Behind The Shot: Katmai Sow And Cub

Katmai National Park, Alaska
Photo by Jeff Green

Photo by Jeff Green

In 2010, I fulfilled a dream to spend two weeks photographing landscapes and wildlife in southwest Alaska. The trip included a week in Seward and a week in Homer. During my research, it was clear a guided trip to Katmai National Park to photograph brown bears would increase the odds of getting a memorable Alaskan wildlife experience. There were multiple choices of guide services from Homer, but I selected a guide and pilot who was also a photographer, and indicated he understood the needs of photographers in terms of composition and lighting. Additionally, the guide service provided waders so clients could cross creeks, as needed, to obtain the right composition.

The flight left Homer early in the morning on August 31st, flying over the spectacular scenery around Cook Inlet and landing on the beach in Hallo Bay. As we walked inland from the beach, our first sight was of a wolf crossing the creek and a large brown bear splashing through the water chasing down salmon. A sleepy sow and cub eventually came into view, and we patiently waited to see if they would become more active.

In time, the sow and cub left their resting place and wandered into the grassy plain and became active. The cub became playful and the sow played along. From experience, I knew images of animals interacting are often more interesting than images of solitary, sedentary animals. I concentrated on capturing a large number of images quickly as the sow and cub were playing, in hopes of getting at least one frame where everything came together. I came home with a lot of worthwhile images, but this image of a sow and her cub playing was my favorite.

The time of year and bear location will influence what the bears are doing—whether it’s eating grass, digging for clams, or chasing salmon—so try to plan your trip according to the activity you’ll want to photograph. Finding a guide who not only knows the subject and terrain, but also the needs of the photographer, will go a long way toward improving your odds of a successful bear trip.

Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 300mm f/2.8 at ISO 1000, f/8, 1/1600 sec., Canon 2x TC, Manfrotto CarbonOne tripod, Acra-Tech ballhead

To see more of Jeff Green’s photography, visit