Up close and personal with wild bears

Armed with noth­ing but his Nikon D700 and two lenses, Ge­orge Turner ven­tures into the so-called ‘sui­cide hide’ to pho­to­graph brown bears in the wild

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Ater I moved to New Zealand in late 2014, I took up pho­tog­ra­phy. I’d been work­ing in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try at the time so was al­ready im­mersed in a cre­ative set­ting, day in, day out. The land­scapes of New Zealand begged to be pho­tographed prop­erly, so I be­gan to take a more se­ri­ous ap­proach to my shoot­ing. Since then – as I’m sure many pho­tog­ra­phers can re­late to – it’s been the most tor­rid love af­fair, and I’m en­joy­ing it more than ever. I’m now work­ing with tourist boards from across Europe, mar­ry­ing my ad­ver­tis­ing back­ground to my pho­tog­ra­phy, pri­mar­ily pro­duc­ing con­tent for web­sites and the like.

The name of the hide is its best de­scrip­tor, and I was told bears would come within cen­time­tres of my cam­era...

Kit choice is im­por­tant for shoots like these: I chose to take my 300mm f/4 for its light­ness, and it turned out to be a smart move, be­cause I was in the hide for long pe­ri­ods of time; and my 17-35mm f/2.8 worked bril­liantly in low light, and lived up to its well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for sharp­ness through­out the shoot.

For each of these shots, I had to live in a swel­ter­ingly hot hide, nick­named the ‘sui­cide hide’, on the Fin­nish/Rus­sian border. The name of the hide is its best de­scrip­tor, and I was told bears would come within cen­time­tres of my cam­era [1], so I knew I might have to switch

from wide an­gle to tele­photo quite quickly.

Close en­coun­ters

I started shoot­ing on my 300mm, but within min­utes of my ar­rival a large male came within 10m of the hide [2]. He sat on his haunches and had an amaz­ing pen­sive look, em­pha­sised by the warm light stream­ing through the trees. He then moved to within two metres or so of the hide, so I quickly swapped out my lenses – some­thing I’d even­tu­ally do well over 100 times within the first evening alone – to fol­low him. He rev­elled in feel­ing the warm sun on his face; it was a spe­cial mo­ment to see a bear so at ease.

On the sec­ond night I shot to­wards the swamp­land area, with cot­ton grass giv­ing an amaz­ing soft­ness to the scene. Here I saw two cubs nuz­zling each other [3]. They turned out to be sib­lings, and their af­fec­tion for each other was clear – they con­tin­ued to play to­gether through­out the long sum­mer evening.

The only in­ter­rup­tion they faced was from a cu­ri­ous ado­les­cent male. Af­ter scar­ing the cubs and nearby mum away, he just sat down in a po­si­tion rem­i­nis­cent of Win­nie the Pooh [4]. I was out of sight in­side the hide and the wind was in my favour, so I’m sure it was just luck that made him look right at me… or at least, I cer­tainly hope so!

1 3 The Three Bears Si­b­ling Love Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8, 1/400 sec, f/8, ISO1250 Nikon D700, Nikon 300mm f/4, 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO1000 2 4 Lost in Thought I Can See You Nikon D700, Nikon 300mm f/4, 1/400 sec, f/5.6, ISO1000 Nikon D700, Nikon 300mm f/4, 1/1000 sec, f/4, ISO640

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