Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Female's Choice?

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In the Field

The Female's Choice? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

Watching a male grizzly court a female is a fascinating experience. It's hard to generalize about "the process" - sometimes it's only an hour or two long before things are...well...done, and sometimes the female will lead the male around for a week or longer before deciding if she's going to mate with him. This female (the bear on the right) seemed to be keen on making this particular male dance a jig or two before accommodating him. She may also be wary of getting too close to this guy (and is very carefully evaluating her options) for yet another reason - the male bear shown here killed her lone cub a few weeks earlier, presumably with the intent of speeding the female's return to estrous. Did that gruesome - but natural - event trigger any grief or other emotional response from the female? Did it have a lasting impact on her impression or feelings toward this particular male, including whether or not she'll choose to mate with him? I don't know...and no one can say for sure. What I'd give to spend a few minutes in the head of a bear and get a glimpse of what they perceive, feel and think about their world...

While no one will argue that even the best zoom lens is as sharp as a high-end prime (fixed focal length) lens, there are many times in wildlife photography where the variable focal length of a zoom lens can trump the absolute sharpness of a prime lens. This shot is a perfect example of that - I captured it with my Sigma Sport 150-600mm lens at 270mm, and the version you're seeing has been cropped only very slightly (for compositional reasons). I don't know about you, but getting in this exact position to capture this fascinating courtship interaction isn't something that happens to me every day (after over a decade of photographing bears this is the FIRST time I was able to get a view like this of courting bears)...and to be "stuck" with the wrong lens on my camera (like too long of a prime lens) would have been pretty darned frustrating. I doubt I'll ever give up using selected prime lenses for the bulk of my wildlife photography work, but I am just LOVING having quality super-zooms like the Sigma Sport 150-600 available to me.

Here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of this shot for your perusal:

The Female's Choice: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.9 MB)


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. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2016. 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.

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

Behind the Camera

The Female's Choice? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 4000.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 270mm. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. Optical stabilization on and in "OS1" mode.

1/400s @ f7.1; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Female's Choice? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.75 stop total difference between the variants), shadow retrieval settings, and noise reduction settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, selective contrast tweaks (using a curves adjustment layer), and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Female's Choice? Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 31, 2016.

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 these bears reside in BC, there's a very real chance that their lives will be ended by a bullet. And, their heads and paws will be cut off (leaving their carcasses 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 these fearsome beasts).

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