Katmai, Alaska 2018
I know the tundra of Katmai, Alaska, where Funnel Creek and the Moraine river converge, as well as I know any natural amphitheater in the world. I have flown south from Iliamna on a float plane about 20 times over the years during the salmon run.
There is no consensual “best place” to photograph bears in Alaska because with consensus comes popularity and regulation, which then reduces the location’s edge and serenity. The famous Brooks Falls - for instance - is a soulless place to photograph bears in their normal habitat, because youthful game wardens and excited tourists outnumber the bears 40 to 1. I have respect for any photographer who comes away from Brooks with a big image.
Up on Moraine, however, it is the true wild. It is certainly the best place for me to employ my close up and immersive style of photography. The bear activity fluctuates with the timing of the sockeye salmon run and a matter of days can make a material difference to the chances of success. This year the salmon were very late and our trip to rain-sodden Iliamna last week was literally a washout. Soon after we left, the fish arrived and with them the bears and so I knew I had no choice but to return from LA.
At one point on Tuesday - up on Funnel Creek - my guide and myself - alone in the wilderness - counted 24 bears in our sight at one single time. One three-year- old bear, fishing with his brother stood out as he was almost albino in colour. His behaviour was predictable and relaxed as he and his twin fished the confluence and - given that this is very much my comfort zone too - I spotted a clear opportunity.
My standard working distance for a remote set up is around 4 feet as this is where, with the help of a prime lens, the most textural detail can be captured. It’s still a low percentage shot as my depth of field in the rain clouds of Katmai will be three inches at best.
Bears only look like cuddly teddy bears when they are between two and three years old. Any younger and they look like a hybrid animal and when they get older they lose their bedroom looks. But catch their childhood at the peak time and there is a chance you can capture a teddy bear face.
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