Black bears are one species that have long been a favourite of many wildlife photographers. With bear season well under way and sightings on the rise in our area, there are some important things to keep in mind when you encounter a bear and would like to take its photo. Whether you’re a casual photographer, advanced amateur or seasoned professional, we all need to think about safety and be bear aware.
Make sure you keep your distance. Never follow or stalk a bear into the woods and never follow fresh tracks off the beaten path. Instead, limit your bear photography opportunities to those bears found along the roadsides during the spring as they feed on fresh grass shoots. Use the longest focal length you have and stay in your vehicle at all times. A nice zoom lens of 300 mm or longer is ideal, but some of the most compelling images include plenty of habitat as sometimes a tight portrait looks more like it was taken at a zoo or wildlife park.
Bears have a keen sense of smell and can often sniff out that chocolate bar wrapper under your seat. Clean out your vehicle if you’re going to search for roadside bears. Recently, I witnessed a photographer in Jasper National Park who had left the top down on his Jeep and watched helplessly as a bear hopped in and ate a bag full of groceries—another reason to stay in your vehicle and remember: a fed bear is a dead bear.
Respect the bear by keeping your photography time to a minimum. If the bear wants to move on, allow it to do so. Never pressure a bear into staying around by blocking off its escape routes, and if your presence is altering the bear’s natural behaviour you should simply move away. Be aware of sows with cubs and educate yourself on ways to avoid habituating bears. As photographers we need to learn all we can about the subjects we enjoy and the black bear is definitely one of them. It’s then that our images will help educate and inspire others about the importance of bears and their habitat.
The St. John’s Ambulance website, www.sja.ca, offers two certificate-granting online courses about bears. One’s called, “working in bear country” and the other “travelling in bear country.” I found both to be very educational and well worth the time and money. Any other information about bears can be found on the newly updated Bear Aware website, www.bearaware.bc.ca.