Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Autumn Sunrise in the Great Bear Rainforest

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In the Field

Autumn Sunrise in the Great Bear Rainforest. Inlet in Great Bear Rainforest (on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

I've been asked many times why I spend so much of the time I have for shooting images up in the Great Bear Rainforest. The answer is simple: Every time I go there I see new things. And I never come back without a greater appreciation for the natural beauty and biological riches of the region.

This image was captured early on an October morning just as the sun was rising and breaking through the clouds and fog. The subject - an adult female grizzly who had a cub with her - was being kissed by light beams. When she paused to look up (and smell the air) it was almost as though she was paying homage to the sun - or, perhaps, to the two bald eagles high in the left-most conifer in the near background (mid-ground?). I liked the ethereal quality that the sunbeams and background mist gave to the scene...

There were significant challenges in both capturing and processing this image. On the image capture end of the equation, this scene had a huge brightness range - while MOST of the fog was in the mid-tone range, a few portions of it were very bright. And, the shaded regions of this scene - including both the side of the bear and the lower edge of the river bank were very dark. Fortunately I was using a camera with a sensor that has a very wide dynamic range (a Nikon D7000). So...I was confident if I exposed for the highlights I could bring back any shadow detail needed during image processing.

Things got trickier on the processing end. It's my experience that most digital SLR's tend to flatten out mid-tone contrast too much (compared to the original scene). In this case that meant that the sunbeams in the fog on my raw image were MUCH less pronounced than what we saw in the field. To return the scene to what I saw in the field required a lot of post-processing work on the mid-tones. Going into detail into everything I did to bring back the sunbeams and apparent "depth" in the image would result in the production of a short book, but it involved the use of exposure blends (using luminosity masking techniques), selective curves adjustments, and the use of one my favourite lighting tools - a product called LightZone.

I get asked a LOT about post-processing techniques and one of the most common questions I get is "what's the most important thing to learn?". I would argue that two of the most critical things to master are:

1. Finding a good way (with YOUR tools and in YOUR workflow) to make selective adjustments to an image and...

2. Using those techiques for making selective adjustments to increase (or at least optimize) the mid-tone contrast of an image.

NOTE: This image was captured during one of my photo tours into a region of British Columbia known as "The Great Bear Rainforest". I offer both instructional photo tours and "photo op only" photo tours into the Great Bear Rainforest each spring and autumn. If you're interested in participating in one of these trips, just check out the Photo Tours page of this website!

Alert - Digitally Manipulated Image: This image clearly crosses the line from simple digital correction to digital manipulation. In the case of this image, I digitally removed (using the clone tool) one stem of grass that crossed the bear's throat and cheek region.

It is my policy to clearly identify ANY images on this website that overstep the bounds of digital correction and enter the territory of digital manipulation (see Voice: Commentary: Digital Correction vs. Digital Manipulation).

Behind the Camera

Autumn Sunrise in the Great Bear Rainforest. Inlet in Great Bear Rainforest (on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 110

Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII lens @ 110mm (EFL of 165mm) - handheld from inflatable Zodiac boat. VR on and in "active" mode.

1/160s @ f6.3; -1.0 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Autumn Sunrise in the Great Bear Rainforest. Inlet in Great Bear Rainforest (on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro 6. Two exposure variants covering a 1.25 stop total range.

Further digital corrections on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS5 and Light Craft's LightZone. Photoshop adjustments including compositing (layering and masking mainly using luminosity masking techniques) the exposure variants, selective curves adjustment, and sharpening for web output. Final contrast/tone tweaking - particularly to mid-tones - performed with LightZone using the tonemapper/re-light tool.


Autumn Sunrise in the Great Bear Rainforest. Inlet in Great Bear Rainforest (on northern BC Coast), BC, Canada. October 2, 2011.

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.

The region this image was shot in is, at the time of this writing (October 19, 2011), facing a new and potentially catastrophic threat. There is a proposal to bring oil super-tankers through the narrow and treacherous channels of the Great Bear Rainforest. Any mishap - such as the one that sunk the Queen of the North ferry on March 22, 2006 - could result in an oilspill with disasterous consequences.

*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