Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Welcoming Committee

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In the Field

The Welcoming Committee. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 30, 2015.

I nabbed this shot in the estuary of the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary in the spring of 2015. The Khutzeymateen is found near the northern end of the region on the BC coast that is known as the Great Bear Rainforest. And, most would argue that the region is well-named, especially the part about the rain! But during my 2015 photo tours we didn't have to battle any rain to speak of - but the blazing sun (for 9 straight days!) did present us with major photographic challenges. Which means that we actively searched out bears that were in slightly more muted lighting - including in the shade. When we spied this female bear and her two cubs feeding along the shoreline right on the edge of the shade and sun while being illuminated by beautiful muted and dappled lighting I was instantly excited.

While the mom was pretty comfortable with us, these cubs were pretty rather than waiting until we motored in reasonably closely I chose to begin shooting with a long lens quite early on in the encounter. This shot was captured using a 600mm focal length (hand-held while motoring in on the bears in a smallish Zodiac inflatable boat) from quite a distance and it was one of my first shots of the sequence. Not surprisingly, the bears didn't hold the perfect six-eye pose for too long, and a few minutes later I was real glad I had decided to shoot early (the bears didn't run, but they dropped their heads and turned their sides or butts to us!).

A couple of gear-related points associated with this shot are worth mentioning. First, I captured this image using the new(ish) Sigma Sport 150-600mm lens (and, as mentioned above, at 600mm). I had done a lot of rigorous field testing of the lens prior to my trip into the Khutzeymateen, and I was pretty familiar with its many strengths (and few weaknesses). But I have to say that as the trip wore on and I examined more and more shots captured with it, my confidence in the lens grew exponentially. This shot is a good example of that - while it isn't the absolute sharpest 600mm shot I have ever captured, given the distance to the subjects and the shooting conditions (hand-held while standing in a Zodiac inflatable boat that was motoring towards the bears) I don't think it would have been possible to capture a sharper version of this shot with ANY gear. And, while I still love my 600mm f4 VR Nikkor super-telephoto lens, if I tried to use THAT monster lens under the same conditions I doubt I would have even been able to "hit" the bears (under perfect conditions IS possible to hand-hold the 600mm f4 VR...under these conditions I wouldn't have even tried!). At the end of the day - and at least for me - real-world usability of a lens is really what counts. And the Sigma Sport 150-600 delivers that in spades.

Second, the camera body I used to capture this lens was fairly new to me - a Nikon D750. Like with the lens, I had tested the body sufficiently before the trip to be extremely familiar with it. But the thing that really hit home during my Khutzeymateen photo tour was how darned accurate the metering (while in Matrix metering mode) was. And, in particular, how much less exposure compensation I needed to apply compared to other current Nikon DSLR's, including in scenes with really tricky lighting (like this one). According to the specs of the camera the metering is the same as in Nikon's flagship - the D4s. But I found in the field that I could preserve highlight details in an image with 2/3 to a full stop less exposure compensation (while using "standard" matrix metering, not the new Highlight-weighted metering) than with the D4s. This could be a function of the wider dynamic range of the camera (relative to the D4s) or it could be Nikon has tweaked the metering algorithms of the D750. But regardless of the reason...that new metering is really sweet!

For those who would like to see a higher res version of this image - here's a 2400-pixel version for your perusal:

The Welcoming Committee Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.0 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 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 2015. 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

The Welcoming Committee. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 30, 2015.

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

Nikon D750 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 600mm - hand-held from motoring Zodiac. Optical Stabilization (OS) on and in OS1 mode.

1/640s @ f8; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Welcoming Committee. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 30, 2015.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 2.0 stops in exposure (as well as differences in highlight and shadow retrieval between the variants).

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, selective noise reduction, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Welcoming Committee. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 30, 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 these bears reside in BC, there's a very real chance that their lives will be ended by a bullet. And, their heads will be cut off (leaving their carcasses 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