Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Blinded by the Light

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In the Field

Blinded by the Light. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 1, 2016.

I captured this image of a rare Spirit Bear in a remote location in the Great Bear Rainforest in autumn of 2016. It was very late in the afternoon and the sun was getting low in the sky and most of the scene was in deep shade. The bear was working its way downstream along a small creek and it casually walked into absolutely blinding back-light (and even more blinding given the white colour of the bear). It was clear the bear was going to do this so we had ample time to adjust our exposure settings to accommodate the extreme contrast (and, most importantly, to save the stunningly bright highlights on the bear). But...I have to admit...when I later viewed the image on a computer I was absolutely stunned that I was able to save both the critical highlights AND shadow regions on this shot.

Wildlife photographers who have a technical side to them know that the brightness range of light that can be captured by the sensors on our digital cameras (i.e., the Dynamic Range) has improved by leaps and bounds over the years. I knew that "academically" too...and I was aware that the camera I shot this image with (a Nikon D500) has excellent dynamic range (close to 14 stops at ISO 100 and about 12.5 stops at the ISO I shot this image at - ISO 720). But I was still pretty amazed that the camera - combined with some software assistance from my preferred raw converter (Capture One Pro) - let me pull this shot off! Hell...when I was LOOKING at the scene and this Spirit Bear I was literally blinded by the light...and my naked eyes couldn't hold the highlight details! In other words, this was a clear case where the dynamic range of my camera was greater than the dynamic range of my visual system! That's pretty amazing...and certainly a field-based example of how some of the camera advances that often seem almost esoteric CAN make a huge difference in the real world!

This situation - where our cameras (often with help of post-processing software) outperform our eyes - leads to some interesting challenges in how we process and present our images. For example, if we can't actually "see" the full brightness range of a scene (yet our cameras can), how do we decide where to "take" that image in post-processing (i.e., how do we make it realistic)? In my view, the most common mistake in post-processing is failing to "respect the light". This mistake can take several forms, with two of the most common being extracting WAY too much shadow detail (hey...shadows happen and they are often GOOD in that they add depth and dimensionality to an image) or upsetting the natural balance of the light. At the end of the day, ya gotta keep it real (or as real as you can!).

Interesting stuff to think about...and it will become increasingly more relevant as our cameras go further and further beyond what we can actually see with our naked eyes. But I guess it's a good problem to have! ;-)

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this glowing Spirit Bear:

Blinded by the Light: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.3 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 autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to additional locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species, fishing grizzlies, and more. 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

Blinded by the Light. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 1, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 720.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 500mm f4E VR (for an EFL of 750mm). Hand-held. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

1/400s @ f7.1; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Blinded by the Light. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 1, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.3. 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 highlight retrieval 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, minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Blinded by the Light. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 1, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Not currently listed as Threatened or Endangered.

The "Spirit" Bear is a rare genetically-based colour variant of the common Black Bear (Ursus americanus). It has been estimated that less than 300 Spirit Bears exist today. Because the Black Bear is not considered under threat as a species, the Spirit Bear suffers from having the same conservation designation (it should be acknowledged that in British Columbia - the jurisdiction of greatest Spirit Bear abundance - hunting of these white-coated bears is not permitted). For reasons that are not fully understood, the Spirit Bear occurs with greater frequency in a relatively small geographic area within The Great Bear Rainforest of the central and northern coast of British Columbia. In this area 10 to 30% of the bears possess white coats. Many of the black-coloured Black Bears in this region carry the gene for white coats, so allowing hunting of ANY Black Bears in this region can reduce the frequency of the gene for white coats. Thus, to protect the Spirit Bear, it is necessary to prohibit the hunting of ALL Black Bears in this region. And, very unfortunately, the globally unique ecosystem that contains the Spirit Bear is under development pressure, especially from the forestry industry. If this unique environment is altered, we may lose the wonderful genetic anomaly known as the Spirit Bear forever.

The region this image was shot in is, at the time of this writing (October 25, 2016), still facing an ongoing and potentially catastrophic threat. There is a proposal to bring oil super-tankers through the narrow and treacherous channels of the Great Bear Rainforest. Any mishap - such as the one that sunk the Queen of the North ferry on March 22, 2006 - could result in an oilspill with disastrous consequences.

*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