Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yellowstone's Grizzlies - Photography Ethics

This year's trip to Yellowstone provided amazing bear viewing - both grizzlies and black bears. There were several days when we saw at least 8 bears. I had not given it much thought until someone mentioned how many bears they had seen that day. I added up in my mind - mother grizzly and cub-Hayden Valley, mother grizzly and 2 cubs- Mount Washburn, black bear near Pebble Creek campground, mother black bear and 3 cubs on the mountain . . . yep - we had seen a bunch of bears as well.

As I've mentioned before, I found trying to capture the wonder and marvel of the bears to be challenging. For one thing - you never have any control over where the bear is. Sometimes the bear is that small speck on the distant slope. Sometimes the bear is right below you near the road. Sometimes you are the first one on the scene and have opportunites for a good angle. Sometimes you can make a good guess as to where the bear is headed and move ahead and have a good position as it wanders by. Sometimes all the other photographers have already found the bear and there is no place for you to set your camera gear up. Sometimes you luck into a good parking place and can wait and see what the bear is going to do. Sometimes you have good lighting (rare)-most of the time you are fighting direct sunlight or evening shade.

But occasionally you get lucky. You are close enough to the bear to get a full frame shot (from the relative protection of proximity to your car). Bears are in constant motion- so some shots are going to be motion blurred - that's a given. Bear is more interesting in grubbing than posing for you - you don't always get his or her most photogenic side. You DON'T want to make noise to get his attention. You wouldn't like it if he decided you were a better meal.

But out of all my bear shots - it is the bear's eyes that are one of my biggest frustrations. Out of hundreds of shots, in only one do you get a very good look at the eyes. (And that one the rest of the bear was motion blurred.) And in animal photography, getting the eye clear, crisp, and with a catchlight makes the difference between a ho hum shot and a winning excellent shot. With some animal shots, I can take what the camera captured and work some photoshop magic with levels, dodging and burning, and sharpening to make the eye look "natural" and give that wonderful eye contact with the animal. I don't have an ethical problem with that, because I'm taking what is really the eye and just bringing out the details. With my bear photos that was not possible. Between camera angle issues, the bear's thick eyelashes, and the lighting - there was no detail there to do anything with. During the trip, there was not time to work many of the photos. So I am just now doing some of the post processing. I've got someone potentially interested in some of the grizzly shots for a print to hang on a wall. So I worked on them last night. I started playing with the eyes.

I used a New Layer>Overlay> Overlay neutral color 50%. I've learned that I can add just a dab of color to the dodge and burn process - so I chose a color for the brush that was in the brown tones - giving some color to the eyes. Then I used black for the brush and added a pupil. Then I went to the original layer and added a spot of white for the catchlight that brings life to the eye. Sometimes I slightly darkened the edges of the eye to add definition. On the close ups of the mother grizzly, I now have eye contact.

Even though the eye is a small part of the overall photo - this small change is enough to make it ineligible for some of the major wildlife competitions and for some nature magazines. Where ever I submit any of these shots, I will make sure the editor knows the changes I have made.




And by the way, on the grizzly at the top of this post, I did additional "repair work." This grizzly was injured over a year ago. While he could use both paws to dig for grubs, he walked using one paw and one elbow - painfully and arthritically. He also had a big scar on his face. For a print to hang on someone's wall, I did "plastic surgery" or "skin grafts" on his cheek. The photo is more likely to find a place on a decorative wall without the ugly scar. However, once again, if I market this image, I'll be honest to the editors as to what I've done. They can decide whether a scarred bear or an artistic rendition of a bear best suits their needs.

I've posted what I think are my best grizzly shots at my website.

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