Tips & Tricks: Bear Photography

Bear Photography

By Hermis Haridas

A self-confessed nature lover and travel enthusiast, he became deeply involved in nature and bird photography and found himself traveling around, hunting for and trying to capture moments hitherto uncaptured. His trips to Russia, Sri Lanka, India and African continent gave him the opportunity to understand the nuances of wildlife photography. Hermis believes in the adage that “practice makes perfect” and there isn’t a day in his life without peeping at the world through his “third eye”. He holds his passion closest to his heart and dreams of making it big as a nature photographer. Website:

Bears are majestic and powerful animals and great subjects to photograph. The bears in the wild are dangerous and their behavior is at times unpredictable. Most bear attacks result in injury, which might even cause to death.

It’s a visual treat to anyone who enjoys wildlife to see them hunting fish, playing with each other, fighting and showing off  their power. Bears are more dangerous while they are with cubs. Even though the cubs are really interesting subjects to photograph, one has to be very careful during this time, as the mother will be in defensive mode to protect her cubs if she perceives you as a danger to them. So always keep a very good distance if you see a bear with cubs. It is always recommended to go in a small group with a ranger or a field guide to be on the safer side.

Always focus on the eyes while shooting bears. It is recommend to set your focus point to center point focus or center point focus with expand to five surrounding points. This will help to make sure that the focus does not keep on searching too often to areas of the frame that you don’t want the focus on.

Try to position yourself, or approach the bear from a down wind position. This will lessen the possibility of the bear smelling you and detecting your presence.

Keep an eye on what is around the subject and behind it. This helps us to determine what exposure compensation to use, if any, as well as having an object to take a light reading from so you can manually set your aperture and shutter speed for your wow shot.

One important factor for shooting animals in action is the direction of light. You have to be careful of where you are shooting in regards to the direction of the light source. Always try to have the light behind you lighting up your subject, unless you are trying for a backlit picture. Photographing keeping the light behind gives you the feasibility of increasing shutter speed that helps to freeze the fast motion.

In order to freeze motion we need to have a high shutter speed. When you are in the field check your settings often to make sure that you have a high shutter speed and the proper white balance. If you find the shutter speed low, then you can play around the settings such as increasing ISO or stepping down the exposure depending on the available light. Keep the shutter speed between 200-400 and the aperture to 6.5-8 while shooting the head shake of a bear in order to freeze the water drops around the bear’s head.

It is recommended that you shoot handheld as the bears move quickly and often. Focusing a fast moving animal using the camera mounted on a tripod would be difficult. If you have a fast enough shutter speed, hand holding a lens such as a 300 f2.8, 100-400mm or a 300 f4, 200-500, etc. should be fine.

Always shoot the bears from a very low level angle. Try to lie down on the ground while photographing the bears fishing for salmon so that it appears like the bear is coming straight towards your camera. Getting down near the water level to photograph bears makes a huge difference in the perspective.

Always keep the shooting mode on your camera to continuous shoot in order to shoot the maximum frames which will help to capture all the action.

These bears are Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) , photos taken in Kamchatka, Russia.

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