"Alaskan Brown Bears on the Mud Flats"

In the mud flats

The Story Behind the Shot

It all started over a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop to give some advice to a camera club member on photographing Black Bears in Northern MN. I instructed bear workshops in Orr, MN for 16 years and she was looking for some information on tips and techniques on photographing our MN Black Bear. The discussion then started on bears in general and we gravitated to Grizzly Bear/Alaska Brown Bear and I mentioned that I have photographed them 5 times during my photography career. She casually mentioned; John! You should organize a camera club trip!  I would love to go! It took me about 2-3 weeks to work this out in my mind and I have always wanted to go one more time.  My last trip was in 2013! After checking in with the "home office" and my bride gave me the green light it was on! This was in June of 2019! I knew exactly where I wanted to go again for my second trip and that was to Homestead Lodge in Lake Clark National Park. James and Shiela Izaak are perfect hosts and always hire top notch personnel! We could not make reservations for a group of nine until June of 2021! Lake Clark National Park is a very busy place for Alaskan Brown Bear photo workshops, but I was willing to wait and began the process of filling the group for a group rate for nine. It took a couple of months but we had our nine by December of 2019 with the help from a person outside the club, a friend of one the members from the Seattle area. The great thing about this was all nine of us stayed intact no one had cancelled which is very unusual for a wait this long. 

We booked our flight to Lake Clark National Park with Alaska Air Service, we had excellent pilots and they gave us a mini tour of the area on our way to Lake Clark. Our three planes arrived on the beach of Lake Clark National Park on morning of June 19, 2021.  We were immediately greeted by Belle our guide for this photo trip. She helped load luggage unto the carts and after luggage arrived in the lodge Belle gave us a "bear orientation" and then it was off to the sedge meadows looking for Alaskan Brown Bears. 

This was Belle's seventh year guiding for Homestead Lodge and she was very knowledgeable about bears, finding them, bear behavior etc. But for me the best thing she was also a photographer and was always helping the group to get the best background, light and warning us of possible behavior that might be happening! For this photographer that was a huge bonus to help us prepare for a possible once in a lifetime image. 

Dominique was our Chef from Brazil; He was definitely at the top of his game! Fresh Salmon prepared like you have never had before, Prime Rib and my favorite was a great Lasagna that was so unbelievably good I had to have a second piece!

But now back to the bears! This time of the year the Alaskan Brown Bear (Urus arctos) eat lots of grass from the Sedge meadows.  This helps their digesting system get back in sync after the long winter nap, Black Bears will do exactly the same thing. During low tide the bears go out into the mud flats searching out clams for some protein. It is so interesting to watch them open the clam shell with their huge claws or mouth to get that little morsel of a clam. One of my goals on this trip was to get lots of images of the Brown Bear in its environment; close-ups of a bear with mouth full of grass is not as interesting as a mouth full of sockeye salmon, the salmon run would not even be starting in this area of Alaska for another 6 weeks or so. 

On this morning at low tide I saw this sow and cub walking their way into the mud flats, the light was perfect with the cloud cover and the soft light hitting the mud flats. The bears were walking at a very fast pace so I set my shutter speed faster and zoomed out just a little bit to include this beautiful environment. But with the brighter environment I set my Exposure Value (EV) to -1 so I would not burn out the beautiful background knowing this would be a silhouette image of the bears.  Of course I took multiple images with the motor drive humming away but for me when selecting an image for any reason I look for the "little details" and for me seeing all four legs was crucial on many images as the legs cross each other it is very easy to have a "three legged critter"!

On the morning of June 24 our trip came to an end and we flew back to Anchorage. This was now my 6th trips to photograph the Alaskan Brown and I have decided it was my best with over 5000 images taken but they were not all bears but also Puffins, Pacific Loons etc. 

There is no question this is one of the most extensive camera club trip I have ever been on much less be the group leader in organizing it. But what a fun trip with a great group of people and all of the staff at Homestead Lodge that was so accommodating in so many ways! And of course the star of the show "The Alaskan Brown Bears of Lake Clark National Park"!

If interested in seeing more images of this Alaskan adventure follow this link: "Photos of the Month"!

Good Shooting

Technical Data

 Nikon D500

Nikon 200mm-500mm @ 400mm

Manual Exposure

Auto ISO @ 560

F-6.3 @ 1/1600

EV-1

Manual Focus

Handheld VR on

Cloudy WB

Post-processing: Lightroom Classic and Photoshop