Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Beartopia. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

One of the most challenging mental barriers to hurdle in wildlife photography is training yourself to be sensitive to more than "just" your subject when you're looking through the viewfinder. I've mentioned several times before (in several places on this website) that the "full-frame" (or "closer is better") wildlife shot isn't the end-all and be-all in wildlife photography. Putting your subject in an unforgettable scene - even if it means reducing the relative size of your subject in the frame - can often produce a more impactful or memorable shot than yet one more tightly framed eyeball shot!

This is the type of shot I consider an "enviroscape" - a shot where you have captured the subject in an environment almost diagnostic of its chosen habitat (for a more detailed discussion of the image types I call animalscapes and enviroscapes - and the subtle distinctions between them - just go here...). This shot - captured in the Khutzeymateen inlet of BC's Great Bear Rainforest - just screams "Great Bear Rainforest" - at least to me! In this case I felt it was almost critical to have the majority of the surrounding elements in sharp focus, so I stopped my telephoto zoom all the way down to f11 for this shot. Because I was hand-holding the shot (from a floating Zodiac) I had to keep the shutter speed at least moderately high - in this case I shot the image at a 390mm focal length and 1/400s. Having a camera (here a Nikon D5) where you can move toward the ISO stratosphere (in this case ISO 7200) with little-to-no image quality penalties is a HUGE asset or advantage in the field.

As a final "editorial" comment, I have to say I find it exceptionally puzzling that some (such as are claiming that the ISO performance of the D5 trails behind other recent Nikon flagships. I believe that they are reliably reporting the results of their tests - but I really wonder if those tests are actually measuring something that is directly correlated with the image quality one can realize in a field setting. With a D4s I didn't really "worry" about the impact of rising ISO on image quality (of MOST scene types) until about ISO 5000. With the D5 I find you can go at least 1/3 of stop higher in ISO (or to ISO 6400 on most scene types) before the overall image quality starts to drop (and I AM talking about more than just visible noise here...I'm also meaning colour, tonal range, and dynamic range "impacts" on an image).

This one is kinda nice when seen large, so here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version for your perusal:

Beartopia: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.7 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. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2016. 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.

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 (including vocalizations).

Behind the Camera

Beartopia. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 7200.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 390mm. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. Optical stabilization on and in "OS1" mode.

1/400s @ f11; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Beartopia. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.2. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.25 stop total difference between the variants) noise reduction settings, and both highlight and shadow retrieval settings.

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, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Beartopia. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

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 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 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