Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Thinker - Ursid Version

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In the Field

The Thinker - Ursid Style. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 28, 2012.

This is a "pose" (supplied by a totally wild female grizzly) that brought a smile to my face - it instantly reminded me of that famous Rodin marble sculpture enttled "The Thinker" (and all those "old style" poses corporate executives used to use for their "official" corporate publications - you know - chin on hand/fist and looking "oh so reflective, pensive, and intelligent"!). This female grizzly had been working (foraging) along the shoreline in the Khutzeymateen estuary when it decided it had had just about enough and decided to take a break. Its cubs are on the "other" side of the log - cuddled into mom's side (and the subject of another photo that will appear on this website).

While a simple shot, this one was a bit tough to pull off in the field. I was shooting with a fixed prime lens (the uber-sharp Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR) so there were the usual "framing with a prime" issues associated with the inability to zoom in or out to produce the exact composition I wanted. In this case we were a little TOO close for my lens - the original full-framed image was so tightly framed that the bear's nose and lip were almost touching the left side of the frame. If I was using a zoom lens (like the 200-400mm f4 VR zoom) I could have just zoomed out a little. So what to do? Well, some may consider it "cheating", but I simply shot the image as seen and then during post-processing added 400 pixels to the left side of the frame using Photoshop's Content Aware Scaling feature (after increasing the canvas size by 400 pixels and "protecting" the bear from distortion). I'm comfortable with doing this sort of thing, as long as I don't introduce a new element to the image (I'll never paste in an object that wasn't part of the original scene) and as long as I openly disclose the digital adjustment (which I'm doing right now!). If you ask me, the real cheaters are those guys using those dastardly zoom lenses! Kidding! But you get my point - there are shades of grey and personal decisions to make regarding when YOU think image manipulation crosses the line that you just won't cross. It's not my place to tell you what you can and can't do with your own images.

Besides the "framing with a prime lens" issue, there were some other creative decisions I had to make in capturing this image. I wanted a real thin depth of field (DoF) to make the bear "pop" and stand out from the background. Which means "opening up" the aperture. And fortunately, in this case my creative decision was in parallel what the low-light conditions demanded - not only did I have to open up the aperture, I had to let the ISO float up WAY high - this image was shot at ISO 10,000! So not only did I get lucky that what I wanted to do was consistent with what I needed to do, but modern technology let me pull it all off - 5 years ago I simply could NOT have captured this image (or, if I did, it would have been either blurry beyond belief or with so much noise one couldn't have made out the subject!). Oh, and by the way, hand-held from a floating Zodiac!

Even at ISO 10,000 this image is very clean (free of noise), even when the full resolution version is viewed at 100%. It's not practical to show you a full-resolution version, but this 2400 pixel version of it will give you a handle on the quality that the D4 has even at these sky-high ISO's:

The Thinker - Ursid Style: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.9 MB)

NOTE 1: This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (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!

NOTE 2: This image was captured during one of my 2012 Khutzeymateen photo tours within the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. 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 this case, 400 pixels were added to the left side of the frame of the original full-resolution shot using Photoshop's Content Aware Scaling feature.

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

The Thinker - Ursid Style. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 28, 2012.

Digital Capture; RAW 14-bit format; ISO 10,000.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VRII lens. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on and set to "normal" mode.

1/400s @ f4; -0.67 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting. Auto ISO engaged with Auto shutter speed enabled (shutter speed keyed to focal length of lens with no compensation.

At the Computer

The Thinker - Ursid Style. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 28, 2012.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Capture One Pro. Three raw variants (processed from raw) differing by a total of 0.8 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CS6 and Light Craft's Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments including compositing the raw conversion variants (layering and masking), and selective sharpening for web output. 400 pixels added to left side of frame using Photoshop's Content Aware Scaling Feature. Final tone tweaking performed using tonemapper/re-light tool in Lightzone.


The Thinker - Ursid Style. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 28, 2012.

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.

On December 18, 2017 the government of British Columbia banned grizzly hunting across the entire province. This major conservation victory came after decades of tireless work by many dedicated conservationists and ecologists and, most importantly, it reflects the opinion of the vast majority of British Columbians. And, it means that AT LEAST while the current government remains in power grizzlies are finally "safe" in British Columbia.

Now that we've at least temporarily won the battle to save grizzlies in BC, it's time to re-focus our efforts toward protecting ALL of BC's carnivores, including Gray Wolves, Black Bears, Cougars, Wolverines, and more! Simply put, there are no ecological, economic, or ethical arguments supporting the trophy hunting of carnivores.

In a great first step towards ending the hunting of carnivores throughout BC the Raincoast Conservation Foundation has developed a program designed to protect ALL carnivores within the Great Bear Rainforest. Details about this program can be found on this page on Raincoast's website. Check it out and, better yet, make a donation to help Raincoast purchase the remaining commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear!

*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.

For more information on the status of Grizzly Bears in Canada, go to: and search under "Grizzly Bears".

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada