Photo Tips

Grizzly Bear Photography – Tips For Getting Great Grizzly Bear Pictures.

  • Most wildlife photographers I know are after the classic grizzly bear running through the water after a salmon action shot.  Given the window for salmon is short you will want to contact your tour guide and inquire on when the best times are for peak salmon runs which of course fluctuate from year to year so there is never a guarantee.  The salmon run typically begins around July 20th in Alaska with the first few weeks of August being prime time.
  • Another classic Grizzly Bear action shots is that of sparring boars standing on their hind legs.  If you want sparring boars you want to hit the peak of mating season which is generally May/June.  A word of caution, boars and sows can become aggressive during mating season so approach the situation cautiously and I strongly recommend using an experienced bear guide.  If you at l considering a trip to Alaska for Grizzly Bear photography be sure to read our review of Marc Latremouille’s Grizzly Bear Workshop  it is first class all the way.
  • Read a few books about Grizzly Bears so you are familiar with their habits and mannerisms.  This will allow you to anticipate the action before it happens.
  • I shoot f/4 for single bear shots when I am cropping in tight on just the bear as I prefer the background to be as out of focus as possible.  If there are two bears or more I will jump up to f/8 or f/11.  I am usually taking these shots with my Nikon 200-400mm or my Nikon 600mm.
  • When the backdrop is a lovely mountain scene I bump up the f stop up to f8 or f/11 to keep the background more in focus.  The f/11 in focus shot is what I use when I want to portray the bear in its natural environment and I will typically be using my Nikon 24-70mm or Nikon 70-200mm for that type of shot.
  • If things get heated and the boars begin to chase the sows try to keep your shutter speed above 1/800 to freeze the action unless you are intentionally going for the blurred motion image which often turns out very nice result but it takes some practice.
  • Shutter speeds for panning are always going to depend first on the speed (and distance) you have to move your camera.  I’ve found 1/80th gives a nice artistic blur but you’ll need to experiment with every scenario to get a shot you find appealing.
  • You’ll hear this repeated over and over in wildlife photography but having sharp focus on the animals eye is a must so make that your focal point.  I’ve yet to see an award winning Grizzly Bear picture where the eye was out of focus.
  • The very best wildlife photography images are usually taken at the subjects eye level so bring a comfortable stool or sit on the ground if it is safe to do so.
  •  Pay attention to the backgrounds.   Snow covered mountains, lush meadows, fall colours and rock outcroppings all make wonderful backdrops for grizzly bear photography.  Sometimes a good shot could have been great if only you had taken a step to the right or the left so pay close attention when you look through the viewfinder not only at the animal but what is behind it.
  • Plan to take a variety of lenses with you.  You couldl shoot everything from 14-24 to 600mm and everything in between.  Shooting with different lenses yields varied perspectives and that makes for a more interesting and diversified portfolio however you will have weight restrictions so choices will need to be made.  I left my Nikon 600mm at home to save on weight and opted for the Nikon 200-400mm instead.
  • Don’t forget to go vertical every once and a while especially with single subjects that are beside tall vertical objects likes rocks or trees.  Often the front cover of a magazine or calendar is looking for a vertical shot so mix it up.

If you want to know more about Brown Bears or are planning a trip to view or photograph them the books I list below will truly educate and help you get the most from any bear tour:

When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen?

Bear Viewing in Alaska: Expert Techniques for a Great Adventure

Alaska Magnum Bear Safety Manual

And be sure to make time to view this BBC video which will really give you a sense of what you can expect from a Grizzly Bear tour in Alaska.

BBC Great Bear Stakeout Episode 2: Follows a mother and her cub and intense scenes with Van, the dominant male, approaching the film crew in a potentially dangerous situation.  This is the exact Grizzly Bear tour I took with guide Buck Wilde who is featured in this film.

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