2017 Bear Boat (Bear Cubs) IPT Report. And Another Favorite: Brown Bear yearling playing with divining log. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

2017 Bear Boat (Bear Cubs) IPT Report. And Another Favorite: Brown Bear yearling playing with divining log.

Stuff, and the 2017 Bear Boat (Bear Cubs) IPT Report

I had not realized that my ORD > MCO flight had been moved back an hour so I got into Orlando at about 3:30pm (instead of at 2:30pm) on Tuesday afternoon. Jim picked me up right on the money. After a stop at Publix for restocking the cupboard, we got home to ILE just before 6pm.

The 2017 Bear Boat (Bear Cubs) IPT was a strange one in several ways, mainly involving the weather. As regular readers know it was looking as if we might not make it to Katmai on schedule but the weather cleared much earlier than expected. It was cloudy bright that afternoon Tuesday, July 18) and with less than ideal bear viewing tides we took a photographic ride in the spacious steel skiff. We got to photograph Harbor Seal, Red Fox (with only one x …), and a single bear, our first. The big surprise was that we got to photograph Orca (Killer Whale) at fairly close range. That was a first for me on my eight bear boat trips.

On Wednesday, July 19 we headed up to Hallo Bay fairly early and did well during the midday hours with a very cooperative mamma bear with two yearling cubs, again in ideal cloudy bright conditions. That is when I created today’s featured image. With a big storm that was supposed to last for several days headed our way we returned to the protected bay at Kukak to spend the night and ride things out. On Thursday morning, July 19, we woke to cloudy dark skies and high winds but no rain so we all got in the skiff and landed at the far end of Kukak Bay. As we came around a corner we spotted a blonde wolf. Those carrying their big lenses on their shoulders got off a few frames with IPT veteran Dave Romea getting the only decent image. Those like me and several other participants who favored long term shoulder health over preparedness came up empty-handed as the wolf disappeared into the hillside brush.

We photographed some nice wolf tracks in the mud and then I started poking around looking for some still wildflowers in the lee to photograph with my 100-400 II (without much luck). But I stumbled upon an apparently abandoned Black Oystercatcher nest with two eggs on the gravel. I photographed it for about and hour with a great variety of lenses and from a wide assortment of perspectives. The group spotted a bear but it went the way of the wolf … I shared some of my nest images with the group but only a few came back to the nest with me and those that did created only a very few snaps. My feeling is that if you have a nice subject that you should consider working it seriously. I will share my nest-with-egg efforts here with you soon.

It poured and blew hard all afternoon so I present a canned program on Composition and Image Design. That went well. The captain’s wife and our cook took great interest in the program and the group enjoyed it as well. The weather forecast was for two more full days of rain and northeast winds. The former is no fun to work in and the latter would have kept us pinned in Kukak as Hallo is wide open to the northeast winds with no place to hide for the night.

Several of us were up early on Friday July 21. With two more days of very harsh weather in the forecast, the leader — that’s me — was placed on suicide watch. Only kidding. But things were looking grim at that point. Our overnight anchorage in Kukak was so well protected that we did not realize that the storm had past. By 7am the good news was spreading; we were heading back to Hallo even though the forecast was not promising. Well, that turned out to be a miraculous turn of events as we got in a long session mostly in perfect cloudy bright conditions. Right off the bat we found the yearling cubs that we had worked with on Wednesday and again they were quite cooperative. Next was a big gold colored female bear with two spring cubs. She was so comfortable with us the I cannot quote any distances here in fear of starting a major ethical brouhaha (as I have done before). Suffice to say, we followed the rules; the bears approached us and we stayed tight as a group and still.

As conditions brightened a bit, all of us were thinking the same thing: “We have now been with this family for four hours. It is about time that the cubs nursed.” And then it happened, within yards of us. Momma laid down on her back and the two eager cubs began suckling and slurping. We were both amazed and in nature photography heaven.

That afternoon skies cleared and we enjoyed a skiff ride for Horned and Tufted Puffins. After dinner, Chuck took two of us out to try for some halibut. I had landed the only keeper of the season, a small chicken halibut, while fishing in the rain as we were anchored up. He took us in the skiff to a few spots that had been productive in the past. I was fishing an eight-ounce diamond jig with two strips of white fish skin as a teaser. I was concentrating really hard almost willing a fish to hit. One did, and it was a substantial halibut. Line peeled off the screaming reel as the fish made first one long run and then another. Twice it nearly jerked me off my feet as it pulled me from the back of the skiff to the front of the skiff.

I played the fish on light tackle for about 20 minutes. As I got it near the surface Chuck grabbed his harpoon. I had the spent fish lying perfectly flat on the surface next to the boat. Chuck fired and thought that he had missed. At that moment, the line broke and I pictured the huge, exhausted fish turning tail and heading back to the bottom of the bay. But the harpoon had struck home. With a bit of a struggle Chuck got a hand gaff into the fish and lifted my 55-pound halibut into the skiff where it protested for a while. We tried again the next day in the morning but my fish was it. We did enjoy several wonderful meals and I still wound up with about 15 pounds of halibut filets to bring home.

On Saturday, July 22, those of us who were up very early enjoyed a nice puffins on the water red silhouette situation while those who got up a bit later enjoy some nice pre-sunrise scenic photography; my best there were created with the the 11-24mm, my big sky lens. We were ashore by 8:30 and had an eagle and some bears on the extensive low tide mudflats. I did some sidelit pattern shots of the mud ridges and made a few blasting highlights scenics with the mud and a distant island. Once we started hiking and found the bears the light was very bright. I created many hundreds of image and kept only a handful. By the time we headed back to the boat we had been hiking for more than seven not very productive hours and had hiked more than 3.7 miles. In and out at Hallo on the lower tidal stages will do that to you. A great late lunch halibut meal was enjoyed by all. We tried for puffins again but with wind against sun that we a bust.

