It had been a long time since I was in Yellowstone National Park. My two previous visits were in the winter, November 1999, and February 2001—a long time ago. Therefore, I was excited to take a workshop or photo safari from wildlife photographer Brent Paull.
This would be my first fall visit to Yellowstone. We would also spend three days in Jackson Hole National Park. A National Park I had never visited before. Even though it was early October 2020, the Yellowstone landscape was parched. No measurable rainfall had fallen for quite a while, mirroring the rest of the Western United States. The park air was hazy and thick with smoke, coming from the fires burning in California and some other local fires.
We only had one grizzly bear encounter while in Yellowstone. We were driving back from the Beartooth pass, passing through Silver Gate and Cooke City at the Northeastern entrance to the park. We were coasting down the Soda Butte Valley heading to Lamar Valley when we saw a group of cars parked on the side of the road.
Our practice was to see what the congregation of cars was about. What wildlife were they seeing? As we arrived by the parked cars, we slowed down. A group of young ladies in a passenger car responded to our question of what wildlife are you seeing? One girl, in particular, standing through their sedan’s sunroof, said she saw wolves in the distance across the sagebrush toward Soda Butte Creek. Brent stopped our car and went out to look for himself with his binoculars. As he got his first look, the girl standing up in her car, exclaimed “bear”, and Brent agreed with her new species call.
The girls had foreign accents and long dark hair with dark eyes. Later, I began calling them the “Italian Girls”, because their accents sounded Italian, although they could have been from Portugal or Argentina, or any other Latin country in Europe, Central or South America.
Brent planned our course of action, as the bears, a sow with two cubs, were quartering closer, heading to where we were previously, so we reversed course and drove back to the last pull out behind us. This was so we could get photos of the bears walking towards us. The bears had just crossed the Soda Butte Creek coming from the other side of the valley, and their fur coats were wet from the river crossing.
I wish I had taken the time to change my camera body, from my old Canon 7D Mark II to the new Canon R5 body, that I had just received one day before I left on this trip. If I had, the quality of the raw captures would have been better, resulting in images of better technical quality.
Everything happened so fast, so quick. Brent got out of the car but told me and his other clients for safety to stay in and shoot through the windows, as the grizzly family was fast approaching our car.
It was hard shooting out of the window from the passenger side, moving around to get the best view was difficult because of the cramped conditions. As more vehicles stopped, the approaching grizzly bear family sensed the people and cars along the road. At one point, all the grizzly bears stopped and stood on their hind legs. I tried to concentrate on one, this cub with the more blond fur coloring around its face and head. Thus, I missed all three briefly standing up at once, as Brent mentioned later—a shot he captured.
It was mid-day when this encounter happened; it shows that even at 2:45 PM, you can see animals moving around and active. The more time you spend looking for wildlife; the more you increase your odds of seeing something. Here many would have been persuaded to head back to the hotel because of the warm mid-day temperatures and smoky skies, believing that no wildlife would be out and moving around during this time of day.
Even though this encounter was less than fifteen minutes, it will be a moment I will never forget. It will be forever engraved on the viewscreen of my mind. To see this grizzly bear family up close and to share a moment in their lives is something special, so incredible; it’s hard to describe and to put into words.
All the hours of patiently searching for wildlife and driving the roads of Yellowstone paid off in ways more numerous to quantify. I was blessed with this sighting and encounter, and these images will always bring back those moments I shared with this grizzly bear cub, its sibling, and its mother. It was a spiritual experience.
*More information about Brent Russell Paull’s Wildlife Safaris can be found on his website, by clicking on this link, Brent Paull Photography | American West Photo Safaris
1. FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE NEW CANON R5 CAMERA:
As an aside, I believe Canon has come up with a great mirrorless camera body. In the R5, the autofocus and eye-tracking feature, in particular, is outstanding. Even my old Canon lenses like the 100 -400 mm IS lens II and even my older original 600 mm f4.0 IS lens, first produced in 1999, have autofocus capabilities that are so much faster and accurate, than with my Canon 7D Mark II camera body. The files are noticeably sharper and clearer, with much detail, even in the new compressed raw file format. The extra 45 megapixels compared to the 21 megapixels of the older camera body, will make enlarging subjects by cropping so much easier and more successful.
2. OVERALL SHOOTING GOALS:
Goal: My goal was to capture images of grizzly bears exhibiting some kind of behavior.
Equipment/Source: Canon 7D Mark II Body, EF100—400 mm f4.5-5.6L IS II lens with a 1.4x teleconverter, at 189 mm, 1/2000 of second, f8, ISO 1600, Aperture priority, Evaluative Metering.
Technique: Hand holding lens and camera body while resting arms on the car’s window ledge.
Post Processing: Nik Dfine 2 noise reduction on the out of focused sagebrush, plus a mid-tone contrast adjustment, and cropped down from a horizontal format to make a vertical frame for the bear cub images. Selective darkening of lighter sagebrush areas. Lightening of the bear cub’s fur and some highlight reduction in camera raw. Nik Pre-sharpening on the bear cubs subjects. A little work on the bears’ eyes, with a paintbrush set to the Overlay blending mode, with very low settings of 8 opacity and 14 flow, using white to lighten and black to darken its pupil.