Top 10 of 2016: #3a – Breathtaking Breach

Images of a Breaching Whale captured during the Marine Mammals trip that I went on in August. On this trip we travelled the BC Coast from the Johnstone Strait to the Northern tip of Vancouver Island. Breathtaking Breach shares the number 3 spot on my list of top images of 2016 because witnessing it was just that – Breathtaking. Jumping for Joy was another image in this same breach sequence.

 

Why Humpback Whales breach isn’t really well known, but one of the the reasons of why they might do it is to remove barnacles and other parasites on their body. Another reason why they breach might be as a form of communication among other whales and/or boats to let them know where they are (the sound of a breach can be heard for long distances both above and below water). A third reason is that it is fun for them, and just something to do. While I don’t know why this Humpback Whale decided to breach, witnessing it was simply amazing. We were even more fortunate that this was a serial breacher, and it breached more than 10 times (I can’t remember the exact number of times that it breached).

 

One of the hardest parts about photographing marine mammals is that you can’t often see where they are going below the surface, so you don’t often know where they will come up, so it’s usually a big guessing game.

Top 10 of 2016: #3b – Jumping for Joy

This particular Humpback made our lives quite a bit easier because where it went down was the same general area where it came up and breached, so we were able to be focused on the right spot as it exited the water. Having a camera like the 1dx Mark II or the D5 really prove their worth when shooting a breaching sequence, because of their super fast auto focus coupled with the high frame rate, you can walk away with a number of sharp images.

 

It’s hard to tell from these photos how large the Humpback Whales are, but they can be 11 meters long and weigh 40,000 kg so to witness them launching out of the water like it’s no big deal is jaw dropping.
If you would like to see more images from the Marine Mammals trip, visit my journeys gallery.

Top 10 of 2016: #3a – Breathtaking Breach

Images of a Breaching Whale captured during the Marine Mammals trip that I went on in August. On this trip we travelled the BC Coast from the Johnstone Strait to the Northern tip of Vancouver Island. Breathtaking Breach shares the number 3 spot on my list of top images of 2016 because witnessing it was just that – Breathtaking. Jumping for Joy was another image in this same breach sequence.

 

Why Humpback Whales breach isn’t really well known, but one of the the reasons of why they might do it is to remove barnacles and other parasites on their body. Another reason why they breach might be as a form of communication among other whales and/or boats to let them know where they are (the sound of a breach can be heard for long distances both above and below water). A third reason is that it is fun for them, and just something to do. While I don’t know why this Humpback Whale decided to breach, witnessing it was simply amazing. We were even more fortunate that this was a serial breacher, and it breached more than 10 times (I can’t remember the exact number of times that it breached).

 

One of the hardest parts about photographing marine mammals is that you can’t often see where they are going below the surface, so you don’t often know where they will come up, so it’s usually a big guessing game.

Top 10 of 2016: #3b – Jumping for Joy

This particular Humpback made our lives quite a bit easier because where it went down was the same general area where it came up and breached, so we were able to be focused on the right spot as it exited the water. Having a camera like the 1dx Mark II or the D5 really prove their worth when shooting a breaching sequence, because of their super fast auto focus coupled with the high frame rate, you can walk away with a number of sharp images.

 

It’s hard to tell from these photos how large the Humpback Whales are, but they can be 11 meters long and weigh 40,000 kg so to witness them launching out of the water like it’s no big deal is jaw dropping.
If you would like to see more images from the Marine Mammals trip, visit my journeys gallery.

Top 10 of 2016: #4b – Fishing Hole

Continuing with my Top 10 of 2016 number 4 are a series of images of River Otters in Yellowstone National Park, with both enjoying “Fish for Lunch”.

 

As I mentioned in my post on the Northern Pygmy Owl, Yellowstone provided me a couple “firsts” in 2016, with one being the Northern Pygmy Owl, and the other being River Otters. We had the opportunity to spend pretty much an entire day at the side of the river photographing up to 5 different River Otters. Not only was I lucky enough to get photos of River Otters, I was even more lucky to get several images of them bringing fish out of the water to feast on.

 

River Otters are opportunistic feeders, and their diets vary quite a bit. While River Otters primarily eat fish, they will really just eat whatever they can get, and have been known to eat amphibians, crustaceans, rodents, and even birds. In these images, the River Otter is enjoying an afternoon lunch of a Cutthroat Trout.

 

Unlike Sea Otters (like the one in Loving Life), River Otters are just as comfortable on land as they are in the water, and can live in rivers, lakes, or swamps. While photographing them swimming in the water can be fun, the real fun came in watching them play and even “dance” on the land.

Top 10 of 2016: #4b – Fish for Lunch

What makes River Otters one of the most fun animals to photograph is that the family group is very playful, rolling around on the snow with one another, and also chasing each other on land. Rolling around on the ground allows their dense fur keep its insulating properties (however to us humans, we take it as them performing for us).

 

River Otters can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes, which made photographing them quite tricky, because they would go under the ice, and disappear for a short while, and could pop up quite a distance away. They often use ice holes to come up for a quick breath before going back under water again, which can make tracking them even more difficult.

 

Stay tuned to my Recent Photos for more images of the River Otters, and stay tuned to my blog for a recap on my trip to Yellowstone National Park.

