Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Rock Garden

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In the Field

The Rock Garden. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. June 2, 2013.

It's funny how your outlook on what's an interesting image shifts over time. I shot this image almost two years ago and managed to overlook it in my collection until April of 2015. So it sat in raw form in my image library, collecting virtual dust! Fortunately, when I was searching for an "enviroscape" image of a coastal grizzly and clicked on the appropriate keywords ("grizzly bear" and "enviroscape") in Lightroom this image popped up (thankfully I'm disciplined enough to keyword all my images!). Obviously shortly after the trip this image didn't impress me much (I can't deny I ignored it for some reason), but now I find myself quite liking the overall scene.

This image is quite characteristic of what one sees in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary. In this particular case one of the more unique aspects of the photo regards the lens I used to capture it with - a Nikkor 600mm super-telephoto lens. Now shooting 'scapes isn't the most common use of "big glass", but it is something I do on a fairly frequent basis (so I'm a little odd!). More commonly I use a 400mm lens (most often the Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR), but in this case I distinctly remember looking at the scene from our Zodiac and thinking " the time we get there that scene will be history, so I better shoot it now". So I grabbed my 600 and fired away!

One of the biggest challenges in using a super-telephoto lens effectively is controlling the depth of field (DoF) in your scene. The big glass can be great for "isolating" your subject (partly owing to their narrow fields of view and partly owing to their generally thin DoF), but creating enough DoF for an effective 'scape with a super-telephoto can be tricky. In this particular case I would have preferred to stop down more, but I didn't have a ton of light and I needed to use a reasonably high shutter to hand-hold that monster lens. I'm not a fan of having a lot of out-of-focus elements in the foreground of most scenes, and the busy rock-grass-log foreground would have looked pretty hideous (at least to my eye) if it was thrown out of focus. I judged the minimum aperture I could stop down to in this shot was about f6.3 (in balancing off ISO with shutter speed). But I also knew if I focused on the bear and used that aperture the foreground would be out-of-focus and I'd chuck the shot out. So...I focused on the grass in FRONT of the bear, and I hoped (using an educated guess) that the DoF would extend to the "front" of the frame AND include the bear. Luckily, I guessed right!

Because animalscapes* and enviroscapes* tend to look better when seen larger, here's a 2400 pixel version to take a look at:

The Rock Garden: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.8 MB)

*For a discussion of the image types I call animalscapes and enviroscapes (and the subtle distinctions between them), just go here...


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. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my 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).

3. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2013. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic 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.

Behind the Camera

The Rock Garden. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. June 2, 2013.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2500.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor 600mm f4 VR lens. Hand-held from floating Zodiac with VR ON and in Normal mode.

1/640 @ f6.3; -0.7 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Rock Garden. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. June 2, 2013.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.5 stops in exposure (as well as differences in highlight and shadow retrieval between the variants).

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2014 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, selective contrast control via a curves adjustment layer, selective colour saturation and desaturation, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Rock Garden. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast, Canada, BC, Canada. June 2, 2013.

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.

Sadly, because this bear resides in BC, there's a very real chance that its life will be ended by a bullet. And, its head and paws will be cut off (leaving the carcass to simply rot) so that they can be mounted and adorn the wall of some fearless trophy hunter (who will, no doubt, be cheered on by all the grasses, sedges and clams that will be saved from being so mercilessly eaten by this fearsome beast).

The debate about the trophy hunting of carnivores can be broken into 3 arguments: the ethical, the economic, and the ecological. The ethical argument for the trophy hunting of grizzlies in BC? On that one - just go back and look at this image and read the paragraph immediately above. The economic argument? Well, it's on even shakier grounds - not only does bear-watching in BC generate 11-15 times as much revenue as bear hunting (and employ 10-15 times as many people), but the revenue generated by bear hunting doesn't even cover the cost to the BC Gov't of managing the hunt itself - it's a net loss to the taxpayers of BC (all studies related to these economic claims can be supplied on request). The ecological argument? Yep, you guessed right - there isn't one. As a matter of fact, an increasing body of sound, peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown how the guild of carnivores at the TOP of the food chain are exceptionally important to the overall health of ecosystems - everything from ensuring continued biodiversity through to maximizing that amount of carbon dioxide the ecosystem can absorb (climate change consequences, anyone?).

So why does the trophy hunting of carnivores (and bears in particular) continue to exist in BC? Good question. Well, it sure isn't because of public support - just under 90% of British Columbians are against it. And many First Nations have banned it in their territories. Sadly, it appears that little more than the fact that a handful of elected officials (MLA's) in a few rural ridings fear the backlash from voters if they stand against trophy hunting is keeping trophy hunting alive.

Those wishing to get active in helping to stop the trophy hunting of carnivores in BC are encouraged to visit this page on Raincoast's website. And please help spread the word!

*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