Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Exit Ramp

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In the Field

The Exit Ramp. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

Long before humans constructed highways and freeways the concept of an "exit ramp" was well-understood by our non-human brethren! Here a sub-adult male grizzly has just completed a rather invigorating swim across a channel in the Khutzeymateen estuary and, while still dripping wet, is about to climb the off-ramp into the surrounding forest. And, he doesn't even need the repetitively redundant signage that we adorn our roadways with to find his way onto the ramp! ;-)

I captured this image during an extended evaluation of the capabilities of Sigma's 120-300mm f2.8 Sport zoom lens. While I naturally "gravitate" towards prime lenses for a lot of my wildlife work, I'm like most wildlife photographers in liking the idea of having a zoom of high optical quality lens at my disposal. You know, one that offers tack sharp images and that provides me with more (and certainly "faster") compositional options than a prime lens does. But I have to say that MOST telephoto zooms with focal lengths suitable for wildlife shooting tend to be "aperture-limited" (or perhaps I should say "aperture-handicapped"?) when shooting in a low-light environment, especially if you pair them up with a cropped sensor (DX) body that doesn't have the ISO performance of some of Nikon's full-frame (FX) bodies (such as the Nikon D5). And that's the main reason why I was intrigued by - and wanted to test and evaluate - how the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport zoom paired up with Nikon's D500 (that fixed f2.8 aperture is just so compelling!).

This shot demonstrates extremely well what the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport "offers" when paired with a Nikon D500. This image was captured hand-held from a floating (= unstable) Zodiac with a moving subject - so going to a very low shutter speed simply wasn't an option. It was in "typical" Great Bear Rainforest low-light, and to capture the shot I had to push the ISO boundaries of the D500 to close to what I consider its limit - ISO 3600. Based on my own testing of the Sigma 120-300 I knew when it is stopped down to moderate apertures (in this case f5) it is very, very sharp...and definitely sharper than some other telephoto zooms (such as Nikon's AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 and their AF-S 200-500mm f5.6 or Sigma's and Tamron's 150-600mm f5-6.3 zooms) which would be wide open (or close it) at f5. And, of course, with the 120-300mm f2.8 I could have opened it up AT LEAST one stop more and STILL got a sharp shot (I chose not to here for reasons associated with depth-of-field).

No lens is perfect and they each have different strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, no one who has handled the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens would EVER call it svelte - and for some shooters the weight of the lens might scare them off. But in the low-light world where I do a lot of my wildlife shooting the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport zoom simply makes my D500 a WHOLE lot more useful. How can a wildlife shooter NOT like an optically sharp f2.8 lens with an equivalent focal range of 180mm to 450mm?

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this dripping wet bruin for your perusal:

The Exit Ramp: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.6 MB)


1. This image was captured during one of my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2017. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. 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 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/luring devices (including vocalizations or other sounds).

Behind the Camera

The Exit Ramp. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 3600.

Nikon D500 paired with Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport lens @ 195mm (for an EFL of 292mm). Hand-held from moving Zodiac. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with OS1 stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

1/400s @ f5; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Exit Ramp. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.25 stop total difference between the variants), shadow recovery settings, and noise-reduction settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, very minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Exit Ramp. Khutzeymateen Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. June 1, 2017.

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

Species Status in Canada**: Special Concern (May 2002).

While Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) are not technically listed as "Endangered" in Canada, they have been extirpated from most of their historical range. Grizzly Bears are far more sensitive to intrusion/disturbance in their habitat than are Black Bears and are being increasingly forced into marginal habitat by human encroachment. The Great Bear Rainforest along the central and northern coast of British Columbia is one of the last strongholds of the Grizzly Bear in Canada, and even this population is coming under increasing pressure.

Sadly, because this bear resides in BC, there's a very real chance that its life will be ended by a bullet. And, its head and paws will be cut off (leaving the carcass to simply rot) so that they can be mounted and adorn the wall of some fearless trophy hunter (who will, no doubt, be cheered on by all the grasses, sedges and clams that will be saved from being so mercilessly eaten by this fearsome beast).

The debate about the trophy hunting of carnivores can be broken into 3 arguments: the ethical, the economic, and the ecological. The ethical argument for the trophy hunting of grizzlies in BC? On that one - just go back and look at this image and read the paragraph immediately above. The economic argument? Well, it's on even shakier grounds - not only does bear-watching in BC generate 11-15 times as much revenue as bear hunting (and employ 10-15 times as many people), but the revenue generated by bear hunting doesn't even cover the cost to the BC Gov't of managing the hunt itself - it's a net loss to the taxpayers of BC (all studies related to these economic claims can be supplied on request). The ecological argument? Yep, you guessed right - there isn't one. As a matter of fact, an increasing body of sound, peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown how the guild of carnivores at the TOP of the food chain are exceptionally important to the overall health of ecosystems - everything from ensuring continued biodiversity through to maximizing that amount of carbon dioxide the ecosystem can absorb (climate change consequences, anyone?).

So why does the trophy hunting of carnivores (and bears in particular) continue to exist in BC? Good question. Well, it sure isn't because of public support - just under 90% of British Columbians are against it. And many First Nations have banned it in their territories. Sadly, it appears that little more than the fact that a handful of elected officials (MLA's) in a few rural ridings fear the backlash from voters if they stand against trophy hunting is keeping trophy hunting alive.

Those wishing to get active in helping to stop the trophy hunting of carnivores in BC are encouraged to visit this page on Raincoast's website. And please help spread the word!

*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