Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Bear Personalities II: Curious, Contemplative...and Cautious

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In the Field

Bear Personalities II: Curious, Contemplative...and Cautious. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 10, 2014.

As the name of this photo would suggest, this shot in one of a series where a mother grizzly and 3 cubs were cooperatively relaxing right in front of us. One of the things I found so fascinating about this scene was how subtle shifts in positions and poses of the 4 bears slightly shifted the personality exuded by the bears. In most shots the two cubs shown here maintained consistency in their 'tudes - the one cub WAS exceptionally curious about us - and the second WAS exceptionally wary and cautious. Mom, though, went from looking confident to contemplative (which is what I felt when this shot was taken) and more.

As with the other images in this series, I tried to use a combination of composition and selective focus, along with careful use of depth-of-field (DoF), to control the eye-flow of the viewer. My intent in this shot was to have the viewer's eyes to FIRST travel to the cub in the middle, then explore mom (including her relaxed eyes and her claws) and finally find "Waldo" warily peering out from behind mom. Hopefully my plan worked! ;-)

Of course, the amount of DoF control one has in the field - especially when using super-telephoto lenses - is limited. But, in recent years, the advent of cameras with exceptional high ISO performance has meant that we can shoot low light scenes using a wider variety (including smaller) apertures than ever before. In this case I was able to get the DoF I wanted to keep both Ma and Curious Cub in focus by stopping down to f8 (while hand-holding 550mm of focal length). It did force me to use a much higher ISO (ISO 4500) than would have been possible a few years ago (while still capturing a very usable photo). For me, this gaining of control over DoF - even in low-light field settings - is the biggest advantage of the latest professional cameras.

This one is more fun when seen larger. So here's a 2400 pixel version for your scrutiny and/or viewing pleasure...

Bear Personalities II: Curious, Contemplative...and Cautious: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.8 MB)


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!

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).

3. This image was captured during one of my two autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in October 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

Bear Personalities II: Curious, Contemplative...and Cautious. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 10, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 4500.

Nikon D4s paired paired with Nikkor AF-S 400mm f2.8E VR plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) teleconverter (550mm total focal length) - hand-held from Zodiac. VR on and in Sport mode.

1/640s @ f8; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Bear Personalities II: Curious, Contemplative...and Cautious. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 10, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.6 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 three output files from the raw converter, selective colour desaturation, selective curves (contrast) adjustment, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of dark-on-dark tones on the bear's coat performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Bear Personalities II: Curious, Contemplative...and Cautious. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 10, 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 family resides 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