Sunday, November 01, 2015

Photographing Spirit Bears in the Great Bear Rainforest of B.C.

Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 1D mk IV & EF 500mm f/4 IS II
When John Marriott called and asked if I could fill in for him to lead a Spirit Bear photo tour in British Columbia during September, it was an easy decision.  I mean, how can you turn down a chance to photograph bears at close range, especially Spirit Bears!

If you're wondering what a Spirit Bear is, they're a Black Bear that is white (actually cream-coloured) as a result of a double recessive gene. A small percentage of the black bear population is white in a concentrated region of the central British Columbia coast, now called the Great Bear Rainforest.

Our week was based from a live-aboard 71 ft sailboat called the Ocean Light II, which specializes in coastal adventures and wildlife tours. There were 6 photographers, plus myself and the crew of 3. We sailed out of Kitimat ready for an adventure!

There were two primary benefits about being based on a sailboat (aside from the fact that's it's just a cool experience: 1) we saw/photographed all kinds of marine life and great scenery right from the boat and 2) we were able to stay very close to the areas where the Spirit Bears were, which greatly minimized our travel each morning. 

During autumn, the bears spend most of their time feeding on salmon which are spawning on small creeks. The bears walk up and down the creeks looking for fish, or will stake out a productive set of rapids. Our guides worked cooperatively with bear guides from the Git'gat First Nation (stewards of the bears) to find out where the bears were most reliable. Each day we'd boat to shore, walk to the best locations and spend the day waiting along the creek - with cameras ready - to capture the moments when the bears would come by.

And come by they did! We had many opportunities to photograph Spirit Bears and black bears, sometimes at very close range as the bears fed on salmon and paid little attention to us. Absolutely amazing photo opportunities!

As if the bear photography wasn't incredible enough, we also had extraordinary experiences with Humpback Whales. Between them spy-hopping near our boat, or breaching, we all captured some incredible images.

To say it was an epic trip seems to barely do it justice. Being surrounded by coastal rainforest was awe-inspiring. Each of us left with great memories, new friendships and superb photos. 

Please scroll down to see some of my photos from the trip. Thanks for looking!

Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 1D mk IV & EF 24-105mm
Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 500mm f/4 IS II
Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 1D mk IV & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Black Bear in old growth forest, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Black Bear charging salmon, Great Bear Rainforest.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 500mm f/4 IS II
Humpback Whale breaching, central coast of British Columbia
Canon 5D mk III & EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Ocean Light II sailboat, our base for the Spirit Bear photo tour.
Canon 5D mk III & EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS II
 

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