Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Spirit Bear Seeks Salmon

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In the Field

Spirit Bear Seeks Salmon. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

You can get a real good idea of just how experienced a particular bear is at fishing if you watch how they do it. Young, inexperienced bears (whether they are grizzlies, black bears, or even white-colored black bears like this one) tend to chase and flail around a whole lot, and often come out with a nothing more than a mouthful of water. This particular Spirit Bear is an elderly female and she knows the game real well - she's patient and wastes close to zero energy. Here she's waiting motionless and carefully studying the flowing water in the creek for any sign of a salmon that may swim (quite literally) right under her nose!

With the exception of situations of extreme action or extremely low light, I am finding I am "gravitating" to using my mirrorless Nikon Z7 for more wildlife shooting than I initially expected. Of course, I never expected my Z7 to replace my D5 - and when I do run into scenarios of extreme action or very low light there's no doubt my D5 is the camera to use. But more and more I am turning to my Z7 for my wildlife shooting.

So...WHY am I using my Z7 for more of my wildlife shooting? Well, there's a bunch of reasons, many of which pertain to the increased control I have over my exposures because of the EVF (and the reasons for that include the exposure feedback you get based on the brightness of the scene in the viewfinder AND the histogram that's visible in the viewfinder before the exposure). And, as a stickler for DoF, I love that now can SEE the actual DoF through the viewfinder.

But the single biggest reason for me gravitating to my Z7 is the excellent image stabilization (VR) it offers. This allows me to shoot at lower shutter speeds (and/or lower ISO's) than I could with a DSLR using the same focal length of lens. Of course, this additional image stabilization is most pronounced if you are using Nikkor Z-mount lenses, but even when using F-mount lenses (with the FTZ adapter) there is an "enhancement" of the VR over what you'd get using the same lens with a Nikon DSLR. This enhancement comes partly from the Z7 (or Z6) adding an extra axis of stabilization, but it also seems to add about 0.5 stop EXTRA VR performance compared to when you use the same lens on a DSLR. Note that this statement about the "extra" VR is - at this point - an anecdotal observation only (I am in the process of systematically testing this, but I don't have the full results available yet).

This shot was captured hand-held using a Nikon Z7 paired up with a Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8E zoom lens (at 200mm) and at 1/15s. Of course, ANY VR system stabilizes the camera if the subject moves during the exposure the image will be blurry. Thanks to this very experienced "fisherwoman" who knows how to stay still, I was able to successfully shoot this shot at a crazy slow shutter speed! ;-)

Here's a considerably larger (2400 pixel) version of this very focused Spirit Bear for your perusal:

Spirit Bear Seeks Salmon: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.25 MB)


1. This image was captured during our "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" exploratory photo adventure in September of 2019. Each year we 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

Spirit Bear Seeks Salmon. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 64.

Nikon Z7 paired with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8E zoom lens at 200mm. Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode. Single Point "Pinpoint" AF area mode.

1/15s @ f4; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Spirit Bear Seeks Salmon. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot were limited to a single shadow recovery adjustment. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 5 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) exposure, contrast, clarity, saturation, color, and shadow recovery.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Spirit Bear Seeks Salmon. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. 18 September 2019.

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

This white-coloured Black Bear (also known as a "Spirit 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