Coastal Brown Bear Paradise
Over the last weeks the weather for my two back to back brown bear photo tours was just about perfect. Two weeks without a single rainy day is almost unheard of in coastal Alaska and our group took advantage of the great conditions spending as much time as possible in the field especially for the unbelievable evening light from about 7 to 10:30.
Late evening in Hallo Bay, Katmai NP, Alaska. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/1000 s, f/4, 170mm ISO 900, EV + .7, Manual mode, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.
Good sized schools of fresh looking salmon greeted us at each location we visited. Although the overall bear numbers were down this year the combination of salmon and the superb conditions made up for the lack of bears giving us excellent photo opportunities at Hallo and Geographic every single day. On a few occasions the bears that did show up to fish got so burned out from fishing they sat watching fish go by just inches away! Can you imagine how frustrated that is for a photographer? A few times the bears were so stuffed with salmon they would create a cache of fish on the beach, burying them in the sand to eat later. Normally bears will do this with large prey they kill but they usually eat salmon on the spot.
Perfect late evening light, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 300-800mm F5.6 EX lens and Nikon D700 (backup body), 1/1000 s, f/8, 800mm ISO 800, EV + 1, Manual mode, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.
The mild warm weather and lack of big male bears seemed to bring the mother bears and cubs to the meadows. At Hallo we had a mother with a yearling, two mothers with 2 spring cubs, and another mother with a single spring cub. Hallo has always been my favorite location for bears with cubs.
Feeding frenzy bear lunge, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 50-500mm F5.6 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/2000 s, f/8, 380mm ISO 1000, Manual mode, handheld.
Although the weather was pleasant this July it possible to have too much sun in Alaska. This year the intense sunny conditions and dry weather did cause some problems by kicking salmon berries into overdrive way too early this year. Normally the berries peak in late summer/autumn giving the bears something to gorge on before winter sets in. This year was way different.
Instead of finding bears waiting patiently for salmon lots of bears didn't bother to show up at all for the salmon. It seems the bears took advantage of the available berries and stayed away from the streams, creeks and river mouths. So instead of the 12-15 bears you can see when the salmon are running in a normal year we would see 5 or 6 in a single area.
A park ranger/biologist told me that the bear numbers were about 40% of last year, which were already down from the previous year.
Chum Salmon breakfast, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/1250 s, f/4, 420mm ISO 1400, EV + .7, Manual mode, Jobu MK3 gimbal head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.
Late July early August is my favorite time of the year in Katmai for bears with cubs and bears fishing. Year after year this time frame has proven to be very good with minimal rain compared to late summer or early spring. For photographers this means you can get used to ISO levels of 400 up to 3200, later in the season you have to get used to a minimum ISO level of 1600 or higher.
Mother and cubs on alert, Hallo Bay, Katmai NP Alaska. Sigma 50-500mm F5.6 EX lens and Nikon D4, 1/2000 s, f/8, 380mm ISO 1000, Auto-ISO, EV + .3, Manual mode, handheld.
Even though the conditions this year were a little different than previous years everyone on the tour had plenty of excellent opportunities to put both long and short lenses to good use.
If you would like to join us next year my 2015 tour dates are available already and the tours have started to fill so email me as soon as you can if you are interested in joining us.
Any questions or comments? Leave a question below or send me an email.
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