Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Animal Magnetism

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In the Field

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

While grizzly bears are obviously terrestrial animals, they are incredibly comfortable in water. We encountered this male bear on a rocky shoreline at the top of an inlet within the Great Bear Rainforest. He appeared to be scavenging for salmon carcasses, and that involved a lot of dunking of his head while he visually scanned and scoured the bottom for snacks. The bear was well aware of our presence, but during the time he had his head underwater (seconds before I shot this) our Zodiac had drifted closer to him. So...when his head did come up, he gave us a long and very intense stare before going back to his grocery shopping! I just loved the power of his eyes - so magical and with so much drawing power it was hard to notice virtually anything else in the scene. To me it was powerful and pure animal magnetism.

When I captured this shot we had fully overcast skies with light rain and the bear was actually under a rock overhang. So the scene was dark, dark, dark - or even darker. And that's how I chose to render it - dark! Over the years - and when looking at the images of others I've been in the field with or on online forums like the Nature Photographers Network (NPN) - I've noticed a bit of a trend where images are being displayed brighter and brighter. In fact, a very large proportion of the shots I see are simply over-exposed. This doesn't mean that they all have highlights blown or that they have a "bad" histogram (which doesn't exist anyway!) - simply that the final output of the workflow (be it a print or a web image) is far brighter than the original scene was. I think part of this is simply because many of those who are new to photography just assume that their camera's light meter "gets it right". Well...if a scene is neutral gray overall, our cameras DO commonly get the light right. But, if we're out shooting at sunrise or sunset - as many wildlife photographers are wont to do - the overall brightness of the scene ISN'T neutral gray, it's darker than that. So...and many find this counter-intuitive - if the scene is dark you have to UNDER-EXPOSE it relative to what your light meter is saying. On this dark scene I under-exposed the image by 2/3 of a stop in the field, and had to under-expose it 2/3 of stops more during processing to recreate the illumination when I shot the image. Yes, it's really dark - just like it was when I shot the image! And yes, I could make this look like a shot taken in bright light if I wanted...but I fail to understand why I would or should do that!

While I truly believe there is no such thing as a "creatively correct" exposure (and I suppose a "technically correct" exposure would be one where the brightness of the image matches the brightness of the original scene as closely as possible), there are certainly consequences of exposing scenes brighter than the original scene. First, colours tend to be washed out - or certainly less rich - on over-exposed shots. Second, contrast tends to appear to be lessened on over-exposed shots (even though technically it's the same). Additionally, shaded regions appear brighter than they should be, with the result that the depth supplied by the shadows is reduced and the image appears flat. Finally - in extreme cases - the image shows more noise than it would if it wasn't over-exposed (especially in shadow areas). I don't know how many times I've taken a "final" image of a client or another photographer and said "reduce the exposure by 2/3 of a stop and see what happens" and I suddenly hear "Wow...that looks SO much better." Yep.

The eyes on this bear look great when viewed in higher resolution form (or on a high-res display like a Retina Display) - so here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) image for your perusal:

Animal Magnetism: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.2 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 spring 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

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

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2200.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 400mm f2.8E VR - hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on in Sport mode.

1/400s @ f6.3; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Animal Magnetism. 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 1.0 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, selective colour desaturation, very slight exposure tweaking, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of tones on the bear's coat (primarily in the facial region) performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Animal Magnetism. 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