the Grizzly Bear in Canada, and even this population is coming under increasing pressure.

Sadly, because this bear resides in BC, there's a very real chance that its life will be ended by a bullet. And, its head and paws will be cut off (leaving its carcass to simply rot) so that they can be mounted and adorn the wall of some fearless trophy hunter (who will, no doubt, be cheered on by all the grasses, sedges and clams that will be saved from being so mercilessly eaten by this fearsome beast).

The debate about the trophy hunting of carnivores can be broken into 3 arguments: the ethical, the economic, and the ecological. The ethical argument for the trophy hunting of grizzlies in BC? On that one - just go back and look at this image and read the paragraph immediately above. The economic argument? Well, it's on even shakier grounds - not only does bear-watching in BC generate 11-15 times as much revenue as bear hunting (and employ 10-15 times as many people), but the revenue generated by bear hunting doesn't even cover the cost to the BC Gov't of managing the hunt itself - it's a net loss to the taxpayers of BC (all studies related to these economic claims can be supplied on request). The ecological argument? Yep, you guessed right - there isn't one. As a matter of fact, an increasing body of sound, peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown how the guild of carnivores at the TOP of the food chain are exceptionally important to the overall health of ecosystems - everything from ensuring continued biodiversity through to maximizing that amount of carbon dioxide the ecosystem can absorb (climate change consequences, anyone?).

So why does the trophy hunting of carnivores (and bears in particular) continue to exist in BC? Good question. Well, it sure isn't because of public support - just under 90% of British Columbians are against it. And many First Nations have banned it in their territories. Sadly, it appears that little more than the fact that a handful of elected officials (MLA's) in a few rural ridings fear the backlash from voters if they stand against trophy hunting is keeping trophy hunting alive.

Those wishing to get active in helping to stop the trophy hunting of carnivores in BC are encouraged to visit this page on Raincoast's website. And please help spread the word!

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada