Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Cautious Curiosity

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In the Field

Cautious Curiosity. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 29, 2012.

One of my own shooting goals during my 2012 photo tours into the Khutzeymateen Inlet was to capture some intimate portraits of bears that showed their unique personality traits. Some would argue that bears - and other wildlife - don't HAVE personalities. Well for those I'll say this: I wanted to capture images that at least suggested personality. And I'll also say this: if you doubt bears (and wolves, and other wildlife) have unique personalities - well, you haven't spent much time around these animals under natural conditions! ;-)

Anyway...two big parts of conveying personality are to effectively capture the subject's eyes (they say SO much) and to include just enough context in your image to "have it all make sense." This year-old grizzly cub was a particularly good subject. This cub, along with its mother and sibling, showed up early in our trip and there's a very good chance this was the cubs first encounter with humans (they weren't present the year before as "cubs of the year" and there are no human settlements - or humans - anywhere near where these images were shot). The mother was very calm around us. But the cubs were, initially, much less thrilled with our presence. After a few days they calmed down significantly ("well...I guess if mom is OK with these guys they can't be so bad..."), but still almost always kept an eye on us. And this cub invariably kept mom between herself and us, but definitely seemed super curious about these "strange creatures in the gray boat with the big eyes in the middle of their head". She was definitely cautiously curious!

To portray this "cautious curiosity" I decided I wanted to capture an image of her intently staring at me, and hopefully one of her doing it while hiding out behind, or peering around, mom. So that's exactly what I focused on capturing (literally and figuratively). While this seems like a simple and straightforward thing to do, what it means in practice is that to get the shot you want - which may occur for only a fleeting moment - you have to pass on a ton of other photo ops around you, which can be darned challenging. Things like the other cub standing up and posing perfectly. Or mom standing up and scanning around for danger. Or about a billion other "cute" or noteworthy things. Was it worth it? Well...for ME it was! And it was a good reminder to me about the importance of shooting selectively, rather than handling my camera like a machine gun!

Part of the strength of this image is the delectable detail in the cub's face, which shows best in a high resolution version of the image. So here's a 2400 pixel version for your perusal:

Cautious Curiosity: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.8 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!

Behind the Camera

Cautious Curiosity. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 29, 2012.

Digital Capture; RAW 14-bit format; ISO 3600.

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

1/400s @ f6.3; -0.33 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

Cautious Curiosity. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 29, 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 - from -0.8 stops from original exposure to 0.0 stops from original 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), a minor tweak to midtone contrast on the cub's face (using a selective curves adjustment layer), and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone tweaking performed using tonemapper/re-light tool in Lightzone.


Cautious Curiosity. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, Great Bear Rainforest, BC, Canada. May 29, 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.

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