July 2013 Canon Live Learning Photo Workshop Our bush plane landed on Cook Inlet in the remote Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and it was instantly clear that our cameras would not see the inside of a case the entire 3-day workshop. With stunning mountain peaks in the distance and expansive coastline before us, we had the ideal location for photographing the coastal brown bear of Alaska.
While the scenery was breathtaking and the accommodations and food at the lodge were just right, what made this once-in-a-life time experience truly amazing were our interactions with the bears—sometimes they wandered right by us though the grounds at the lodge.
Brown bears include at least two main subspecies: the grizzly bear and the coastal brown bear. We were photographing coastal brown bears, which grow especially large due to the plentiful supply of salmon and other nutrient-rich food sources on the coast. Brown bears are much larger than the bears that live in interior areas such as Denali National Park.
The Canon Live Learning workshop was an incredible experience, photographing the brown bears as they went about their life. They did not seem bothered by our presence at all, and we watched as they ate grasses, fished in the water, and dug for clams at low tide. It was exhilarating when the bears came so close we had to back up to get out of their way!
In the workshop, participants got a chance to try out gear as Canon provided cameras and long lenses. It was like one big birthday party, opening all the boxes of gear.
The workshop also included a lecture by me on photographing wildlife and a review of camera settings and operations. Then we headed out into the field, where we all learned a few new things.
When out in the field, sometimes a subtle thing would happen, like a mama bear touching noses with her cub. And sometimes a not-so-subtle occurrence would take place, like a fight breaking out among the cubs. We learned to be prepared at all times and stay focused on the bears. It is best to keep your camera close, with the proper exposure setting and ready for action with a fast shutter speed—like 1/500 second—just in case you need it.
Photographs from the Workshop
At low tide, the bears look for clams to eat. Here the lack of wind allowed for some beautiful reflections. I got a tight shot to really focus on the bear, but chose not to include the entire reflection.
Photographed at f/6.3, 1/400 second, ISO 100, Aperture Priority mode with +2/3 stop compensation, EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon EOS-1D X.
I zoomed out to include the entire reflection of the bear.
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 320, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 340mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
This blond cub was so curious about us, and came walking up to us from the edge of the ocean, which you can see the background. The sow was farther away, but followed her cub and came in closer too. I had a 400mm fixed lens on the tripod, but switch to a handheld 100-400mm as the cub was too close. I used Aperture Priority mode because there was ample light and I wanted a shallow depth of field with the highest shutter speed I could get with the low ISO 320. When using Shutter (TV) or Aperture (A) Priority modes, I use the exposure compensation to get a correct exposure for the scene as needed. I used +2/3 exposure to slightly overexpose the image to retain as much detail in the shadows. I darkened the image back to a normal looking image in processing.
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO 320, Aperture Priority mode with +2/3 stop compensation, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 285.0 mm, Canon EOS-1D X.
The cub was playing in the tall grasses. I placed the cub looking into the frame, leaving empty space to the right in the direction she is looking. This makes the image more compelling than it would be if the cub were centered.
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 160, Manual Metering mode, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 400mm, Canon EOS-1D X.
When photographing animals, keep shooting to get an interesting expression.
Photographed at f/4, 1/800 second, ISO 100, Aperture Priority mode with +2/3 stop compensation, EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon EOS-1D X.
The cub was attempting to get a better view of momma bear in the river. I was kneeling down to get eye level with the cubs but stood up to get a better composition with the sand in the background instead of the sky and horizon line.
Photographed at f/7.1, 1/400 second, ISO 640, Aperture Priority mode +1/3 stop compensation, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 400mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
This bear was fishing for salmon, but didn’t catch anything.
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 320, EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM +1.4x III at 560mm, Canon EOS-1D X.
See more of my images from the Brown Bears of Alaska Workshop and trip: Click Here
Images by Participants and Canon Representatives
Photograph by Canon’s Danielle Rocco.
This image of the cubs playing is just darling, and I love the action in it!
Photographed at f/8, 1/320 second, ISO 200, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM +1.4x III for a focal length of 560mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Henry Weinberg.
There were a few moments of extra excitement on our trip, and one of them was this one on our last evening. A mother bear went into the river to do some fishing. Her cubs were very hungry and created a commotion, yelping loudly. They followed her into the river to nurse, and soon she went over to a sandbank to nurse them. The cubs were so loud that they could be heard all the way from the lodge, and those in the lodge asked us later what all the commotion was about. Here, Henry has a good angle of the cubs nursing in the river. The warm light near sunset was an added bonus.
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/500 second, ISO 100, EF 400mm f/5, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Terry Koyama.
This fantastic image made us all laugh. The cub is falling over in the grass—while falling asleep! What Terry did well here was keep shooting continuously to get the photo. In addition, I like his editing skills: the choice of a nonstandard image is what makes this so compelling. I wish I shot it!
