Bear Photography Workshop

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop 2018 – July

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

Bear, bears and more bears. Our 2018 bear trips had excellent numbers of bears, and lots of cubs that call Lake Clark National Park and Preserve their home.

As our 2018 Grizzly Bear photography workshop began in Anchorage Alaska, we all met at our hotel right on scenic Lake Hood as the float planes fly above and land.

Bear Photography Workshop

William, Cynthia, Belle, Filomena, Hilary, Donna, Richard, Cathy, Val and Matt

Joining us is Cynthia and Filomena from Toronto Canada, William from South Carolina, Richard and Cathy from Utah, Hilary and Donna from Colorado and Val from California.

As we all met up we headed out to enjoy some local Alaskan dishes such a salmon and halibut. We got to know each other and talked about the exciting days to come and prepare for the bear photography that starts tomorrow.

Bear Photography Workshop

Donna is all ready for take-off in a Cessna 206

Sunday
We woke to beautiful weather in the morning, perfect for our chartered flights to Lake Clark National Parks and Preserve. We had a nice breakfast and then headed out to the charter headquarters where the three Cessna 206’s were waiting for us.

We weighed our gear and loaded up for what was going to be a highlight of the trip. As we took off in the smooth air, our pilots took us on a little detour to view the mountains, glaciers and waterfalls as the day was so beautiful. The cameras were clicking away as the scenery was truly rugged Alaska.

Our flights passed by the Redoubt volcano, Illama volcano and down the Johnson river valley with waterfalls and glaciers all around. We then touched down on the beach right at Silver Salmon Creek.

Hilary guessed the closest time of arrival of the planes and was rewarded for her skills by a bottle of red wine.

We were met on the beach by our bear guide for the week, Belle. This is Belles 4th year guiding our groups and does an amazing job at predicting the behavior of the bears, offering us amazing opportunities for our images.

Bear Photography Workshop

The views out the window as we enjoy this beautiful day for flying

We then headed over the lodge to meet our hosts and have a brief safety meeting before heading out to spend time with the bears.

We were fortunate to find a Sow (Looper) with her two cubs playing in the meadow. The two cubs were 2 ½ years old and they were play fighting in the green grass. That’s a great way to start a trip with some cub play!

When the action was over, we then saw a large boar in the meadow that was named Snaggle Tooth due to one of its teeth that stuck out. We then photographed another sow in the meadow, and a blonde boar in the scenic meadow.

After a full morning of action, we headed back to the lodge and had a nice lunch and short break before heading back out in the field for more bear photography.

As we headed out, finding the bears was going to be easy as a sow (named Crimp Ear) and her two cubs (1 ½ year old cubs) where playing in the lodges garden where a lot of our food comes from. We watched the bear family right in the backyard of the lodge as they were just going about their day.

We then hopped in our ATV pulled bush carts and found a nice boar in the meadows with the beautiful snowcapped mountains in the background offering us great landscape images with a male bear as the subject.

Bear Photography Workshop

Don’t worry, we didn’t all ride in this one plane. 3 Cessna 206’s brought us in to Lake Clark National Park at Silver Salmon Creek

As the afternoon grew late, we then photographed another bear (Looper) with her two cubs in the grassy meadow until dinner time.

For dinner, Chef Ed prepared Salmon steaks caught fresh from the salmon run near Silver Salmon Creek and made us Rhubarb pie picked from the garden that morning with ice cream. No one is going to lose weight on this trip!

Bear Photography Workshop

Val enjoying the view of a beautiful bear.

As we headed back out into the field for our last session of the day, a red fox greeted us, and was very playful running around and coming within feet of us offering us close-ups of its beautiful fur. As we were loading up a young juvenile bear came walking right through the garden.

This evening we had lots of nice light and spent our time with another sow with her two cubs. The sow had beautiful round face like a teddy bear. She came very close to us and gave us great opportunities to do portraits of her photogenic face. As the evening went on the cubs began to play and cuddled with each other. The isn’t anything cuter than two cubs cuddling.

We really spent a lot of time out in the field today and got back to the lodge at 10PM taking advantage of those long Alaskan summer days. Time to download our images, charge our batteries and get ready for another full day of bear photography tomorrow.

Monday

As we woke, there was light rain falling. We had a little coffee and tea and headed out at 6AM to photograph the bears as the light rain will bring out the texture of their fur.

We started the morning photographing a juvenile bald eagle on an old tree snag.

Bear Photography Workshop

Bears and Photographers in the meadows

We then photographed a sow with her two cubs (1 ½ years old). We watched the bears interact with each other and show their love of each other. We were then treated to the bears feeling so comfortable with us that the sow rolled over and nursed her cubs right in front of us.

