Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Spirit Bear 1 - Pink Salmon 0

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In the Field

Spirit Bear 1 - Pink Salmon 0. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

This is a shot of a male Spirit Bear that is pretty much in his prime. Physically he's in top-notch shape - so much so that the local First Nations guides have nicknamed him "Boss". While not an aggressive bear (even with other bears), when Boss stakes out a portion of a stream and claims it as his own other bears clearly defer to him and simply avoid the area.

Besides being in his prime from a strictly physical perspective, Boss's behavioral skills are close to their prime too, including his fishing skills. Fishing skills vary dramatically between bears - I've seen some bears that fish all day and only catch a handful of fish. But if you're a pink salmon and Boss is around you better watch out - once he sets his sights on a given fish it usually ends up like this one and ultimately becomes forest fertilizer!

I captured this image with a Nikon D850 paired up with Sigma's 120-300mm f2.8 Sport zoom lens. As I have mentioned in previous image posts, one of the "concerns" about packing more and more pixels into a DSLR sensor (as Nikon has done with the D850) is that the increase in resolution may get to the point where the image sensor "out-resolves" some lenses. This means the sensor of the D850 may reveal lens flaws that don't show on other lower resolution cameras.

So...have I personally noticed this issue of the D850 revealing lens flaws that don't show on other cameras? Yes. A perfect example is on a relatively rare Nikkor lens that I quite like - the Nikkor 200mm f4 Micro. Over the years I have found that this lens was amazingly sharp edge-to-edge on cameras of up to 36 MP in resolution, even on distant subjects (even though that wasn't what the 200mm f4 Micro was designed for). BUT...on the D850 this lens shows marked edge softness on distant subjects at all apertures (but note that this lens isn't used by many to shoot distant this "flaw" will be pretty irrelevant to most users).

So what about the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport - how does it "hold up" to the demands of the D850's 45.7 MP sensor? Well...after a lot of testing AND simply shooting the lens in the field...I'm pleased to say (if only for selfish reasons because I own one) that the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport performs extremely well with the D850. Center sharpness is excellent at all focal lengths and apertures. And edge sharpness is also impressive at almost all focal lengths and apertures (with only slight softening on the edges when shot wide open at 300mm). I'm sure this news will be accompanied by a sigh of relief (or cheers) by the many fans of this unique zoom lens! ;-)

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this white-coated victor enjoying his spoils:

Spirit Bear 1 - Pink Salmon 0: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.0 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 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 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 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

Spirit Bear 1 - Pink Salmon 0. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1100.

Nikon D850 paired with Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 Sport @ 300mm. Hand-held. OS on and in "OS1" mode, with image stabilization customized to Moderate View mode; AF customized to Fast Priority AF.

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

At the Computer

Spirit Bear 1 - Pink Salmon 0. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 10. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (1.1 stops total), noise reduction, and shadow retrieval settings.

Further digital correction on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2018. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, minor exposure tweaks, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final selective tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Spirit Bear 1 - Pink Salmon 0. 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