Bear Photography Workshop

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshops – 2018 – August

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer

The 2018 Grizzly Bear group had a great week of beautiful weather with lots of bears at one of the more remote national parks in the United States, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Joining us is Dee from Nebraska, Tony from Las Vegas, Dan from California, Katherine from Georgia, Maureen from San Diego, Jeff from Oregon, Ingrid from Washington, and Pat from Florida. Dan and Maureen are joining us a second time on the Grizzly Bear trip.

Bear Photography Workshop

Belle, Dee, Dan, Pat, Ingrid, Maureen, Jeff, Tony, Katherine and Matt

The group all met up and went out to dinner and enjoyed some of Alaska’s finest dishes including the fresh fish caught locally. Dan welcomed everyone and explained the days to come. As the evening went on everyone got to know each other and friendships started.
Bear Photography Workshop

Maureen enjoying her second trip to Lake Clark and the bears

Off to bed and time to get that camera gear all ready for tomorrow and the bears.

The group met early in the morning for breakfast and then headed out to the chartered planes for the hour scenic flight into Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Everyone loaded up in a Cessna 206 and a Beaver and took off for Silver Salmon Creek. As the group got most of the way by air, they had to turn around and head back to Anchorage as there was a fog bank. Safety first!

The group went out to lunch in Anchorage until the weather cleared. Once it cleared, everyone loaded back up and made the flight to Lake Clark’s beach where Matt welcomed everyone.

The excitement on the beach for the area was contagious. Everyone met Belle, our bear guide for the week. This is Belles 4th year bear guiding our workshops, and she is extremely skilled in anticipating the bears behavior, thus giving the photographers great opportunity for those special images.

We loaded up in the ATV and bush carts and met our hosts at the lodge, James and Sheila, as well as Chef Ed who will be spoiling us with delicious meals. We completed our safety briefing, had a few snacks and headed out into the field to photograph the bears.

Bear Photography Workshop

Pat photographing in the lush green meadows of the area.

We started off photographing a bald eagle that was perched in a tree across Silver Salmon Creek. We then saw two bears that were a bit far off in the meadow, and due to the high tide, we couldn’t get very close to them.

We headed back to the lodge to see what Chef Ed had been working on. For dinner, we enjoyed a fresh halibut and rhubarb crumble, with the rhubarb picked fresh from the lodges garden hours before.

After dinner we loaded up and headed out into the field. We found two juvenile bears on the beach and got some nice closeup images.

We then found a sow (nicknamed Crimp Ear) with her two 1 ½ year old cubs in the meadow. We photographed the bear family as they worked their way down the creek and leaped over it. As a male bear approached the bear family, the bears start to get very concerned at the proximity to each other. The sows body position changed, the cubs stood up on their hind legs for a better view, until the boar decided it was best of leave the area.

That was an action-packed evening, and we were enjoying the long Alaskan days and headed back at 10PM to the lodge.

Bear photography is going to be easy today! We headed out at first light by starting the morning off with a sow named Looper and her two 2 ½ year old cubs in the backyard of the lodge. The cubs were standing scratching their backs on a tree next to our rooms. They then started playing with the garden hose out back, and then they took their attention to the lodges sign, which became the next scratching post and a great photo opportunity.

Bear Photography Workshop

A quick creek crossing by the ATV and Bush cart

We stayed with the sow and her cubs until two younger bears approached. As the bears came together the cubs came in close to their mom for protection, and the sow chased the juvenile bears away. This sow is certainly top bear at Silver Salmon Creek.

As we continued we found another sow with her two 1 ½ year old cubs out in the meadow and was cuddling her cubs providing us with great photo opportunities. A sow and her cubs cuddling is the cutest thing you can see in the wild.

Bear Photography Workshop

Jeff photographing the Puffins on Bird Island

We headed back to the lodge for a tasty breakfast and after breakfast we went over to Silver Salmon Creek and found a sow with two cubs around the slew. We photographed the bear family for a while and then headed over to the beach where another bear, nicknamed Agro, was starting to fish for salmon.

