The Making of My Latest Images: Brown Bears in Alaska

The Making of My Latest Images: Brown Bears in Alaska

In a remote swath of Alaskan wilderness, record numbers of brown bears gather annually


The float plane lands on just a few feet of water, above where the Moraine splits into Funnel Creek on the Alaskan peninsula. I load my gear onto my raft and head towards where, each year, the salmon run returns. The exact timing of this stage of their pilgrimage can vary due to weather or environmental factors, so after thoroughly researching the activity in the area, the rest is up to Mother Nature.

Yet, I'm not here for the salmon but for what comes with them: record numbers of brown bears.

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I set up my tent on an island in the middle of the creek, eager to be as close to the action as safely possible.

The following day, I woke up to crashing sounds. The first bears seen on the trip are outside my tent, less than 50 yards away in the creek. This proximity to my subject has remained an essential part of my photography career because it allows me to capture images with depth and dimension while creating an intimate connection between the viewer and the subject. This also pushes me out of my comfort zone. In Alaska, when a 600-pound bear was charging at 35 mph in pursuit of a salmon not too far from where I stood, the moment's intensity was a feeling I wanted to replicate in my images, like “The Charge”.

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As I do the first time photographing any animal, I begin my trip by trying to understand the subject’s behavior to predict where I’d like to be to create the images in my mind. During my time in Alaska, I lived in my waders, as the water was knee-deep, and I had to be ready at any given second to set up my shot.

Each day, there were new opportunities and challenges in photographing these animals. Spending time in this secluded region was about capturing oppositional forces: the hunt's energy and the wait's stillness.


In images like "In Wait" or "Katmai's Veil," I've captured the monumental calm between the bursts of motion that came with a salmon sighting.

"Katmai's Veil" 


In other images, like "Apex," I photographed this bear in what felt like his optimized form. Despite the mammoth size of many of these bears, they can pick up speed and move at a lightning-fast speed when they see prey.


With time, I noticed that bears each had their unique style of seeking fish, ranging from snorkeling to diving in face first to floating down the river. Any time there was a catch, you could be sure action would follow, whether another bear tried to steal the catch or others rushed to the scene hoping for more luck.


I came here to create images of brown bears, revealing their stories or telling you more about them through distinguishing details and nuance. The resulting works are a tribute to one of our enduring cultural symbols for strength, might, and power as they reign over an unconquerable swath of wilderness.

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