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Behind The Shot: Cub’s Play

Lake Kuril, Kamchatka, Russia
Behind The Shot: Cub’s Play

Photo By Roie Galitz

I love bears, and bear cubs even more. It doesn’t matter if they’re fluffy polar bear cubs or darker brown bear cubs; they all show wonderful behavior and character.

Kamchatka is one of the most remote places on earth, in the far east of Siberia and closer to Alaska than anything else. Lake Kuril is in the southern tip of this peninsula, being the largest salmon spawning site in the entire Eurasian continent. It takes an hour-and-a-half helicopter flight to get there, and I’m fortunate enough to return there every year, guiding unique photography workshops in bear country. We spend four days with these magnificent bears, photographing them catching salmon, fighting and playing with each other.

There are no barriers, no human impact and no stress, so we can photograph the bear’s most intimate and natural behaviors in this wild and remote place. We travel with speedboats across the lake to the best salmon fishing areas and spend our time watching and learning about the bears so we can photograph them in the best way possible.

A mother bear and her young cub felt really confident and comfortable with our presence and allowed me to get a little closer than the other bears. She always protected her young cub and watched out for other male bears, as they could try and kill her cub so she would get in heat. Sometimes she wandered a few meters forward to catch a fish, and the little cub was left on his own. And, as children do, the little bear started climbing on the branches of the washed-away tree as if it were a playground.

As I always teach, it’s important to get down to your subject’s eye level. So for this image I was lying flat on the ground to get the best angle possible. The light was soft, thanks to the cloud-covered sky, and created some nice “studio-looking” atmosphere. Some viewers have even mentioned it looks like a painting.

I used the Nikon D800 and the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, while my other body (Nikon D5 and 500mm f/4) were nearby. I used the lens’ longest focal length of 500mm and the widest aperture for shallow depth of field to isolate the bear from the branches. I chose this specific pose of the bear between the branches, which created a nice framing of the bear, and the bear looking back, which created a nice “conflict” between the body’s direction and the direction he’s looking. A nice bonus is the little tongue sticking out, emphasizing that childish look. OP

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Nikon D800, AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. Exposure: 1/640 sec., ƒ/5.6, ISO 800.