Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Breathing Room

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In the Field

Breathing Room. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 12, 2015.

These are the rare type of scenes that I just love to see - and love to photograph! This image was captured in a rarely visited inlet in the Great Bear Rainforest and along one of my all-time favourite stretches of coastal shoreline. I've been into this inlet quite a few times in the last decade and I've long "envisioned" seeing a bear on this point, but until 2015 it never happened!

I captured this "animalscape" (for a discussion of the image types I call animalscapes and enviroscapes - and the subtle distinctions between them - just go here...) using a moderately long telephoto lens - a Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR lens. The image you see here is full-frame and shot from quite a long distance away. Why did I shoot from so far out (and use such a big lens)? Several reasons. First (and most obvious), you never know if such a scene is going to last or if the bear is just going to leave once it becomes aware of our presence. Second, over the years I've found Nikon's 400mm prime lens (both the current and the previous version) to be one of the best of Nikon's lenses for resolving detail on distant subjects. So I knew that even at this distance (and even when hand-holding the lens from a moving Zodiac) I could count on picking up all the detail I needed on the bear - and in the foreground - to render the scene exactly how I wanted. Finally, I quite liked how the long lens functionally "enlarged" the background elements (as telephoto lenses are wont to do) while leaving them softly out of focus and non-distracting to the image. If I had waited until we moved in closer to the bear and used a shorter lens this would have been a very different scene!

Over the years I've noticed that one of the things that most "hampers" the chances of many wildlife photographers from shooting animalscapes is simply seeing them! I think two things contribute to this "problem". The first is a willingness to discard the "closer is better" mindset that is so commonplace among many wildlife photographers. Of course I love a great wildlife portrait too, but I try not to limit my "vision" to just tightly-framed shots. The second? Understanding how your lenses (and not YOU) actually "see" scenes. In my view that comes only with practice - I've seen (and shot) enough of these type of scenes with long lenses now that I just instantly "react" to them. Interestingly, I was with 6 other photographer at the time (all in the same boat, literally and figuratively), including a few with the EXACT same gear as me - and no one else raised their camera to shoot the scene. But I wouldn't blame them if they were thinking "...what the hell is that idiot shooting anyway?" Just a subtle scene that I had been waiting a decade for. That's all! ;-)

Here's a higher-resolution (2400-pixel) version of this animalscape for your perusal and downloading pleasure:

Breathing Room: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.1 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).

3. This image was captured during my autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tour in October of 2015. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine 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

Breathing Room. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 12, 2015.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1600.

Nikon D750 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR. Hand-held from moving Zodiac. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/320s @ f5.6; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Breathing Room. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 12, 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 (0.63 stop total difference between the variants), clarity/structure settings, and in shadow retrieval 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, selective application of Shake Reduction filter (foreground only), selective contrast adjustment using a selective curves adjustment, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Breathing Room. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 12, 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