There are images that create themselves. Before pressing the shutter, you know what’s going to happen and you’re no longer the author, but only a witness in complete awe of what is unraveling before you. You take your eye away from the viewfinder and look straight at the scene—both eyes overwhelmed with excitement. You must confirm that what you’re seeing through the camera is real and not a product of a vivid imagination nor a mirage created by an accumulation of dreams and the unfair expectations of photographers. The story of this image falls into this category, so instead of taking credit for making the image, I’ll take some for just being in and within the right moment.
It was my third morning camping at the Katmai coast. The day before, we moved back to Cape Douglas, where fresh water was close to camp and the bear population was plenty. As usual, I had woken up before my guide did, had a drink of water and got my binoculars to search the beach. The first thing I saw was the light—it was slow, golden and crisp; it barely touched the sand and the algae washed in by the low tide. Then I saw the bear, a young male just leaving the sage meadows and heading for the mudflats. I got my gear and bear spray, and walked along the beach towards the cove. As I got closer I made sure the bear saw me and that he was okay with me being there. I kept my distance, protecting both myself and the bear. He seemed confortable and walked pass me, 60 yards away and into the water. The gulls followed him as he fished in the shallow waters, looking up in my direction every once in a while. I took a few shots and moved closer, making sure he was aware of my movement. The sun was now behind the rocks and slowly moving to my right and rising just enough to get some rays above the ridge. Then it happened. The bear moved out of the water and right towards me. I laid flat in the ground, a bit frightened as he got closer, but still more than 50 yards away. As he climbed up the sand bank the sun crashed against his fur, creating volume and texture in front of the flat background. I set my camera to underexpose by two full stops. The bear kept getting closer and I kept moving away from my viewfinder just to confirm that there was still a safe distance between us. There wasn’t—not anymore. So I slowly stood up and moved away, always facing the bear. I realized I was alone out there and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid for a second. But the bear turned left and back to the meadows, and as he did, fear turned into excitement and then into the realization that I had just witnessed perfect harmony performed by light, sand, rock and bear.
Equipment & Settings: Canon 1DX, Canon 200-400mm f4 +1.4X at 560mm, f/8, 1/1000 sec., ISO 500