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
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 , so I knew I might have to switch
from wide angle to telephoto quite quickly.
I started shooting on my 300mm, but within minutes of my arrival a large male came within 10m of the hide . 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 . 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 . 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