My Top 10 of 2016 continues with number 5 “Pygmy on Point” which shows a Northern Pygmy Owl perched at the very top of a tree in Yellowstone National Park. In 2016 I had several photography “firsts” a few of which you will see in this series of blog posts. Getting a good shot of a Pygmy Owl is one of those firsts. I have only even seen one of these little guys once, but wasn’t able to get a useable shot of it.

 

Top 10 of 2016: #5 – Pygmy on Point

It’s really no wonder that I haven’t seen many Norther Pygmy Owls in my travels, because they are tiny, measuring less than 18 cm tall, making it one of the tiniest owls in North America, and weighing less 2.5 oz. Several times I have heard them referred to as being the size of a pop can, now imaging trying to find it in amongst dense trees.

 

Despite being so small, their main foods consist of small to medium sized birds (such as waxwings and chickadees) and small mammals and rodents. For reference a Black-capped Chickadee measures up to 15cm in height and weighs up to 0.5 oz, so they are 20% the weight of the Northern Pygmy Owl. It’s funny that the diets of the smallest owls in North America is consistent with the diets of the largest owl in North America, the Great Gray Owl. However, unlike the Great Gray Owl, it will often hunt during the day.

 

This is the second image in my top 10 images that is taken with the Canon 500mm lens with a 2x III extended, making the focal length at 1000mm (required because this little guy was so high in the tree and so small). If you are interested in reading more about my experiences using the Canon extenders, read my blog post.

 

I try to visit Yellowstone National Park every winter because of its abundance and variety of wildlife that is present during the winter months, and this year I was fortunate to not just see some of the staples, such as the Bison and Elk, but also see a few rarer species like these Northern Pygmy Owls, and River Otters.

I’m still processing the images from my trip to Yellowstone National Park, so stay tuned to my Recent Photos gallery to keep up-to-date on my latest images.

My Top 10 of 2016 continues with number 5 “Pygmy on Point” which shows a Northern Pygmy Owl perched at the very top of a tree in Yellowstone National Park. In 2016 I had several photography “firsts” a few of which you will see in this series of blog posts. Getting a good shot of a Pygmy Owl is one of those firsts. I have only even seen one of these little guys once, but wasn’t able to get a useable shot of it.

 

Top 10 of 2016: #5 – Pygmy on Point

It’s really no wonder that I haven’t seen many Norther Pygmy Owls in my travels, because they are tiny, measuring less than 18 cm tall, making it one of the tiniest owls in North America, and weighing less 2.5 oz. Several times I have heard them referred to as being the size of a pop can, now imaging trying to find it in amongst dense trees.

 

Despite being so small, their main foods consist of small to medium sized birds (such as waxwings and chickadees) and small mammals and rodents. For reference a Black-capped Chickadee measures up to 15cm in height and weighs up to 0.5 oz, so they are 20% the weight of the Northern Pygmy Owl. It’s funny that the diets of the smallest owls in North America is consistent with the diets of the largest owl in North America, the Great Gray Owl. However, unlike the Great Gray Owl, it will often hunt during the day.

 

This is the second image in my top 10 images that is taken with the Canon 500mm lens with a 2x III extended, making the focal length at 1000mm (required because this little guy was so high in the tree and so small). If you are interested in reading more about my experiences using the Canon extenders, read my blog post.

 

I try to visit Yellowstone National Park every winter because of its abundance and variety of wildlife that is present during the winter months, and this year I was fortunate to not just see some of the staples, such as the Bison and Elk, but also see a few rarer species like these Northern Pygmy Owls, and River Otters.

I’m still processing the images from my trip to Yellowstone National Park, so stay tuned to my Recent Photos gallery to keep up-to-date on my latest images.

As I mentioned in my first blog post of the top images of 2016, I had the opportunity to go on two new trips during 2016, with one being the Fishing Grizzlies and the other being Eagles of Alaska. Anyone that knows me, knows that I will choose photographing a grizzly bear, or large carnivore, over a bird any day…however I was pleasantly surprised by the Eagles of Alaska trip, and even happier with some of the images that I walked away with.

 

In this area of Alaska the river remains open even in late November (and one section of the river will remain open for the entire winter). Because the rivers are open and the salmon are still running this area can attract anywhere from 1000-3000 Bald Eagles during this time of year.

Top 10 of 2016: #6 – Quite the Haul

The thing that surprised me about the “fishing” that we watched was that instead of stopping down out of the sky (or from a tree) and snatching a fish from the water, all the Bald Eagles we saw just walked into the water, and then just walked out with a fish. It was very interesting and a different behaviour than I was used to. However, in the past whenever I have seen an eagle fish it has been smaller fish (like in the Falling Fish image).

 

This image is a Bald Eagle hauling away what was left of a salmon away from the other Bald Eagle (that was standing off the frame to its left) and trying to make sure that it gets as much of the fish as it can for himself. I was impressed by how effortlessly the Bald Eagles were able to haul around these fish, considering they only weigh up to 6kg.

