Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Never Letting the Guard Down

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In the Field

Never Letting the Guard Down. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

I photographed this iconic Spirit Bear in a stream in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest in late September of 2017. In 2017 there was a reasonably strong run of pink salmon, which meant that any bears who visited this stream experienced good fishing and tended to hang around for days. In this shot the bear had just caught himself a good sized salmon and was holding it firmly against a rock (his dinner plate!) and eating it with great gusto!

This particular Spirit Bear was - at least at the time - the biggest bear on the stream and pretty much fished where he wanted. And, unlike smaller and less dominant bears, he saw no need to haul his proteinaceous prize away from the stream to consume it. But, interestingly, even this "biggest on the block" bear never let his guard down while he was eating his fish - every few seconds he'd look around and ensure the coast (or stream!) was clear. In this shot "something" upstream has clearly drawn his attention, and as soon as I had a free second I looked upstream and saw a smallish female black bear (i.e., a black-colored black bear) with a young cub coming down the river. Even though this male was MUCH bigger than the female, he still wanted to keep her under a watchful eye.

Spirit Bears are simply colour variants of the "common" Black Bear (the expression of the white coat is determined by a recessive gene - if a bear has TWO copies of that recessive gene they are white, but if they have only one copy they are black). I've wondered over the years about how the bears themselves perceive or react to coat colour. You know...things like "Are white-colored black bears dominant or subordinate to black-colored black bears" and "Do white-colored bears mate preferentially with other white-colored bears or is coat-color irrelevant in mate choice?" Based ONLY on our own anecdotal observations (NOT scientific evidence) it appears like dominance is based MORE on bear size than coat color...the biggest bears (of either color) seem to be dominant over smaller ones (of either color). On the mate choice far we have no clue (and nor have I seen any studies that have directly addressed or answered that question)! Hmmm...

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this "big guy" keeping an eye on mom:

Mom @ Rest - Calm Vigilance: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.46 MB)


1. This image was captured during my autumn"Into the Great Bear Rainforest" Instructional photo tour in the summer of 2017. 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 the northern portion of 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

Never Letting the Guard Down. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1600.

Nikon D500 paired with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8E VR at 170mm (EFL of 255mm). Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode.

1/1250s @ f4; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Never Letting the Guard Down. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 11. Selective local adjustments accomplished using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 6 separate layers and included local/selective editing (or application of) exposure, shadow recovery, highlight retrieval, 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.


Never Letting the Guard Down. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

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 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