Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Focus. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 31, 2012.

I shot this tight, intimate portrait of a foraging grizzly a few years ago while visiting the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary. My primary motivation in shooting it was to juxtapose the almost fearsome reputation of grizzlies with their much more gentle true nature. The keen observer will notice that the material hanging out of the bear's mouth is grass - not tripod parts and not the fingers of an overzealous photographer! The bears in the Khutzeymateen - including this bear - are completely wild, but because its been years since these bears have been harassed or mis-managed by humans, they tend to be quite tolerant of small groups of humans that know to stay in places that don't threaten the bears. And, at times, while the bears are going about their normal activities, their chosen route brings them quite close to the Zodiacs that contain guests to the sanctuary. Which is exactly what happened here. And when this does happen, the key to minimizing disturbance on the bears is for everyone in the Zodiac to move as slowly and gently as possible - which usually translates into NOT fiddling with cameras - so you don't change lenses or cameras and you just shoot with WHATEVER you have in your hands. In this case I had my favorite wildlife lens in my hands - my 400mm f2.8 VR. Ergo - tight portrait!

This shot sat in raw form until February 2015. Then, when looking through my collection for some shots for a specific project, I decided to process this one. As soon as I finished the colour master file, I knew I HAD to try a B&W conversion on this one. My taste in B&W photos is quite straight-forward - I like them tonally simple, yet with some true blacks, some true whites, and with a nice but discrete range of grays in between. In other words - simple but with contrast. Interestingly, this tends to mean that images I like in colour are the same ones I like in B&W. I can't recall a time when I decided to try a B&W conversion because the image "didn't work" in colour...

What about the full colour eye? Tacky? Cliche? Perhaps. THAT aspect of the shot is little more than an experiment on my part and I kind of like it. It clearly draws attention to the eye region almost instantly, and I THINK after that most viewers will explore the rich detail of the head region (possibly more slowly than if the eye was in B&W). For those who are on the fence - full B&W versions (with no retention of colour in the eye) and full colour versions are available for comparison below...

Here's three versions (as above, full B&W, and full colour) of the image in a higher res format (for those wanting to compare the image styles):

Focus - with colour eye: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.9 MB)
Focus - full B&W: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.8 MB)
Focus - full colour: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.1 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 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 spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2012. 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

Focus. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 31, 2012.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2000.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor AF-S 400mm f2.8G VR - hand-held from floating Zodiac inflatable boat. VR on in Normal mode.

1/400s @ f11; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting

At the Computer

Focus. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 31, 2012.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 2.25 stops in exposure. Variation between variants also included differences to shadow and highlight retrieval settings.

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 four output files from the raw converter, minor exposure tweaks, conversion to B&W (using B&W Adjustment Layer), and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Focus. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 31, 2012.

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 (who will, no doubt, be cheered on by all the grasses, sedges and clams that will be saved from being so mercilessly eaten by these fearsome beasts).

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