 

Another thing I was surprised by was how much of a pest the Crows and Ravens could be, and how they weren’t chased off by the Bald Eagles. I watched this Bald Eagle have it’s tail feathers pulled by the Raven in order to distract him away from the fish. I also saw Ravens and Crows fly in and snatch a large portion of the fish and then fly off. The Bald Eagles would fight each other, but for some reason the Ravens and Crows got a free pass.

 

I’m just starting to process the images from this Bald Eagles Adventure, so stay tuned to my Recent Photos gallery so you can see the new images as they are posted.

As I mentioned in my first blog post of the top images of 2016, I had the opportunity to go on two new trips during 2016, with one being the Fishing Grizzlies and the other being Eagles of Alaska. Anyone that knows me, knows that I will choose photographing a grizzly bear, or large carnivore, over a bird any day…however I was pleasantly surprised by the Eagles of Alaska trip, and even happier with some of the images that I walked away with.

 

In this area of Alaska the river remains open even in late November (and one section of the river will remain open for the entire winter). Because the rivers are open and the salmon are still running this area can attract anywhere from 1000-3000 Bald Eagles during this time of year.

Top 10 of 2016: #6 – Quite the Haul

The thing that surprised me about the “fishing” that we watched was that instead of stopping down out of the sky (or from a tree) and snatching a fish from the water, all the Bald Eagles we saw just walked into the water, and then just walked out with a fish. It was very interesting and a different behaviour than I was used to. However, in the past whenever I have seen an eagle fish it has been smaller fish (like in the Falling Fish image).

 

This image is a Bald Eagle hauling away what was left of a salmon away from the other Bald Eagle (that was standing off the frame to its left) and trying to make sure that it gets as much of the fish as it can for himself. I was impressed by how effortlessly the Bald Eagles were able to haul around these fish, considering they only weigh up to 6kg.

 

Another thing I was surprised by was how much of a pest the Crows and Ravens could be, and how they weren’t chased off by the Bald Eagles. I watched this Bald Eagle have it’s tail feathers pulled by the Raven in order to distract him away from the fish. I also saw Ravens and Crows fly in and snatch a large portion of the fish and then fly off. The Bald Eagles would fight each other, but for some reason the Ravens and Crows got a free pass.

 

I’m just starting to process the images from this Bald Eagles Adventure, so stay tuned to my Recent Photos gallery so you can see the new images as they are posted.

The next image In my Top 10 of 2016 series is the image of a Great Gray Owl that I titled “At An Angle”, because of the angle of the tree that the owl is perched on. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a bird fanatic, I’ve always loved photographing owls. Photographing owls early on is one of the main reasons I started upgrading my camera equipment because I got tired of seeing owls at dusk and never getting any photos to turn out (because it was too dark for my equipment).

 

The lack of camera/lens limitations is really apparent when you look at the technical specs of this image, my camera equipment really pulled through and proved it’s worth it to have the higher end equipment. It was quite dark outside when we spotted this Great Grey Owl, so much so that I almost didn’t even turn around to

Top 10 of 2016: #7 – At An Angle

shoot it, because I thought there was no point. But I did turn around and grabbed a few shots that were at extremely low shutter speeds, and I took my time (like a month) actually putting the images on the computer and looking at it, and when I finally did my jaw dropped. This image was taken at ISO 3200 (the max that I shoot the 5D Mark III with), and at 1/125 shutter speed basically hand-held with my arm braced against the car, my camera gear really pulled through and produced a sharp image at less than ideal shooting conditions.

 

I love the greys/blues that dominate this image, along with all the strong lines of the angled tree trunk that the Great Gray Owl is perched on, and the tress in the background. Other than the vibrant eyes and a few spots of orange on the tree, this image is pretty much naturally gray scale, which I think is pretty neat. One of the most captivating part of photographs of owls are their eyes, there eyes are just so bright, even “eye-catching” (pun intended).

 

The Great Gray Owl is the largest owl that we have in Alberta, but despite its size (can measure around 30 inches long) they are surprisingly light, weighing less than 4 pounds. Despite being the largest owl by length, it actually feasts on relatively small prey compared to some other owls, with a diet consisting mostly of voles, but can also eat other small rodents. They hunt by sitting on a perch, like the one in this image, and listening and watching for prey before swooping down to catch the prey. They are also very effective in hunting in the snow, and can hear rodents that are more than one foot below the surface of the snow.

 

This image is part of my Birds portfolio which showcases bird images that were taken on some of my random trips that are not part of my journeys gallery.

The next image In my Top 10 of 2016 series is the image of a Great Gray Owl that I titled “At An Angle”, because of the angle of the tree that the owl is perched on. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a bird fanatic, I’ve always loved photographing owls. Photographing owls early on is one of the main reasons I started upgrading my camera equipment because I got tired of seeing owls at dusk and never getting any photos to turn out (because it was too dark for my equipment).

 

The lack of camera/lens limitations is really apparent when you look at the technical specs of this image, my camera equipment really pulled through and proved it’s worth it to have the higher end equipment. It was quite dark outside when we spotted this Great Grey Owl, so much so that I almost didn’t even turn around to

Top 10 of 2016: #7 – At An Angle

shoot it, because I thought there was no point. But I did turn around and grabbed a few shots that were at extremely low shutter speeds, and I took my time (like a month) actually putting the images on the computer and looking at it, and when I finally did my jaw dropped. This image was taken at ISO 3200 (the max that I shoot the 5D Mark III with), and at 1/125 shutter speed basically hand-held with my arm braced against the car, my camera gear really pulled through and produced a sharp image at less than ideal shooting conditions.

