Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

 
Sunset for the Great Bear Rainforest?

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In the Field

Sunset for the Great Bear Rainforest? Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 9, 2008.

I captured this image of an adult female grizzly snacking down on some grass just as the sun was about to fall behind the high walls of an inlet on the northern coast of BC. And, there's something REALLY wrong with this picture, and it has nothing to do with the image quality. This bear is not far away from hibernation and should be eating nutrient-rich salmon - not low-nutrition grass! In many of the rivers and streams of the northern BC coast an event with potentially devastating ecological consequences occurred during the autumn of 2008 - the salmon run almost completely failed to materialize. In rivers where there should have been countless thouands of salmon there were only handfuls of them, and the grizzly bears were so hungry they shifted to alternate food supplies - including both plant material and black bears! It's a disaster in the making - I encourage those who wish to know more about this (and other) pending environmental dilemmas/disasters on the west coast to visit the website of the The Raincoast Conservation Foundation - time is running out! Let's hope it's not sunset FOR the Great Bear Rainforest.

OK - off the soapbox and back to the image! I've received a number of emails asking me how I'm able to capture images of bears with under such strong back-lighting. Given the number of different cameras and image-editing software packages, there's no one single recipe. But here are a few ingredients that are critical in correctly cooking your strongly backlit images:

1. Find a grizzly in a stunning environment with amazing lighting. This is likely the toughest part of the equation - and why you should check out my Instructional Photo Tours into the Great Bear Rainforest! Pretty slick way to bring in a plug for my own trips, eh? ;-)

2. Shoot in RAW format. Producing these images requires significant digital file correction to bring the image back close to what you observed in the field. If you're shooting 8-bit JPEGs they won't stand-up well to the image-editing needed to get to the final result.

3. Expose the image to retain the highlights - but JUST! You should pick an exposure where you have detail left in the highlights (or able to retrieve it using your favourite RAW converter). But don't overdo it - if you go too far (with your underexposure) you'll lose all your shadow detail - which is also important. With my Nikon gear, and using matrix-metering, this usually means underexposing the image between 1 and 2 stops, depending on the strength of the highlights.

4. Adjust the shadow/highlight details to match what you saw in the field. Many Photoshop users do this using the Shadows/Highlights controls (Image>Adjustments>Shadows/Highlights...). I prefer a slower but more precise multiple RAW conversion and layering/masking approach (a variant of the "Selective Everything" approach discussed on my Techniques page). Note that this is the critical step in the process, and it is absolutely essential that the shadows are left as shadows and not over-brightened. If the shadows are lightened too much, not only do you risk the chance of introduced unwanted noise to the image, but it will also look unnatural.

Behind the Camera

Sunset for the Great Bear Rainforest? Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 9, 2008.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 200.

Nikon D700 with AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G IF-ED II VR lens - handheld. VR turned to "On" and in "Normal" mode. Autofocus set to M/a mode.

1/500s @ f5; -1.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Sunset for the Great Bear Rainforest? Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 9, 2008.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening, white balance adjustment and slight shadow recovery adjustment using Phase One's Capture One Pro 4.5. Multiple RAW conversions (3 at different exposure settings: -0.5 stops for highlight recovery; 0 stops for base exposure; +0.5 stops for shadow detail retrieval.

Further digital corrections on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS4. Adjustments included compositing and masking of 3 exposure versions, selective colour desaturation, selective curves adjustment and selective sharpening for web output.

Conservation

Sunset for the Great Bear Rainforest? Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 9, 2008.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to The Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

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. 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.

For more information on the status of Brown (Grizzly) Bears in Canada, go to: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca and search under "Grizzly Bears"

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.