Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Dwarfed. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 30, 2012.

Unless you've spent some time in coastal rainforests it's hard to appreciate just how BIG everything is - especially the trees that make up that rainforest. We had been watching this grizzly wade its way along the shoreline at the head of the Khutzeymateen Inlet when it decided to walk up a natural "ramp" and into the forest. For the bulk of time we had been watching the bear I had been shooting with my 400mm f2.8 VR lens and, consequently, most of the time I had been watching a tighter view of the scene as seen through my camera's viewfinder. Just before I shot this image I put my camera (with the 400mm mounted on it) down and was instantly struck by how the massive trees in the background completely dwarfed the bear - and just how beautiful the wider scene was. Fortunately I had my "animalscape" camera set up (at the time a Nikon D800 and 70-200mm f2.8 VRII lens) handy and was able to quickly change gears and capture this image.

As time marches on I find myself gravitating more and more towards the challenge of shooting animalscape shots (rather than just "closer is better" shots) of wildlife. This doesn't mean that I don't appreciate (or still shoot) good portraits or more tightly framed shots of wildlife, but I'm ALWAYS on the lookout for scenes with wildlife that lend themselves to creating good 'scapes. Watching for (or being receptive to) good animalscapes is valuable in itself as it can take you out of the "tunnel-vision" mode that it's easy to fall into if one goes into the field with a "MUST get a full-frame shot of the animal" mental framework. There is SO much more to good wildife photography than just "getting close" to an animal.

Animalscape shots also test one's post-processing skills. My experience is that many or most wildlife photographers (including both pros and advanced amateurs) consider developing strong post-processing skills as a necessary evil (at best!) and some even resent spending time behind their computers (they'd much rather be out in the field than spending time in their digital darkroom). But to create appealing animalscapes a photographer has to be comfortable making a lot of selective adjustments to an image, especially nuanced and selective adjustments to exposure and contrast, some of which may require advanced masking techniques (such as using multiple luminosity masks on a single image). In creating this particular image I combined 3 separate exposure variants (from my raw converter) using two different luminosity masks, plus three separate selective adjustments to contrast (again via careful selective masking). And, portions of the image required colour desaturation. Note that making multiple selective adjustments to an image can be necessary to RETURN the image to what you observed in the field (rather than in a creative direction that moves the image AWAY from what saw). Why? Because while our digital cameras are getting more and more amazing with each model release, they still aren't perfect - and they don't always render a scene "as seen".

Those looking to read more about animalscapes and enviroscapes may enjoy reading this discussion: Subject Dominance - Just how big?

Almost without exception, animalscapes look WAY better when they're big (as prints OR online). So here's a 2400 pixel version for your perusal...

Dwarfed: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.9 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 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).

3. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2012. 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

Dwarfed. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 30, 2012.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1100.

Nikon D800 paired with Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f2.8 VRII - hand-held from floating Zodiac inflatable boat. VR on in Normal mode.

1/200s @ f7.1; -1.3 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting

At the Computer

Dwarfed. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 30, 2012.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 1.0 stops in exposure. Variation between variants also included differences to shadow and highlight retrieval settings.

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 using both luminosity and manual masking techniques, minor exposure and contrast tweaks, selective colour desaturation, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Dwarfed. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada. May 30, 2012.

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 (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