Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Spring Black Bear. Southern Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 12 May 2019.

I captured this Black Bear portrait in the spring of 2019 while leading our annual "Spring in the Southern Great Bear" photo tour. It was one of those shots were I knew I was kinda on the edge of what I could capture (and still retain reasonable image quality) with what was in my hands (camera-wise) at the time. Long story short, we had just completed dinner and someone in the crew spotted this black bear foraging for grass along the nearby shoreline. So...we did the "fire drill" thing and hopped into our Zodiac with minimal gear - we all basically just grabbed one camera, life-jackets, and jumped into the inflatable boat. Now my Nikkor 180-400mm spends MOST of its time paired up with my D5, and when I grabbed the camera and lens I just assumed I was grabbing the D5/180-400mm combination. BUT...I had been doing some monkeying around with different gear combinations just before dinner and had left my D500 paired up with my 180-400 (and that's what I quickly grabbed as I entered the Zodiac). Oops.

Anyway...the sun was just going down and the bear was in the shadows so we were facing a bit of a light limitation. And, because we were shooting in a Zodiac, we were destined to be hand-holding our gear. I personally prefer keeping the ISO on my D500 at no higher than ISO as soon as I realized I had grabbed the wrong camera/lens combo I knew I'd be really be pushing things to get the shots I wanted.

Anyway I had no choice but to just see what I could get with the D500 and the 180-400mm in the fading light. I let my ISO float up to 3200 (using Auto ISO) and pushed the boundaries of the good old "hand-held when shot in a moving Zodiac shutter speed limit on the 180-400mm f4 zoom when shot at 560mm" rule (hey, I apply a lot of rules to my own shooting!). At the end of the day, much of dynamic wildlife photography comes down to picking the optimal combination of variables on that old-but-still-relevant exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, ISO).

How did results of the short Black Bear session end up? Well, my hit rate of sharp shots was lower than it would have been if I had relied on the higher ISO values (and thus higher shutter speeds) I could have shot with on my D5. And...I definitely pushed my own "acceptable noise" limit on the shots. But...some came out not half bad! ;-)

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this handsome Black Bear:

Spring Black Bear: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.49 MB)


1. This image was captured during our "Spring in the Southern Great Bear" photo tour in May of 2019. Each year I 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

Spring Black Bear. Southern Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 12 May 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 3200.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 180-400mm f4E zoom at 400mm and with teleconverter engaged (total focal length with crop factor of 840mm). Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on and in Sport mode. Single Point AF mode.

1/640s @ f5.6; +0.3 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Spring Black Bear. Southern Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 12 May 2019.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot included modifications to exposure and highlight retrieval/reduction. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) shadows, exposure (balancing), clarity, and noise reduction.

Photoshop adjustments were limited to image re-sizing, conversion of Prophoto RGB colour gamut (to sRGB), final sharpening for online display, and insertion of watermark.


Spring Black Bear. Southern Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 12 May 2019.

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

This black 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