This time of the year always gets me thinking about one thing, well two actually. Fishing and Grizzly Bears. I have spent a lot of time over the years working up in Alaska with these big guys and have come to truly enjoy their company. Having been to McNeil River, Brooks Falls and Kodiak to photograph Grizzlies I can honestly say they are just a ton of fun to watch. Their behavior alone is hilarious and it does vary from one are to another as the territorial displays and salmon flows tend to change their behavior.
With all the other travels going on this year I wasn’t able to make it up to Alaska. That’s where the one benefit of the photographs and memories comes in handy.
For years I have worked with Grizzly Bears, mostly up in Alaska. I have my Dad to thank for that for it was he that kinda of got me hooked on them. Despite the belief that they are just vicious animals, they really are just animated teddy bears. Most of the time they sleep and the other half of their time, they eat. It’s what they do. I was very fortunate last weekend to see be able to photograph a Griz in the park. It’s not always common. The more surprising thing about that one afternoon is that he wasn’t the only one. I saw 6 bears that day all black except for him, but even more surprising they were all by the bloody road. I can honestly say I have never seen that happen.
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This particular bear caused quite a stir the whole day. He stayed in the same spot for most of the day, which just happened to be in a bad section of road with limited parking space. That’s usually the case in the park. At first glance i didn’t see anything so i drove on by. It wasn’t until about 8:00 when i was heading out and drove past again that i saw him. With big groups and large cameras you always got to be careful, and I wasn’t really bummed that i missed the first time around. Since it wasn’t sunset until 8:45 there was some time but not much. With the 600 out i got a few shots. Enough to have in my files for the first time a wild Grizzly Bear photographed in the lower 48.
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He was actually quite a character. About 2 years old maybe a tad older, probably just kicked out by Mom, this guy kept challenging a Big Bull Bison for a patch of grass. At the bottom of the hill was a marshy grass area and the Bison was grazing. Well the Bear also wanted what was down there. So when the Bison moved away he would go down. When the Bison came back or looked at the bear, the Bear run back up the hill and lay down. The bear would wait for the Bison to move and do it all over again. It was rather comical to watch. That’s just how it went.
Now for anyone wondering why I used the straight 600 and not a teleconverter to get a better shot, a teleconverter does increase length but takes away one or two stops of light depending on what size teleconverter. Well with that increased depth, shutter speed would go down and since i was already at 1/60th of a second, losing any more would have yielded no results. Despite his clam demeanor, he was still breathing, wind was going through his fur, and he kept twitching his head. All of that movement would have made any shot blurry.
One of my buddies here in town is a fellow photographer with a rather nich photography. My Buddy Ryan truly does play with the stars. He is an astronomical photographer and quite literally controls million dollar telescopes through a computer all over the world in order to do his photography. When he’s not working with those big beauties, he has his own telescope and teaches kids about the cosmos. Well a number of times now we have talked about the business of photography and what it takes to sell images.
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The problem every photographer has in the beginning is getting out there. Getting your name out to the public for people to see your work and get attention has always been a challenge. Before the internet was so heavily used it was required to get published in order to have a tear sheet to show to a magazine to get published. That of course always raised the question of how do you get that first tear sheet? Now days it’s a lot easier to get credibility by having a blog or website and then constantly having a presence on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. Does this all lead to more sales? That’s a mix bag.
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Having a well established web presence is essential in today’s world but where does the money come from? Well I put these images up for a reason. Over the years I have spent a good amount of time working with Grizzly Bears up in Alaska, and from the years and thousands of images of them in my files, not one has sold. Now the stories are great and the images always cheer me up to look at, so don’t let dopy here make you think that the images are useless, it’s just requires a special market. As most photographers agree and what I’ve come to learn is that constantly getting published in the editorial market place is not only smart business but required to make a living. How to do that, depends on the story. Everything comes done to the story and the images backing it. But with thousands of magazines out there and every month needing new material, all it takes is a creative mind and some hard work to get published.
The fun thing about this business is it is always changing. Every day something new comes out, a better and more efficient way to work or just something fun. What will be the next best way to get a career started or to make it flurish, who knows? The basis for any business has always been and will always be three things: patience, perseverance, and hard work.
WOOT! It’s the last day of the semester, my one and only final will be done with today and then it’s homeward bound. It’s been a long and somewhat miserable semester academically so i thought i would bring a more comical and uplifting note to it by showing this shot of one of my grizzly friends from Brooks. I can’t forget this big guy because he was the only bear up there that sat in the middle of the base of the falls and starred at the salmon. He was also a rather large older looking fellow. I like how he sticks his foot out, reminds me of Winnie the Pooh. Here’s to one semester down and one hopefully long winter break.
