Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

A Misty Magical Moment

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In the Field

A Misty Magical Moment. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

I've always been a lover of misty and moody scenes, which probably goes a long ways to explaining why I love shooting on the coast British Columbia so much! Give me an overcast day with fog and some animals to photograph and I'm one happy guy.

The white-coated Spirit Bear has become the iconic symbol of the Great Bear Rainforest. It's for a good reason too - while Black Bears anywhere can express this genetic anomaly, in parts of the Great Bear between 10 and 15% of the Black Bears are white, which is a far higher percentage than found anywhere else (the white coat is caused by a recessive form of a single gene, and to show the trait the bear(er) must possess TWO copies of that rare recessive gene).

I've been traveling to the Great Bear - and leading photo tours there - for well over a decade now and during that time I've amassed a large library of Spirit Bear shots. Because of this I've begun looking for "more" in a shot of Spirit Bear than just documenting the existence of one - I'm out to capture them in unique situations (including under interesting lighting conditions) and in new locations throughout the region they're found in. 2019 was an EXTREMELY successfully year in those regards...we managed to encounter them in some great lighting (like in the shot above) AND in some absolutely new locations where we've never seen them before! In 2020 I am hoping it is more of the same!

I captured this moody Spirit Bear image using a Nikon Z7 camera and with Nikon's excellent Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8E zoom lens. In this case I decided to "run with" the softness that the mist imposed on the scene and so I opened the aperture up to f3.2 to soften the background even further. At this time I am really happy with how the 70-200mm f2.8E lens performs with the Z7 and I'm left wondering how much better the coming Z-mount version of the lens can be. Of course, it will mean we can lose the FTZ mount adapter from the mix - and I also think we'll end up with a better VR system (likely by 1.5 to 2 stops, which is NOT insignificant). Optically I expect the 70-200mm f2.8S to be slightly sharper than the 70-200mm f2.8E when both are shot wide open and I suspect that the edges of the frame will also be slightly sharper on the Z-mount version. I WILL be acquiring the Z-mount version as soon as it is available and look forward to doing some head-to-head testing of it against the E version.

Here's a considerably larger (2400 pixel) version of this special moment:

A Misty Magical Moment: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.9 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

A Misty Magical Moment. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 640.

Nikon Z7 paired with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8E zoom lens at 200mm. Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode. Single Point AF area mode

1/400s @ f3.2; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

A Misty Magical Moment. 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 20. Global adjustments to this shot were limited to color saturation and contrast (via Levels) adjustments. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 7 separate layers and included one or more tweaks and/or local/selective edits to (or adjustment of) clarity, contrast, shadows, blacks, and noise reduction.

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


A Misty Magical Moment. 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