Bear Necessities

Bear Necessities

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Bear Necessities

bear necessities

I’m at 36,000 feet on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage, blissfully dreaming about another rendezvous with Alaskan Coastal Brown bears in a remote, fly-in lodge. Suddenly my body is overcome by a wave of paralyzing dread. Have you ever had a dream where you show up for a final exam in college, but you forgot to study? Or you attended no classes? Or you weren’t wearing pants? Well, that’s the feeling.

The meaning is obvious and unmistakable. There’s an upcoming event for which I’m unprepared. This could be the result of packing fantastically light for a remote photography location in the Alaskan wilderness. For example, I’ve packed only two lenses. On my first trip to Alaska more than ten years ago, to offer context, I hauled in 37, give or take a few. Doctor Freud could easily have demonstrated a symbolic link between the number of lenses carried and pants – or the lack thereof.

However, the anxiety would wane within moments as my left-brained rationality laid out the game plan for this expedition. I had two Canon R5 camera bodies, a Canon 100-400mm lens with EF-RF adapter, a Canon 24-105mm lens, and 4 TB of Lexar CF Express cards. That’s all my photography gear.

The practical excuse for this minimalism was the weight limit imposed by the air service from Anchorage out to the lodge. If you wanted to board the plane, your clothes, boots, jackets, toiletries, photography gear, and anything else necessary for five nights in the Alaskan hinterlands couldn’t exceed 50 pounds. In years past, this limit was more of a suggestion to help reign in chronic over packers. I was advised this year would be different.

But even before the newly enforced restriction was known to me, I had decided to leave the 500mm f/4 lens, bulky tripod, and gimbal head at home and adopt a light and nimble approach to the bears this year. I was convinced that super-telephoto primes were becoming less necessary for most wildlife photography and, in many cases, a liability. To creatively compose or to ensure I achieved the right balance of negative and positive space in the image frame, I would need to continually “zoom with my feet” – moving closer and farther away with every shooting encounter. Zooming with the lens while keeping my feet stable and in one place is a tremendous advantage.

bear necessities

“Illiamna” Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA

Then there’s the obvious fact that bears are large mammals and don’t require the same image magnification as songbirds, for example. Coastal brown bears in this specific area were relatively well adapted to a human presence, so I could approach these bears closer than grizzlies in the interior parts of the North American continent. The 45 megapixels of the Canon R5 also allow generous latitude for cropping in post, making the decision even easier. In fact, replacing the heavy prime telephoto lens with the 100-400mm wasn’t really much of a radical option at all.

The decision not to bring a tripod was more psychologically uncomfortable, however. Before I left for Alaska, I experimented with some settings. I knew at 400mm I would need at least 1/1000 of a second to ensure consistently sharp images when handholding the camera and lens. I tested the combination of 400mm and 1/1000 of a second in a variety of lighting conditions I expected to encounter while working with bears in Alaska. Under no reasonable lighting situations did I need more than 4000 ISO to produce a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. Most ISO settings were at least half of that, and in sunny conditions, I could use ISO 400 or less. With the low-light capabilities of the Canon R5, I felt those numbers were easily manageable. Plus, handheld photography gave me more freedom and mobility to capture those decisive moments that make wildlife photography so captivating. I’m confident I captured images handheld on this trip that I would have missed had I been using a tripod.

A second camera body is an essential safeguard against accidents or electronics failure, especially in a remote place like Alaska. I mounted the Canon 24-105mm lens on the second R5 body for wider “bearscapes” with background tree lines, mountains, clouds, and sky. Environmental portraits are some of my favorite wildlife images.

In the end, the two camera bodies gave me a necessary peace of mind, the 24mm to 400mm range offered no unnecessary overlapping focal length redundancies, and the 4 TB of storage in the CF Express cards allowed me to leave the computer and external hard drives at home. Best of all, I made no real sacrifices to the quality of my photography work while still weighing in a few ounces under the limit.

Sometimes the bear necessities are all you really need.

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – AUGUST 2021

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Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

Bucket List

My Favorite American National Parks For Photography

National Parks for Photography

My recent travels have taken me to some amazing places around the world (Iceland, Patagonia, Myanmar, Tanzania, and others) but many of my all-time favorite photography locations are the National Parks of the United States. Most of these parks are beyond beautiful, easily accessible for recreational activities, and are preserved as sanctuaries for pristine mountains, deserts, forests, seashores, tundra, and the wild creatures that inhabit them.

The writer, historian, and environmentalist Wallace Stegner is credited with coined the phrase America’s Best Idea when referring to the National Park System. Here’s what he said in 1983: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

At the time of this writing, there are 59 National Parks in the United States. By my last count, I have photographed in 32 of them. Here – in no particular order – are my 5 favorite National Parks for photography, with a few honorable mentions thrown in as well. If you have a favorite that American National Park that didn’t make my list, let me know which is your favorite in the comment section, including why.

Yosemite National Park

No other place in the world inspires photographers quite like Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Iconic landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls are burned into the psyche of landscape photographers in both name and visage. Spring, particularly the month of May when the waterfalls have the highest flows and the dogwoods along the Merced River are in bloom, is the most popular season for photographers. The summer months, with bumper-to-bumper traffic in Yosemite Valley, should probably be avoided but any season will produce fantastic images, including winter. Regardless of the month, Yosemite is always a good idea!

