Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop 2017 – July

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

We had a great week of bear photography, beautiful weather and a great group of nature lovers for the Grizzly Bear photography workshop this July at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop

Needless to say, it was a REAL fun group !!!
Diana, Mercedes, Jay, Jennifer, Mike, Mary Jo, Cody, Ruth, Belle and Matt in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop

On the tidal flats photographing the bears clamming

Over the week we saw and photograph the following bear behaviors:

  • Sow and cubs nursing
  • Cubs playing
  • Bears fishing for salmon
  • Bears standing up
  • Bears clamming in the tidal flats
  • Bears cuddled up and sleeping
  • Sows sharing salmon with cubs
  • Bores fishing
  • Cubs interacting with mothers

Below is a description of the week and what we saw.

Saturday
A beautiful day in Anchorage welcomed all the guests. Many arrived early and explored the Anchorage area including the downtown area, a local art fair, aviation museum, a local birding hotspot, a trip to Denali on the Alaska Railroad and a little helicopter site seeing.

We met for a nice dinner to start the workshop and enjoyed a few local beers and got to know each other and prepare for the bear photography to come. Early to bed as we fly into Lake Clark National Park and Preserve tomorrow morning early.

Sunday

Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop Lake Clark-38

Covering the miles in the bush carts as we find the bears. Notice the wolf tracks in front of the ATV

We woke to clear blue skies and light winds, perfect for our upcoming scenic flight. We headed to Lake Hood for our charter flights, and were whisked off in three Cessna 206’s. An incredibly clear morning as we toured from the air and saw the rugged snowcapped mountains of the Alaska Range, beluga whales, seals and as we approached Lake Clark we had great views of Mt. Redoubt, Mt Llama and Mt Augustine volcanos. In all the years coming here, I don’t think I’ve seen a clearer day.

As we circled the beach we saw a sow and her cubs and another bear on the beach. We landed and were greeted by our bear guide for the week, Belle.

We were welcomed by the lodge owners James and Sheila and enjoyed some fresh baked goods and drinks while we had our safety meeting. We grabbed our cameras, put on our muck boots and headed out to photograph the bears.

As the tide was low, we headed directly out to photograph the bears clamming. We photographed the following bears out in the tidal flats.

Bear Photo Workshop

Jay and Jennifer from Colorado enjoying the photographic meadows

  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Blonde Bear
  • Two yearling cubs orphaned this year

As the tide started to come in, and the bears left the tidal flats, we headed back to the lodge for a tasty lunch, some fresh baked cookies and a short break before we headed back out into the field to photograph more bears.

Lake Clark at Silver Salmon Creek has beautiful meadows with snow-capped mountains in the background, where the bears enjoy the sedge grass.

We were able to photograph the following bears in the meadows

  • 2 Orphaned blonde bears
  • Sow with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Single adolescent bear

A great dinner of fresh caught salmon with greens just picked from the garden followed by strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream. We aren’t exactly roughing it here.

Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop

Cody from Wyoming, and Mary Jo from Georgia are ready for more bear fishing action on Silver Salmon Creek.

Back out into the field in the evening and the light was golden. We found 11 bears in a meadow. They were so close to each other, and really tolerated each other very well giving us many subjects to photograph. The spring cubs (this year’s cubs) were so cute as they were climbing logs and playing with each other.

  • Sow (Crimp) with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Single adolescent bear
  • 2 foxes
  • Bald eagle

We watched as the cubs played, and as we were leaving for the night, A sow rolled over and nursed her cubs right in front of us. What an incredible start to the Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop.

Monday
We woke to a foggy morning, and very high tides. We left the lodge at 6AM and found two juveniles bears in a meadow right away. We photographed them as the fog cleared all the way until breakfast time.

  • 2 Juvenile bears (Argo’s old cubs)

After breakfast, we headed out to watch the bears fishing in Silver Salmon Creek as the salmon run had just started. We arrived and a sow with her two yearling cubs, and a sow with her three yearling cubs were fishing and running around in the water chasing the fish. We then photographed the three yearling cubs playing and snuggling with each other on the beach. I don’t think there is anything cuter than cubs snuggling with each other.

Once the fishing ended, we headed back to a scenic meadow and watched a sow (Crimp) and her two spring cubs (this year’s cubs) cuddle as two juvenile bears looked on. They then headed into the grass for a little nursing and nap.

