Brown Bears in Alaska

Some days ago I shared photos of Bald Eagles that I've seen during an amazing rubber boat tour through Amalik Bay at southern coast of Alaska in Summer 2012. But, the real intention of that tour was to find bears. The bay is famous for them so we hoped the chance to see some would be high.

400mm  f/5.6  1/160sec  ISO800
We were cruising slowly along coast lines of small islands and peninsulas, through channels and bays. It didn't take long until we spotted the first bear. It was a brown bear. He was searching for food on a rocky beach. With his huge paws he lifted rocks to see what's beneath them. We slowly went closer and closer to the beach with our boat. I was so excited and tried to take some photos of my first wild bear, that I experienced at relatively short distance. But taking photos was not that easy. The rubber boat was shaking with every small wave or movement of passengers. To reduce shakes as much as possible I laid down at the boat's bottom and rested my lens onto the rubber tube. My camera was set to take continuous shots. With every release I took a bunch of shots in the hope at least one of them would not be blurred. I had luck. A few photos were of acceptable quality. Like the one shown here. Look at those claws! I would never like to get hit by them!

400mm  f/5.6  1/400sec  ISO400  +1 1/3EV
After a while we had to continue our tour. But except of some Bald Eagles we didn't see much more wildlife. When we were on our way back to the cruise ship already, we again passed the area were we earlier spotted the bear. And luck was with us today. We heard the roars of a bear coming from high grass. Suddenly a bear came down to a small beach, exploring it in search for food. Was it another bear or the same as seen earlier? We didn't know. Soon the bear left the beach again and went back to the area with higher grass. We stayed here in hope he would be visible again soon.

During the tour I had some time to think about my camera settings and how I could minimize the risk of blurred photos on that ever moving small boat. I switched to Tv mode and selected a shutter speed of 1/400sec. This is said to be the minimum to get sharp photos at a focal length of 400mm. But the photos got underexposed. I used exposure compensation (EV) to try to get them a bit brighter. I also could increase ISO value but I was afraid of too much noise. So I kept it low.

400mm  f/5.6  1/400sec  ISO400  +2EV
Some minutes later the bear appeared again at a small hill. He was walking through grass, exploring the area. He didn't take any notice of us. Suddenly we heard a roar that was not coming from that bear and another head was lifting off the grass. It was a cub! What a surprise. The bear was a mother and here comes her cub! We all were overwhelmed by this experience. Watching a bear mother with her cub close to the coast was really exciting! Both bears were soon disappearing in high grass again and we had to get back to our cruise ship.

400mm  f/5.6  1/400sec  ISO400  +2EV

Further technical details are: The camera I used was my EOS 500D with an EF 100-400mm F/4-5.6L lens mounted to it. I could not take a tripod with me. To reduce camera shakes I rested the lens on the boats surface. All other settings I already mentioned earlier.

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