 

I love the greys/blues that dominate this image, along with all the strong lines of the angled tree trunk that the Great Gray Owl is perched on, and the tress in the background. Other than the vibrant eyes and a few spots of orange on the tree, this image is pretty much naturally gray scale, which I think is pretty neat. One of the most captivating part of photographs of owls are their eyes, there eyes are just so bright, even “eye-catching” (pun intended).

 

The Great Gray Owl is the largest owl that we have in Alberta, but despite its size (can measure around 30 inches long) they are surprisingly light, weighing less than 4 pounds. Despite being the largest owl by length, it actually feasts on relatively small prey compared to some other owls, with a diet consisting mostly of voles, but can also eat other small rodents. They hunt by sitting on a perch, like the one in this image, and listening and watching for prey before swooping down to catch the prey. They are also very effective in hunting in the snow, and can hear rodents that are more than one foot below the surface of the snow.

 

This image is part of my Birds portfolio which showcases bird images that were taken on some of my random trips that are not part of my journeys gallery.

I think of all the trips I went on in 2016 the Marine Mammals trip might have been my favourite. We spent 7 days aboard a sailboat cruising along the coast of British Columbia from the Johnstone Strait to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The main species that we focus on are the Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, and the other marine life that call the coastal waters home. But to me, in the last two years, the Sea Otters have stolen the show.

 

Even though this is an adult Sea Otter, it evokes the “awww” reaction that baby animals normally create, they are just so darn cute. This one in particular looks like

Top 10 of 2016: #8 – Loving Life

he is Loving Life, with his arms behind his head, wrapped in kelp and a smile on his face, life just couldn’t be much better.

 

What’s even more spectacular about getting images of Sea Otters on the British Columbia coast, is that at one time they were extinct from this area. Between 1969 and 1972, there were 89 otters released on BC Coast with the hope of getting the species back in the waters in these areas. Estimates of the current population are around 5,000 Sea Otters on the BC Coast, which seems to be a stabilized number, as in recent years the numbers have not been growing as rapidly. Given that this animal was once extinct, it makes getting a great photo of one even more remarkable.

 

Another highlight of this image is that it was taken using the Canon 1dx Mark II and the 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with the 2x extender, which was one of the first times that I shot with this combination. Although this is not a lens combination that I would use all the time, as it does have a limited use, I am impressed with the sharpness and quality of this image. It just goes to show how far the equipment has come, especially now with the camera bodies having autofocus on all AF points as opposed to just centre point (or manual focus).

 

If you want to see more images from my Marine Mammals trip visit my journeys gallery here.

I think of all the trips I went on in 2016 the Marine Mammals trip might have been my favourite. We spent 7 days aboard a sailboat cruising along the coast of British Columbia from the Johnstone Strait to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The main species that we focus on are the Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, and the other marine life that call the coastal waters home. But to me, in the last two years, the Sea Otters have stolen the show.

 

Even though this is an adult Sea Otter, it evokes the “awww” reaction that baby animals normally create, they are just so darn cute. This one in particular looks like

Top 10 of 2016: #8 – Loving Life

he is Loving Life, with his arms behind his head, wrapped in kelp and a smile on his face, life just couldn’t be much better.

 

What’s even more spectacular about getting images of Sea Otters on the British Columbia coast, is that at one time they were extinct from this area. Between 1969 and 1972, there were 89 otters released on BC Coast with the hope of getting the species back in the waters in these areas. Estimates of the current population are around 5,000 Sea Otters on the BC Coast, which seems to be a stabilized number, as in recent years the numbers have not been growing as rapidly. Given that this animal was once extinct, it makes getting a great photo of one even more remarkable.

 

Another highlight of this image is that it was taken using the Canon 1dx Mark II and the 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with the 2x extender, which was one of the first times that I shot with this combination. Although this is not a lens combination that I would use all the time, as it does have a limited use, I am impressed with the sharpness and quality of this image. It just goes to show how far the equipment has come, especially now with the camera bodies having autofocus on all AF points as opposed to just centre point (or manual focus).

 

If you want to see more images from my Marine Mammals trip visit my journeys gallery here.

In 2016 I visited the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary for the second year in a row, and this time I ended up staying for 9 days. I came away from the trip with a lot of different images, and couldn’t be happier with the result. So happy that you will notice that there will be other images in my top 10 from the Khutzeymateen.

 

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary or the “Khutz” is located on the Coast of British Columbia and encompasses over 44,000 hectares of land and is home to many Grizzly Bears (I say many because there isn’t enough research to say for sure, but I have heard a number of around 300). In the spring in the Khutz the diets of the Grizzly Bears consists mainly of sedge grasses, but they will eat whatever they can find in order to make sure that they put back on the weight that they lost over the long hibernation.

 

Two of a Kind is an image of a mother Grizzly Bear and her yearling cub (the only cub that I saw during the nine days). You typically won’t see cubs of the year in the Khutzeymateen because there are so many bears, particularly large males, that it makes it risky for these new cubs and their mothers to survive.