Photographed at f/8, 1/640 second, ISO 320, EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Ray Daugherty.
Including the entire reflection in the water and leaving space to the right for the bear to “move” into the scene ensure that this composition works.
Photographed at f/6.3, 1/500 second, ISO 200, EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM, Canon EOS-1D X.
Photograph by Mark Chittum.
Mark did a good job of getting in close to capture this wonderful expression from the cub. The shallow depth of field works well here to blur the background. Note the porcupine needle in the middle of her forehead. Porcupine needles cause pain and sometimes infection—we hope she will be all right!
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/500 second, ISO 160, Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Lance Folden, Canon Representative.
The action of the bear running in the water makes this image compelling. The space in front of the bear leaves room for our eye to look in that direction as well. The fast shutter speed of 1/640 second stopped the action for a sharp image.
Photographed at f/11, 1/640 second, ISO 640, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM +1.4x III, focal length 560mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Dan Zukowski.
What works so well in this image is the sense that the bear is moving into it. I like how the photographer converted it to black-and-white with a sepia tone. During the workshop, we photographed both the broader scene and portraits. Here, Dan shows the bear in its environment, and, importantly, he makes the bear large enough to be the subject of the image. Sometimes the animals in wildlife photography can get lost in the scene if they are too small.
Photographed at f/8, 1/500 second, ISO 1000, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Neal Parisi.
The intimacy of this interaction between mother and cub is beautifully captured by the close shot. Effective cropping and composition underscore the different sizes of the two bears.
Photographed at f/4, 1/3000 second, ISO 320, EF 600mm f/4L IS USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
Photograph by Connie Chittum.
This is an excellent action shot of the bear running. The fast shutter speed allows for the stopped action and a sharp image.
Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 500, EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM at 300mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photograph by Jim Allen.
Jim did a good job of capturing the bear when it had an interesting look on its face. The composition is clean without distracting elements in the background, which is a real feat because often in the field the seagulls got in the way. The reflection in the water works well, and I like that he included all of it.
Photographed at f/4, 1/1000 second, ISO 100, EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, Canon EOS-1D X.
What Participants Are Saying
“Canon's Brown Bears of Alaska Workshop was all I had expected and more. From the moment of landing on the Cook Inlet shoreline in a 1958 De Havilland Beaver to our first encounter with a sow brown bear with her cubs, the trip was filled with exciting moments. Jennifer Wu, Canon Explorer of Light, and Lance Folden, Canon’s Technical Rep, did a remarkable job of answering questions and suggesting tips for better imaging. A well-planned adventure, a credit to "Canon Destination Workshops," and hey, thanks for the equipment loans!”
“The Alaskan Brown Bear workshop was an incredible experience. Stepping off the plane was like stepping into a different world, and it wasn't long before we saw and began photographing the bears. Standing among the bears, in their natural habitat, watching them feed, was simply amazing.
The opportunities to get great images were plentiful, as we spent most of each day in the field. Our instructor, Jennifer Wu, knew what she was doing and passed on to us her knowledge and guidance. The critique sessions were positive, and she was helpful in the field as well.
As someone who has had much professional experience putting together events, I want to compliment Canon, and especially Danielle Rocco, for a flawless, enjoyable time in Alaska. We were provided with plenty of advance information, the logistics went smoothly, and we felt treated as guests by the lodge and by Canon.
This was my first workshop with Canon, and I would definitely go on other future events. Thanks to everyone for making it a great experience!”
"Canon's Live Learning photography workshop at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve was the experience of a lifetime. The intimacy with the Alaskan brown bears made for fantastic photo opportunities. The Canon team did an outstanding job coordinating the event. Jennifer Wu and the Canon staff enthusiastically provided insightful instruction that provided immediate rewards in taking better pictures. My thanks to Jennifer, Danielle and Lance for making this event possible. I had an AWESOME time!"
"What fun-filled and learning-filled days! The site was carefully selected, every detail taken care of and Jennifer and the Canon support team did a fabulous job. We photographed things I would have never seen otherwise, and I got a lot more familiar with my equipment. Shots improved each day. I always felt my equipment was smarter than me but after this week I feel the field is a bit more level. What a great chance to learn. "
Here is our group photographing the bears in the grasses.
We had a wonderful group, and everyone worked well together making it easy to be around the bears. During our stay, we were lucky to have warm days and sunshine every day, which doesn’t always happen in Alaska. I told everyone to bring rain gear, but they could have left it at home!
I miss the adventure and our group already. If you are interested in joining our next trip to photograph brown bears in Alaska, we are planning one for Last week of June 2015. When it is announced, it will be posted on my website under workshop tab and the Canon Destination Workshops page.
We were taking a break from photographing the bears at low tide for a group portrait.
See more of my images from the Brown Bears of Alaska Workshop and trip: Click Here
Happy Shooting, Jennifer