Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The New Kid On The Block

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In the Field

The New Kid On The Block. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. September 27, 2023.

I captured this "slice in time" during a photo op I hope I never forget! It occurred near the end of my 2023 Into the Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure. Of course, seeing and photographing ANY Spirit Bear is a big treat, but nabbing this shot of this bear was particularly sweet. Why? Well...over the years we've come to know the Spirit Bears in one particular location in the Great Bear Rainforest quite well. But we had received reports about a unknown/new Spirit Bear in the region - basically the "new kid on the block." Apparently this new bear was quite shy around humans and most of the sightings had been fleeting glances of him/her. Anyway...after spending the bulk of the day along a salmon stream we finally saw a Spirit Bear way upstream from us. We positioned ourselves quite some distance away and sat tight, with the hope that the bear was the new one and that it was willing to show itself and even possibly approach us. Eventually our patience paid off (in spades!), and I personally got super-lucky when the bear turned out to be the "new kid" AND when it chose to walk out on an exposed log and pose beautifully for me (and others)! Of course, I snapped off a whole lot of shots...and this one is among my favourites of the session.

I captured this image with what I think of as my most important wildlife lens - my Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S (with a built-in 1.4x TC). I often describe this lens as the "best two and a half lenses" I've ever had. It's an amazing 400mm f2.8 lens - in my opinion the best 400mm f2.8 Nikon has ever made. But, with the flick of a switch you can engage the built-in 1.4x TC and it becomes an extremely good "almost 600mm" f4 lens (this image was shot with the TC engaged). The extra half lens? Well...if you take the time to add in the Z TC-2.0x (with the built-in TC NOT engaged), it becomes a good to very good 800mm f5.6 lens. How good? In my own testing I have found it to be very slightly better overall (optically) than the Z 800mm f6.3S PF lens.

But one thing I should make very clear. Despite how good a lens the Z 400mm f2.8S is (and how much I like the images it produces), for me it's still primarily a "destination" lens that I use only when on expeditions or photo tours that DON'T require me carrying the lens too far. If I am going to engage in a shooting session where I must walk an extended distance to get to my subject then I'll opt to take my MUCH lighter and smaller Z 400mm f4.5S. In fact, if significant walking is involved I often opt for carrying both the Z 400mm f4.5S plus the Z 600mm f6.3S rather than the Z 400mm f2.8S. I find that these two lenses together make for a very formidable wildlife combination (especially if you choose to carry a Z TC-1.4x with you) capable of producing top-notch images - and the two of them are (at least for me) easier to pack around than the Z 400mm f2.8S.

It is darned nice to have these different super-telephoto options at our disposal!

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this wary white bear inadvertently posing perfectly:

The New Kid On The Block: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 3.7 MB)


1. These images - in all resolutions - are 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 photographs on this website, these images were captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

3. This image was captured during my Into the Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure in the early autumn of 2023. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as two tours into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary (to photograph grizzlies, of course!). Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

The New Kid On The Block. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. September 27, 2023.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 900.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 400mm f2.8 TC VR S @ 560mm (built-in TC engaged). Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. Single-point AF area mode.

1/1000s @ f4; -1.0 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The New Kid On The Block. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. September 27, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and capture sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 7.3 Elite.

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 7) and conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use) - including all global and selective adjustments - made using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. In the case of this image the only global adjustment was a tweak to the overall contrast (a Levels adjustment). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case small adjustments were made on 4 separate layers, with one or more highly targeted and selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), highlights, shadows, and the blacks. There were no enhancements to the colour saturation of this image during post-processing.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


The New Kid On The Block. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. September 27, 2023.

Species Status in Canada*: Not currently listed as Threatened or Endangered.

The "Spirit" Bear is a rare genetically-based colour variant of the common Black Bear (Ursus americana). It has been estimated that less than 300 Spirit Bears exist today. Because the Black Bear is not considered under threat as a species, the Spirit Bear suffers from having the same conservation designation (it should be acknowledged that in British Columbia - the jurisdiction of greatest Spirit Bear abundance - hunting of these white-coated bears is not permitted). For reasons that are not fully understood, the Spirit Bear occurs with greater frequency in a relatively small geographic area within The Great Bear Rainforest of the central and northern coast of British Columbia. In this area 10 to 30% of the bears possess white coats. Many of the black-coloured Black Bears in this region carry the gene for white coats, so allowing hunting of ANY Black Bears in this region can reduce the frequency of the gene for white coats. Thus, to protect the Spirit Bear, it is necessary to prohibit the hunting of ALL Black Bears in this region. And, very unfortunately, the globally unique ecosystem that contains the Spirit Bear is under development pressure, especially from the forestry industry. If this unique environment is altered, we may lose the wonderful genetic anomaly known as the Spirit Bear forever.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada