Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Bear Personalities I: Curious, Cautious...and Confident

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In the Field

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

One of the most fascinating thing about bears is how each one has a unique personality. Some bears are confident and bold, some are naturally curious, and others are plain shy. With adult bears it's easy to assume that the observed differences in personality can be attributed to experience. But when you run into a female bear with multiple young cubs you can usually assume that the little ones have had similar experiences - yet their personalities are still often extremely different.

This shot shows an adult female grizzly (or at least part of one!) that we encountered in the Great Bear Rainforest of BC, along with two of her three cubs-of-the-year. Mom was totally comfortable with our presence and exuded confidence as she sat upright in front of us. One cub was incredibly curious about us and sat in plain sight with its eyes locked on us. And another of the cubs was incredibly cautious and wary of us - he or she always hid behind mom and took fleeting peeks at us.

So how did this shot come about? This whole scene - from finding the bears in an isolated inlet on BC's remote coast through to watching them dig for roots and finally bedding down - was an incredible experience. But it was super-challenging to photograph effectively. Of course, the bears never wanted to do anything "cohesive" and they definitely failed their course on how to pose for photographers! Initially I tried to photograph all 4 bears as a total scene, but after getting frustrated with getting a bunch of shots of 2 or sometimes 3 bears doing something interesting and the 4th showing off its butt, I decided to change gears. Instead of going wide, I changed lenses and moved in much tighter to "sub-sample" the scene using a longer telephoto lens. In a way it was a gamble - in isolating my attention on a smaller portion of the entire scene it was entirely possible that I'd miss that once-in-a-lifetime shot of a mother and all 3 cubs doing something just mind-bogglingly cool. But, experience told me I was making the right call...

One long-term goal of mine is to show bears as the unique, sentient beings that they are. To do this I knew I had to move in tighter on the bears and hope I could find a way to convey accurate visual information about their individual personalities.

So...I sat back (with camera down) and watched for configurations of the bears (and/or bear parts) that said something about them as individuals. I liked what I saw when mom laid down and Curious Cub dropped down by her front paws and stared at us. But when Cautious Cub popped its head out in the natural gap between mom and Curious Cub - well...I just LOVED what I saw. From there it was just a matter of a quick adjustment to the lens aperture to get the depth-of-field the way I wanted (with mom's front legs and Curious Cub totally sharp but with Cautious Cub subordinated in attention-grabbing power through being slightly softened in focus) - and "click!". Simple as pie, eh?

Some might like seeing a larger (higher resolution) version of this shot, so here ya go...

Bear Personalities I: Curious, Cautious...and Confident: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.4 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 I: Curious, Cautious...and Confident. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 10, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2500.

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; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Bear Personalities I: Curious, Cautious...and Confident. 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, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of mid-tones in facial region of the dominant subject performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Bear Personalities I: Curious, Cautious...and Confident. 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