Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Good Mom

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In the Field

The Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 2016.

While I'm presenting this image primarily to discuss ISO performance of the Nikon D5, it is worth mentioning a few words about the subject itself. This female grizzly has got to be one of my favourite bears of all time. We've seen her in the Khutzeymateen a number of times over the years and while timid, she has to have the calmest and laid-back demeanor of any grizzly I've ever met (and that number of bears is pretty high). Seems like nothing really ever upsets this bear - low key all the time. This year she came into the Khutzeymateen with a yearly (2nd spring) cub and while she is vigilant and always on the lookout for potential dangers and threats to the cub, she doesn't react to those threats with much alarm - instead of huffing and bolting away when she sees a male bear that may be a threat, she just calmly collects her little cub and ambles away. Cautious but calm - The Good Mom.

Okey dokey...back to the reason I presented this shot - ISO performance of the D5. Prior to heading into BC's Great Bear Rainforest in the spring of 2016 I thoroughly tested the visible noise characteristics of the D5 at various ISO's. The conclusion I came to was that if you compared full resolution shots of the D5 to that of the D4s there was virtually no difference in visible noise. BUT...I also found that if you down-sampled the higher resolution images of the D5 down to that of the resolution of the D4s, the D5 images were slightly less noisy than the D4s images (like about 1/3 of a stop). And, although this is a completely subjective statement, the D5 shots look even LESS like high ISO shots than D4s shots do (which already look pretty darn good at high ISO's). By this mean that the shots show good colour, good contrast, and quite a wide tonal range.

So...when I traveled into the Khutzeymateen in late May of 2016 I was keen to push the ISO pretty on the D5 and see what kind of results I would get. Good thing - with the amount of overcast skies and rain we got during my stay in the Khutz there was no choice but to do a lot of high ISO shooting! What did I find? Exactly what my head-to-head testing showed - excellent high ISO performance. This shot of The Good Mom was captured at ISO 11,400 and while not "clean as a whistle", there isn't a whole lot of "problematic" noise in this image. And, as I think most objective viewers would agree, it doesn't have much of the high ISO "look" (such as overall "flatness" with a narrow tonal range and poor colour).

Interestingly - and in apparent conflict with my own experience - the good folks at recently awarded the D5 with a fairly "poor" rating in ISO performance relative to all Nikon's past flagship full-frame cameras (since the D3s). I don't doubt their intentions or their attempt to produce ISO "scores" enabling between-camera comparisons, but seeing their poor score for the ISO performance of the D5 makes me question if what they are actually measuring correlates well with observed ISO performance in a field setting (when you're shooting actual subjects, and not targets). While the capability to dial up the ISO of the D5 to ISO 3.28 million seems to me to be mostly a marketing ploy (but may be useful in some law enforcement and/or surveillance situations), I AM finding I'm getting better overall image quality with the D5 in the ISO 6400 to ISO 25,600 range than with any other Nikon DSRL I have ever used (and I have used a lot of them!).

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

The Good Mom: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.2 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

The Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 11,400.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 290mm. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. Optical stabilization on and in "OS1" mode.

1/400s @ f8; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 27, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.5 stop total difference between the variants), shadow and highlight 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.


The Good Mom. 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