Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Traveller

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In the Field

The Traveller. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 26, 2015.

In the spring of 2015 the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary seemed to be in a bit of social chaos. While we can't say for sure what caused it, we suspect that the absence of the long-time and undisputed dominant male in the area (who seemed to control and stabilize the social framework) left a bit of a power vacuum and several "wannabe" males were trying to take his spot. Those who follow Middle East politics should be able to relate to this type of power struggle! consequence of the social instability was that bears in the sanctuary were doing a lot more traveling than normal and, in most cases, this meant they spent a lot of time working their way along a shoreline. These spontaneous peregrinations are always fascinating to watch, but given the thickness of the forest and how quickly the bears move in and out of view, they're incredibly tough to photograph.

I always strive (not always successfully) to "see" scenes in several ways when I'm in the field - I find myself continually re-evaluating if a tight crop of the subject is the best option OR if I should back off a little and capture a "animal-in-environment" (or "enviroscape") shot OR if I should back way off and shot a "animal in landscape" (or "animalscape") shot. Because I had a wide focal range zoom in my hand when this bear was moving along the shore (the Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom) I had all framing options available to me. When we pulled our Zodiac into the position I shot this image from I was immediately struck by the overall aesthetic appeal of the "big picture" scene - everything from the calm foreground water, through to the contrasting brown fucus growing on the shoreline rocks and to the beautiful conifer trees with bright green new growth on their limbs. We knew this bear was coming in our direction and I guessed he might pop out in the small opening where you see him now. So I framed up the shot exactly as seen (this is a full-frame shot), waited, and snapped off a burst of shots as the bear popped out of the woods exactly where I hoped (for once I guessed right!).

After leading photo tours for a decade or so, I've noticed one of the things many wildlife photographers struggle with is "seeing" the bigger picture - it seems like the most common "default" mode is "get closer" (and closer, and closer, and closer!) to their subjects. When photographing carnivores this can have a lot of negative consequences, including having to spend a fortune on long telephoto lenses and/or putting oneself in a situation that is bad for you and/or bad for the subject! Shooting enviroscapes and/or animalscapes can remove the need to get excessively close to your subject, which is often a good thing (even for the reputation of wildlife photographers in the eyes of the public). And, shooting GOOD animalscapes and/or enviroscapes can be incredibly challenging and absolutely requires that the photographer has strong compositional skills (and a great eye for for lighting, contrast, and more...) and strong technical skills. Personally, I appreciate good wildlife 'scapes far more than I appreciate most close-up shots of wildlife (which often could of easily been captured in a zoo or other captive environment).

Those interested in reading more about subject dominance and both enviro- and animalscapes can find a more detailed discussion here. Those wishing to see a collection of some of my own favorite wildlife 'scapes are invited to check out my Animalscapes Gallery...

Animalscapes tend to "work" better when seen large, so here's a 2400-pixel version for your perusal:

The Traveller. Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 3.0 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 Traveller. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 26, 2015.

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

Nikon D4s paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 200mm - hand-held from floating Zodiac. Optical Stabilization (OS) on and in OS1 mode.

1/200s @ f7.1; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Traveller. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 26, 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, with a total of 0.7 stops in exposure difference over the three variants (plus some small differences in shadow retrieval between variants).

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 three output files from the raw converter, several selective contrast adjustments (via curves adjustment layers), minor selective exposure adjustments, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Traveller. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 26, 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 his life will be ended by a bullet. And, his heads will be cut off (leaving his 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 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