I have always enjoyed teaching photography and sharing tips with fellow photographers. My blog has been a big part of reaching photographers. Each month I get thousands of visitors, and lots of great questions via email. These questions often prompt another blog post, and many of the stories I have written for photography magazines started as a question from another photographer. Today is a big day, my 1000th blog post after 12 years of blogging! I plan to continue blogging 2 times or more each week to share news, tips and other useful ideas for photographers.
I thought about what photo to show for this special blog post, and since I am headed to Alaska soon to photograph bears I thought that might be appropriate. But this is a special bear photo, one I took over 25 years ago on my first bear photo tour that I led. I was on Kodiak Island at a special bear lodge and refuge, and bears where everywhere. I was still transitioning from being a mountaineering and backcountry guide where the guiding principle was avoid bears at all cost, make lots of noise in tall brush, and never walk down bear trails along a salmon stream. But on this day I found myself looking for bears, sneaking through tall brush, and walking down a bear trail along a salmon stream. Luckily the lodge manager was our guide to the shooting platform, because I was on pins and needles being so close to so many huge bears.
We reached the shooting platform without incident, and the participants began photographing the numerous bears in the stream below us. I was awe stuck; this was a scene I had never really seen before. I walked around helping folks, staying behind the group so they had a clean view of the river for photography. Standing behind the group on the back of the platform, I thought I heard a noise behind me. But honestly with shutters clicking away I was more focused on the bears in front.
But then I did hear a noise behind me, and took a closer look. A dense patch of fireweed was growing behind the platform, probably around 5 feet tall. To my disbelief I watched as the fireweed gently swayed and parted as something huge quietly walked through….right behind my group. I had a 70-200mm on my camera, and instinctively brought the camera up to my eye. Suddenly, a huge grizzly just periscoped his head right up above the fireweed to check us out….maybe 10 feet away. Just as quickly he slowly descended back into the fireweed, and continued to walk around the platform on his way to the river. I got about three frames and it was over. Someone in our group looked back and asked if I was doing okay (I’m sure I was pale)…I barely nodded. No one else saw this bear. Ironically, this bear image has been one of my most published. Just something about the curious look of that bear in the middle of the fireweed that folks seem to like. For me the experience that went with taking this image is something I will never forget. Isn’t that also part of photography? We share experiences with others, but also relive them ourselves.
I’ve been around hundreds of bears over the last 25 years guiding photography workshops; there is something very special and magical photographing these special animals. But that first close bear encounter will always be special, and one I will never forget.