We photographed the large bear fishing and chasing the salmon around but unfortunately, she did not catch any fish.

We then saw the sow named Crimp ear and her two 1 ½ year old cubs nursing in the meadow. The cubs began to whine, and the sow rolled over as the cubs climbed on top of her. The cubs began drinking their mothers milk and had white milk froth all over their faces. Once the meal was over, the whole bear family laid down and took a nap.

We left the sleeping bears and found a nice juvenile bear in the meadow to photograph for a while until it was time to head back to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch we headed over to the conference room to discuss different camera settings for the bears, compositional ideas, exposure metering techniques as well as using histograms for that perfect exposure.

We then headed out for a little more bear photography until it was time for dinner. Chef Ed prepared a delicious meal of pork with bread pudding for us to enjoy.

After dinner we headed back out for our evening session and found a sow with her two cubs in the meadow. As a young male bear approached the sow stood up.

We counted twenty bears in the meadows tonight, which is the highest I have seen in all my years coming to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve at Silver Salmon Creek.

Bear Photography Workshop

Dan, That is a bright jacket. You know bears aren’t color blind right?

We then saw the sow Looper and her two cubs in the meadow with the snowcapped mountains with nice clouds offering great landscapes with a bear family in the foreground. As another bear approached the sow and her cubs on the edge of the meadow, the sow tucked her cubs close until the threat disappeared.

Another full day of photography comes to a close as we head back to the lodge for a little sleep and to download all of our images from the day.

At first light we were treated to a vibrant pink sky. We headed out with the ATV and bush carts and found a beautiful sow with her two cubs with snow-capped slope mountain in the background. After a great morning we headed back to the lodge for breakfast.

We have a big low tide this morning which should lead to the bears going clamming in the tidal flats. We headed over to South Beach and saw a sow with her two cubs just heading out to clam. As the bears walked looking for clams, we followed them and photographed them with the mountains in the background. The sow would find a clam and dig it out of the sand and open it for her cubs. The cubs then started to fight over the clams providing great action shots for us.

We then spent some time photographing a single bear clamming with the snow-capped mountains in the background until it was time for lunch.

After lunch we headed back into the field for some more bear photography. We found a sow with her cubs with the snow-capped slope mountain in the background. We photographed the cubs being very cute as they laid with their mom.

Bear Photography Workshop

Enjoying the beauty of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve at Silver Salmon Creek

Once the cuteness was over we headed further down the beach towards Johnson river and photograph a young bear standing with the driftwood. We then headed back to the lodge for dinner.

Bear Photography Workshop

Dee on Bird Island photographing the puffins in-flight

While we were out photographing the bears, Chef Ed had been busy preparing a delicious Lasagna, fresh salad from the garden and homemade cheesecake.

After dinner we headed back into the field for our evening session. We found a sow and her two cubs laying in the clovers and napping. We photographed them for a while as a juvenile bear in the field approached. The sow and the cubs ran off the bear and stopped and nursed right in front of us. That is a great way to end the day.

At first light we headed out and photographed a single bear on the slew with reflections and then photographed a bald eagle perched in a tree as it chatted with its mate.

As we headed back to the lodge for breakfast, we were treated to a red fox paying us a visit and coming very close to our lenses giving us great closeups.

After breakfast we had another large low tide, and we headed out to the tidal flats. There was Crimp Ear again and her two cubs in the same spot as yesterday. We followed their clamming routine and photographed them with the mountains in the background. As the sow was opening clams for her cubs, the cubs were being kids and running around the flats playing.

Bear Photography Workshop

Ingrid photographing one of the twenty bears we saw tonight

After bears were done clamming we found a nice scene where a bald eagle was perched in a Sitka Spruce tree and photographed the eagle until lunch time.

