Bear photography with the Canon EOS 7D at Brooks Falls, Alaska
Every year millions of Pacific Salmon return to the streams where they were born to spawn and die. Swimming against the current in their epic journey they must navigate rapids and leap waterfalls while avoiding the attention of hungry predators. It's an annual bonanza for human and animal fishers alike, with one of nature's most iconic views being Brown Bears intercepting leaping salmon in mid-flight.
Brooks Falls July 2010, Canon EOS 7D at 800 ISO, 1/1250; Canon EF 100-400mm at 180mm, f6.3; vertical crop
Unlike many of Nature's Great Events which are best viewed on TV though, this is one you can personally witness and photograph at close range at Brooks Falls in Alaska; indeed if you've ever seen a photo or footage of a bear fishing for salmon alongside a waterfall, chances are it was captured at this very spot. The drama of this event coupled with the sheer proximity of viewing made Brooks Falls one of the places I'd always wanted to visit, and in July 2010 I finally made it a reality.
While the facilities at Brooks Falls place you right next to the action, the journey and cost to get there are not insignificant, especially if you're based outside the US. As such like most visitors I did a great deal of research prior to the event to maximise my chances of success, but found surprisingly little technical information on photography not to mention what you can expect from typical tour operators.
For example, how long can you expect to spend at the falls? What sort of lens is best at this location? What should you take on board the flight and what's best left at home? What happens when flights are delayed due to weather? So this article serves two purposes: first a review of the experience and operator itself for anyone organising a visit to Brooks, and secondly a technical look behind the equipment you'll need to effectively capture this event.
If you're only interested in the equipment, skip straight to the bear photography section. Otherwise, read on to find out more about getting to Brooks Falls and my experience with operator Katmailand.
Brooks Falls bear viewing with Katmailand
Brooks Falls bear photography - recommended equipment
Note: all the images in this article were taken by Gordon Laing on the day he visited Brooks Falls: 26 July 2010. None have been post-processed and most are also uncropped in order to indicate the kind of results possible with the equipment taken.
(all images © Gordon Laing, July 2010)