Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Grizz-Intimacy. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

Wildlife images can take on many forms - there's the animalscape, the enviroscape and, of course, the portrait. While my own preference in image style tilts toward animalscapes, like most wildlife photographers I find it hard to NOT shoot when a bear or other charismatic critter moves in close! This intimate portrait of a blond-tinged grizzly bear is one of my favorite animal portraits from 2015. In this case the bear saw us sitting along a mountain river and moved in (on her own free will, of course!) to check us out. She was moving in pretty quickly at the time (but was clearly relaxed) and if she held her course I saw one place where a portrait might work. Luckily enough, that's the route she took - and for a second or less she paused in a place where her head was clear of surrounding grasses and the background forest was distant enough that I knew I could easily throw it out-of-focus. Sometimes you just get lucky!

A lot more goes into a wildlife portrait than just "getting close". One of the things I consider most critical is how the in-focus and out-of-focus zones are balanced. In my view, most animal portraits work best when the tip of the nose through to at least the eyes (and often back to the ears) are in sharp focus. Two things to think about when trying to ensure that facial region is in sharp focus is your depth-of-field (DoF) and where you've focused! Your DoF varies (of course) with your lens's aperture, and with almost any focal length over 200mm or so is distributed equally in front of and behind your focal point (only wide angle lenses exhibit a one-third in front and two-thirds behind DoF distribution). So in this case I focused on the bear's snout slightly in front of the eyes - about one third the way between the eyes and the nose tip. This ensure nose, eyes, and the hair on the forehead would be in sharp focus.

What about aperture? The mistake I find MOST shooters making is going too thin on their DoF via choosing too large of an aperture (normally in an effort to throw the background out-of-focus). In reality, the key element to consider in ensuring your subject contrasts in focus from the background (meaning you end up with a much softer focus on your background than your subject) is the relative distance between YOU and your subject and the subject and its background. Bottom line is that you want the distance from you to the subject to be much less than than the distance between your subject and its background! Get this relationship right and THEN you can stop your aperture down to get the DoF you need on your subject and still have it pop off the soft background. If I had opened my aperture up to maximum on this shot (which would have been to f4) it would have been impossible for me to get the critical "nose tip to behind the eyes" in focus (and the background would have looked about the same!).

The take home lesson? Optimizing your DoF in a portrait is partly about where you focus, partly about your aperture choice, and largely about how you position yourself relative to the subject AND to the subject's background.

Here's a higher-resolution (2400-pixel) version of this shot that shows some pretty scrumptious detail:

Grizz-Intimacy: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.9 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. I captured this image while scouting out a new location for a future photo tour. The location is near the BC-Yukon border and is extremely remote - it's only accessible by helicopter (unless one wants to hike for 5-days!). I'm pleased to announce that I WILL be leading photo tours to this region in 2016 and 2017. While the 2016 versions of the trip are fully sold out, there is still room (at the time of this writing - February 1, 2016) on the 2017 version of the trip. Anyone interested in this tour should just check out my Photo Tours page for more information - and look for the trip called "The Fishing Grizzlies of the Taku".

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

Grizz-Intimacy. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1600.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) teleconverter, for a total focal length of 550mm. Hand-held. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/640s @ f6.3; no compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Grizz-Intimacy. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure (1.3 stop total difference between the variants) 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 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.


Grizz-Intimacy. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

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