As the tide dropped we headed to the tidal flats to watch some more clamming behavior. We found a 5-year-old juvenile bear clamming.

It was a very successful session as we photographed the following wildlife:

Bear Photography Workshop

Merecedes traveled all the way from Ecuador to see the Alaskan bears !

  • Sow (Crimp) with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • 2 juvenile bears
  • 5-year-old juvenile bear
  • Bald eagle

We headed back to the lodge and enjoyed another nice lunch and took a break to review images, charge batteries and get ready to photograph more bears. After lunch, we headed back to the meadows.

Wow, 17 unique bears in just 3 hours. We spent most of our time in the meadows watching the cubs play as mom ate, and we got to see a lot of cuddling, napping and bears nursing their cubs.

  • 4 Juveniles
  • Sow (Crimp) with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Sow with 2 spring cubs
  • Bald eagle in trees

We headed back to the lodge for a great dinner of ribs, broccoli salad picked from the garden hours before serving, and cherry cheesecake.

Bear Photo Workshop

Diana enjoys the view during the Cessna 206 flight from Anchorage to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

After dinner, we headed back out and photographed in the meadows for the evening. Lots of cubs again, and this time a wolf too. We found a very patient bald eagle perched as well. As we wrapped up shots, we headed out to Silver Salmon Creek and found two juvenile bears fishing, and as a sow arrived with her two yearling cubs, she chased the young bears off so she could fish with her two cubs by herself.

  • 2 young sibling bears
  • Sow with 2 spring cubs
  • 3 Juvenile bears
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Wolf
  • Bald eagle

Tuesday
We woke to a light rain and fog, and had limited access to the area due to the high tide. We opted to hold a photography workshop and discuss different exposure and metering techniques specialized for bear photography as well as compositional ideas and a detailed discussion on histograms.

After breakfast, we headed out to watch the bears fishing. A sow (Looper) and her two yearling cubs were fishing, and the sow caught two fish and gave them to her cubs. Lots of action as the big sow ran chasing the fish and all the guests got great images. A hungry bald eagle was flying around trying to get a bit of fresh salmon as well. After the excitement, we photographed a sow and her two spring cubs clamming, and another sow with her two yearling cubs working the tidal flats. There was also a female bear and a juvenile bear in the area and as the bears converged it got a little tense for the bears and they started standing giving us great opportunities.

  • Sow (Crimp) with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Sow
  • Juvenile bear
Bear Photo Workshop Lake Clark

Photographing the bears in the meadow as they enjoy the sedge grass.

We then took a break and enjoyed another tasty lunch at the lodge.
Bear Photo Workshop

Mike from Minnesota photographing the bears as they get ready to cross the slew.

We headed back out into the field and photographed one of the more beautiful sows with her two spring cubs in a field of short grass. We were fortunate to photograph the cubs playing and bopping around. We then photographed a sow with her yearling cubs in the meadow as well. We had very colorful background with the snow-capped mountains in the meadows today.

  • Sow with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Juvenile

Tom, the lodges chef prepared prime rib for us tonight for dinner. It’s great to be outside in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness, and come back to a delicious dinner waiting for us.

We headed back to the meadow after dinner and photographed a sow with her two spring cubs, and another sow (Agro) with her three yearling cubs. We then had to wait as a juvenile bear was resting on the road, as we experienced an Alaska traffic jam.

Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop

Cody getting low on Bird Island

We then noticed an adult bald eagle in a photogenic tree, so we stopped to take a couple more images capturing everything Alaska.

As we went to Silver Salmon Creek, a sow (Looper) walked right by us with her yearling cubs and continued to fish until 10pm. Wow, what I great day, and we’ve been on bears from 6am until 10pm today with full memory cards.

  • Sow with two spring cubs
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Juvenile bear
  • Juvenile on road
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • 2 Bald eagles in trees

Wednesday
We woke to a foggy morning, and continued the photo workshop lectures and discussed post processing techniques with Photoshop and Lightroom. Soon the fog lifted and we headed back into the field to photograph the bears.

Bear Photo Workshop Lake Clark

Ruth and Mary Jo enjoying the beautiful landscapes.

We ran into a sow with her three yearling cubs sleeping in the meadows and photographed her and her cubs all cuddling together. We would wait for the bears to lift their heads as other bears approached going for cute shots and family bonding.