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s the most visited of all the national parks in the United States as well as one of the most ecologically diverse. Often dubbed “Wildflower National Park” because of the profuse blooms each spring (mid to late April is best) the Smokies have so much more to offer than flowers. There is spectacular autumn colors in late October, stacked mountain ridges, and wildlife too, including the highest density of black bears in the world. The Smoky Mountains National Park is also my “home park” and the place where I honed my skills many years ago. For sentimental reasons alone, it’s one of my all-time favorite national parks for photography.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the few places in the US where you can capture both deciduous autumn color (second to third week in October) and dramatic seascapes in the same frame. Favorite photography locations within the first national park east of the Mississippi River include Jordan Pond, Jordan Stream, Otter Cliffs, Monument Cove, Cadillac Mountain, Duck Brook, and Hunter Beach Cove. Nearby Bass Head Lighthouse can be crowded with other photographers at sunrise or sunset but it’s certainly worth a visit anyway.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is the most famous landmark in Arches National Park (it’s featured on Utah’s license plate) but it’s certainly not the only shooting location. All in all, there are more than 2000 sandstone arches in the park as well as many other geological formations, windows and fins that make superb photo subjects. With Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park nearby, the town of Moab, Utah makes a great location for a week or two of landscape photography and you still won’t scratch the surface of the available locations.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

Yellowstone National Park

As America’s first national park established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is best known by photographers for its wildlife and the many geothermal features found within its 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2). I’ve been traveling to Yellowstone for wildlife for more than 20 years and it never disappoints for the wildlife opportunities or the geysers, mud pots and fumaroles. Lamar Valley is often referred to as “America’s Serengeti” because of the sheer abundance of wild animals and is one of those places no wildlife photographer should miss during their lifetime. My favorite seasons for visiting for photography are spring, autumn, and winter while summer is a bit too crowded for my personal taste.

National Parks for Photography
National Parks for Photography

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Iceland: Our Amazing Planet. FREE e-book

Iceland: Our Amazing Planet. FREE e-book

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Iceland: Our Amazing Planet. FREE e-book

Iceland, Our Amazing Planet, explores the pure magic that is this small country in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Here are two dozen photographs of Iceland’s mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife, and beautiful light captured by renowned nature, wildlife, and travel photographer, Richard Bernabe.This virtual tour of Iceland will visually demonstrate why Iceland truly is one of our planet’s most amazing places. Come join the adventure with this 32-page e-book!

*  Depending on your particular mobile device and software/apps, you might have a problem downloading this PDF directly to your phone or tablet. If that’s the case, download to a computer first and then transfer to your phone or tablet.

Sample Pages

Join The Adventure!

By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

“Mirage” Giraffe reflections in watering hole at sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 64mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 2500.

“The Job Of The Artist Is Always To Deepen The Mystery”– Francis Bacon

It is not the job of the photographer to make things as clear and direct as possible for the viewing audience – or to present the photograph as to be fully comprehended or understood – it’s to deepen the mystery. The photographer’s job should be creating a sense of wonder, curiosity, bewilderment, even confusion. By withholding or hiding some visual information and clues, it leaves some work for the viewer so they become transformed from passive observers to an active participants while they try to unravel he mystery.

One of the reasons the image above has been so successful is its element of mystery, particularly with regard to the blocked-up shadows where the giraffes ought to be. The temptation for many photographers would be to open up the shadows as much as possible during processing to reveal all the details. But to deepen the mystery with my audience, I’ve purposely obscured a vital part of the image (the subjects) by allowing the shadows go to black and inviting the viewer to explore and solve the visual mystery. And like a good songwriter who refuses to explain the meaning of his or her lyrics, I’ll say no more about it.

Mysteries are incredibly compelling. The job of the photographer is to preserve them.
“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” – Rene Magritte.
“The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you” – Oscar Wilde

Mirage was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens  and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Mirage can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Behind The Lens: Brooks Falls, Alaska

Behind The Lens: Brooks Falls, Alaska

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Brooks Falls, Alaska

“Brooks Falls” Brown bear on Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens @ 280mm, 1/13 second @ f/14, ISO 100.

Brooks Falls are located on the Brooks River about halfway between Brooks Lake and Naknek Lake in Katmai National Park and Preserve. The falls are best known for bear watching on the Bear Cam as salmon attempt to leap up and over the six-foot cascade on their way to their spawning grounds. Brooks Falls is also quite famous for a number of bear-catching-salmon-in-jaws photos that you’ve undoubted seen in prints, books, and all over the Internet.

I wanted to attempt something different here, a contrast between the stillness of a steady bear atop the falls and the ever moving water. The result, which you see here, has been published on numerous occasions including an appearance in my latest wildlife photography book. I’ve been been asked on several occasions if this is a composite created with one slow exposure for the water and another with a faster shutter speed for the bear. The answer would be no. Bears usually don’t move very quickly and they often just stand around looking dumb and confused. The shutter speed of 1/13 second was fast enough to render the idle bear as perfectly sharp while also creating an illusion of motion with the water.

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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Behind The Lens: The Angel Oak

Behind The Lens: The Angel Oak

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: The Angel Oak

“The Angel Oak” Johns Island, South Carolina USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens @ 24mm, 1/15 second @ f/20, ISO 320.

On South Carolina’s Johns Island just south of Charleston, you might find one of the world’s most formidable Southern live oak trees: The Angel Oak. It truly is a sight to behold, boasting a total height of 66 feet (20 meters), a 30-foot (9 meter) trunk circumference, and a canopy diameter of more than180 feet (55 meters). It’s exact age has not been determined but it’s believed to be about 500 years old, making it the oldest living thing in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

I composed the Angel Oak by zooming in tight on the core of the tree so there was no empty space around the edges and that the branches extended all the way out to the image frame and into the corners. I was shooting directly into the sun so I positioned myself where the sun was barely peeking behind a tree limb and then stopped down to f/20 to create a diffraction star.

I captured all of this with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. I converted this to Black and White with Nik Silver Efex Pro2 on Adobe Lightroom.

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By subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you'll get timely updates on events, stories, my latest photos, and my favorite photography tips. Let me share this amazing world with you directly to your computer or phone. Come on, join the adventure!

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

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