My experience photographing grizzly bears in Denali National park has been mixed over the years. I’ve observed lots of interesting behaviour, and had many fortunate opportunities to make some great photos. On my recent trip into the park, following a rainy night and misty morning, the wet tundra grasses glowed under the bright overcast skies. These are great conditions for portrait photography. After watching a bear sleep on a mountain ridge for a few hours, it finally woke up and wandered near the road (not always the case by the way) and began feeding on the grass. For a little reprieve, it rolled on its back and started twisting around, raising its feet in humorous gestures. While my angle was not quite perfect, I did get a few good shots. It’s not that common to photograph all four pads of a grizzly bear’s feet. After a short while, the bear went over the mountain.
I took the photo from the sun roof in my vehicle, while resting the 500mm lens on a bean bag, which serves as a very stable platform to shoot from. There is a trade off decision that often arises (and sometimes is forgotten) when shooting long lenses with shallow depth of field in low light. That decision includes whether or not to use a higher ISO in order to boost your f/stop in order to gather more depth of field. Retrospectively, I would have shot this at 800 ISO and f/8, which would have given just a slight more depth of field. Hindsight is always a good teacher. I mention that as a reminder that there is much more going on than just pointing and shooting in these situations. Critical focal points on a moving object, composition, exposure, etc., all classic parts of the game of photography, but surprisingly easy to forget in a moment of excitement.