Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

C'mon...Just ONE Bedtime Belly-rub...PLEASE!

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In the Field

C'mon...Just ONE Bedtime Belly-rub...PLEASE! Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 30, 2015.

This was an incredibly memorable moment! We had been watching several grizzlies on a alluvial fan in the Khutzeymateen grizzly sanctuary late one evening - just as the sun was setting and illuminating only the top of higher ridges in golden light, this female grizzly walked out of the bright light and into the darkening shade on this grassy slope. She then promptly laid down, rolled onto her back, exposed her ample belly, and stared at us. As a dog owner I was instantly reminded of one of my two Portuguese Water Dogs that uses ANY excuse possible to get a belly rub! Of course, I'm sure this bear wasn't really thinking about having its belly rubbed, but it was real hard for me to watch this intimate scene and think otherwise! While this image makes it LOOK like the bear was only feet from us and we could walk right up on it (and rub its belly!), there was a body of water at the base of the grassy slope and we were sitting in a Zodiac inflatable boat. We were safe, the bear was safe and - most importantly - the bear FELT both safe and comfortable enough to just do what bears do when undisturbed by humans.

Each year our digital SLR's get better and better. Yet, despite these advances, they still have room for improvement. This shot is a case in point. The latest camera bodies from Nikon have a fantastic "dynamic range" - meaning that they can record simultaneously capture detail in areas that are very bright and areas that are very dark. Some argue that the dynamic range of cameras like the D750 now exceed that of the human eye. That may be true, but even the best of cameras don't work like exactly like our eyes do - they can't instantly adapt to the lighting conditions in a small portion of an image and see detail there (while still showing detail in a different part of the image that has different lighting on it).

Based on my memory, this scene (as shown above) is pretty much how it looked to me in the field. And, it's clear that the camera DID manage to capture the full dynamic (or brightness range) of the scene. But...I had to be very careful of how I captured the image - and then push the pixels around a whole lot during post-processing - to get to this shot back to "how it appeared in the field".

In terms of the image capture...this was an incredibly high-contrast shot - and from past experience I knew I could capture ALL the shadow and highlight detail in a single exposure. But, if I left the camera to do "its thing" (in matrix metering mode) it would overexpose the shot, with the result being blown-out highlights in the brightest portions of the sun-illuminated grass and along the top edge of the bear's head. So I slightly under-exposed the shot...knowing that I'd have to make multiple adjustments to the resulting shot during post-processing, including re-adjusting the exposure (partly to offset the intentional under-exposure at the time of image-capture).

So...what did the resulting unadjusted raw capture look like? Real awful! The illuminated grass was WAY brighter than the original scene, the shaded region from about the bears eyes down to the bottom of the frame was WAY darker than the original scene, and the shaded region - including the bear - was much, much cooler (in terms of white balance) than it should have been, with the bear almost appearing blue in colour. Thus, in post-processing I had to solve two distinct problems (that the camera couldn't solve on its own) - I had to correct the overall exposure balance (between the sunlit top portion of the image and shaded lower portion of the image) and I had to selectively adjust the white balance of the image (i.e., warming up the shaded region while leaving the white balance of the sunlit upper portion of the image unchanged). So "finalizing" this shot took a lot of post-processing work and adjustment just to overcome the limitations of how our cameras work.

Do all images require the amount of post-processing work this one did in order for them to accurately represent how the original scene looked to the human eye in the field? Fortunately - no! Our cameras can do a great job on front-lit or evenly lit scenes and many of those come out great right "out of the can". But...the minute the lighting gets tricky (high contrast, strongly side- or backlit, fog dominated scenes, etc.) then our cameras' ability to accurately capture those scenes "as seen" by themselves falls off, and having strong post-processing skills becomes increasingly important.

Some might enjoy seeing a larger version of this shot - so here's a 2400-pixel version for your perusal:

C'mon...Just ONE Bedtime Belly-rub...PLEASE! 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

C'mon...Just ONE Bedtime Belly-rub...PLEASE! Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. May 30, 2015.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 5600.

Nikon D750 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 550mm. Hand-held from floating 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

C'mon...Just ONE Bedtime Belly-rub...PLEASE! 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. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure (1.25 stop total difference between the variants), highlight AND shadow recovery settings, and white balance (250 Kelvin total difference between coolest and warmest variant).

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 four output files from the raw converter, minor selective exposure adjustments, minor selective colour saturation and desaturation, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


C'mon...Just ONE Bedtime Belly-rub...PLEASE! 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 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