Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Eye Lock

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In the Field

The Eye Lock. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

Averaged over a full year, brown bears (AKA grizzly bears) have a diet that consists mainly of vegetative matter and things that we generally don't think of as too hard to catch (like grass, carcasses they find, and ants and other insects). But at times they show their "carnivore side" (their "inner carnivore?") and actively hunt things that need to be stalked, captured and "dispatched". And when you watch a grizzly go after it prey you can't help but be impressed with its focus and efficiency.

In my experience one of the most telling signals in the animal kingdom that a predatory event is about take place is when a grizzly locks its eyes on "something" (and it's often not obvious to the viewer what that "something" is) and absolutely freezes while it maintains a deep stare. These focused "eye locks" can go on for an extended period of time (often a minute or more) and it almost seems as though the bear is in a complete trance. And they often end with the luckless subject of the eye lock on the receiving end of a predatory attack. The luckless victim could be one of many things - such as a seal, a deer, or (as in this case) - a pink salmon. Fortunately, the recipient of the stare (and predatory attack) is only very, very rarely a human!

I captured this image while scouting out a new location for a future photo tour. The location is near the BC-Yukon border and is extremely remote - it's only accessible by helicopter (unless one wants to hike for 5-days!). I'm pleased to announce that I WILL be leading photo tours to this region in 2016 (and beyond). Anyone interested in this tour should just check out my Photo Tours page for more information - and look for the trip called "The Fishing Grizzlies of the Taku".

Here's a higher-resolution (2400-pixel) version of this shot that shows the focus and intensity of the Eye Lock even better:

The Eye Lock: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 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).

Behind the Camera

The Eye Lock. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 2015.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1250.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) teleconverter, for a total focal length of 550mm. Hand-held. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/1250s @ f6.3; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Eye Lock. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 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 (0.8 stop total difference between the variants) and both shadow retrieval and highlight recovery 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, minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Eye Lock. Taku River Drainage, northern British Columbia, Canada. July 28, 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