With the proliferation of photography related blogs, YouTube channels and social media boards, one more discussion about best practice is probably just an exercise in redundancy. Yet, the need to do something with my ever increasing library of images now provides the impetus for this next series of blogs. Having already penned 101 Photography Tips, I thought it might be valuable to articulate my intent behind a given image from the past, present or future. By putting words to the process, I hope to contribute a useful tidbit to the reader and provide an opportunity for some reflective practice that may help all of us grow and transition to a new cognitive and artistic place.
What and Where?
“The Bear Walk” was taken at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary near Orr, MN. The sanctuary is contiguous with Superior National and Kabetogama State Forests. Black bears visiting the sanctuary roam from Ontario, Canada into Voyageurs National Park and throughout the national forest habitat. Comprised of 360 acres, the VS Wildlife Sanctuary is an extension of the black bears’ natural range and is a great place to photograph spring cubs and late summer adults that are preparing for their long winter nap. While my June visit to the sanctuary was focused on young cubs, I also hoped to make some interesting photographs of adults moving throughout a variety of habitats. In producing this image, I used a Nikon D500 with its 1.5x crop sensor, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR lens, and an Induro Stealth 3-series tripod with a heavy duty Induro BH3Ls ball head. With the lens set to 300mm, the D500 produced an effective focal length of 450mm, thus suggesting a bit of intimacy between the subject and the viewer. At this magnification, I was able to maintain a safe working distance from the bear while minimizing my impact on its behavior. In addition, my choice of focal length and aperture of f/5.6 led to the compression of foreground and background foliage that appears to be smooth and tastefully out of focus.
Why the Image Works?
In photographing adult bears, I was searching for a way to convey the power and strength in the bear’s morphology without producing yet another Wikipedia-esque image. To move from documentation to something a bit more compelling, I knew that I had to include environmental elements and a bit of character in the subject. Shooting between episodes of showers, the bear’s dark and wet fur reflected the soft light that was bouncing between the grass and clouds. The moisture helped to define the otherwise amorphous black coat as well and suggest detail in the fur, face, and eyes. While the gaze of the bear might have seemed intentionally directed at me, this was not the case as the image presented was the only photo in which this bear was looking up. The mix of eye-contact and exposed paw walking towards the viewer were the elements of power and strength that I hoped to capture. Finally, the tall grasses blurred by my choice in aperture produced a natural frame for the subject.
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