Sunday the 23rd dawned clear and bright so I went out on a limb. “We will head to shore at 4pm on the high tide, get dropped off up the river, and then work our way back to the boat as the light gets nicer and nicer.” We had lots of close encounters with several bear families for many hours and then found the three cub family trying to stay out of the way of several big boars. The female charged one of them and sent it off with its tail between its legs. When a larger male approached I made my best image of the trip and maybe my best bear image ever as (finally) seen in the Last Minute Magic/Bear Boat Single Favorite Image. By far … blog post here. After that we trudged back over the berm to find several bears doing some early season fishing. Those — including and especially me — who waded the channels had a chance to photograph several bears in really sweet light. All in all we saw well more than 20 bears that afternoon. Having been dropped off far up the river on high tide we walked only about two miles with our gear on Sunday. We did not make it back to the boat until after 10:30pm which was just after the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Then it was back to our protected anchorage at Kukak to spend the night. Most folks slept in. I am not capable of doing that …

On Monday morning some folks opted to head out for a two-hour skiff ride. I stayed aboard to pack. They had lots of eagles and a few bears on the skiff ride but apparently we had used up all of our skiff photography magic on that first afternoon. Two float planes got us back safely to Kodiak late on Monday afternoon where everyone began their long journeys home.

All in all the weather was varied and strange with lots of highs and lows. The odd thing about the group was that most of the boys and girls rarely asked any questions in the field. I felt pretty lonely out there. Apologies again for the half-day of technical problems on Monday evening and Tuesday morning. Thanks again to Peter Kes for getting things up and running. Sometimes, there is a price to pay for progress. 🙂

I finished work on this blog post just now at about 7:30pm on Tuesday evening. That took two hours and I am very tired, hoping to be able to stay up until about 10:00pm and possibly avoid severe jet lag.

The Streak

Today marks three days in a row with a new educational blog post.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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As above, this image was created on the first morning of the 2017 Bear Boat IPT with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and my favorite bird photography camera body, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops as originally framed: 1/320 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. Daylight WB.

LensAlign/FocusTune micro-adjustment: -2.

Upper Large Zone/AI Servo/Shutter button AF was active at the moment of exposure. The AF system selected two points in the array, one fell on the bear’s right wrist, the other just caught the tip of its mouth or possibly the edge of the stick on the same level as the mouth. Both were pretty much on the same plane as the bear’s face. The featured image is a decent crop from all four sides.

Brown Bear yearling playing with log

Brown Bear yearling playing with divining log

This was one of two yearling cubs that were very accommodating; having been born the previous spring they they were about 16 months old. The young bear in this image was actually quite curious at times and needed to be shooed away several times over the next few days. On morning one both of them began playing with thus fairly large log and there were a few magical moments. And they often play-fought with each other as well. As this was our first pleasing bear encounter we got to talk lots about getting the right exposure on a relatively dark day. The young bears both looked dark that day as a result of their wet fur. Several folks made some really nice images of the wet bears that featured very special poses with the log.

Image Title?

If you can come up with a funny or interesting title for this image, please do share by leaving a comment. With love, artie

The Image Optimization

After converting the image in DPP 4, I brought the image into Photoshop and cropped it. I realized right from the get-go with this first shared image processing session that applying a layer of RGB Curves Adjustment Color Balancing was the way to go with bear images created in low light. This technique worked magic on every single bear image that I processed. With this image and most others I left the RGB Curves layer at 100% opacity. Next I selected the bears only with the Quick Selection Tool (W) and applied a layer of my NIK Color Efex Pro 30/30 recipe. Lastly I painted a Quick Mask of the face of all the bear and selectively sharpened it with a Contrast Mask (15, 65, 0) on its own layer.

Everything above plus tons and tons more is detailed in the new BIRDS AS ART Current Workflow e-Guide (Digital Basics II), an instructional PDF that is sent via e-mail. Learn more and check out the free excerpt in the blog post here. Just so you know, the new e-Guide reflects my Macbook Pro/Photo Mechanic/DPP 4/Photoshop workflow. Do note that you will find the RGB Curves Adjustment Color Balancing tutorial only in the new e-guide.

You can learn how and why I and other discerning Canon shooters convert nearly all of their Canon digital RAW files in DPP 4 using Canon Digital Photo Professional in the DPP 4 RAW conversion Guide here. And you can learn advanced Quick Masking and advanced Layer Masking techniques in APTATS I & II. You can save $15 by purchasing the pair. Folks can learn sophisticated sharpening and (NeatImage) Noise Reduction techniques in the The Professional Post Processing Guide by Arash Hazeghi and yours truly.

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7 comments to 2017 Bear Boat (Bear Cubs) IPT Report. And Another Favorite: Brown Bear yearling playing with divining log.

  • avatar Bobby Perkins

    ” I may be little but I carry a Big Stick!”

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks all for commenting. Still jet-lagged Robin 🙂

    with love, artie

  • avatar Jake

    Hi Artie, I love this image it’s so comical and the background is just perfect. Glad to hear the IPT was a success it sounds like everyone had a good time photography wise. Jake

  • avatar Robin Sparkman

    Hi Artie! Loved the post! Hope you are recovering well from any jet lag. I think the little cub is saying, “I’m going to put my tripod right here!”

  • This One Should Give me a Home Run

  • avatar john farnsworth

    “Batter up!”

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. This too is a wonderful image. I’ve been in those places and seen similar things–no wolves, though–but without a good camera or even good technique; it was in 2001 or 2002. What a wonderful experience you all had. Congratulations on the halibut.

    Caption: “I know I left my lens cap on this thing….”