Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Wilderness Survival

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In the Field

Wilderness Survival. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 2016.

Focused attention and unfailing vigilance keeps you alive if you're a grizzly hanging around in an area where where there are lots of others grizzlies. This female bear learned that lesson the hard way - not too many days before this image was shot she lost her only remaining cub to a large and aggressive male bear. After that tragic (but natural) event she re-entered the "breeding pool" (at least in the minds of the male bears in the area) and has put her re-focused "spidey sense" to good use - here she's caught sight of - and likely a whiff of - a male bear in the distance. Shortly after this image was captured she decided discretion was the better part of valour and hightailed it out of the area.

A few quick technical comments on this D500 image. Before heading into the Khutzeymateen this year I did a fair amount of field-based ISO testing on the D500. My conclusion based on those field tests was that in MOST situations/scenes the D500 produced "usable" images (by my standards, which may be higher or lower than yours) up to about ISO 3200. This means that MOST (but not all) raw images shot at up to ISO 3200 could be used - sometimes with careful post-processing, including selective noise reduction - for MOST purposes. Further, I found that with some scene types you can go higher than ISO 3200 and still get very usable shots. My experience in the Khutzeymateen confirmed this finding. This shot is one of the examples where you can take the D500 beyond ISO 3200 and still get a decent result - it was captured at ISO 5000. And, yes...I did use selective noise reduction on this shot, with much heavier NR on the background than on the bear.

Second comment on the D500. Since beginning to post my test results with the D500 on my blog I've had a lot of folks ask me how the D500 paired up with the excellent 400mm f2.8E VR super-telephoto lens. Simple answer to that one - incredibly well! What wildlife photographer wouldn't want access to a 600mm f2.8 (equivalent) that is capable of stunning image quality? ;-)

Here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of this shot for your ISO performance scrutiny:

Wilderness Survival: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 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

Wilderness Survival. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 5000.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR (600mm EFL). Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/400s @ f11; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Wilderness Survival. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Lightroom CC 2015 (while I wait for Capture One Pro to add raw support for the D500). Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (1.3 stop total difference between the variants), highlight and shadow recovery settings, and noise reduction 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, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Wilderness Survival. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 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