After lunch most of the group opted to go on the optional excursion out to bird island by boat. We headed out with Oliver, the boat captain, and had a smooth trip to the island. As we arrived there was a juvenile bald eagle sitting on the beach eating one of the puffins. As we landed on the island, the eagle flew away and all the puffins returned.

Our time on the island was very exciting as we photographed the horned puffins perched in the flowers and by their nests and inflight. Some of the puffins were returning to the nest with fish in their beaks to feed their newly hatched young. Everyone was having a great time, and many wanted to stay the whole night. As we left the island and headed back towards Silver Salmon Creek where we were pickup by Belle just in time for dinner.

Just after dinner we saw a Northern Harrier hawk flying down the meadow. We then saw a sow with her two cubs as she brought her family very close to us. As we were standing there the bears came within ten feet from us, and then crossed a very scenic creek with the cubs in tow. After the exciting close-ups we called it a night and headed back to the lodge for a little rest.

Bear Photography Workshop

Katherine enjoying the views of wild Alaska

We left at first light and were treated to a scenic sunrise over the slew. The clouds were very colorful, and we took this opportunity to photograph the scene with HDR as the dynamic range exceeded our cameras capabilities.

We then found the sow named New Mom and her two 1 ½ year old cubs. The cubs were sleeping on her and perched on her back. One of the cubs then walked over to the meadow and laid on its back so that it could play with its feet getting many laughs from our group. I guess all kids like to play with their feet.

We then did a scenic shot with the slew and refection’s with the mountains and then headed back to the lodge for breakfast.

After breakfast we headed out to Silver Salmon Creek as the tides were favorable for the bears to fish for silver salmon that have begun to run. While we were waiting for some bears to fish, there were two bald eagles on a Sitka spruce peak that were good subjects.

We then saw a sow and her two cubs run and take a salmon carcass away from two other bald eagles. The group opted to take the long walk on the tidal flats to get the shots. The bears then ran back to Silver Salmon Creek and the cubs cuddled as their mom fished. The cubs ran around and ended the excitement with nursing from their mom right on the sandbar as everyone took photos.

Bear Photography Workshop

Tony enjoying photographing a bear at the slew

We headed back to the lodge for lunch and a short break before going back out into the field.

As we returned to the field we photographed a sow and her two cubs in a meadow with the mountains in the background. We got some very nice reflections as the bears went into the slew to cool off and have a drink. The bears then climbed over to the other bank and laid down for a little nap in the warm weather.

We then left the bears as they slept and continued across the meadow. We found a sow with such a teddy bear face and two cubs 1 ½ years old.

The cubs were being very cute, and as a male juvenile bear approached, the cubs stood up on their hinds to get a better view. Once the male bear left, the cubs started whining and wanted to nurse. As they approached their mom, she moved over in short grass and rolled over as they climbed on top of her to nurse. This was our best nursing scene of the week, and a great way to end the evening.

For dinner Chef Ed prepared a delicious halibut dinner and we relaxed in the lodge talking about the past week. The group, a bit tired after spending so much time in the field, opted for an early night to catch up some much-needed sleep.

After a week of fantastic weather, we woke to our first bad weather of the trip with a very heavy fog. The group opted to have a restful morning and go over their images of the bears as the fog was too heavy to photograph in the field.

Bear Photography Workshop

Everyone relaxing at the lodge ready for the departure back to Anchorage and civilization.

Apparently, the fog was even heavier in Anchorage and delayed the three Cessna 206’s that were supposed to pick us up. We spent our time relaxing in the lodge, enjoying another meal from Chef Ed and then received word the planes where airborne.

We loaded up, headed to the beach as the planes were arriving. As the fog cleared, the skies were blue and the mountains were out giving us a very scenic flight back to Anchorage.

It was a great week with a very fun group of fellow photographers who enjoy being out in the wild. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s images and hope you will join us again for another adventure.

Trip Report – Grizzly Bear Photography Workshops – 2018 – August was last modified: February 6th, 2024 by Matt Shetzer