Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

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In the Field

Enter Stage Right... Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 6, 2014.

This is one of those shots that has grown on me since I first processed it. I can't really pinpoint why, but when it's sitting on a "light table" style view on my computer with a bunch of other bear images, my eyes almost always come back to this shot. And, it's almost "opposite" from the normal lighting regime I tend to like (i.e., with the background being somewhat darker than the subject). And I suppose part of it might just be because this was just such a great grizzly to be around (and photograph) - he was incredibly gentle and was just so, so comfortable with our presence. Quality time with a great bear - what could be better?

This shot has value in illustrating a few technical points. First, it was shot with the "new" 400mm f2.8E VR - with the TC-20EIII (2x) teleconverter. So an 800mm shot. This lens - as well as its precursor - pairs up incredibly well with teleconverters (or TC's). This one was hand-held from a floating zodiac, and I doubt too many will be thinking it's particularly soft. Definitely one of those situations where I would have loved to have Nikon's 800mm f5.6 VR prime with me to shoot some comparison shots, but I didn't. C'est la vie.

Second - but still related to the teleconverter - is something I've noticed for a long time when shooting TC's: often the TC has LESS effect on the sharpness of the image than it does on the quality of the out-of-focus zones (the bokeh) of the host lens. The 400mm f2.8 VR (both versions) has amazingly good bokeh when shot "native" (sans TC). But add a TC (either the 1.4x or the 2x) and those out-of-focus zones become a little more "nervous" or jittery. There's no doubt that if I opened up the aperture more (say to f5.6, or wide open) the out-of-focus background would have been rendered more smoothly, but when shot wide open the subject wouldn't have been quite as sharp (images shot with TC's are almost sharper when shot stopped down a little from wide open) and I may have run into depth-of-field issues on the bear (or the grasses below it). TC's can be very useful tools, but it's always best to fully understand their limitations and what to watch for (and what to avoid doing) when shooting with them...

A higher res image may help those wishing to check out the sharpness of the 400mm f2.8 VR plus 2x TC combination - so here's a 2400 pixel version of it for you to view:

Enter Stage Right: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 MB)

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 "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in the autumn 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

Rainforest Guardian. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 6, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2250.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 400mm f2.8E VR plus 2x TC-20EIII teleconverter (800mm total magnification) - hand-held from moving Zodiac inflatable boat. VR on in Sport mode.

1/800s @ f7.1; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Rainforest Guardian. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 6, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening and slight colour tweaking using Phase One's Capture One Pro 7. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.5 stops in exposure. Variation between variants also included differences in saturation and highlight detail.

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, slight exposure tweaking, slight selective contrast adjustments and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Rainforest Guardian. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 6, 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 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 the carcass 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