Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Split-Lip - A Portrait of Calm

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In the Field

Split-Lip - A Portrait of Calm. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Northern Great Bear Rainforest. June 17, 2023.

Meet "Split-Lip" - my favourite bear from my 2023 Khutzeymateen Grizzlies photo tours in 2023. What's with the name? Well...this bear had one very distinguishing feature - his lower lip was split in two just to the left of center (in this image a piece of grass is concealing the split in the lip). And...I'm personally not a huge fan of giving bears (or other wildlife) human names. But there is obviously some value in being able to accurately refer to the bears when chatting with guests and our crew while we're in the Khutzeymateen. So I go for descriptive names...and I informally dubbed this bear "Split-Lip". Seemed appropriate...

When I travelled into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary in late spring of 2023 one of my own photographic goals was to shoot some nice grizzly portraits. To that end I hauled in both my Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S and my Z 800mm f6.3S super-telephoto lenses. While the grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen tend to be quite approachable and our distance-to-subject is often quite short, in any given year you don't know ahead of time just how approachable the bears will be. As it turns out, I didn't need my 800mm in 2023 to shoot some pretty tight portraits! This one was captured with my Z 400mm f2.8 with its TC engaged.

So...why was Split-Lip my fav grizzly of 2023? Well...not only was he very approachable, but he was also just super, super calm around us. of all - and unlike many of the other bears we encountered in the Khutzeymateen in 2023 - he gave us just great eye contact. It didn't hurt that with his dark coat with golden highlights he was also among the most attractive of bears in the Khutzeymateen Inlet in 2023 (at least in my humble opinion). How old is Split-Lip? Don't really know, but based on his size I would guess in the 7-8 year range.

Two quick technical comments about this image. The first pertains to the autofocus mode I used with my Z 9 to capture this portrait. While I am a big fan of the subject detection capabilities of the Z 9 (and it had absolutely no problem locking on Split-Lip's eyes here), this situation was an almost text-book example of why you have to over-ride the subject detection system at times. In my wildlife portraits I like to have everything from the absolute tip of the nose pad through to the forehead in sharp focus. If you're shooting a portrait like this with virtually any lens of 200mm or greater (and you usually do shoot full-frame grizzly portraits with AT LEAST a 200mm lens) your Depth-of-Field (DoF) is split 50:50 in front of and behind your plane of focus. So if you allow your camera (with a lens like I was using) to focus on the eyes and you capture your portrait that way, odds are your focal plane and DoF are too far back in the image (resulting in the nose being noticeably out-of-focus). So, when shooting these type of close-cropped portraits I quickly switch to single-point AF area mode (which has NO subject recognition on a Z 9) and position the focus box half way between the bears eyes and its nose. Of course, to do this, you have to be able to switch to single-point AF fast. My preferred way of doing this is to customize my lens function (L-Fn1 and/or L-Fn2) button to switch to single-point AF plus turn AF-On. I guess I should make a YouTube video of this simple process and call it "The Secret Way To Make Stunning Grizzly Portraits That No One Wants To Tell You!", eh? 😉

Second...what's with my settings on this shot? Why did I go up to such a needlessly high shutter speed (1/2500s) and high ISO (ISO 5000) to capture this static shot of a bear? To be honest...just to capture some reasonably high ISO shots to bring back and use for both experimenting with and testing the latest noise reduction software.

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this handsome young griz for your perusal:

Split-Lip - A Portrait of Calm: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 5.4 MB)


1. These images - in all resolutions - are 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 photographs on this website, these images were 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.

3. This image was captured during my Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour in the spring of 2023. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes on the northern and west coasts of Vancouver Island. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

Split-Lip - A Portrait of Calm. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Northern Great Bear Rainforest. June 17, 2023.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 1250.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 400mm f2.8 TC VR S @ 560mm (with its built-in TC engaged). Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on in Sport mode. Single-point AF area mode.

1/2500s @ f5; -0.7 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Split-Lip - A Portrait of Calm. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Northern Great Bear Rainforest. June 17, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and capture sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 6.7 Elite.

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 6.7) and conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use) - including all global and selective adjustments - made using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. In the case of this image the only global adjustment was a tweak to the highlights. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case small adjustments were made on 8 separate layers and ALL were under the general umbrella of "exposure balancing", with one or more highly targeted and selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), the highlights, blacks, and shadows. There were no enhancements to the colour saturation of this image during post-processing.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Split-Lip - A Portrait of Calm. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Northern Great Bear Rainforest. June 17, 2023.

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.

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