Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bearing up

with 48 comments

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On August 29th, a week or so before Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta shut down because of a forest fire, we drove along Akamina Parkway headed toward Cameron Lake. It wasn’t long before we came up behind a car that was stopped in the road. I’ve learned that when that happens in a national or state park, it usually means the driver of the stopped car has seen an animal, and that was the case here. I worked my way around the other car, drove further down the road, and waited for the animal to amble along in my direction. It was a black bear, the first I’d ever seen in the wild.

UPDATE: After yesterday’s post appeared, I received quite a bit of information about the mountain shown in it. I’ve updated that post to include the new information.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2017 at 4:40 AM

48 Responses

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  1. Respect for the bear that is the most important thing. Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you usually…above all don’t feed the bears! 🙂

    Tim Vant - 3y3wonder

    September 26, 2017 at 4:44 AM

    • “Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you” is the attitude I take with much smaller potentially harmful creatures as well, like wasps. In the national parks that we visited on this trip, many signs cautioned people against feeding the animals.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 8:17 AM

  2. Handsome. It makes a beary good photographer’s model.


    September 26, 2017 at 6:24 AM

  3. With that debris in his fur, he seems to have emerged from a ramble in the brambles. I think it adds to the photo, but what I like most is the fantastically detailed fur and the way the light helps to separate that forward paw from the rest of his body. Even his head is well defined. He’s far more than just a blob of blackness.


    September 26, 2017 at 7:42 AM

    • I missed the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle. Now I’ve made up for that by depicting the result of the Ramble in the Brambles as more than just a blob of blackness. We’ll have to thank my camera sensor and lens for making this heady picture pawssible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 9:33 AM

  4. I love bears, excellent shot, I always had trouble getting a good picture of my black Labrador, but Linda is right, everything in this shot is well defined. And this fella is looking just like he ought to. They seem like pretty mild-tempered creatures. Or I guess forbearing would be a better term!

    Robert Parker

    September 26, 2017 at 8:13 AM

    • “Forbearing” is a good way to put it; we could also say “furbearing.” This bear lumbered casually down the road as if he owned it, paying no attention that I could see to any of the people who had stopped their cars to watch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 9:36 AM

  5. Beautiful capture. It sure has been eating well, it seems!
    I love to see animals so healthy.


    September 26, 2017 at 8:41 AM

    • Several times on this trip we heard about the way bears put on several hundred pounds at this time of year in preparation for hibernating through the coming cold weather. (Overnight snow had fallen in the mountains on September 14th, the day we flew home.) We learned that a big source of weight gain is berries, of which we did indeed see various kinds in the area. Many signs warned visitors about the increased presence of bears in the berry-bearing woods at this time of year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 9:41 AM

  6. What a gorgeous photo of a bear. Bears make me extremely nervous, even when I’m looking at a photo, so I’m not usually looking this closely at one. Isn’t he a beaut?


    September 26, 2017 at 8:57 AM

    • Every year there are incidents in which bears maul people, so you have good reason to be nervous. The closeness is something of an illusion. I had my lens zoomed to the maximum 400mm, so the bear was farther away than it looks. In addition, the image is cropped to about one-third of its original area.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 9:46 AM

      • Cropping to the rescue! I’ve been disappointed in my results when I use my zoom, because the resulting photo is all pixillated. I discovered that if I crop at the point of developing, it effectively does the same thing and the image looks better. Pretty cool.


        September 27, 2017 at 8:39 AM

        • Many current cameras have what’s called digital zoom, which is just an enlargement of the central part of the image; that enlarging accounts for the pixillation you mentioned. Some cameras have true optical zoom, achieved through lenses, which is the better way to go. My expensive camera takes pictures with 50 megapixels, so I can afford to crop after the fact and still end up with enough pixels for a good image.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 27, 2017 at 9:05 AM

          • Oh that explains it.


            September 28, 2017 at 9:04 AM

            • The next time you upgrade to a new camera, make sure it has optical zoom. Old-fashioned me also recommends a real optical viewfinder (as opposed to a digital one).

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 28, 2017 at 9:29 AM

              • Yes. I did buy a better camera and I think it does have a limited optical zoom, but it also has a digital viewfinder which I hate. I haven’t used it much. Perhaps as winter settles in I’ll find time to read the manual (yawn) and figure out how to get the most out of it. It is too easy for me to simply pull out my phone, which has an excellent camera for what it is.


