…morning light is magic…

Up Close & Personal with Grizzly Bears

By day 4 of my trip to Lake Clark Alaska, we were all getting worn out so when we came upon mom and her cub feeding on grass in an open meadow, we decided to lay up against a log on the outside edge of the field and just watch them. Was very relaxing and we loved the opportunity to not shoot but just to chill out and take it all in. We were sitting in a field watching grizzly bears with snowcapped mountains in the background. We weren’t in Kansas (or Houston) anymore Dorthey. Couldn’t get much better than that…until it did!

A male boar entered the field behind mom and she quickly spotted him. She then turned to look at us, foreshadowing her next steps. Mom and her cub quickly got up to check him out. Here is where it got really interesting. As a complete surprise to me, mom started running with her cub directly towards us. That definitely got me to sit up a little straighter against that log and get into the zone while hand holding my 500mm lens.

So, what do you do when a full-size grizzly bear and her cub come running straight at you? Well, #1 you listen to your guide, #2 you don’t run (which could be very detrimental to your health), #3 you keep your cool and photograph the incoming bears or #4 be prepared to change your shorts. Luckily, I followed steps #1 -3.

When they started getting close, couldn’t keep both of them in the frame with my 500mm lens so I automatically switched to focus on the cub.

It happened so quickly that there was no time to think or check/change any camera settings. Was all muscle memory at that point with trying to get part of them in the frame. Would have been nice to have F16 being that close but was happy that I had at least F11 for some depth of field.

Mom got so close at one point that I couldn’t get her whole head in the frame.

The cub walked past us to our left and then looked back towards the boar, giving me a great opportunity for a full frame head shot.

They kept moving off to our left and out into the field. Eventually they made their way towards the mudflats while the male made a slow walk to their previous location to check out her scent. Our guide said that they got about 12 ft from us and were using us for protection as the male would not typically come close to us. One of my favorite unforgettable bear encounters in Alaska.

Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II, handheld, uncropped

4 responses

  1. Joe Benzenhoefer

    I would probably have run and been in the news that night. Amazing photos.

    July 28, 2021 at 8:00 am

  2. Thank you very much Joe! That was one thing that they stressed in a safety talk before we went out for the first time – don’t run. Couldn’t believe that we could get that close to the bears and not feel afraid. Amazing trip for sure.

    July 29, 2021 at 4:56 am

  3. Diane

    I would have changed my shorts!! Wow…..that was an incredible photo op! You are one brave man, one outstanding photographer, and a great “experience teller!” I so enjoy hearing about your memory making moments and looking at your photos connected to them. BUT….guide or no guide, I would have been nervous!

    July 30, 2021 at 12:16 pm

  4. Thank you very much Diane! Really appreciate your kind words. It was uncanny on how close that the bears came to us and by day 4, no fear or nervousness what so ever. Maybe should have been but had total faith in our guide. This actually wasn’t the encounter that should have made me nervous. Had another one where the female was chasing the cub and ran right by us at more full speed.

    July 30, 2021 at 4:43 pm

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