Once the nursing was over, they curled up for a nap until another bear approached and the sow stood up on her hind legs. She looked right at us as the guests clicked away. What a great photo opportunity.

Bear Photography Workshop

William from South Carolina enjoying Alaska

We then photographed a nice boar in the meadow and another juvenile bear until it was time for lunch.

After lunch, the rain started to fall a bit heavier, so we took this time to meet in the conference room and discuss different camera settings for the different scenarios with the bears, and compositional ideas. When the rain simmered down we headed back out into the field to photograph more bears.

We then found the sow Looper with her two cubs and the cubs put on quite a show. They played and bopped each other and pulled on ears as they wrestling to the ground. We enjoyed the show and clicked the shutters rapidly.

As we headed back to the lodge for dinner, the local red fox was wanting to play with a bear in the front yard of the lodge.

For dinner Chef Ed prepared a delicious ham followed by a chocolate bread pudding. Refueled, we headed out for more photography.

This evening we headed back to the meadows where the younger bears have been hanging out. While in the meadows we photographed 6 different juvenile bears.

Bear Photography Workshop

The group being transported with the ATV and bush carts with our lodge for the week in the background.

We the found another sow, nicknamed New Mom, with her two 1 ½ year old cubs. As another bear approached the 3 bears all ran up a tree about 100ft high. The group decided running up a tree would not be a good way to get away from a bear as they demonstrated it is effortless for them.

The last bears we photographed for the evening was the sow with her two 2 ½ year old cubs. We were treated to all three standing on their hind legs in a line as they moved down the slew.

After another full day of photography, we called it a night and headed back to the lodge to get some sleep, as we have another full day planned tomorrow.

Tuesday

Bear Photography Workshop

Filomena enjoying the bears and vibrant meadows

We headed out early at 6AM and found two adult bald eagles perched on drift wood off the beach. Once we were done photographing the eagles we continued looking for the bears.

The sow with the two 2 ½ year old cubs came right towards us as they were on the move. They came so close and just walked right by us. A couple of guests got great videos of the bears which felt no threat by us. What a highlight to finish our morning session and head back to the lodge for breakfast.

After another yummy meal, we headed back out into the field. Right away we found Crimp Ear with her two cubs playing. Once the cubs finished playing, they provided us a fantastic nursing scene as the cubs climbed all over their mom going from nipple to nipple with white frothy milk all over their faces. We left the family to have a little quiet time and enjoy their post meal nap.

We then watched a young bear clam in the tidal flats. A bear will walk on the tidal flats and smell the calms. Once it finds a clam it will dig it out, and then open the clam and slurp up the clam as it moves on to find the next clam.

Bear Photography Workshop

Hilary out numbered by the bears. A sow and her two cubs ready to have their photo taken.

As we headed back to the lodge for lunch, we saw a sow and her two cubs in a tree. The two cubs were playing in the tree poking each other (kids will be kids). As they climbed down the tree, they stood on their hinds keeping an eye out for other bears.

After lunch we headed into the field for another session. We found the sow named Looper with her two cubs, and she nursed her cubs. Everyone got great shots of this intimate behavior. We then found a large boar in the meadow and another boar next to Silver Salmon Creek.

We headed back to the lodge to see what Chef Ed had been working on today while we have been photographing the bears. It was a delicious meal of chicken with a fresh salad from the garden followed by a homemade cheesecake.

After dinner we headed back out to continue photographing the bears. We found a sow and her two cubs right away and photographed a great play scene with the two cubs. They ran, wrestled and bopped each other in the meadow as we took hundreds of images of them.

Once playtime was over, we saw the sow with two 1 ½ year old cubs fishing on Silver Salmon Creek. We then headed over to the coast to get a better look and watched her fish for the silver salmon that were starting to come in. She would stand looking for the fish, then burst through the water chasing the fish. When she would get close to the fish her cubs would come running to her hoping for a meal.

After another full day of photography, we headed back to the lodge for another comfortable night.

Bear Photography Workshop

At Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, the beautiful landscapes are everywhere

Wednesday
At first light this morning, we photographed a sow with her cubs up close. We were fortunate to find them in a nice meadow with trees in the background. The bears kept standing as another sow and her two cubs approached. As the bears all came together, one of the sows began huffing loudly to let her cubs know that they were to come back to mom for protection.

As the bears separated, the tension eased, and we returned to the lodge for breakfast.

