Excellent Photo Adventures…Alaska Brown Bears 1

Each August a group of intrepid adventurers and I head to the Alaskan wilderness to photograph the coastal brown bears during the salmon run.  I time our adventure to be at “peak” fishing time to maximize our time working the bears as they work the rivers and streams catching fish and fattening up for the winter…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II ISO 800 f5.6 @ 1/500

 

There is nothing like the power of a bear running full out to catch a fish.  It’s amazing to watch and even more amazing is that what appear to be  big lumbering creatures can be so quick on their feet to catch a slippery salmon as it follows it’s natural path from the ocean back to the place of it’s birth to spawn and die…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC-14E II ISO 1400 f8 @ 1/1000

 

Life moves at a different pace in the Alaskan wilderness and we must be patient, just like the bears, as we wait for the fish to arrive and the frenzy to begin.  Unlike most photographic locations, our activity is dictated by the tides rather than the light.  Alaska has some of the largest tides in the world and timing is crucial.  A big incoming tide floods the rivers to overflowing, pushing both photographers and bears to high ground.  An outgoing tide must be monitored to avoid grounding our boat.

Each day would find us at the river’s mouth at either the incoming or outgoing tide which is when the fish move into the river to spawn and then get caught in pools as the tide recedes providing the bears with a rich banquet of salmon.  We became familiar with one local resident, “Red”, who seemed to have taken over the river chasing lesser bears away from his own private feeding hole.  In fact Red became out barometer for the week.  If he was lolling lazily on the sandbar, he had likely already fished the early morning tide and wasn’t likely to move much other than to stretch here and there…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4, TC-20E III ISO 800 f8 @ 1/250

 

If Red wasn’t fishing we would take a spin around the bay to see what other wildlife we could aim our lenses at.  The break from fishing bears provided us with many other wonderful photographic opportunities.  We worked the Harbor Seals hauled out on the rocks.  It’s amazing how their coloring blends into the rocks providing camouflage…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm f2.8 VR II, TC-20E III ISO 200 f5.6 @ 1/125

 

A few friendly Sea Otters allowed us to get close enough to photograph…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC-14E II ISO 400 f8 @ 1/350

 

A flock of Black Turnstones flew onto the beach one day providing us with an opportunity to add a new species to our files.  I got low to the ground to blur the background making the bird pop against the background that hides it so well…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC-14 E II ISO 2200 f5.6 @ 1/750

 

A newly fledged eagle posed with it’s catch of the day, a tasty octopus…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC-14E II ISO 800 f8 @ 1/1000

 

While one of it’s parents watched from a nearby tree…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR, TC-14E II ISO 1600 f8 @ 1/1000

 

We even had a Red Fox escort us to the boat one morning providing those who had their cameras ready with a brief photo opp…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR ISO 1600 f8 @ 1/125

 

With typical Alaska weather, exposure can be a challenge.  When photographing from a boat while handholding a telephoto lens or trying to stop action, a fast shutter speed is needed.  One minute we would have bright overcast, the next our exposures would drop several stops as the clouds hid the sun and showers were the norm for the week.  I found myself using Auto ISO with a desired shutter speed selected as the emphasis for the camera changing the ISO as needed.

We certainly had a variety of subjects to photograph all week but, our main focus was the bears, fishing bears to be exact and we weren’t disappointed.  Stay tuned.