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
This Alaskan coastal brown bear cub was full of energy and personality. He kept trying to get mom to play and she sometimes would indulge him and sometimes not.
In this instance, they were walking along the shoreline of the mudflats while we were further up on the beach. Caught him with “that look” where it looks like he is asking mom, wanna play?
Didn’t like the background on my original photo so cropped it vertical to emphasize the interaction and mom’s claws. Converted it to B&W using NIK silver effects pro to give it some drama and bring out the detail in their fur.
Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III, 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld
1/2000 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm
The best piece of camera equipment that I took on my bear photography trip to Alaska was my ground pod. If you follow my blog or on Facebook, you know that I love to use my ground pod for getting low to take shorebird photos. Never dreamed that I’d get the opportunity to take grizzly bear photos from a ground pod.
A few weeks prior to our trip to Alaska, we had a zoom call with our workshop leader and he described the mudflats at Lake Clark. When I asked him if I should take my ground pod, he said yes. Best advice in the world on this trip. Only used my tripod once but used my ground pod on a daily basis. The mudflats looked just like Bolivar only much larger, better backgrounds and with bears on it.
This first photo is a cell phone shot by our outstanding guide and very good photographer from Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, Dave Rasmus. Mom and her cub were working their way toward us while 3 of our group, along with Dave, were standing up taking photos and I’m the one laying down with my ground pod just shooting away. In this photo, I had already turned my camera vertical so they were getting close @ 500mm, see the 3rd photo below.
This next photo is almost full frame when they were walking towards me. Mom was off to my left but I maintained focus on the cub as he was adorable, although those claws could do some serious damage.
1/1600 @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod
As he got closer, here is where I rotated my camera on my gimbal head to the vertical position to help try to keep him in the frame. He ended up getting very close before the guide turned him around by talking to him. Mom was a ways away and couldn’t have cared less about us.
1/1600 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod
Mom later walked by and showed off her claws in this full frame/uncropped photo. Off the charts fantastic experience for sure. Wouldn’t try this anywhere but this location where we had a very experienced guide with bear spray that knows their behavior, the bears are used to people, we aren’t in their food chain, people don’t hunt/harass them.
1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod
This young coastal brown bear stole my heart when in Alaska a couple of weeks ago. He was very animated and had quite the personality. The look he gave me in this photo was “do you want to go play in the mud”? Of course I said yes, many times. More to follow.
1/2000 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation
Taken with Canon 1DX III with Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld
Made my first trip to Alaska last week and spent some quality time with the bears at Lake Clark National Park, which was an incredible experience. Took my waders & ground pod with me as they have a mudflats so got down low and up personal with the bears, especially the cub.
In this photo, mom was standing to look over the tall grass to check for male bears, which will kill the cubs. She lost 2 cubs last year. This cub is about 1 ½ yrs old.
1/1600 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 560mm, handheld, Canon 100-400 with 1.4X, full frame with no cropping