Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Khutzeymateen Cruisin'

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In the Field

Khutzeymateen Cruisin'. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 25, 2017.

Sometimes...or maybe often...capturing simple, clean images of wildlife can be really challenging. This is true with almost any species you can think of, but it can be even tougher with the larger carnivores. I know of folks who have tried for YEARS to capture a shot of a grizzly swimming on calm water and yet still have nothing to show for it...the number of conditions that have to be "just right" (along with the challenging task of finding a swimming grizzly) is quite mind-boggling.

With all that in mind I'm almost embarrassed to say that THIS image was captured about 15 minutes into the first day of my first "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in 2017! We hadn't even fully gotten into the Khutzeymateen estuary when we saw this sub-adult male grizzly ease itself into the water (almost right in front of us!) and begin swimming (and on almost perfectly calm water!). Once the bear had crossed the inlet (and given us one more treat - a great shake as it climbed out of the water) and gone on its merry way I could do almost nothing but smile and shake my head. What dumb luck we had (along with horseshoes up our...)!

When I'm evaluating the "quality" of a lens through examining images shot in a field setting I always pay attention to both the sharpness of the image AND the quality of the out-of-focus (or OOF) zones. Lenses that make me happy (and that make me WANT to shoot with them) must be very sharp (of course) AND have smooth and almost "buttery" OOF zones. These two characteristics almost reinforce one another - if the OOF zones are smoothly blurred then the in-focus zones seem SHARPER (I usually refer to this as "apparent sharpness"). In MOST cases high-end prime super-telephotos (like 300mm and 400mm f2.8 primes as well as 500mm and 600mm f4 primes) outperform zoom lenses in this sharp in-focus zone/soft OOF zone balance - many new zooms are quite sharp, but usually their OOF zones don't match up well against the primes (especially some of the wider focal range zooms, like the Nikkor 80-400). But I have to say I am really impressed with the balance in the quality of the in- AND out-of-focus zones of the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport - it's right up there with the good primes.

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this bold bruin (and a better size for evaluating image sharpness and the quality of the OOF zones):

Khutzeymateen Cruisin': Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.7 MB)


1. This image was captured during one of my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2017. 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.

2. 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!

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our 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/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

Khutzeymateen Cruisin'. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 25, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 320.

Nikon D500 paired with Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens @ 300mm (for an EFL of 450mm). Hand-held from moving Zodiac. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with OS1 stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

1/500s @ f4; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Khutzeymateen Cruisin'. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 25, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.6 stop total difference between the variants), shadow and highlight recovery settings, and noise reduction settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, very minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Khutzeymateen Cruisin'. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 25, 2017.

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 its 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