Friday, February 8, 2008

Grizzly Opportunities

Over the years, I've photographed--or tried to photograph--many bears. The brown and grizzly bear are technically declared the same species, but they vary in appearance based on their dietary distinctives. You can learn more about the bears and access photos on my website from this page "Alaska bear photos". Interior bears, or grizzlies, are generally more challenging to photograph than their coastal counterparts the brown bears. I find this true for a few reasons. For one, they do not congregate in the same density as the brown bears, and there simply are not the same quantity of bear viewing platforms for interior bears. Denali National Park still offers some of the best photographic opportunities for grizzly bears--access is one reason, and habituation is another.

It is still difficult to get all the necessary parameters to line up for those outstanding shots. Years ago, I had a few fortunate encounters out of many unsuccessful attempts. The two images below were taken in the same year, on two different photo trips in Denali Park. Both images have been published nearly 30 times each and have proven the test of time and marketability. Incidentally, they were both taken in Sable pass, about 40 miles into the park, and ironically, not the easiest place to shoot due to roadside brush and the inevitable traffic jams of buses and photographers that congeal when a bear finally nears the road. Outside of getting lucky, there is no great secret to capturing good bear images that does not include close observation of the animal and lots of waiting. The luck however, is sweet when it happens!

Sow and triplet spring cubs:
The sow and spring cub triplets had been eating vegetation along the road, and a colleague and I were waiting for them to come into better positioning. Suddenly, a construction vehicle hauling an empty trailer passed by on the bumpy road. The metal trailer made quite a racket which scared one of the cubs, inspiring it to jump up on the mother's back. The sow turned to check out the noise and I just held down the shutter button and burned a whole role of film. I think i was using Canon's 400mm f2.8 with a 1l4x converter on a tripod.

Sow grizzly bear and triplet spring cubs, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon EOS3, 400mm f2.8L, 1.4x converter, Fuji Velvia

Blueberry bear:
A friend of mine says about this picture: "You owe that bear donuts, big time". This particular bear encounter remains one of the most entertaining and cooperative photo subjects of my career. After bathing in a nearby creek, the female bear walked across the road into a blueberry patch and sat there, just 20 feet from the road, and started to pose in a variety of positions. Unlike the usual encounter, which seems inevitably fleeting, this bear remained for many minutes. During this time, the crowd of photographers slowly increased as did the congregation of tour buses. After shooting a few rolls of film we all decided to vacate the crowd, the bear included. I was shooting with the Canon 400mm f2.8L on a tripod near the car.

A few weeks later when viewing the transparencies at my light table, I resisted a near heart attack when I realized my bulk loaded film had been mislabeled and I under exposed a few rolls of film. I did calm down when I came across a few good exposures. That was the end of my penny-saving-bulk-film-loading antics.

Blueberry bear, sow grizzly in blueberry patch, Denali National Park, Alaska.
Canon EOS3, 400mm f2.8L, Fuji Velvia

These two images continue to draw interest and I'm hoping for another opportunity to match them as I prepare for some bear photography this summer.

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