Learn to anticipate the decisive moment 

Several years ago I was given a book that features the wonderful wildlife paintings of Carl Brenders. One of my favorite paintings in the collection is two black bear cubs in a tree (inset). I’ve often looked at that piece as inspiration to one day photograph wild tiny twin cubs. That opportunity recently came along and I was able to produce the image you see on the cover of this month’s SPIN.

Bear cubs seem to be all about play and fun times. Wrestling, chasing and exploring their surroundings is part of their young lives and can go on for hours. So, my opportunity came when playtime was over and mother bear was asleep at the base of the tree. She had hidden her cubs high above her in the branches.

I took this time to observe the possible photographic situations that might present themselves when the cubs woke up and crawled down. By taking note of where the open spots were in the tree, I visualized the moment and even thought of Carl Brenders’ painting. I checked, and double-checked, my exposures in the changing light and anticipated the decisive moment to start shooting.

After a short wait, mother bear let out a faint call and the cubs began their descent. At first, one cub seemed more anxious to see mom than the other, but it soon stopped at a branch were I had anticipated it would go. My heart started to beat faster with excitement as I fired off a few frames to catch the cub who had paused on the tree. While still looking through my camera’s viewfinder, I could hear the other cub’s claws tearing up the bark as it joined its sibling who appeared to be holding up traffic. The top cub sat on the lower cub’s head for a moment which started up a short playful match of pushing and shoving. It was then that it happened; my vision had come true.

Simultaneously, the pair looked up and into the lens. How much luckier could a wildlife photographer get? I fired off a burst of frames until the cubs resumed their downward climb and joined mom at the bottom. She then slowly walked deeper into the forest with the two cubs play fighting and running behind her. I’m sure it was feeding time and the twins knew it.

The next time you find yourself in a situation that might seem like no photographic opportunities will exist, take the time to look around and see what might happen if you wait around for a bit. It’s important to anticipate and visualize your image before it even happens. With a little luck, and by teaching yourself to think this way photographically, you’ll be rewarded with some great images and some good stories to tell.

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