Great Bear Rainforest

Grizzly bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
Grizzly bears are common inhabitants of the Great Bear Rainforest. At the time of year I was there, late June, their principal diet is sedge grass, which grows abundantly along the banks of the streams.

The skies were dramatically overcast. Rain, which had threatened for some time, had just begun to fall. The protected waters surrounding the islands of the rain forest on British Columbia’s west coast were calm; our small aluminum boat rocked gently as we made our way slowly about 50 yards out from the shoreline of one of those islands. This is a pristine world, still largely untouched by the hand of man. This is a place they call “The Great Bear Rainforest.” Ancient western red cedar, Sitka spruce trees and dense green undergrowth reach right to the water, curtailed by an almost perfect horizontal line, which indicates the high tide mark.

Then came the call, “There’s a spirit bear.” Charlie, elder of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation and the skipper of the boat, had made the sighting.

My quest to see and photograph this beautiful creature had its origins, like many other of my photographic adventures, in an email, which came to me in early April 2017 from Chris Steppig of Summit Workshops. The subject of the email, “Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia,” caught my eye, and as I read “… an opportunity right up your alley,” I was committed before I had even finished reading the message. I have a long-standing interest in apex predators and bears in particular. Photographing grizzly bears in Wyoming in 2013 and 2016 provided me with some cherished photographic moments. I was keen to continue my quest to photograph other bear species, and to understand the conservation issues surrounding them and to see how those issues related to many of the endangered fauna species in Australia, my home.

To get the best results from this expedition, I knew I needed to be prepared. Just turning up and hoping for the best was not an option. Preparation involves research; I needed to understand the history and geography of the region as well as the habits and behaviors of the animals I was likely to encounter. I also needed to understand the photographic limitations that I could be facing. Low light, wet weather, moving subjects and possibly shooting from an unstable platform would all impact on my ability to get sharp, clear, well-composed photos.

Tidal zone, Great Bear Rainforest
In the tidal zone, a part of the pristine wilderness that makes up the Great Bear Rainforest.

Time for a camera upgrade. I knew I would often be shooting at high shutter speeds to freeze moving wildlife, so high ISO performance would be important to give me shutter speeds of 1/1600 sec. or faster. A high-speed continuous shutter burst rate would also be advantageous to capture birds in flight and other faster-moving animals. This would also become very helpful with composition when shooting with a longer lens from a small boat as holding the camera still would be near impossible. There is always compromise when selecting camera gear, but my choice of a Canon EOS 7D Mark II, with its 10 frames per second shutter burst and great high ISO capability, paired with my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens, served me well.

A Pristine, Temperate Rainforest

There are no roads into the Great Bear Rainforest, located approximately 350 miles north of Vancouver. Access is by water, floatplane or helicopter. Our journey began on a clear-skied summer morning as we assembled at Vancouver’s South Terminal ready to board our twin engine Pacific Coastal Airlines plane, which took us on a 90-minute scenic flight over snow-capped ranges and coastal islands to the small village of Bella Bella, on Campbell Island. A couple of mini buses transferred our party of 10 photographers from the modest airport on the edge of the village to the dock where our small but functional water transport awaited to ferry us to our final destination. Just under two hours later, after bouncing across stretches of open ocean and gliding smoothly along more protected waterways and inlets, we arrived at the dock of the Spirit Bear Lodge, our home for the next five days in the remote but delightful village of Klemtu.

Snowmelt in the Great Bear Rainforest
Snowmelt cascades through the rainforest into the tidal waterways of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The Great Bear Rainforest is estimated to be approximately 12,000 square miles and has been described as one of the largest remaining unspoiled temperate rain forests in the world. Standing on the Spirit Bear Lodge dock, it is impossible not to be taken by the silence, save only for the whistle of a passing bald eagle—a common sight around the village—or the distinctive screech of a raven.

The next four days would see our explorations beginning just after breakfast, heading out in our trusty 12-seater boat before scrambling aboard six-person rubber inflatables, allowing us to probe much further up shallow glacier-fed streams with their verdant sedge grass and lupine-covered banks to photograph and bask in the tranquility of the surroundings. The Great Bear Rainforest is home to a vast array of wildlife, including brown bears, black bears, wolves, mink and other land mammals, birds and marine animals like orcas, humpbacked whales, seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and many more. It is a large, pristine wilderness.

We learned of the importance of the salmon as they make their way determinedly up to their freshwater spawning grounds, not only as a food source for bears and wolves but also eagles and ravens and many other scavengers who devour the fish carcasses. Researchers have discovered traces of salmon many miles away from the water, remains of the decaying fish breaking down to become the fertilizer on which so much of the forest depends. Declining salmon populations, brought about by many factors like climate change, sedimentation of spawning grounds and commercial fishing, has the potential to impact large chunks of this fragile ecosystem.

