Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Family Dynamics - Coastal Gray Wolves

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In the Field

Family Dynamics - Coastal Gray Wolves. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. August 29, 2023.

I'm a lover of dogs, I've had a life-long interest in terrestrial carnivores, and I am a "permanent student" of animal behaviour. So, it should probably come as no surprise over how thrilled and fascinated I was to watch and photograph a small pack of wolves interact with one another in a remote estuary in the Great Bear Rainforest in the late summer of 2023.

Myself and the small group of photographers on my 2023 Summer in the Southern Great Bear photo tour had this scene all to ourselves as we sat in our Zodiac and watched the wolves do "wolf-things", including searching the estuary for food and interact with one another. In this shot the larger wolf with its tail up is an adult male, and quite likely the father of the other wolves. The three slightly smaller wolves surrounding the male are very likely pups from the spring the year before (so around 17 months old at the time of this image). Before the adult male wolf laid down the law with the younger wolves they had been "cutting up" like almost all young canids are pone to doing, including some dominance-related mounting of one another. In this shot the young wolf being stared down by the male is exhibiting classic submissive behaviour with its ears-back and its tail tucked in. It was just great fun watching and photographing these family dynamics!

Because of logistic issues (i.e., low tide with water so shallow we could get no closer!) and our concern about not disturbing the wolves, this ended up being quite a long focal length encounter. I shot this image with my Z 9 paired up with a Z 400mm f2.8S paired with a Z TC-2x, for a total length of 800mm (and this IS quite an aggressive crop of the original image). Although I own a Z 800mm f6.3S I rarely take it with me on photo tours. This is because of weight restrictions we face on these trips - it's pretty tough for me to fit in my 120-300mm f2.8E, my Z 400mm f2.8S, and a few other shorter lenses PLUS the Z 800mm f6.3S (and keep within the luggage weight limit of this trip). Fortunately, the Z 400mm f2.8S takes very well to teleconverters, and in my own testing I have found the image quality of the Z 800mm f6.3S and the Z 400mm f2.8S plus Z TC-2x produce very similar quality images.

Anyway...I'm writing this commentary just over a month before I head into the Great Bear Rainforest to lead a spring photo tour there. I'm hoping our luck returns and we find these or other wolves to photograph!

Here's a larger version (3600 pixel) of a fascinating bit of wolf family dynamics:

Family Dynamics - Coastal Gray Wolves: Download 3600 pixel image (JPEG: 4.0 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 Summer in the Southern Great Bear in the late summer of 2023. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as two tours into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary (to photograph grizzlies, of course!). Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

Family Dynamics - Coastal Gray Wolves. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. August 29, 2023.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 3600.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 400mm f2.8S plus Z TC-2x (for a total focal length of 800mm). Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-tracking AF with subject detection on Animal mode.

1/400s @ f6.3; -0.67 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Family Dynamics - Coastal Gray Wolves. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. August 29, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and capture sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 7.5 Elite (using the appropriate lens/camera optical module).

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 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 there were no global adjustments made. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case numerous small adjustments and tweaks were made on 3 separate layers, with most of the tweaks being associated with "exposure balancing" and contrast adjustments (such as adjustments to clarity, highlights, shadows, etc.).

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


Family Dynamics - Coastal Gray Wolves. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. August 29, 2023.

Species Status in Canada*: Only Eastern Wolf listed as species of "Special Concern" in May, 2001. Other populations not listed as Endangered or Threatened.

Species Status in the United States: Western Great Lakes population removed from list of Endangered and Threatened species on January 29, 2007. Proposed delisting of Northern Rockies population on January 29, 2007. Both actions are a direct result of a successful recovery plan. Congratulations! Wolves in other areas of the lower 48 states (including the Southwest wolf population), remain on Endangered Species list.

Probably no species alive today has suffered as much direct persecution from humans as has the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). Once extremely widespread in North America, the Gray Wolf was virtually extirpated from the contiguous 48 states of America and now is regularly found within only a fraction of its historical range in Canada. While the Gray Wolf is currently listed as endangered in most of the 48 lower states of the United States and enjoys the privileges associated with such status (if lack of persecution and abuse can be thought of as a privilege), it is still official policy in much of Canada to rid the countryside of this magnificent keystone predator. As an example, in British Columbia, there is virtually NO closed season on the wolf in most hunting jurisdictions and opportunistic slaughter is encouraged by policy (it is the ONLY fur-bearing species for which NO hunting license is required in British Columbia!). Conservation of wolves presents a puzzling paradox. Reduced to the most basic principles, wolf conservation is simplistic: we need only to stop persecuting this species in order for it to survive. Yet accomplishing this invariably proves incredibly difficult - it's as though wolf persecution has been institutionalized directly into government (and societal) bureaucracy.

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