We then photographed a sow and her two yearling cubs on the beach and she nursed her cubs right in front of us on the beach with a nice background. We got to watch up close, and listen to her cubs make a motorized clicking noise as they nursed. Once she was done she tossed the cubs off. There was a cute cuddling moment with all three, and off they went to fish for salmon.

We followed her down to the fishing hole at Silver Salmon Creek as a juvenile bear was fishing and catching fish. The large dominate sow ran over and took the fish from the young bear with her cubs watching. The sow and her cubs proceeded to nap on the beach.

Bear Photo Workshop

Ruth from Arizona photographing a sow and her cub

  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs
  • Juvenile bear fishing

We then headed back to the lodge for lunch and a short break.

As we headed back out to photograph the bears and ran into a sow with two spring cubs. We photographed her as she crossed the stream with her cubs providing nice scenic landscapes with bears. As the rain began, we found a bald eagle that was very patient with us. We could get so close that the eagle was full frame in our lenses. The rains came heavier and we decided to go back to the lodge and take a bit of a break and dry off. As the rains continued tonight we took it easy sharing a fantastic dinner and then everyone showed off some of their favorite images. It’s always so much fun to see the creativity of the group and some of the excellent images they have shot. Off to bed for a little catch up on sleep, and we go see Puffins tomorrow.

Thursday
We started the morning off with a beautiful sunrise and the clouds had warm pink color. We shot some of the snow-capped mountains with reflections from the slew. We then saw a coyote running through the meadows, and photographed an eagle in a very photogenic perch.

After breakfast, we headed to Bird Island by boat (optional excursion), and were fortunate to see Mount Redoubt (volcano) out of the clouds. As we approached the island we photographed a waterfall tumbling down Chisik Island. While on the island and in the area, we photographed the following:

Grizzly Bear Photo Workshop

Chisik Island with Mt. Redoubt in the distance. Bird Island is the small island under the wingtip on the right side.

  • Horned puffins
  • Tufted puffins
  • Cormorants
  • Black oyster catchers
  • Parakeet auklets
  • Fox sparrow
  • Kittiwakes
  • Historic cannery
  • Peregrine falcon

The guests who didn’t join the optional excursion headed out to spend more time photographing the bears and photographed the following:

  • 2 Juveniles fishing and caught dolly varden trout
  • Bears clamming with reflections
  • 2 Juveniles blonde bears

After lunch and a short break, we headed out again and photographed a bore in Silver Salmon Creek fishing and one of the sets of the spring cubs (this year’s cubs) put on a great show playing and bopping each other as they learn life skills.

As we headed back for dinner, there was a sow and her two yearling cubs in the lodges garden. I guess they love the fresh food that comes out of the garden too, or maybe it’s just the watering bucket.

Bear Photo Workshop

Diana enjoying watching the special bond between a sow and her cub.

  • Bore – In the creek fishing
  • 2 Juvenile bears
  • 2 Orphaned bears
  • Sow with two spring cubs
  • Juvenile bear
  • Sow (Agro) with three yearling cubs
  • Sow (Looper) with two yearling cubs

For dinner tonight we were treated to fresh caught salmon steaks, fresh salad and a tasty desert.

We headed back out into the field and found a sow and here two spring cubs in the meadow. We were able to film lots of mother/cub interaction, cuddles, kisses as well as all three bears standing at the same time as two other bears approached.

On the way back to the lodge, we ran into a young bear that came 8 feet from the group. What a highlight of a great day.

As we pulled into the lodge, a sow (Looper) and here two yearling cubs were hanging out in the lodges yard. Goodnight Looper!

Friday
Our last morning of the Grizzly Bear Photo workshop and we headed out at 6am and were fortunate to photograph three juvenile bears as well as a beautiful dark grey wolf. We’ve seen two wolfs in the wild this week, and it’s great to see these beautiful animals in the wild.

  • 3 Juvenile bears
  • Grey wolf

We headed back to the lodge for breakfast, a quick pack up and head to the beach for our return flight on the Cessna 206’s back to Anchorage.

It was such a great group for the 2017 Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop, and I want to thank everyone for sharing such excitement for this beautiful place and dedicating time to experience the Alaskan wilderness.

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop 2017 – July was last modified: August 11th, 2017 by Matt Shetzer