Sunday, September 2, 2018

Brown Bears of Katmai Alaska

This was an unexpected last minute wildlife photography trip. I had a week to prepare for it. Since it kind of fell into my lap due to the generosity of one of my photography colleagues who was supposed to go, but couldn’t make it I had the opportunity to go in her place. I love photographing brown bears and I love Alaska so whether I could afford the time off or not I had to go.
We flew into Kodiak, on Kodiak, Island, Alaska. From there we took a De Havilland Beaver float plane to a boat in the Kinac Bay in the Katmai National Park. The idea is we stay on a boat for seven days and take a skiff to shore and photograph the bears fishing. If one Bay isn’t productive, we try another. As we are staying on a boat for the week we are able to be mobile. From the boat we take a skiff to shore to photograph the bears. The skiff is a 20 foot boat with a ramp. It allows us to get into the shallows of the ocean and safely dismount with our photography equipment.
Half of our trip was cloudy and rainy. I expected that as it is Alaska after all. The weather didn’t bother me. Actually I prefer cloudy days as they provide better light for photography. The problem was the salmon run was quite insignificant. Poor salmon run = poor brown bear viewing. Still we had a few good brown bear photography sessions.
Most of our bear photography trips involve being as big as possible and staying together as a group and shooting with long lenses. The philosophy here is quite the opposite. We were encouraged to use short lenses, get low to the ground and photograph the bears at close proximity while they were fishing. The best images came from the use of short lenses. (100-400mm was perfect) while lying on our stomachs at the water’s edge. The bears came remarkably close to us and completely ignored us as they were busy fishing.
On one occasion the biggest male in the area came bounding toward a photographer chasing a fish. He missed the fish and stopped dead in his tracks about 2-3 feet away from the photographer. She didn’t even flinch. She looked at him and he stared at her for a second or two. That second or two felt like minutes. Then he got distracted by a fish and kept on fishing. If that happens ten times, I bet 8 times that photographer is in the hospital or worse. And if there was an incident, how long would it take to get the skiff out to us, then a float plane would have to be ready to fly in and get the photographer out back to shore where a car would have to take her to the hospital. And would she have the luxury of that 3-4 hours to get to a hospital? After that close call, from that point on, I was obsessed with the “what if’s”. The photographer did the exact right thing and froze. She didn’t move a muscle and had nerves of steel. Still, in my opinion we were too close to the water’s edge and behaving careless in regards to our safety. The bear could have taken a swat at her “just because”. He could have seen her as competition for his fish had he caught it, etc. One bite from that 1000 pound bear or one swat with those six inch claws and her life would have never been the same. I think that day she was beyond lucky to come out of that incident unscathed.
All in all it was a fun trip. On the way in our float plane landed in Kinak Bay, a 45 minute flight from Kodiak. We cruised for two hours out to Geographic Bay where we spent the first 2.5 days. The bear photography was pretty good there. From Geographic it was a four hour boat ride to Hallo Bay. Hallo Bay is beautiful! Unfortunately for us the bear viewing was very scarce and the bears that were there were really skittish. After Hallo Bay we cruised into Kukak Bay. The bears in Kukak bay were dosey and just kind of layed around. After a couple empty bear viewing attempts at Kukak Bay, four of us chose to go on skiff rides instead of photographing sleepy bears. Our skiff highlights were photographing puffins and a family of river otters
On one day we were lucky enough to photograph a wolf. And the bear group was even luckier on one morning. After seeing nothing all morning, the wolf that we photographed earlier approached them and came within a few feet of them. What an incredible encounter!
Hallo Bay, Alaska
I would recommend this trip Captained by Chuck Keim aboard the 70’ Coastal Explorer. Chuck has 30 years’ experience on the sea and is a great guy! His second; Dwayne is about the hardest working guy you’ll meet. He kept that boat “ship shape”.
The other highlight of our trip was meeting Sophia. Sophia is Chuck and Olga’s granddaughter. She joined us on the boat for a few days. She has got to be the happiest four year old I’ve ever met. She kept us entertained on the boat and was happily escorting the photographers to and from the shore on the skiff with her Grandma and Grandpa. That little ray of sunshine definitely added a fun aspect to the trip. We were all delighted to be entertained by this little social butterfly. At four years old she was happy to teach eight adults a life lesson. If you are nice to people and genuinely a positive person. If you are fun to be around and welcoming to strangers, you will make people’s day and they will adore you for your positive way about you. Whether you are four or ninety six, people like that are just fun to be around.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Black Bear Moms and Cubs, Minnesota, 2018

