This past summer, I was fortunate enough to travel with a small group of friends to a remote area in Alaska to photograph the coastal brown bears (yes, grizzlies) that roam the area in abundance. This varied group of friends originally met by a chance encounter and a shared passion for photography. We each traveled from our respective areas of the globe to share in this experience. Our undeniable enthusiasm for both wildlife and photography gave us each much to share during the trip.
One (early) morning we trekked out to the beach at low tide in search of bears in soft morning light. That morning the fog was dense, and it was difficult to see just a few metres in front of you. In the haze of the heavily diffused lighting and thick fog, the bears looked like black masses moving amongst a grey background. Wouldn’t it be Murphy’s Law that we found a bear with spring cubs, but in dreadfully hazy lighting? While the fog definitely added to the mood of the photographs, it certainly made it difficult to achieve acceptable sharpness, exposure and focus.
Over the course of my first year as an IDP student, I have become more cognizant of reading light, seeking out optimal lighting, and using light to my benefit. As clichéd as it sounds now, capturing the moment truly is what makes a photograph compelling to its viewer. However, often when you’re caught up in the authenticity of the moment, such as this bear feeding her spring cubs, your tendency might be to press the shutter button and hope for the best before actually nailing down the technical aspects that will score you a coveted photograph.
Seeing I was disappointed with some of my initial photographs, one of my friends shared with me her technique to achieve better exposure and overall quality. Metre first for the lightest areas of the photograph and lock in that reading. Since your camera is going to try to make this a middle grey, use exposure compensation to correct for this. As the light changed, sometimes I was overcompensating by as little as a 1/3 of a stop or even as much as 2 f-stops. Next, recompose, refocus and shoot. This technique will overexpose the darker parts of the image to lift the shadows while maintaining correct exposure for the brighter part of the image without blowing the highlights. I also changed my metering to spot metering instead of the more typical evaluative metering. You may need to increase your ISO if the resulting shutter speed is too low. However, the resulting noise from a slightly higher ISO is easier to deal with than the noise that is gained when trying to correct shadows in post-production.
While I had the opportunity to take many spectacular photographs of bears during these few days, this is by far my favorite. With wildlife, patience is of utmost importance. I will always remember the cool morning, thick fog, and being knee deep in sand with my friends when that nursing mother bear looked straight into the lens of my camera. I learned and applied a valuable technique, just in time to capture this moment. However, if all else had failed, perhaps I could have tried salvaging it in Lightroom with the new dehaze slider!
The Seneca @ York Independent Digital Photography Program is a two-year diploma course that prepares students for a freelance career and provides them with the necessary skill set to work in a multidisciplinary studio. Photo Life is proud to partner with Seneca students to document their journey through the school curriculum.