                September 29, 2017 at 8:22 AM

                • Reading the manual sounds like a profitable winter pastime. Too bad that manuals seem so often written from the point of view of the engineers who made the devices rather than from a user’s point of view. I so often find myself thinking, when I read a camera manual: don’t just tell me what a certain setting does technically, tell me why I would want to use that setting.

                  In many circumstances a phone camera does a good job. There are times when only a real camera can produce a worthwhile image.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 29, 2017 at 9:24 AM

                • Absolutely true and I really do want to learn how to use it. You’re right about the manuals. Did you ever watch Monk? His brother wrote manuals that were a delight to read. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?


                  September 30, 2017 at 9:15 AM

                • I’m not familiar with Monk. Three cheers for his brother, based on what you’ve said.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 30, 2017 at 9:56 AM

                • It was a TV detective show in the 90’s, I believe. Or early 2000’s. We found it pretty funny,


                  October 2, 2017 at 8:40 AM

  7. Did you wind down the window to get this shot Steve? 😉 How wonderful to see him up close like that. And I imagine a little hair-raising too?


    September 26, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    • I did lower the driver’s window and lean out with my camera. I can’t remember whether I also then got out so that I could better compose my pictures. Given the 400mm setting of my lens and the subsequent cropping of the image to about one-third of the original area, I was a lot farther away from the bear—and therefore safer—than you might think. As a result, the only hair that got raised was the bear’s.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 9:52 AM

  8. Incredibly beautiful and a joy to see such a wonderful creature clearly doing so well. Thank you for making my day!


    September 26, 2017 at 9:18 AM

  9. What a magnificent looking bear!

    laura lecce

    September 26, 2017 at 2:14 PM

  10. Looks like this bear has just had a roll in the hay. I’ve seen a couple of black bears here in WMass but not as close as this individual appears. I think that in general, most of our wildlife in New England is smaller than those out west and smaller yet compared to Alaska…at least when it comes to bear and moose. Maybe even squirrel and moose.

    Steve Gingold

    September 26, 2017 at 2:14 PM

    • I zoomed to the maximum 400mm my lens allows and subsequently cropped the image to about one-third of its original area. That means I was a lot farther away from the bear—and therefore safer—than the picture might lead you to believe.

      I suspect you’re right that animals out west tend to reach greater sizes than their eastern counterparts. I’ll bet zoologists have done studies to find out.

      In addition to walking along the edge of the road, the bear walked through some underbrush that apparently contributed all the little plant pieces on its fur.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 3:09 PM

  11. Great photo! I hope you were using a long lens!!!


    September 26, 2017 at 7:55 PM

    • It was a zoom lens zoomed to the maximum 400mm, and then I cropped the picture to about a third of its original area, so I was indeed a lot farther away than it might seem.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2017 at 10:54 PM

  12. I am relieved after reading your comments to others! Black bears are not as fearsome as a Grizzly, but do warrant respect. Don’t we love our zoom lens in times like this. This is a great shot!


    September 27, 2017 at 5:06 AM

    • Yes, I will live to write another day. My latest zoom, which I “broke in” on this latest trip, is twice as heavy as the previous one (which I still have) but zooms farther, up to 400mm rather than 280mm. This was a good time to take advantage of that extra visual reach.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 27, 2017 at 7:34 AM

  13. That is a fantastic photo of the bear! Zoom lens or not, that’s what being in the outdoors is all about – seeing the wildlife in natural settings – not in the zoos!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    September 27, 2017 at 8:59 AM

  14. Hey Steve .. what a beauty! I hope you were using your telephoto .. Great shot 😃


    September 30, 2017 at 6:26 PM

  15. A handsome black bear, Steve! I have not seen one yet out here in Oregon, but saw many in Connecticut.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 2, 2017 at 12:07 PM

    • That’s the opposite of what I’d have expected. I think of Connecticut, like the Long Island I grew up on, as tame.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 2, 2017 at 12:18 PM

  16. Wow, wonderful picture.

    Anabel Marsh

    November 7, 2017 at 4:06 AM

  17. What an animal!


    August 29, 2018 at 8:17 AM

    • Drivers stopped in the road to watch. I drove ahead so I could pull over and look back as the bear ambled toward me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 29, 2018 at 8:32 AM

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