Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Black and Blacker

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In the Field

Black and Blacker. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 23, 2017.

When ANY bear locks onto something it has decided it wants to eat it's like it has switched off all sensory input EXCEPT that associated with acquiring the prey. It's complete "laser" focus! And, although I may be wrong on this, it seems like in the autumn - when the bears are trying to fatten up for their coming long winter where their calorie ingestion falls to zero - this focus is even MORE intense (and certainly far more frequent). The subject of the focus shown in this image is a pink salmon, and shortly after I captured this image the salmon ended up on the losing end of the encounter! In this rendering of the moment I chose to remove all colour (via a conversion to black and white) to ensure that those piercing eyes (and the great detail in the facial region) of the bear maximally draw the viewer's eyes (with fewer distractions pulling at them!).

But I'm posting this image for a reason OTHER than talking about black and white conversions. I captured this image with a Nikon D850 and a Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR lens. It is an EXTREME crop - what you're looking at here represents only 8.5% of the full-frame image! Many wildlife photographers who are buying high resolution cameras like the Nikon D850 are doing so (whether they admit it or not!) because it allows them to crop liberally and still have a "usable" image (for printing at a decent size, for web use, etc.). If you ARE buying a high-resolution camera to facilitate moderate-to-extreme cropping there are at least two things you should keep in mind...and both of them relate to the same consequence of cropping: it will limit how much resolution-reduction (or "downsampling") you can perform on the image (i.e., you may have to use ALL - or close to all - of your camera's "native" pixels).

First, if you are going to use large crops be aware that high resolution cameras will tend to show lens flaws MORE than lower resolution cameras. When you downsample a full-resolution shot one of the first things that most photographers notice is that shots that were slightly soft (throughout the entire image or just on the edges) at full resolution usually appear to be sharper after downsampling. And, other lens or image flaws are also very commonly hidden by downsampling (depending, of course, on how much downsampling you do). BUT, if you crop significantly first (before downsampling), you'll limit how much downsampling you'll have "left" - and those lens flaws CAN end up showing more on your final image. This means that if you plan on doing moderate-to-extreme cropping your full-resolution shot HAS TO BE SHARP AND/OR "CLEAN" (when viewed at 100% magnification) in the first place. And this can mean that you have to use the "best of the best" lenses (as well as solid image capture technique) with high-resolution cameras if you are going to do heavy cropping. The full-frame version of this image WAS crazy sharp to begin with, largely owing to the fact that I captured it with a Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR lens - and that original sharpness of the full-resolution shot permitted me to make a huge crop.

Second, keep in mind that those that claim the ISO performance of the D850 rivals that of the D5 (or D4s or D4, etc.) are basing this claim on image comparisons AFTER the D850 images have gone through a LOT of downsampling (i.e., not on how the noise in full-resolution images of D850 and D5 images compare). with image sharpness...if you are going to crop a D850 image liberally you won't be able to do much downsampling and you will have to live with all the noise (or close to all the noise) in the full-resolution image. And, in turn, this means that you likely won't be able to shoot at crazy high ISO's with a D850 if you are planning to crop the image a lot. So those interested in getting a D850 so they can do a lot of cropping should pay more attention to the ISO performance of the camera using full-resolution images (and viewed at 100% magnification) rather than the ISO performance as judged by examining resolution-reduced images. So that means you should disregard ISO performance values like's "Sport (Low-Light ISO)" value!

Take home lessons? Well...if you're buying a high-resolution camera like a Nikon D850 with the thought it gives you an increased ability to crop images (and possibly save you from forking out thousands and thousands for a super-telephoto lens) keep this in mind: To capture top-quality shots that will hold up to heavy cropping you should be prepared to use the "best-of-the-best" lenses, great image-capture techniques, and be prepared to shoot at lower ISO's than many "tests" and pundits suggest!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this "laser focused" black bear (and note that this image is the FULL resolution shot AFTER cropping shot - all the pixels are native!):

Black and Blacker: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.3 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

Black and Blacker. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 23, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1250.

Nikon D850 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8E. Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode.

1/400s @ f4; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Black and Blacker. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 23, 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 (1.0 stops total) and shadow retrieval settings. Black and white conversion performed during raw conversion (not in Photoshop).

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.


Black and Blacker. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 23, 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.

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.

*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