Grizzlies in Snow

Grizzlies have always been a species of interest to me and while I have spent many a year in Montana, I have only had a few encounters photographing them but each time has been memorable. Grizzlies come out in the Spring from hibernation, fatten up over summer and then go back to sleep in the winter time. At least in a normal year that’s what happens. If they don’t fatten up enough or if it gets to warm out then they wake back up to forage. This usually isn’t good. They tend to be the most dangerous when they are in forage mode.

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A number of years back I had the chance to photograph a Grizzly outside of Bozeman in the winter named Brutus. He was orphaned as a cub and rescued. He has since grown up to be a rather famous male grizzly bear. Of course the whole time he was being photographed all he wanted to do was dig a hole and go right back to sleep. Now in this instance I was using the 70-300 VR which I wouldn’t normally recommend for working with Grizzlies in the winter because that would mean the bear is too close. A 600 f/4 or 800 f/5.6 with a teleconverter is the best option allowing you to keep a safe distance while also making it possible to get the shots you want.

Preparing for Hibernation

Winter time is often a slow time for myself. It’s a great time of the year to get caught up on past images that I overlooked, work on updating and creating new content for the blog, or just sit around writing articles. Since I went into aviation photography I’ve certainly noticed this trend since a lot of the plane I work I do is the summer. Not real surprising when you think about it. One of my favorite mammals has a rather different winter routine that at times sounds rather appealing.

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I’ve photographed Grizzly Bears a lot over the years but never in the winter time nor really in the fall. Simple fact is that after October first they tend to go into calorie crazy mode and search for any anything edible to get those last minute fat reserves up. In this time period it can be unsafe to photograph bears. That’s one reason why I’m always hoping to see them out in September when the odd snow storm comes through and creates a nice blanket of snow. Hasn’t happened yet but maybe next year. Until then it’s bears munching on grasses.

My 1000th Blog Post!

You know it’s funny how fast time goes by. You start one project never knowing just how far it will go or how long you keep it going and before you know it, a few years have gone by and you’re left wondering where all that time went. Back in 2008 when I first started this blog I didn’t know what I was getting into except that it would be a good thing to boost my photography skills. I can honestly say that it has been a lot of hard work, even to the point where I didn’t want to even think about this site. But it did exactly what it was supposed to. It might made me better.

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My Dad was the one who got me started with this whole blogging thing believing that it would be so critical of a business tool in years to come…. I hate it when he’s right. That’s what kids are for though. Spending time in my own backyard photographing whatever local subjects I could helped tremendously to improve and to force myself to blog. Like this Sage Thrasher at Mono Lake in the Spring. Dad and I spent a lot of time chasing those guys around the tufa’s. But local wasn’t enough.

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The greatest part of photography has always been the freedom to go where you want to and capture the world when you do go. I have spent a lot of time around Grizzly Bears. With over 10,000 images of Grizzlies alone they are by far one of my favorite critters. Their behavior is so fascinating and yet so simple that one trip is never enough. After spending five days at McNeil River watching a dozen bears at once fish for salmon, I still want to go back for more. Once the trip was over however, the stories ended up here, where they could be relived over and over.

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Everyday we are stuck in an office at one point or another and often the best escape is just a short drive away. Having an outlet where you can vent your thoughts and tell your stories from these excursions is probably the greatest mental test when it comes to this game. Having to constantly come up with new content is always a challenge as life inevitably gets busier. However, if it were not for that challenge then we wouldn’t be photographers.

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And yet it still amazes me the path that we end up down in life, never knowing where that path would lead. It wasn’t long after I started this blog that I started in aviation and the joys that have come from that venture have been endless. Not to mention the amount of blog posts that have come out of all that. Every plane has a story and there are never enough pages to cover them all.

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In the end though it all comes down to the people. The people that help make every trip possible. The people that need the images for their business to continue. The people who fought for our freedom and the people who fight to honor those men and women. The people who are touched just to have their picture taken and that moment of their lives remembered forever. And of course, the people who read this blog. We all strive to capture more than just a moment in time. We strive to create something with those captures that tells a story that needs to be to told. A blog can achieve that goal for everyone.

Good Times

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.

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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.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, 600mm f/4 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

It’s all on You!

This past week I received an email from a nice man that wanted to talk computer settings and processing. He had a lot of questions all to common I’m afraid. He was looking for the answers that are often argued and given bad info on. Well towards the end the inevitable happened, he went into his system of how he does his processing trying to prove to me that it’s right and works. To which my only response was, I’m glad you have a system that works for you.”

That is a crucial point that gets lost. Everything that is talked about on the web, in print, in a workshop is useful information to be brought into YOUR workflow. That doesn’t mean yours is wrong most commonly it means that there is a new technique that is faster. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone else. Take my wildlife images for example. The shot above has never seen post except to put that white background on it. Others may not share that point of view but you know what that’s fine. As long as you have a system that works for you, that’s what matters. As time changes technology improves and efficiencies are made to make life easier. Taking advantage of the trial and errors others have made available to you is key. This is a community of different opinions but also of helping one another to better the photography world.

Lost Post Tuesday: Bringing Back Brooks

Lost Post is something i started a while back as a way to bring back posts that are forgotten. It’s real common with blogs that only the top posts are seen and all the previous ones are usually forgotten. That of course depends on how much people search your site for specific content. Tech posts always seem to have a better track record because everyone wants those techy answers. Well that’s all an good but i still like having some of those hearty ones to read as well.

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The best apart about this idea is it’s ability to bring back stories. A few years back I got to go to Brooks Lodge and Resort in Alaska, which was quite different from McNeil River the year before. You can check out all the fun right here.

Finally got the Grizzlies!

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.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

How to Get Known

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.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Goodbye Fall Semester!

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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

The last day has arrived

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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