Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

A Salmon's Worst Nightmare

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In the Field

A Salmon's Worst Nightmare. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

If you're a pink salmon returning to your natal stream to spawn the absolute LAST thing you want to see is a bear patiently waiting to make a meal of you. And, it's an even worse problem if the bear happens to be white Spirit Bear. Why? Well...consider the problem from a salmon's point of view - you're swimming upstream at or near the bottom of the stream. Way above you is a sky that is more often than not - especially in a rainforest - overcast. From the stream bottom a black or brown colored bear is easy for a salmon to spot against a white sky. But a white bear against that light-colored sky is a little less likely to stand out, and you're a little more likely to miss it. And, most importantly, you're a little more likely to become bear food! And this increased likelihood of fishing success for white-coloured bears during daylight hours is one of the leading arguments for why natural selection has left us with a relatively high proportion of Spirit Bears in a small section of the Great Bear Rainforest.

This image was captured using a Nikon D850 paired with a Nikkor 400mm f2.8E super-telephoto lens. One of the "concerns" about packing more and more pixels into a DSLR is that the increase in resolution may get to the point where the image sensor "out-resolves" some lenses. In other words, a high resolution sensor like that found in the Nikon D850 may reveal lens flaws that aren't obvious when shooting those same lenses on lower resolution cameras. Makes sense to me...

So...does the Nikon D850 reveal any flaws in the Nikkor 400mm f2.8E VR? Well, not that I've been able to find - as always the lens continues to produce razor sharp results in the central portion of the image (as this shot shows). And, while it is not obvious in this shot (because the other regions of the shot are intentionally out-of-focus), my own testing has shown that the Nikkor 400mm f2.8E - Nikon D850 combo produces razor sharp images across the entire frame (i.e., edge-to-edge) on distant scenes. To be honest, I would have been surprised is this WASN'T the case, but it's darned nice to know that when you lay out a 5-figure amount for a lens it performs well on ALL the cameras it can be used with!

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this very serious, very focused fisherman (it IS a male):

A Salmon's Worst Nightmare: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 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

A Salmon's Worst Nightmare. Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. September 27, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1800.

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

1/1250s @ f4.5; no compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

A Salmon's Worst Nightmare. 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 (1.0 stops total), noise reduction settings, and both highlight and shadow retrieval settings.

Further digital correction on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2017. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, selective colour saturation and desaturation, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


A Salmon's Worst Nightmare. 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