Top 10 of 2016: #9 – Two of a Kind

 

This image cracks me up because the cub is already showing the baldness that is common among the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen, even though that she is only a yearling. If I put Khutzeymateen Grizzlies in a bear lineup with bears from other locations, you will be able to tell which one is from the Khutzeymateen versus other locations because of the distinguishing baldness down the centre of the forehead, and it just seems to get more distinct as the bears age. I’m really curious to see this cub in 10 years if the baldness is already so defined.

 

Usually when you see a mom and cub the thing a photographer looks for is the interaction among the bears. Well the joke was on us with this mom and cub, they had very little interaction, and even less affection shown by the mom towards the cub. It seemed like every time that the cub got too close, the mom would wonder a little further away to avoid contact. In terms of interaction, having the two bears looking at us at the same time was about as much as we got. In this image the cub is an exact mini me of the mother.

 

If you are interested in seeing more of my images from the Khutzeymateen click here.

In 2016 I visited the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary for the second year in a row, and this time I ended up staying for 9 days. I came away from the trip with a lot of different images, and couldn’t be happier with the result. So happy that you will notice that there will be other images in my top 10 from the Khutzeymateen.

 

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary or the “Khutz” is located on the Coast of British Columbia and encompasses over 44,000 hectares of land and is home to many Grizzly Bears (I say many because there isn’t enough research to say for sure, but I have heard a number of around 300). In the spring in the Khutz the diets of the Grizzly Bears consists mainly of sedge grasses, but they will eat whatever they can find in order to make sure that they put back on the weight that they lost over the long hibernation.

 

Two of a Kind is an image of a mother Grizzly Bear and her yearling cub (the only cub that I saw during the nine days). You typically won’t see cubs of the year in the Khutzeymateen because there are so many bears, particularly large males, that it makes it risky for these new cubs and their mothers to survive.

Top 10 of 2016: #9 – Two of a Kind

 

This image cracks me up because the cub is already showing the baldness that is common among the Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen, even though that she is only a yearling. If I put Khutzeymateen Grizzlies in a bear lineup with bears from other locations, you will be able to tell which one is from the Khutzeymateen versus other locations because of the distinguishing baldness down the centre of the forehead, and it just seems to get more distinct as the bears age. I’m really curious to see this cub in 10 years if the baldness is already so defined.

 

Usually when you see a mom and cub the thing a photographer looks for is the interaction among the bears. Well the joke was on us with this mom and cub, they had very little interaction, and even less affection shown by the mom towards the cub. It seemed like every time that the cub got too close, the mom would wonder a little further away to avoid contact. In terms of interaction, having the two bears looking at us at the same time was about as much as we got. In this image the cub is an exact mini me of the mother.

 

If you are interested in seeing more of my images from the Khutzeymateen click here.

In 2016 I was fortunate enough to take 6 different trips, including two new ones, as well as travel throughout Alberta on the weekends. I started in the spring by visiting the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. That was followed by a new trip in late July to Northern British Columbia to photograph Fishing Grizzlies of the Taku followed shortly after by the Marine Mammals of the Johnstone Strait. In September I travelled for my third year to the Great Bear Rainforest, and ended the by visiting Haines Alaska in November, and Yellowstone National Park in December. I am walking away from 2016 with many great images (most of which I haven’t had the time to process year), and great memories, and even some new friends that I met on these trips.

 

In 2016 I was provided the opportunity to photograph a variety of different species, from Grizzly Bears, to Black Bears, Humpback Whales, and Bald Eagles, and many species in between. This series of blog posts will focus on my “Top 10 of 2016”. Some of these images will be in the top because of the experience, not just because it’s the “best quality” image that I have taken in the year.

 

The first image in my Top 10 of 2016 is of a Spirit Bear from my trip to the Great Bear Rainforest, which is abstractly titled “Spirit & Salmon” (haha – right).

 

I credit the Great Bear Rainforest (and a last minute cancellation by someone in 2014) for really getting me interested in travelling to the British Columbia coast.

Top 10 of 2016: #10 – Spirit & Salmon

Not only does the Great Bear Rainforest provide the opportunity to photograph marine mammals, Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, but it is also the only place in the world to find the rare Spirit Bear. Spirit Bears are part of the black bear species but has a recessive gene that can cause them to have white fur when they are born with two versions of the recessive gene (similar to a human being born with red hair). Sprit Bears (or white bears) can have either black or white cubs, just like a white cub can have a black or white mom. I also saw an instance in 2014 when a black bear mother had both a black cub and a white cub.

 

Given how rare it is to see a Spirit Bear (or white bear) I think that in itself makes the spirit bear image end up on my top images list of the year – at least until I spend a few more years in the Great Bear Rainforest and get so many images that I’m tired of them (kidding – I don’t think that is even possible).

 

This Spirit Bear is the very first spirit bear that I ever saw in the Great Bear Rainforest two years ago. And it was a real treat to get to see her again in 2016. She is a very gentle and tolerant bear, and she was actively fishing the stream that we were sitting alongside and catching quite a few fish. In this image she came pretty close to where we were sitting, almost like she was showing off the salmon that she caught. This image was only photographed using a 300mm focal range. If you had told me that I could get that close to a rare species before I went on this trip I wouldn’t even believe you.

