Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Just Chillin'

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In the Field

Just Chillin'. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 28, 2014.

When grizzlies come out of hibernation in the spring they're voraciously hungry - their body is telling them they need all the calories they can get in order to restore their body after months of fasting. And, after gorging themselves on whatever is available (in this case the nutritious sedges found in a coastal estuary), they need a whole lot of sleep too! If you're a carefree, sub-adult male (like the one in the image above) who isn't too worried about breeding yet, all you really have to do with your time is eat and sleep (and, of course, make sure you stay out of the way of the big adult males who don't want company as they court willing females).

We caught this sub-adult male bear just chillin' out on the edge of a channel in the Khutzeymateen estuary. While aware of his surroundings, he was almost in a zen-like trance or meditating - he did know (of course) that we were floating nearby, but he really couldn't have cared less. Most of the time we were watching him he just laid there with head down, but every few minutes he'd raise his head (often without opening his eyes), perhaps to get a whiff of the air to reassure himself that there were no other bears in the vicinity, perhaps to hear a little better, or perhaps both. While photographing this bear seemed simple and straightforward (wait for the head to come up and "click"!), it was amazing how long it took before the angle of the sun, the band of grass, and the clean background all aligned themselves just the way I wanted to capture this zen-like shot.

When I shot this image the sun was high in the sky above the bear and slightly behind him - classic top/backlighting. Exposing for such lighting isn't hugely challenging - the thing you want to do is to give the shot as much exposure as possible without blowing out (over-exposing) the area that's receiving the most direct lighting - which in this case is the line along the top of the head. You do want to avoid under-exposing the shot too much because to return the scene to how it looked in the field you're going to have to tease out some shadow detail (in this case on the side of the bear's head and through to under its chin) and you don't want to have to push the shadow retrieval so far that you introduce noise to the image. And, the post-processing of shots like this take a lot of fine-tuning to get them "just right" - this is one of the few shots I've ever taken where I had to carefully blend 5 (yep, FiVE) exposure variants (different versions of the original shot, each with a slightly different exposure adjustment) to get the lighting and tonal balance just right...

Some folks question why anyone would spend a 5-figure amount on a lens like the 400mm f2.8 VR I used to capture this image (especially when you can get a lens like the AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR for about one quarter of the price). Under a lot of conditions and situations that's a valid question that's pretty tough to answer, but then a situation like this comes along me, this image shot at 400mm with the AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR just wouldn't have been the same...

Here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of the image for those wishing to scrutinize it a little more thoroughly:

Just Chillin': Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.9 MB)

NOTE 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!

NOTE 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).

NOTE 3: This image was captured during one of my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring 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

Just Chillin'. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 28, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 160.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor AF-S 400mm f2.8 VR - hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on in Normal mode.

1/500s @ f4; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Just Chillin'. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 28, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro. Five 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 five output files from the raw converter, further slight exposure adjustments/tweaks, and minor colour desaturation (to the foreground grasses), and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of tones performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Just Chillin'. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 28, 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.

The region this image was shot in is, at the time of this writing (June 30, 2014), facing a new and potentially catastrophic threat. There is a proposal to bring oil super-tankers through the narrow and treacherous channels of the Great Bear Rainforest. Any mishap - such as the one that sunk the Queen of the North ferry on March 22, 2006 - could result in an oilspill with disasterous consequences.

*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