Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Of Mosses and Myths

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In the Field

Of Mosses & Myths. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 2, 2014.

As its name would suggest, the Spirit Bear holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the local First Nations who share the Great Bear Rainforest with this special and unique bear. This Spirit Bear - a female with two black cubs - was like all Spirit Bears I have encountered over the last decade or so - calm, gentle, and serene. Not long before this image was captured she was fishing in a picturesque stream with her two cubs. When she sent her two cubs up a tree it was clear she wanted a break - and shortly thereafter this mythical creature laid down on a mossy bed and - with an enchanted forest as a backdrop - slowly dropped off to sleep. There was only one way to describe the scene - completely and utterly tranquil.

While we all tend to get caught up on wanting and having the latest and greatest camera gear, it's really quite rare that we run into a situation where having a particular combination of state-of-the-art gear enables the user to capture an image where no other combination of gear would work. But this was one of those times. When this bear laid down on its mossy bed there was only ONE vantage point where it could be captured without distracting bushes occluding the foreground (and the subject) and ruining the image. The only way to access that spot was to lean at a forward angle while standing upright and to use my left arm to brace against a tree (and to see the bear clearly I had to stand on one of the tree's elevated thick roots). The tree itself was angled and overhanging the stream that the bears had been fishing in moments before. That meant I had only one hand (my right one) to support camera and lens. The distance to the bear was such that I need to use my 80-400mm VR zoom at 400mm. And the light was REALLY low. So...while leaning forward I had to shoot a 400mm lens one-handed (using a shutter speed high enough to overcome the "shakiness" associated with holding a D4s and 80-400mm zoom in one hand for minutes on end) - which meant I had no choice at all but to use a crazy ISO - in this case ISO 11,400.

While of course I didn't pass on taking shots using this more than little iffy technique, I really had low expectations of getting any usable shots. I wouldn't rate this shot as one of my best of a Spirit Bear, but - at the same time - the results aren't that bad. And, once again, I'm a little blown away by what modern top-notch gear can allow us to capture under incredibly demanding conditions.

For those wishing to get better look at this high ISO shot (to get a better feel for the noise on a larger version of the image) - here's a 2400 pixel version for your perusual...

Of Mosses and Myths: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.9 MB)


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!

2. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject is fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my 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 (including vocalizations).

3. This image was captured during my "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tour in August of 2014. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic 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 various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

Of Mosses & Myths. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 2, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 11,400.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6E VR @ 400mm - held in one hand while leaning from tree. VR on and in Active mode.

1/400s @ f6.3; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Of Mosses & Myths. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 2, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro 7. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.7 stops in exposure (and with differing noise reduction settings).

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2014 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, selective colour desaturation, slight exposure tweaking, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of tones on the bear's coat (primarily in the facial region) performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Of Mosses & Myths. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 2, 2014.

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