Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance

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In the Field

Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 30, 2017.

Having two-year old triplets who are still "breast-feeding" (AKA nursing) is absolutely exhausting - just ask this momma bear! In this shot mom is taking a well-deserved break and just "hanging out" while recharging her batteries. Just outside the frame her cubs are doing typical cub things, like turning over rocks, occasionally swatting each other, and generally being a handful. And, while appearing calm and collected in this shot, mom is still keeping a VERY vigilant eye out for any threats to her cubs.

It has become almost a truism that the LAST thing you ever want to do is end up between a female grizzly and her cubs (at least if you want to live). And, it probably is a fact that it's one of the most dangerous bear "scenarios" you could concoct. After all, grizzlies spent a lot of their evolutionary history as THE top land-based predator (at least within North America). Consequently, charging and "neutralizing" a threat to your cubs has historically been a winning formula for a female grizzly in ensuring their cubs make it to adulthood (unless, of course, that threat to your cubs is a male grizzly WAY bigger than you).

While you'll never hear me dispute the general insanity of knowingly placing yourself between mom grizzly and her cubs, I will say that many of the rather massive generalizations about grizzly bear behavior are almost always inaccurate. And, more importantly, they can lead to a very distorted public perception about the very nature of these amazing animals. In turn these perceptions often lead to very flawed interpretations of what one "thinks" (or, in their minds, are downright SURE) they see a bear doing. While in the field I have been approached by grizzlies dozens of times - both while alone and when with others. After a number of these encounters I have asked those I was with what they thought the bear was up to. I haven't kept stats, but very commonly I have heard things like "It was deciding if we'd taste good" or "We're sure lucky it had a full belly." In other words, they were instantly assuming the bear's intent was to cause them harm - and they interpreted almost everything the bear did using that inaccurate (and both anthrocentric and anthropocentric) "lens". After spending countless hours with literally hundreds of bears (and with nary an indication that they were even remotely considering feasting on me) I find this both on the myopic side and a little sad.

In my view, the KEY thing to understand about bears is that - just like with humans - they are all very different. Not only do they have different inherent personalities (in the truest sense of that word), but they've also had very different life experiences. Some bears have undoubtedly had miserable experiences with humans (such as being shot and wounded!). Others - in places like the Khutzeymateen where this good mom was photographed - have been treated with respect for generations. So what you end up seeing on any given day with any given bear is a mix of the bear's personality, its past experiences with humans, and even how its day is going!

Of course if you're walking in the woods and bump into a bear that you haven't encountered before (and know nothing about it) you should be very cautious and give it a wide berth (and you sure as heck SHOULD be carrying bear spray). But watch that bear with a fully open mind (and from a safe and respectable distance that the bear is comfortable with) and you might be really surprised by the complexity of its behavioral repertoire. Like with most wildlife, watching a bear and seeing what it's really doing - and how it's interacting with its total environment - can be both incredibly challenging and absolutely fascinating. Tabula rasa, eh?

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of mom showing a calm version of vigilance for your perusal:

Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.26 MB)


1. This image was captured during my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2017. 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 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.

2. 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!

3. Like all wildlife photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 30, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 800.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma 500mm f4 Sport super-telephoto. Hand-held. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with image stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

1/1250s @ f5.6; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 30, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 11. Selective local adjustments accomplished using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included local/selective editing (or application of) exposure, shadow recovery, and highlight retrieval.

Photoshop adjustments were limited to image re-sizing, conversion of Prophoto RGB colour gamut (to sRGB), final sharpening for online display, and insertion of watermark.


Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 30, 2017.

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.

On December 18, 2017 the government of British Columbia banned grizzly hunting across the entire province. This major conservation victory came after decades of tireless work by many dedicated conservationists and ecologists and, most importantly, it reflects the opinion of the vast majority of British Columbians. And, it means that AT LEAST while the current government remains in power grizzlies are finally "safe" in British Columbia.

Now that we've at least temporarily won the battle to save grizzlies in BC, it's time to re-focus our efforts toward protecting ALL of BC's carnivores, including Gray Wolves, Black Bears, Cougars, Wolverines, and more! Simply put, there are no ecological, economic, or ethical arguments supporting the trophy hunting of carnivores.

In a great first step towards ending the hunting of carnivores throughout BC the Raincoast Conservation Foundation has developed a program designed to protect ALL carnivores within the Great Bear Rainforest. Details about this program can be found on this page on Raincoast's website. Check it out and, better yet, make a donation to help Raincoast purchase the remaining commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear!

*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