Image captured with D3, 600f4, TC-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
Yea it’s the last day that we get to work with the grizzlies at Brooks. It is always sad when you have to leave a really good vacation. It is nice to be able to come back to a good home though. With the last day here, we decided to make the most of it. We went out to the platform in the afternoon like usual. The usual bears were there. The one above we call bubbles, don’t know his actual name, because he always sat in the pool longer than any other bear. Always seemed happier to sit there than to fish. He was going good today, caught five fish from the time we got there till we left. Of course that’s not counting any others he might have had earlier. He got full though, started leaving carcasses after skinning them. He also would take them over to the island to eat.
This bear above wasn’t around a whole lot. He would come in and try to steal the good fishing spots. He acted like a dominant bear but ended up just walking down the river. He walked around enough though to make some decent strolling shots.
This big guy is Ted. Ted is one of the bears that we got more attached to than any other bear. Besides the fact that he is one beautiful bear, he has a pretty full coat and good body structure. He was around for most of the week, but some of the best shots were not captured till the last day. He was quite good at walking around the falls. He would stand at the falls and wait for fish to go by and then try to grab them as they did. He would get frustrated and walk around the river searching before going back to his spot. He was a pretty big softy and wasn’t confrontational. But when he was in his spot no other bear would go over to him. He must have been in his teens and had to be one of the more dominant bears. We guessed that after his last fight, cuz he got into one that tore off a flap of skin on his back leg about 12 inches long, he didn’t want to fight anymore. The image of the flap hanging wasn’t pretty.
This seemed like the right image to end it on. It has a sad droopy look to it that just seems to ask why. This bear is one of the older ones and is going through a rather bad molt. With his age comes his right to be dominant. He took the spot from the two younger bears at the pool earlier that same day. He lost that one, and moved over to where you see him here. It isn’t as good a fishing spot. Well, that’s only a taste of the bears we got to see and i wish i could see them again. I always like ending the summer with bears and although the summer hasn’t ended yet it will soon enough, so back to home we go and photographing the Sierra’s.
Images captured with D3, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
If you have gone to Dad’s blog by now then you probably have realized the five of us are no longer in Alaska and were not this past week. It was two weeks ago that we were there. It was another one of Dad’s pranks on a friend. Our good friend Joe McNally had his lighting workshops at Google then for Kelby. We thought it would be fun to surprise him. But that means for me finishing up this story. I left off on day 4 with the wolves and i thought i should finish up that day and then day 5. A little long to get finished up but necessary i think. Before the one male wolf showed up this guy was fishing in the pool. This swirling white water pool is where they say the best fishing is when the run is slow. There is something beneath them that they sit on and while on whatever it is, a rock most likely, they wait for the fish to bump into them. Once a salmon does they step on it and bring it up to munch on. Sometimes they eat right there, sometimes over to at the island. This one particular bear, probably around 8 or 9, caught 7 fish that day just by sitting there.
Mom and her cubs were back today, and it sure was a perfect day for them to come back. It was beautiful blue skies and nice clouds. We actually got some very nice light and thankfully the platform wasn’t too busy so we didn’t have to get off for long. She was having one heck of a time trying to catch a fish, jumping around, running and diving. She just couldn’t catch the same break that she got from the previous day. Her cubs were doing what they do best, look cute. The one aggressive kid was out front on a rock watching her, while the other two were sitting in the grass watching. The little one seems to be rather connected to her siblings cuz she always lays either on them or next to them.
At one point mom was getting kind of frustrated so she stopped and stood on this one little rock above the big pool. It was kind of funny to see this probably eight hundred pound bear standing on this little rock. She even stood up on her hind legs on the rock but didn’t hold for very long. We missed the shot, which sucks but that’s how it goes. I like this one just because she’s looking at the platform, saying “hey where did the salmon go?”
Quite often she would stand up and look around for the fish pools. She even walked while standing up through the water. I thought it would be better not to show the one where she is facing toward us, its not the greatest look. Since she is lactating, her chest is extended. Anyway, mom was pretty determined to get something. We only saw her catch two and she didn’t get to eat much with her little ones around. She sure was entertaining.
Images captured with D3, 600f4, TC-14E, 70-300AF-S VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
The gulls were only a diversion when the bears were not active. A fun diversion indeed. After about an hour at the falls, which was the allotted time on the platform before we had to walk back to the lower platform so that others could enjoy the bears, we walked down the sky walk and waited for our return trip time. It only took about five minutes to get back onto the upper platform. The worst part was that we lost our spots and had to get new ones again. It can be challenging working our way through 40 people with tripods and lenses on our backs. Well the falls had a couple new bears attending the buffet. This bear (above and below) is called Red Butt by the rangers. He is one of the oldest bears at the falls, well into his teens if not older.
