Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Stuff of Salmon Nightmares

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In the Field

The Stuff of Salmon Nightmares. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 2, 2014.

It's not that big of a stretch to think of many mammals - and particularly carnivores - as sentient. Watch them long enough and most folks will see instances where they seem to be clearly choosing between alternate behaviors. Look into their eyes and you partly feel, partly see, intelligence. But what about "lowly" fish? Are they sentient? Do they dream? Do they have nightmares? Can't say for sure - but if fish can think and dream - well...along one stretch of the central coast of BC there's little doubt that this image would qualify as the biggest nightmare a salmon could ever have!

The bear pictured above is a rare white Spirit Bear - of the Kermodei sub-species of black bears. How rare are they? There's believed to be about 250-300 of them - on the entire planet. How hard are they to find? Well...about 25 years ago a small handful of dedicated and adventurous souls spent years (upon years) looking for them (after almost a century of isolated sightings and myths about them). Eventually they found them - and a few places where they could be found with reasonable predictability, for at least part of the year.

How hard are they to photograph? In my view, they are one of North America's hardest carnivores to photograph well. The first layer of difficulty is STILL in finding them (and in getting to them) - the vast majority of Spirit Bears are found on extremely remote islands on a rugged section of the BC coast that can be very tough (and expensive) to get to. And, of course, they're most predictably found in a RAINFOREST - during the rainy autumn season when they're fishing for salmon. have a rare animal that's found in a dark forest where it's commonly raining. And they're...uhhh...WHITE. So...a white bear in very low light (think high ISO) in a dark forest. How do you say shutter speed and dynamic range challenges? Right - with two words - Spirit Bear. But if you ask me two other words summarize the challenge of getting eye-grabbing Spirit Bear shots: Great Fun!

For those wishing to get a little more "up close and personal" with a Spirit Bear - here's a 2400 pixel version for your scrutiny...

The Stuff of Salmon Nightmares: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.4 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 one of my two autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tours in October 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

The Stuff of Salmon Nightmares. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast), BC Canada. October 2, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 5600.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6E VR @ 400mm - hand-held while supported on elbows while laying in stream (yep, got real wet). VR on and in Active mode.

1/400s @ f7.1; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Stuff of Salmon Nightmares. 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 8. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 1.0 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 four output files from the raw converter, selective colour desaturation and exposure tweaking, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of the subtle tone shifts on the bear's face and back performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Stuff of Salmon Nightmares. 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