 

For some reason, which is not well understood, it was noticed by researchers that black bears were successful in catching fish one quarter of the time when fishing during the day, however the spirit bears were successful one third of the time, making them more successful. One scientist speculated that the salmon were less concerned when there was something white above them compared to something black, therefore leading them to be more successful. I know the day we watched this Spirit Bear, she was successful even more than one-third of the time (of course I know that one day is not a representative sample), but it was amazing, it was like she just couldn’t miss on that particular day.

 

There is something that seems so gentle and calming about the spirit bears, and I hope that when I am in the Great Bear Rainforest again in 2017 that I will be fortunate enough to see another one of these beautiful creatures.

 

Click the link to see more of my image from trips to the Great Bear Rainforest. If you are interested in finding out more about this image, or the Great Bear Rainforest, email me.

In 2016 I was fortunate enough to take 6 different trips, including two new ones, as well as travel throughout Alberta on the weekends. I started in the spring by visiting the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. That was followed by a new trip in late July to Northern British Columbia to photograph Fishing Grizzlies of the Taku followed shortly after by the Marine Mammals of the Johnstone Strait. In September I travelled for my third year to the Great Bear Rainforest, and ended the by visiting Haines Alaska in November, and Yellowstone National Park in December. I am walking away from 2016 with many great images (most of which I haven’t had the time to process year), and great memories, and even some new friends that I met on these trips.

 

In 2016 I was provided the opportunity to photograph a variety of different species, from Grizzly Bears, to Black Bears, Humpback Whales, and Bald Eagles, and many species in between. This series of blog posts will focus on my “Top 10 of 2016”. Some of these images will be in the top because of the experience, not just because it’s the “best quality” image that I have taken in the year.

 

The first image in my Top 10 of 2016 is of a Spirit Bear from my trip to the Great Bear Rainforest, which is abstractly titled “Spirit & Salmon” (haha – right).

 

I credit the Great Bear Rainforest (and a last minute cancellation by someone in 2014) for really getting me interested in travelling to the British Columbia coast.

Top 10 of 2016: #10 – Spirit & Salmon

Not only does the Great Bear Rainforest provide the opportunity to photograph marine mammals, Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, but it is also the only place in the world to find the rare Spirit Bear. Spirit Bears are part of the black bear species but has a recessive gene that can cause them to have white fur when they are born with two versions of the recessive gene (similar to a human being born with red hair). Sprit Bears (or white bears) can have either black or white cubs, just like a white cub can have a black or white mom. I also saw an instance in 2014 when a black bear mother had both a black cub and a white cub.

 

Given how rare it is to see a Spirit Bear (or white bear) I think that in itself makes the spirit bear image end up on my top images list of the year – at least until I spend a few more years in the Great Bear Rainforest and get so many images that I’m tired of them (kidding – I don’t think that is even possible).

 

This Spirit Bear is the very first spirit bear that I ever saw in the Great Bear Rainforest two years ago. And it was a real treat to get to see her again in 2016. She is a very gentle and tolerant bear, and she was actively fishing the stream that we were sitting alongside and catching quite a few fish. In this image she came pretty close to where we were sitting, almost like she was showing off the salmon that she caught. This image was only photographed using a 300mm focal range. If you had told me that I could get that close to a rare species before I went on this trip I wouldn’t even believe you.

 

For some reason, which is not well understood, it was noticed by researchers that black bears were successful in catching fish one quarter of the time when fishing during the day, however the spirit bears were successful one third of the time, making them more successful. One scientist speculated that the salmon were less concerned when there was something white above them compared to something black, therefore leading them to be more successful. I know the day we watched this Spirit Bear, she was successful even more than one-third of the time (of course I know that one day is not a representative sample), but it was amazing, it was like she just couldn’t miss on that particular day.

 

There is something that seems so gentle and calming about the spirit bears, and I hope that when I am in the Great Bear Rainforest again in 2017 that I will be fortunate enough to see another one of these beautiful creatures.

 

Click the link to see more of my image from trips to the Great Bear Rainforest. If you are interested in finding out more about this image, or the Great Bear Rainforest, email me.

Canon’s Extenders (referred to as tele-converters by some) are available in 1.4x and 2.0x versions, and can be used with most of Canon’s prime L-series lenses, and 70-200 & 100-400 zoom lenses. But the question I often get asked is whether they are any good. The common answer that I have for this question is “It Depends”. My comments below will be based on using the newer series of the extenders (1.4x III and 2.0x III versions of the extenders, and it may not carry through to the previous versions).

 

I own both the 1.4x III, and 2.0x III extenders, and I always bring them both when I travel, and will use them when I want to get a fuller frame shot, or when shooting something off in the distance, however, I’m doing so being aware of the trade-off of doing so.

 

What does “it depend” on:

If you can get the image without using them, then do it
What I mean is that you have another lens with you that can get you the same focal length then it’s probably going to provide you a sharper image than getting there with a lens plus the extender (I can’t say definitely without evaluating every single possible combinations of lens). When you add the extenders you are

Grey Wolf Yellowstone

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4x III Extender

basically adding more glass in between the camera and the end of the lens, that means there is more for the image to go through now before it reaches the sensor, so more that can distort the image.