Bear Photography Workshop

Cynthia in the meadows with bears and snowcapped mountains

After breakfast we had a big low tide which is perfect for the bears to go clamming. We photographed a sow and her two young cubs as they worked the clam beds. Mom would find the clams, dig them out and open them for her young cubs as they still did not have the skills to clam themselves.

There were four other bears in the same area, all young juvenile bears that were clamming as well. As one of the young bears came too close to the cubs, the sow did not like that. Her motherly instincts kicked in and she chased the young bear away. As the tide started to come in, the bears moved back to the meadows.

On our way back to the lodge for lunch, we saw 3 more young bears in a field next to Silver Salmon creek and the ranger’s cabin.

After lunch we headed over to the conference room and discussed post processing techniques for images with Lightroom and Photoshop.

We then headed back out to the meadows near Silver Salmon Creek and photographed a young bear sitting on the river bank admiring the view. We then photographed 2 more young bears in a field as two bald eagles flew around and perched on trees.

We then photographed a sow with her two cubs’ nursing in the short grass next to the lodge. They then all curled up together and slept in the grass covered with clovers.

Bear Photography Workshop

Cathy next to a spire covered with Puffins,Common Murres and a Peregrine Falcon on Bird Island

As we headed back to the lodge for dinner the bears followed us, and cubs began playing with a hose and then rubbed their backs on a tree in the backyard.

Dinner tonight was a think roast beef followed by a homemade chocolate mousse.

We headed out after dinner for our last session of the day and photographed a sow in the meadows with her two cubs playing. The bears started to get a bit to curious about our ATV and bush carts. As the cubs began to play with ATV, Belle had to shoo them away to ensure there was no mischief with the carts.

We then headed back to the beach to photograph another sow and her two cubs. All the bears were standing on their hinds at one point as they kept aware of all the other bears in the area.

At the end of the night we found some nice bear foot prints to photograph by the slew in the clay mud. As the sun set behind the mountains, it was time to head back to the lodge for a little sleep.

Thursday
We headed out at first light again and found a sow with her cubs in the slew. The cubs were very curious of us and really wanted to play with our bush carts.

The red fox was out in the yard again and being very playful. As we left the fox we ran into another sow that was nursing her cubs right on the trail. The bear family then crossed a small river with a snow-capped mountain in the background providing us with great photographic opportunities.

Bear Photography Workshop

Richard getting comfortable to photography the Puffins and Common Murres

We then ran into another sow and her cubs in the meadow with a pyramid shaped mountain in the background offering another landscape composition.

After photographing lots of beautiful landscapes with bears in the foreground this morning, we headed back to the lodge for breakfast.

After our breakfast most of the group opted to go on the optional excursion boat trip to a remote island to photograph many of the sea birds that frequent the cold waters of Alaska. Once we arrive at the boat, we took a 40-minute scenic ride of the coast and passed Chisik Island and then landed at Bird Island.

Once on the island we setup to photograph the puffins, common murres, kittiwakes, oyster catchers, and even a peregrine falcon.

The favorite subject was certainly Horned Puffin, nicknamed Clown of the Sea. After watching these birds waddle around, rub beaks and poor flying skill all were amused.

As we returned to the lodge with full memory cards we met up with Cynthia and Filomena who had been photographing the bears clam with Belle. All had a great time, and we shared stories of our adventures over the late lunch.

Bear Photography Workshop

The boat we took to photograph the Puffins (and a bear)

After lunch we headed back into the field to photograph a large boar in the meadow. We also found a sow with her two cubs and photographed them leaping over the slew. As the afternoon went on we spent some more time with another sow and her cubs as they posed with the mountains in the background.

We headed back to the lodge and were treated to a meal of fresh halibut with carrot cake as dessert.

After a short break, we headed back out into the field for our evening session. We found the sow named Looper and her two cubs eating down the slew.

We then photographed another sow with her two cubs cuddling on the beach. As two young bears approached the sow and cubs, they bear family got closer and more alert providing some great photo opportunities. The cubs then started standing to look until the bear family decided to run into the woods.

Friday
We headed out again at first light and photographed the sow named New Mom with her two 1 ½ year old cubs. A bald eagle then perched and flew from tree top to tree top giving nice take-off and landing shots for the group.

We headed back to the lodge for breakfast and await our charters to come and take us back to Anchorage. During breakfast we got word that the weather between Anchorage and Lake Clark National Park was very foggy, so the planes were delayed providing us a little more time to eat, drink and be merry after countless hours in the field with the bears and other wildlife.

As the planes arrived on the beach we said our goodbyes to our hosts and headed back to Anchorage to start our journey home, or to our next adventure.

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshop 2018 – July was last modified: August 13th, 2018 by Matt Shetzer