I had a small group of photographers on an HW Safaris tour photographing black bear moms and cubs. While there are a lot of black bears that wander in and out of the meadow, it is a hurry up and wait game for us as we are there for moms with spring cubs. This area has a lot of black and cinnamon black bears. The various colour tones of black bears make wonderful subjects.

This year we were lucky enough to photograph a mom with three cubs. We saw her a couple times on both the first and second days. We saw a mom with four, although you’ll have to take my word for it because by the time we got in position to photograph her, she and her cubs took off into the bush. We photographed a second mom with triplets in the evening of the second day for an hour or so. On the third day it rained throughout the morning. Outside the 8 boars that were in the area, we got lucky photographing a yearling on a log.
The third day was pretty quiet, but we persevered and just before it was time to leave, a mom and a single cub wandered into the forest on the edge of the meadow. They gave us some nice opportunities to photograph the cub as the little one went up a tree. Shooting between the canopy of leaves we had a couple brief opportunities to get a couple good images of her. Our black bear gallery can be seen here.

Throughout our three days we estimate that we saw a total of approximately 50-60 different black bears.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wildlife Photography Course

Wildlife Photography Course
If you live in the Edmonton area, we offer a wildlife photography course twice a year in the summer. Our next course will run September 8 & 9, 2018. To register, please visit Burwell School of Photography.
What better way to prepare for your safari than to learn some wildlife photography basics before you go. We start out with some classroom time then practice our techniques with my pet green winged macaw, Rio.

 We go back to the classroom to view our images and discuss what we can do to improve our wildlife portraits. Then we drive out to Tofield to photograph Saw Whet Owls and peregrine falcons.
On day two we analyze our images again, learn more techniques on speed photography then we practice our new skill by photographing Rio, flying toward the photographers.

This is a great course to prepare you for any one of our wildlife safaris. Join us in Alaska as we photograph brown bears or black bears in Minnesota or the Ultimate bucket list safari of them all. Masai, Mara, Kenya.

Monday, July 2, 2018

HW Photo & Safari. Africa & Alaska, 2019

Bucket List Tours with HW Photo & Safaris
Our Bucket List Masai Mara Wildlife Photo Safari is sold out. We have four spots open for our Masai Mara trip in February, 22 to March 7th, 2019. Visit HW Photo & Safaris for more details.

After each safari we make a video as a keepsake for our guests. Curious of what an HW Photo & Safari is like? Check out the video. 

Email to register for this bucket list Safari in Kenya.

When we go the Mara, we support four schools. In February we were able to bring in 1300 pounds in donations. School supplies, teaching supplies, washable feminine hygiene products, books and soccer balls. We even had 900 soccer jerseys donated by Millwoods Soccer Association. We take care of the donations. Guests can donate or not. Many of our guests in February just donated their extra allowable checked luggage space. Everyone was able to examine the bag that had their name on it. We did the rest. We collected the donations, packed and organized the donations in our bags. 

Spending an afternoon with the children was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Anyone who isn't interested in visiting the school were able to go on a game drive while we were at the school.

African Wildlife by Harvey Wildlife Photography
Brown Bears of Lake Clark National Park

In June, 2019 we have a small group going to Alaska to photograph brown bears. Check out the link for more details.
This video was taken with an iPhone. That gives you an idea as to how habituated these wild bears are in this beautiful National Park in Alaska. This park is not accessible by road, so the brown bear viewing is much more special as there aren't crowds of people. Just a lot of bears. It is a very special wildlife experience. The below video is a fun video that we made for our last group.
We have 3 spots left. Please email to register for this Alaskan Brown Bear Safari.