Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Nothing But Bear!

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In the Field

Nothing But Bear! Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 9, 2014.

I captured this grizzly bear portrait during my second of two back-to-back photo tours in the Great Bear Rainforest in October of 2014. An eagle-eyed spotter from our first photo tour (don't get a swollen head Terri!) actually first saw the bear about 3 days before I shot this image - and as we were re-tracing our steps on the second trip we saw it again near the same spot along the shoreline of the inside passage. Because we saw the bear twice in the same area we thought it likely that it was feeding on something. So we decided to leave the sailboat we were traveling in, hop in our Zodiac, and check it out. As it turns out, the bear was feeding on a Harbour Seal carcass which it either killed for itself or it happened to find washed up on the shoreline.

The conditions under which I captured the shot weren't quite gawdawful, but they were the next thing to it! It was fully overcast and raining - and incredibly dark for mid-day. The bear was just a few feet above the waterline, but the boulder-sized rocks in which it was eating gave us few clear views at the bear. And, whenever we DID get a clear shot the tidal current intervened and quickly managed to replace our view of the bear with with a great look at some rocks! I tried a few wider angle shots (in an effort to show the bear and the seal carcass it was feeding on), but quickly gave up on that. Instead, I decided to get a very raw portrait of the bear - complete with droplets of rain, pine needles, and red bits of seal flesh littering its facial fur. But hey...this is what a REAL working (and rain-soaked) bear looks like!

I continue to be amazed by what current high-end photographic gear can allow us to capture under tough, tough field conditions (and I also continue to wonder how the "old guys" managed to do it back in the film era). I captured this shot by hand-holding a 400mm f2.8 prime lens while standing in a small Zodiac inflatable boat that was fighting a strong current and pitching around as you'd expect. To get a shutter speed that would produce a sharp image I needed to do a major bump in the ISO - in this case up to ISO 6400. Imagine trying to do this with Velvia 50 and without an image-stabilized lens (insert one "not bloody likely, mate" here!).

Curious about how this ISO 6400 image appears when not reduced to such a small size? Here's a 2400 pixel version for your perusal:

Nothing But Bear! Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.5 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (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. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject is fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my 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).

3. This image was captured during one of my two autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in October of 2014. 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.

Behind the Camera

Nothing But Bear! Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 9, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 6400.

Nikon D4s paired paired with Nikkor AF-S 400mm f2.8E VR - hand-held from Zodiac. VR on in Sport mode.

1/400s @ f6.3; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Nothing But Bear! Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 9, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 1.5 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2014 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, additional minor exposure and contrast tweaks, selective colour desaturation, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of mid-tones performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Nothing But Bear! Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 9, 2014.

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 the carcass to simply rot) so that they can be mounted and adorn the wall of some fearless trophy hunter.

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