Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Hey...Dirt Happens

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In the Field

Hey...Dirt Happens (even on Spirit Bears). Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

There's probably nothing more natural than dirt! Humans seem to be constantly seeking the ONE characteristic that separates us from animals - you know what I mean...those pithy sayings like "only man creates tools" or "only man possesses a complex language" (what about women??). those dividing lines between man and animals get blown out of the water one after another I feel I should suggest a new one: Only humans are obsessively pre-occupied with keeping ALL dirt off themselves! Of course, this revulsion to dirt carries over to a lot of photographers's amazing how many times I've seen wildlife photographers pass on shooting (or loudly complain about) subjects that are anything less than pristine! In contrast, when I saw how dirty this particular Spirit Bear was I thought "Cool...that will make a catchy image!". If you want to capture images of bears that represent the way they REALLY better be prepared to photograph dirty bears - they just LOVE wallowing in the mud!

I captured this image using a Nikon D500 paired with the almost diminutive Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF, which gives you an Equivalent Focal Length (or EFL) or a "field of view" of a 750mm lens. I've found this combination to work very well when dealing with subjects at moderate or short distances...and the result is often tack sharp images. BUT...I have noticed that the autofocus system of the D500 is less reliable when using super-telephotos on subjects that are further away. I can't give a firm definition of what "further away" really means - maybe 100 meters or more? I've noticed this tendency when the D500 is paired with almost any of my longer lenses, including both the Nikkor 500mm f4E and the Sigma Sport 500mm f4 as well as the Nikkor 400mm f2.8E and the Nikkor 180-400mm f4E (and, of course, the lens used here, the 500mm f5.6E PF). I have checked my lenses and this observation isn't caused by focus tuning issues. In the past I did notice this same trend with other DX Nikon cameras, including the D7000 and the maybe it's somehow related to the smaller DX sensor? Anyway...just one of those factoids to tuck into your back pocket for when you're out shooting...

Here's a considerably larger (2400 pixel) version of this muddy-but-happy Spirit Bear:

Hey...Dirt Happens: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.77 MB)


1. This image was captured during our "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" exploratory photo adventure in September of 2019. Each year we offer photo tours into several different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well trips to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes in locations on Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as Dall Sheep, Bald Eagles, and more. 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

Hey...Dirt Happens (even on Spirit Bears). Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2800.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF telephoto lens. Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode. Single Point Area AF mode.

1/400s @ f5.6; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Hey...Dirt Happens (even on Spirit Bears). Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot were limited to exposure adjustments. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included one or more tweaks and/or local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) contrast (via a curves adjustment), exposure, colour saturation, and shadow detail.

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


Hey...Dirt Happens (even on Spirit Bears). Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

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

This white-coloured Black Bear (also known as a "Spirit Bear") is a member of the subspecies "Kermodei" (Ursus americana kermodei). This subspecies is unique in that the population is characterized by having an unusually high proportion of a recessive gene that produces white coat colour (found on the "Spirit Bears"). Because the Black Bear is not considered under threat as a species, both the Kermodei subspecies and the very rare Spirit Bear suffer 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.

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