 

If you have a 70-200 f/2.8L and a 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L, you will be better off (and should see higher quality images) from the 400mm on the 100-400 than you would if you are using the 70-200 plus a 2.0x extender. At least that has been my findings when testing this very combination.

 

Must have light
One of the biggest downsides to using extenders is that you lose a stop if you are using a 1.4x extender or two if you are using the 2x extender. Therefore, if you have the 400mm f/2.8L lens, when you add the 1.4x extender you now have a 560 f/4 lens, and if you add the 2x extender you end up with 800mm f/5.6 lens.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 2x Extender

 

What this all means is that if you are shooting is low light, for example owls at dusk, or mid-day in the Great Bear Rainforest (kidding – kind of), then you may be limited in shutter speeds due to the ISO limitations of your camera. Because now instead of shooting your 400 at f/3.2 you can’t go any lower than f/4.

 

Therefore when you are in low-light shooting scenarios, even when you want the extra reach, it may be worth not using the extender and just getting the shot as opposed to trying to hand-hold a 400mm lens at 1/80 and ending up with a series of zoomed in, but blurry shots. I will touch on this again in the Camera Body section as well.

 

Which Camera
I have found that some camera bodies respond better to using extenders than others. I would say that the most responsive (and produce the best results) are the

Bald Eagle in Fall Watercolors

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM + 2x Extender

newest full frame cameras by Canon, the 1D X Mark II, and the 5D Mark IV. I think there are several reasons for this. Both have an improved AF sensor with an increased pixel size (360k pixels in the 1D X Mark II), and I find they are faster to focus when used with extenders. Also both of these cameras have the all AF points available at f/8, which means that you can attach a 2.0x extender to the 500mm f/4L IS II lens and have the ability to focus with any of the camera’s AF points.

 

Tying into the “Must Have Light” above, these camera bodies also have very high limits for ISO performance. I can shoot the 1D X Mark II at ISO 12800, and the 5D Mark IV at ISO 6400 on almost any scene and get an image I am able to work with without too much noise, or lost dynamic range. Therefore with these

cameras you will be less restricted by the lost stop (or two) than you would be when shooting the 7D Mark II which I don’t like to even take to ISO 1600. I have also found that when using extenders with the cropped sensor Canon bodies, even the newest one (the Canon 7D Mark II), I often end up with results that are noticeably softer than when I use the extenders on a full frame, or on the copped body without an extender.

 

Which Lens
The image quality from using extenders will also depend on which lens it is paired with. For example, if you pair a 2x extender with the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L (version 1) you will lose your ability to autofocus, so therefore if you are shooting fast moving subjects, it’s going to be very hard to produce a sharp in-focus image (unless you have a lot of practice with manual focus, which I don’t).

 

I find that using the 1.4x with the newer f/2.8L prime lenses, and even the 500 f/4 lens (a combination which I use a ton), the results tend to be better than with

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM + 1.4x III Extender

then when I pair it with the zoom lenses (regardless of whether they are f/2.8 or f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens).

 

Also the aperture of your lens will also impact the results of adding an extender, as mentioned previously, you lose a f-stop for the 1.4x and two for the 2.0x times extenders. So if you are starting at f/5.6, you are really limiting yourself if you are using the 2.0x extender.

 

Why not just crop?
A question I am often asked is why not just crop the image instead of using the extenders. Well that’s fine if you are shooting with the 5D Mark IV at 30 mpix, or even the 1DX series of cameras 20 mpix. However when considering cropping, especially when it’s a large amount of cropping, you are limiting your use of the image. So if you take a 1dx mark II image and crop it in half (to make it equivalent to shooting with a 2.0x extender) you are suddenly only left with 10mpix image.  Whereas you could use a 2.0x extender and end up with a 20 mpix image, and then you have the ability to crop even further. So while cropping works, and I have done it in scenarios where I didn’t have a big lens along, or didn’t have time to add an extender, I’m not generally a fan of shoot to crop significantly.

Grizzly Bear eating Pink Salmon

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM + 1.4x III Extender

 

SLOW Down
One issue that I have had when using the extenders, especially the 2.0x extender, is that the AF is noticeable slower. And to tie this into the which camera discussion above, if you are using a camera with a slower AF system, such as a 5d Mark II or 6d, using a extender may mean that you are missing the action shots. Also along this same line is that I find that the lenses are more likely to lose focus, or have to search for focus (when the lens goes from the minimum to maximum focus distance without finding the focus).

 

With that being said, I do find that it’s easier and results in better quality images when you use the extenders with a subject that is relatively slow moving (or even

still), as opposed to a subject that is rapidly moving, and this is particularly noticeable with the 2x extender.

 

Post Processing Skills

Snowy owl on frosty fence post

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4x III Extender

If you are good at post processing, including sharpening, than any loss of image sharpness as a result of using an extender can be easily recovered, and therefore may be more useable than someone who doesn’t know how to selectively sharpen images in post processing. Depending on the extender and lens combination used, you may notice some vignetting, distortion, or chromatic aberration, however these problems are all correctable (within limits of course) using both Lightroom or Capture One Pro.

