Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Water Beard

Availability: Undetermined - Enquiries?

Previous Gallery Next Gallery

In the Field

The Water Beard. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

Virtually all genres of modern photography are about capturing decisive moments (and often even critical split seconds) of time. It's always been this way - since the very day cameras were invented. Some would argue that any this is particularly true in wildlife photography - and the difference between a good wildlife photo and a GREAT wildlife photo is often only a matter of milliseconds.

The advent of faster and faster frame rates on our digital cameras (and the fact that high frame rates are "trickling down" to lower priced cameras) hasn't changed this basic fact of photography life. Almost paradoxically, I've actually seen a DECREASE in the attention photographers pay to capturing "just the right moment" as high frame rate (and large burst-size) cameras become more common. Instead, there seems to be this attitude among some shooters that if they just keep continuously firing at a high frame rate they'll "capture absolutely everything" and, equally importantly, "miss nothing at all". What they fail to realize is that by keeping their eye glued to the viewfinder (as they blaze away) they end up missing so many of the "wider" scenes, as well as losing the ability to predict action and other interesting "decisive moments" that may take place outside their relatively narrow field of view (such as when another bear begins encroaching on the scene and fur may be about to fly).

It's my experience that this "just keep the shutter flying" style of shooting produces a whole lot of those ho-hum "more-of-the-same" style shots that eat valuable time when you have to cull through them on your computer. This past autumn I watched a photographer shoot over 40 images (at over 10 fps) of the butt of a bear that didn't move once during her entire burst. I guess the bear may have had a nice butt...but 40+ images of it? Why? Must have been fun culling through those images looking for the best butt shot among over 40 similars.

I captured this image of water streaming off a female grizzly's face while she was employing her own special "look under the water" fishing technique (every bear seems to have its own preferred way of fishing). I had noticed that this bear almost always gave a super fast glance over in our direction as she raised her head after dunking it to take a look for fish. I suspect she was doing this just to keep tabs on us...but that quick sideways glance (and the eye contact) never lasted more than a fraction of a second and if you didn't start shooting at just the right time you'd miss the combined eye contact and streaming water. I watched the sequence a few times before shooting and, when I did, I timed it to capture the glance and the maximum amount of streaming water coming off the bear. I had a total of 10 images to cull through before choosing this one to process.

The take home lesson? Obviously there's times when it makes sense to "let it rip" and shoot high-speed bursts of action. But doing it perpetually - or even the majority of the time - may mean you miss a LOT of good shots, and often the BEST shots available at the time. Shooting selectively is never a bad strategy. Shooting bursts is fine too, but in my view shooting even those selectively can be a better overall strategy than just "sitting" on the shutter! It's amazing what you can see when you stop shooting for a few seconds and look around!

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 - January 26, 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".

Here's a higher-resolution (2400-pixel) version of this shot that shows the streaming water even better:

The Water Beard: 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. 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

The Water Beard. 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.

1/1250s @ f6.3; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Water Beard. 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 (0.8 stop total difference between the variants) and both shadow retrieval and highlight recovery 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.


The Water Beard. 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