Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Sushi Break in the Great Bear Rainforest

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In the Field

Sushi Break in the Great Bear Rainforest. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 5, 2016.

There's no other animal more emblematic of the Great Bear Rainforest than the rare Spirit Bear. Depending on which source you believe, there's only somewhere between 250 to 400 of these bears in existence, and the vast majority of them are found on a handful of islands on BC's central-northern coast. Spirit Bears are simply black bears with a white coat (that is produced by a recessive form of one of the genes associated with coat colour). Why 15-20% of the black bears in one region of BC are white and virtually no other ones on the planet are is still only poorly understood.

This particular Spirit Bear is a female and is about 15 years old. She's had at least 3 sets of cubs (most of which were black in colour) that we know about. In this shot she's enjoying a sushi dinner consisting mostly of freshly caught (as in VERY freshly caught!) pink salmon. Her big belly is indication that she's has a quite successful fishing season leading into hibernation, which is a very good thing. She MAY be pregnant, but because black bears (and, of course, Spirit Bears) exhibit delayed implantation of the embryo into the placenta, there's no relationship right now between the size of belly and her pregnancy status. However, if she IS pregnant, then her storage of a lot of energy (that fat!) bodes well for the survival of those cubs after they are born during winter.

I captured this image using the "new" Nikkor 500mm f4E VR super-telephoto lens (rather than my "tried and true" 400mm f2.8E VR lens). This week-long trip represented the first time I had shot extensively with the new 500 and I have to say I was very impressed with it. While not QUITE as sharp as the 400mm f2.8E VR, the 500 is still very, very sharp. And, the 1.6 lb weight saving of the 500 f4 (over the 400 2.8) is VERY noticeable in the field. While I hand-hold the 400mm f2.8E VR without much problem, the 500mm f4E VR was definitely much easier to hand-hold. And it is balanced extremely with a pro body like the D5 (or a D500 with battery grip) attached. It is one very sweet lens!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this very white sushi-eating Spirit Bear!

Sushi Break in the Great Bear Rainforest: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.5 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 autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to additional locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species, fishing grizzlies, and more. 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).

4. Alert - Digitally Manipulated Image: This image clearly crosses the line from simple digital correction to digital manipulation. In this case of this image I removed two almost white (and very distracting) "scraggly" branches from the background. It is my policy to clearly identify ANY images on this website that overstep the bounds of digital correction and enter the territory of digital manipulation (see Voice: Commentary: Digital Correction vs. Digital Manipulation).

Behind the Camera

Sushi Break in the Great Bear Rainforest. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 5, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1800.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 500mm f4E VR (for an EFL of 750mm). Mounted on Really Right Stuff TVC-24 tripod with a Jobu Jr. 3 Deluxe gimbal head. VR on and in "Sport" mode.

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

At the Computer

Sushi Break in the Great Bear Rainforest. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 5, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9.3. 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/highlight retrieval settings, and in 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, minor exposure and colour saturation tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Sushi Break in the Great Bear Rainforest. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), Canada. October 5, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

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

The "Spirit" Bear is a rare genetically-based colour variant of the common Black Bear (Ursus americana). It has been estimated that less than 300 Spirit Bears exist today. Because the Black Bear is not considered under threat as a species, the Spirit Bear suffers 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.

The region this image was shot in is, at the time of this writing (October 18, 2016), still facing an ongoing and potentially catastrophic threat. There is a proposal to bring oil super-tankers through the narrow and treacherous channels of the Great Bear Rainforest. Any mishap - such as the one that sunk the Queen of the North ferry on March 22, 2006 - could result in an oilspill with disastrous consequences.

*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