Jennifer Wu
Jennifer Wu

Jennifer Wu, a professional photographer for over 15 years, is best known for her nature and landscape photography. Before focusing on the nature's elusive beauty, she specialized in journalism and portrait photography, publishing hundreds of images in newspapers, including The Sacramento Bee.

Canon Live Learning photographs Brown Bears of Alaska

August 27, 2013

Our bush plane landed on Cook Inlet in the remote Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and it was instantly clear that our cameras would not see the inside of a case for the entire three day workshop. With stunning mountain peaks in the distance and expansive coastline before us, we had the ideal location for photographing the coastal brown bear of Alaska.

While the scenery was breathtaking and the accommodations and food at the lodge were just right, what made this once-in-a-lifetime experience truly amazing were our interactions with the bears — sometimes they wandered right by us though the grounds at the lodge.

Brown bears include at least two main subspecies: the grizzly bear and the coastal brown bear. We were photographing coastal brown bears, which grow especially large due to the plentiful supply of salmon and other nutrient-rich food sources on the coast. Brown bears are much larger than the bears that live in interior areas, such as Denali National Park.

The Canon Live Learning workshop was an incredible experience as we photographed the brown bears while they went about their life. They did not seem bothered by our presence at all and we watched as they ate grass, fished in the water and dug for clams at low tide. It was exhilarating when the bears came so close that we had to back up to get out of their way!

“The intimacy with the Alaskan brown bears made for fantastic photo opportunities,” said participant Jim Allen. “Jennifer Wu and the Canon staff enthusiastically provided insightful instruction that provided immediate rewards in taking better pictures.”

Workshop Highlights

In the workshop, participants got a chance to try out gear as Canon provided cameras and long lenses. It was like one big birthday party, opening all the boxes of gear.

The workshop also included a lecture by me on photographing wildlife and a review of camera settings and operations. Then we headed out into the field with rain covers for our cameras, raincoat and rain pants for ourselves but didn’t need it since we had good weather. However, the rain pants were helpful for keeping dry when kneeling in wet grass or mud flats.

“We photographed things I would have never seen otherwise and I got a lot more familiar with my equipment. Shots improved each day,” said participant Ray Daugherty. “I always felt my equipment was smarter than me but after this week I feel the field is a bit more level. What a great chance to learn. "

When out in the field, sometimes a subtle thing would happen, like a mama bear touching noses with her cub. And sometimes a not so subtle occurrence would take place, like a fight breaking out among the cubs. We learned to be prepared at all times and stay focused on the bears. It is best to keep your camera close, with the proper exposure setting and ready for action with a fast shutter speed — like 1/500 second — just in case you need it. Wide apertures for portraits were set at f/4. The ISO was on auto or changed as needed for the scene.

Photographs from the Workshop

Click on the images to enlarge. To see more images from our participants, check out our Canon Live Learning: Brown Bears gallery.

At low tide, the bears look for clams to eat. Here, the lack of wind allowed for some beautiful reflections. I zoomed out to include the entire reflection of the bear.

Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 320, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 340mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.


 

This blond cub was so curious about us and walked up to us from the edge of the ocean, which you can see the background. The sow was farther away, but followed her cub and came in closer too. I had an EF 400mm fixed lens on the tripod, but switched to a handheld EF 100-400mm as the cub was too close. I used Aperture Priority mode because there was ample light and I wanted a shallow depth of field with the highest shutter speed I could get with the low ISO 320. When using Shutter (TV) or Aperture (A) Priority modes, I used the exposure compensation to get a correct exposure for the scene as needed. I used +2/3 exposure to slightly overexpose the image to retain as much detail in the shadows. I darkened the image back to a normal looking image in processing.

Photographed at f/5.6, 1/800 second, ISO 320, Aperture Priority mode with +2/3 stop compensation, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 285.0 mm, Canon EOS-1D X.


 

The cub was playing in the tall grass. I placed the cub looking into the frame, leaving empty space to the right in the direction it’s looking at. This makes the image more compelling than it would be if the cub were centered.

Photographed at f/5.6, 1/640 second, ISO 160, Manual Metering mode, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 400mm, Canon EOS-1D X.


 

When photographing animals, keep shooting to get an interesting expression.

Photographed at f/4, 1/800 second, ISO 100, Aperture Priority mode with +2/3 stop compensation, EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon EOS-1D X.


 

The cub was attempting to get a better view of mama bear in the river. I was kneeling down to get on eye level with the cubs, but stood up to get a better composition with the sand in the background instead of the sky and horizon line.

Photographed at f/7.1, 1/400 second, ISO 640, Aperture Priority mode +1/3 stop compensation, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at 400mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

 

Thanks!

We had a wonderful group and everyone worked together, making it easy to be around the bears. During our stay, we were lucky to have warm days and sunshine every day, which doesn’t always happen in Alaska. I told everyone to bring rain gear, but they could have left it at home!

I miss the adventure and our group already. If you are interested in joining our next trip to photograph brown bears in Alaska, we are planning one for July 2015. When it is announced, it will be posted on www.jenniferwu.com and the Canon Destination Workshops page.

See more of my images from the Brown Bears of Alaska Workshop and trip here. Please visit my website at jenniferwu.com.

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