Kukak Brown Bear 1

Kukak Brown Bear 1

At the end of August, I embarked on a dangerous expedition to the Katmai Coast to photograph brown bears. The trip required my friend Paul Souders & I to depart from Kodiak and cross the always treacherous Shelikof Strait using my 22′ C-Dory. There are safer and more expensive ways to visit the Katmai Coast, but none of these options would have allowed us to spend as much time so intimately with the bears. To say that I was scared when we entered the open ocean in less than ideal conditions is an understatement. However, we successfully motored across to our first destination, the spectacular Kukak Bay. After we anchored, we immediately set out for shore to walk amongst the bears. I’ve been around my fair share of bears, but nothing quite prepared me for spending the first day amongst them at such close range. I do not advise people to be foolhardy and run up to brown bears, but they are also not going to attack and eat you under most situations. For instance, this beautiful bore was waiting for a salmon and nonchalantly watched us as we set up our cameras and moved in close enough to take his picture. He drifted in and out of sleep as we observed him for several hours. I’ll share some images soon where he rolled on to his back and stretched, but this low and tight portrait is my favorite. In order to render the distant background pleasantly out-of-focus, I laid on the ground on my stomach to get as low as possible with my Canon 7D and 500mm f4 IS lens. I then waited for him to look straight into my lens whenever he opened his eyes. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.

Gray Line Alaska 2011 Cover

Gray Line Alaska 2011 Cover

A few months ago, Gray Line of Alaska contacted me about licensing my image of a brown bear surrounded by lupine for the cover of their 2010 brochure. Here is what the cover looks like. You can also download the brochure here. I photographed this brown bear during my week-long visit to Lituya Bay on the remote outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in June 2009. You can read how I created this image in my original blog post.

Alaska Airlines July 2010 Cover

Alaska Airlines July 2010 Cover

I am pleased to share my latest cover image on Alaska Airlines. This is the 3rd time this year and the 2nd month in a row that they have selected one of my photographs for the cover of their in-flight magazine. I photographed this brown bear diving for a salmon when I visited the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary & Refuge in August 2006. My buddy & I were fortunate to be the only visitors the last week of August, so the ranger gave us a private tour. Even he said that he had never been to some of the areas that we hiked to. I had applied several years in a row for the lottery but never got a permit. Like most people, I had applied for the height of the salmon run and the bear congregation in July. This time I applied for the last week of the season and received a permit. So did 8 other people, but none of them showed up. I’ve was told that it is also easy to get a permit for the first week or two of the summer. So, keep those shoulder season dates in mind if you ever want to photograph brown bears and have McNeil River all to yourself.

Lituya Bay Brown Bear

Alaskan Brown Bear in Lituya Bay

I’ve been meaning to share this nice brown bear that I photographed during my visit in June to Lituya Bay on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. My buddy and I spent several hours following this gorgeous bear as it worked its way along the shore eating grass. We kept moving my inflatable to position ourselves to be able to shoot into the nicest sections of flowers, in case the bear happened to walk through them. I really like the eye contact that I got in this image. The bear was only about 15 meters away from us. I tried to keep my 15hp outboard engine idling, just in case the bear decided it did not want to be photographed. However, the engine died a few times, which made my nervous. Whenever I am around bears I am always surprised how disinterested they are in me. It is hard to convey that feeling to people who have never seen a bear in the wild. I used my Canon 5D mkII, 500mm f4 IS lens, at f4, 1/160 sec, at ISO 400. I was also hand-holding it, which gets hard with that big heavy lens.

One more note. I will be at Glazers Camera in Seattle this Saturday from 10-2 as part of their Gitzo Days promotion. I will be giving a free short presentation at 11. Please stop by and say hi.