Back to the stories behind some favorite images!
It’s probably obvious why I chose this image to lead the Alaska Wildlife gallery. Grizzly bears are so closely associated with the North American wilderness that it seemed too good a choice to pass up. But brown bears fishing for salmon are almost an Alaska cliché, so I wanted to pick a shot that was interesting photographically as well as for its impressive animal subject.
(Quick note: brown bears and grizzly bears are the same animal. These bears are called “grizzly” in the interior of the continent but are called “brown” on the coast. Kodiak bears are actually also brown bears, who happen to live on Kodiak Island.)
I like this image for a lot of reasons. First, of course, is that it brings back great memories of the week or so in August 2014 that we spent in this nearly land-locked bay on the remote Alaska Peninsula, watching these brown bears fattening up for their winter hibernation. All of the bears in the bay had distinct personalities and it wasn’t long before we could tell them apart by both appearance and behavior. Some were rambunctious juveniles, some were protective mothers, some were alpha males, and others just minded their own business and got on with the fishing.
Photographing two bears together like this is hard to do anywhere but a salmon stream at the height of the spawning. Brown bears are usually solitary and territorial; normally they don’t tolerate other bears in close proximity. But during the salmon run, they congregate in certain prime fishing areas without apparent problems. There seems to be enough food for everyone. Indeed, there’s so much fish that the bears will often eat only their favorite part – the head – and not bother with the rest. I love how this image portrays that, how it shows two bears concentrated on the stream and utterly unconcerned with each other.
It’s also rare to be able to get such clear, close-up, head-on photos of bears. But again, the bears are so well-fed, and so focused on the salmon, that they seemed hardly to notice the humans in the bay with them. This bay is actually a destination for a number of “photo safaris”; at first, we were wary of going ashore at all given the number of bears on the beach, but after a couple of days, one of the wildlife guides accompanying a photo safari invited us to join their group seated beside the stream and we were amazed at how thoroughly the bears ignored us. (Everyone is careful to take precautions, of course, for the good of both people and bears – no one brings food ashore; no one gets overly close (this image was taken with a 400mm zoom lens); and everyone stays grouped together – and so far as I’m aware, it’s worked out so far.) I love how you can see the intensity in this bear’s eyes, like he’s about to pounce on a fish (which he probably was!).
As well as the bear’s intense gaze, I love the movement and depth in this photo. I love the bow wave that the front bear’s left paw is making as he pushes upstream through the water, and how that movement is echoed by the water pushing around the bear in the background as he stands facing upstream. Then there’s the depth of field, with the focus on the foreground bear. My eye then goes to the out-of-focus background bear, and then follows the horizontal lines of alternating yellow-green grass and gray water to the blurry – almost translucent – sailboat in the top right. Of course I love that the boat is Celeste! The dark green alder bushes make a nice contrasting border at the back of the shot.
And finally, what are all those little dots?? Well, an Alaska summer photograph wouldn’t be complete without a few mosquitoes!