Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Tentative. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 29, 2014.

Those who know me know that while I love all wildlife, I have a particular interest and even fondness for carnivores. This predilection is based not so much on the "romance" or "machoism" of carnivorous animals, but more on their fascinating behavioral diversity and individualism. Any organism that has to actively hunt for a living has to be behaviorally flexible and possess the ability to learn a lot. And - in many cases - they also have the need to be able to function within a social system - at least part of the time. Lump these characteristics together and you get animals that we think of as highly intelligent. And, if you spend some serious time watching them, you realize that - like humans - they have individual personalities and clearly express and communicate their emotions.

This grizzly cub offered up one of my most memorable photographic experiences of 2014. Not only was did it give me a scene and image that I had been waiting to capture for years, but in about a one minute period it delivered up an absolute gamut of emotions - from curiosity about us through to a little fear and tentativeness and, finally, complete acceptance and comfort with our presence. At the exact instant I clicked the shutter on this one the cub seemed drawn to us by curiosity but still just a tad hesitant or tentative about approaching any closer. When the cub was giving me this look it had stopped moving forward and froze for a good 30 seconds - and you could just feel it evaluating the situation. Shortly after this shot the cub completely relaxed and went back to feeding (on grasses) as though we didn't exist (and were no threat to its safety).

In the last year or two I've noticed a trend on my photo tours where clients are bringing fewer super-telephoto primes and more zoom lenses. Really popular lenses on my trips have been the "new" Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR and the Canon 200-400mm f4 VR. And, with the recent introduction (at the time of this writing) of the new Tamron 150-600mm and the Sigma 150-600mm "ultra-zooms" I suspect this trend towards more zooms being used on my trips will continue. And there's good reason to bring such lenses along - most of them tend to be smaller and lighter than the "big primes" and thus are both easier to travel with AND easier to carry and hand-hold in a field setting. But...there are times when the wider apertures and incredible bokeh (quality of out-of-focus zones) of the big primes absolutely MAKE the shot. And this shot was one of those instances - this shot couldn't have been captured with any zoom I'm aware of and come out like this (everything you're looking at here was done optically...there were almost no adjustments made during post-processing - and NO creative blurring done in post-processing).

This one is a bit of a treat to view a little larger on a high resolution display (like a Retina Display) - so here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) image for your perusal:

Tentative: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 750 KB)

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

Tentative. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 29, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 220.

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

1/500s @ f3.2; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Tentative. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 29, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening, a slight colour tweaking, and a minor exposure adjustment (globally and selectively to shadow areas) using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2014. Photoshop adjustments included minor cropping and selective sharpening for web output.


Tentative. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 29, 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 cub and its family reside in BC, there's a very real chance that the life of one or more of them (or even all of them!) will be ended by a bullet. And, their heads and paws will be cut off (leaving the carcasses 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