This bear has seen a lot, his scars tell one interesting story. He has them all over his body and even one ear is shorter than the other. He is rather slow moving, going along the falls watching the other younger bears and the fish as they move through. The run is much slower and the salmon are not jumping up the falls, but they are still there in the river. If you have noticedDad’s blog then you can probably tell that we were setup right next to each other. Great minds must think alike cuz i did not see what he put up before i did this post. Either that or we’re both just nuts that fell off the same tree, nuts fall off trees right?
Red Butt wasn’t the only bear at the falls that was interesting. This guy was also there. He did not have a name, at least one that we were told. Each of the bears does have a number but we were not told them. It’s a identifiable code that the rangers and biologists give the bears for future recognition. He was an aggressive and larger bear in his teens. He did not do anything really exciting besides walking around and trying to take fishing holes from other bears. He did pose for some decent vertical shots. One very fun afternoon down and so is half of the trip.
Images captured by D3, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
As i said earlier i can’t keep up with dad’s blogging. In fact I’m getting behind again. This post is from Tuesdays fun at the falls. It started with a very gusty morning. It was so windy that Brooks Lake, where the float planes normally land on, was churned up to the point that it looked like a bay and was impossible to land on. This made the salmon do kind of unusual things. They didn’t go to the falls and weren’t jumping. The bears therefore stayed by the lake shore fishing in the surf. Normally only the younger bears would stay by the shore, it wasn’t the case this time. This one bear walked the shore line, looking for the fish jumping. We couldn’t stay too long because the shore line attracts other people.
From the shore line to the lodge. The light is not as good at the falls in the mornings at Brooks. Everything is back lit and therefore not great for wildlife. This is good because that means we can spend the morning going through images and relaxing by the fire. The afternoon came around too fast, another walk to the falls is inevitable. We were expecting the falls to be quite active considering the previous days performance. We were wrong. The falls were pretty quiet, except for a few bears and this one female sow and her three cubs.
The cubs were about two years old and still pretty cute. There was one very aggresive bear, the one next to mom eating the fish on the log, and the other two were a little less. The one male kept stealing the fish away form the others. It was pretty funny to see. He even went after the bigger males when they caught a fish and he wanted it. The blondish cub was the smallest and cutest. We geussed it was a female but could never really find out. It was not aggressive at all and was very attached to the other cubs still. It would lay next to them and on them as mom fished. Speaking of mom, her fishing technique was rather unusual. She ran all over the stream and snorkeled and dived down.
This is her snorkeling. It was kind of interesting, she was the only bear to dive consistently. The one pool at the foot of the falls was incredubly deep. We don’t know how far down it went but she would dive in it while another bear was sitting on a rock in front of it. She would come out from being completely submerged. A couple times she would catch a fish and her over aggressive son would come out eat the fish along side her in the pool. The four of them made the falls very entertaining that afternoon, what will happen now that salmon is off will be interesting.
Images captured with D3, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
If you’ve visited my Dad’s site then you know the three of us along with the Doblers are up in Alaska photographing one of the creatures that we never get tired of, no matter how many thousands of images we already have of them. The Grizzly Bears of Alaska have always interested us and probably will always. Now I’m not as fast to blog as Dad is, no one is for that matter, but after yesterdays first day of shooting i was able to get up this post, slowly. It is the first time i have ever been to Brooks and boy is it different from McNiel. The really big difference, besides the actual shooting location is the people. There are so many people at Brooks, the maximum amount of people on the platform itself is 40. That’s 4 times the number of people that were at McNeil, and that’s just the main platform. At least they chose a good place to go.
We walked down to the platform from the campsite, which in its entirety is about four miles. From the campsite to the lodge is about half a mile. So each day is a good amount of walking which is nice considering the great meals we are getting. There we are the five of us walking down the paths, three of us with tripods and lenses. We get to the platform and there is the falls, whats on top of it but three bears all looking for that easy catch. When the salmon run is good the fish jump up over the rocks and right into the bears mouth. It seemed like we hit it just right.
The more dominant bears are at the top and the younger bears pool up at the bottom of the falls. There was an average of eight different bears at the falls at one time, we saw a total of 15 for the day. All species, bears especially, have optimal foraging techniques, which basically is spending the least amount of calories for the most amount consumed. When the salmon run is good they will only eat the roe, skin, tail and head of the fish. The rest of the meat floats down the river for other critters to pick up. This way they have more space for the higher calorie parts. When the run is slow they eat everything, more calories for less work. The carcasses lined the river and from the looks of things it will be a good week.My blogging will be a little behind but the whole story will be told.
Images captured with D3, 200-400vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
This is my one hundreth post! I thought since this is a special post I’d use an image of one of my favorite creatures, the Grizzly Bear. This is Brutus, a really awesome bear that i had the privilege to work with. I of course have to thank Jeff Cable, myDad and my Mom for making it possible. I can’t say much more so you will just have to catch the rest in the Lexar add that this guy will be featured in.
Image captured with D2HS, 70-300 AF-S VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film