Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Life & Death

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In the Field

Life & Death. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. September 24, 2016.

In our day-to-day existence most of us are removed from observing acts of predation and fully appreciating what a pervasive force it is in the natural world. And, while most of us likely don't empathize too closely with fish, when I processed this image of a black bear with a pink salmon wildly and fruitlessly flailing away in its mouth I actually felt for the fish. After avoiding all sorts of dangers as it went from egg to fry to full-grown spawning fish over a two-year period, this bear abruptly terminated its life. Yet in dying the salmon is helping to ensure that the bear will have sufficient energy stored to survive over the winter and re-emerge healthy next spring. Depending on your position on the food chain, predation can really suck or be a great thing! Life & Death...can't have one without the other!

As a quick aside, yesterday morning (November 2, 2016) I awoke to a slightly more "relatable" example of predation. I live, quite literally, in the woods in southeast British Columbia. As such we have a lot of wildlife around, including a full array of ungulates (like deer, elk, moose) and predators (wolves, bears, cougars, coyotes, etc.). Because we don't feed the wildlife and because we live in an area with active hunting, most of the wildlife around us is quite wary. Even the deer that regularly hang around our cabin run off if we go out the door. Anyway...long story short...yesterday AM it was my girlfriend's turn to take our two dogs for their morning walk. She left around 8 AM and was back seconds later. Turns out the dogs quickly tuned into a fresh carcass under 50 meters from our door. Overnight a cougar had taken a female white-tail and scraped some debris over it (leaf litter, etc.) - basically a real half-ass job at burying it! While I was moving the fully intact carcass (the cougar hadn't begun feeding on it and other than a little blood coming out of its nose and mouth and its obviously broken neck it wasn't particularly gory) further away from our place it was hard not to think about the last time I had seen that deer with its two fairly large fawns. Like I say, depending on your position on the food chain...predation can definitely suck! Life & Death...can't have one without the other...

Back to this image: I captured this shot at a pretty crazy ISO - ISO 14,400. Why? I had no choice - there was no other way to successfully freeze the action in this low-light environment. From past experience with the camera I used here I knew it was possible for me to work in this ISO stratosphere with a scene like this and still get usable shots.

I often get the question "I have a Nikon (or Canon) XYZ - how high of an ISO can I shoot it at and still get good images?" This is an incredibly tough question to answer for someone else. Of course the top end of usable ISO's varies with sensor size and generation (as the question implies). But the impact of visible noise on an image also varies with scene type, with images showing fine detail (which I've also heard called "micro-contrast") usually being LESS impacted (at least visually) by noise. And, it varies with the software you use to process your raw files, YOUR ability to selectively remove noise from an image, and more! Factor in variation in the perception of noise between (or among) users and my answer of "You tell me" becomes understandable! There are SOME reasonably objective ratings of image sensors (by ISO performance, like on, but it's my experience is that they are extremely poorly correlated with the actual ISO you can successfully use in the field.

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this eye-catching act of predation:

Life & Death: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.8 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 autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to additional locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species, fishing grizzlies, and more. 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

Life & Death. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. September 24, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 14,400.

Nikon D5 paired with Nikkor 70-200mm f4 VR @ 200mm. Hand-held. VR on and in "Normal" mode. 72-point Dynamic Area focusing.

1/1000s @ f4.5; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Life & Death. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. September 24, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.3. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.5 stop total difference between the variants), noise reduction settings, colour saturation settings, and highlight 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 four output files from the raw converter, minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Life & Death. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. September 24, 2016.

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

Species Status in Canada**: Not currently listed as Threatened or Endangered.

This black bear is a member of the subspecies "Kermodei" (Ursus americana kermodei). This subspecies is unique in that the population is characterized by having an unusually high proportion of a recessive gene that produces white coat colour (found on the "Spirit Bears"). Because the Black Bear is not considered under threat as a species, both the Kermodei subspecies and the very rare Spirit Bear suffer from having the same conservation designation (it should be acknowledged that in British Columbia - the jurisdiction of greatest Spirit Bear abundance - hunting of these white-coated bears is not permitted). For reasons that are not fully understood, the Spirit Bear occurs with greater frequency in a relatively small geographic area within The Great Bear Rainforest of the central and northern coast of British Columbia. In this area 10 to 30% of the bears possess white coats. Many of the black-coloured Black Bears in this region carry the gene for white coats, so allowing hunting of ANY Black Bears in this region can reduce the frequency of the gene for white coats. Thus, to protect the Spirit Bear, it is necessary to prohibit the hunting of ALL Black Bears in this region. And, very unfortunately, the globally unique ecosystem that contains the Spirit Bear is under development pressure, especially from the forestry industry. If this unique environment is altered, we may lose the wonderful genetic anomaly known as the Spirit Bear forever.

*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