 

Convenient
If you are always going on 2 hour hikes with your camera and don’t want to haul around a super tele-photo lens, or if you travel by air where there are weight restrictions, bringing along extenders is convenient and cuts down the total weight you need to lug around.

 

What is my opinion?
Well if you read between the lines above, I quite like them in certain situations. I like the 1.4x more than the 2.0x times, but they both have a time and place when they can be very effective and produce some great quality images that you might not have gotten otherwise. They are also convenient, I spend a fair amount of time travelling by air (including helicopters and float planes) and I am often restricted by weight, but I still want to have a long lens. So even if I owned an 800mm lens, I wouldn’t have the weight allowance to bring it along with a shorter lens for the situations when I have something closer like a 400. Instead I can bring my 500mm and the extenders and have 500-1000mm covered without much extra weight, or space.

 

They are also pretty cost effective with the 1.4x III and 2x III currently selling for $549CAD.

 

I have a number of high quality images that were shot with a number of different lenses/extender/camera combinations, a few of which I am featuring in this post. I would say that if you are looking for a relatively inexpensive way to increase your focal range, then go ahead and buy at least the 1.4x extender, but to test it out for yourself with your lens/camera combination before taking it on a once in a lifetime trip. Try to get a feel for when it’s worth it, and when it’s better to just crop, or work with what you have and make the image into more of a wider ‘scape type shot.

 

I know there are definitely people out there that will disagree and feel that if you aren’t using a prime lens then you aren’t getting quality images.

If you have any questions about my thoughts in this post, feel free to email me at contact@wildelements.ca.

I arrived back from a new adventure where I went to Alaska to photograph Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles congregate, in very large numbers along the river to feed on the salmon that are still present in the rivers even though it’s November. The trip was a unique experience and one I hope to do again next year.

 

Bald Head Shot

Bald Head Shot

There was certainly no shortage of Bald Eagles along this stretch of river, they seemed to be pretty much everywhere you looked, if you stopped and looked from any vantage point you could easily seem a minimum of 40 eagles perched in the trees are standing along the edge of the rivers. Because the Eagles are there to feed on fish, there was a lot of interaction among the eagles, with one pulling a fish out of the river, and others flying in to try to steal the fish or at least get a piece of the action.

 

In addition to Bald Eagles, we also saw Tundra Swans, Ravens, different types of Gulls, American Dippers, Moose, Fox and Coyotes, but the real focus and highlight were the Bald Eagles. Animals aside, the landscapes and backdrops were very impressive, especially the drive from Whitehorse to Alaska. I had hoped that I would get my first chance to photograph Northern Lights, unfortunately the conditions were not right for them, so maybe I will get those shots next year.

 

During this trip I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time trying different autofocus settings with birds in flight, as well as having the opportunity to really shoot with the 5D Mark IV, and used it the majority of the trip. In the next couple weeks I will be posting about my thoughts on using the 5D Mark IV with the birds in flight, and the overall quality of images that I got using this camera.

 

One thing I will say about this trip, some might consider this a negative, is that it was truly a long lens trip.  I found myself taking most of my shots with the Canon 500mm f/4 (either with or without a teleconverter/extender).  However, there were opportunities to use a wider camera for scenery, and also when we had the opportunity to photograph some close-up action.

 

If you are interested in joining me next year, stayed tuned for details to follow, or email me terri@wildelements.ca for more information.

I arrived back from a new adventure where I went to Alaska to photograph Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles congregate, in very large numbers along the river to feed on the salmon that are still present in the rivers even though it’s November. The trip was a unique experience and one I hope to do again next year.

 

Bald Head Shot

Bald Head Shot

There was certainly no shortage of Bald Eagles along this stretch of river, they seemed to be pretty much everywhere you looked, if you stopped and looked from any vantage point you could easily seem a minimum of 40 eagles perched in the trees are standing along the edge of the rivers. Because the Eagles are there to feed on fish, there was a lot of interaction among the eagles, with one pulling a fish out of the river, and others flying in to try to steal the fish or at least get a piece of the action.

 

In addition to Bald Eagles, we also saw Tundra Swans, Ravens, different types of Gulls, American Dippers, Moose, Fox and Coyotes, but the real focus and highlight were the Bald Eagles. Animals aside, the landscapes and backdrops were very impressive, especially the drive from Whitehorse to Alaska. I had hoped that I would get my first chance to photograph Northern Lights, unfortunately the conditions were not right for them, so maybe I will get those shots next year.

 

During this trip I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time trying different autofocus settings with birds in flight, as well as having the opportunity to really shoot with the 5D Mark IV, and used it the majority of the trip. In the next couple weeks I will be posting about my thoughts on using the 5D Mark IV with the birds in flight, and the overall quality of images that I got using this camera.

 

One thing I will say about this trip, some might consider this a negative, is that it was truly a long lens trip.  I found myself taking most of my shots with the Canon 500mm f/4 (either with or without a teleconverter/extender).  However, there were opportunities to use a wider camera for scenery, and also when we had the opportunity to photograph some close-up action.

 

If you are interested in joining me next year, stayed tuned for details to follow, or email me terri@wildelements.ca for more information.