The Spirit Bear

The Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), or spirit bear, has its scientific origins as a subspecies of the black bear (Ursus americanus). A black bear with white or creamy colored fur, it is has no relationship to a polar bear and is not an albino. It shares the dark brown eyes and dark nose of its black bear cousins. A small percentage of black bears in the Great Bear Rainforest (estimates are in the order of 20 percent) carry a recessive gene. When both parents carry this recessive gene, the offspring will have white fur. I think I rather prefer a more spiritual explanation of the origins of the spirit bear, passed down by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people of the region. It is said that at the end of the “Ice Age,” the Creator (the Raven) chose to leave a small number of white bears as a reminder that the region was once covered in snow and ice, and that it needs to be cared for and preserved.

Regardless of its origins, the spirit bear is extremely rare and lives exclusively in these island rainforests. It is estimated that as few as 60 to 100 spirit bears exist today. While it is illegal to hunt the white bear, the spirit bear population is nevertheless under threat, partly due to the misguided notion by some hunters that killing the dark-coated bear will preserve the white-coated animals. Hunting of black and grizzly bears continues in the Great Bear Rainforest, although it has been announced that “trophy hunting” of grizzly bears will be banned at the end of the 2017 hunting season.

“You have to ask yourself why you care.” In the still calm of a clear twilight evening at the Spirit Bear Lodge, Mike Forsberg offered that suggestion to me to answer the question, “How can we make a difference?” It is so easy to come up with a glib, superficial answer to that question. “Oh, I want the next generation to see what I saw. I want to give voice to creatures who can’t speak for themselves.” Yes, I want those things, but is that enough? I do care, fervently. My passion emanates from a deep spiritual connection to nature and wild places and a desire to capture images of these special places to help others engage in a subject that is becoming remote from our increasingly urbanized society.

Bald eagle in the Great Bear Rainforest.
This bald eagle, perched on a dry limb hanging out over the water, kept a keen eye on the receding tide for a meal.

The Kitasoo/Xai’xais people, spiritual custodians of this land, embrace the philosophies of tread lightly, take only what you need and leave the rest. Working with scientific researchers, they have implemented a non-invasive method of studying animal behavior. Bears in the Great Bear Rainforest are not tagged or interfered with in any way. Their habits, diet and movement are studied through careful observation and analysis of hair and other samples collected from their territory.

“There’s a spirit bear.” Charlie’s call had come just before midday on our last day. We were not supposed to see a spirit bear. It was too early in the season, they wouldn’t be down close to the water for another month or six weeks, the salmon are not running yet, they said. I had a strong feeling to the contrary. We had to at least go and see where she might be, so our guide agreed to take us. There she was, grazing on sedge grass at first, then moving slowly but purposefully along the shoreline, allowing us a few precious moments to be in her space before she faded into the shadows of the forest. We had just witnessed the rarest bear species and one of the rarest mammals on earth. A gift indeed.

Spirit bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
A special gift. This spirit bear made a brief appearance along the shoreline before fading back into the forest.

It is a sad fact, and a sign of the precarious times in which the spirit bear lives, that we were asked not to reveal the exact location of our sighting in any of our social media posts and to disable any GPS references from the metadata attached to the photo files we posted. Apparently, there are people keen to grab this information and pass it on to illegal hunters.

Photographing in these conditions—a moving subject, from a moving platform (a boat) in gloomy low light—was challenging. Coming away with an image of this beautiful, rare creature in her world left me with a spiritual connection to this place that I will never forget.

David Mackenzie is a nature and conservation photographer based in South East Queensland, Australia.


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3 Hours of Milky Way Editing in 60 Seconds!

Above is a time lapse video of my roughly 3 hour editing session for this photo condensed into 60 seconds. This includes raw image prep in Lightroom, star stacking in Starry Landscape Stacker, blending the sky and foreground in Photoshop, and final creative edits in Photoshop.

It’s Milky Way season again! At least in my neck of the woods, starting in February the bright photogenic Galactic Center of our Milky Way Galaxy is visible on moonless nights, and will be visible until about October-ish. For my first shot of the season I did something I never do — intentionally shoot the Milky Way over a town, straight into light pollution. I didn’t think this would work but I was actually able to get quite a bit of detail in the Milky Way. The mini-stream in the foreground is run-off from recent heavy rains we had here, which made for a nice foreground element at low tide amongst the seaweed covered rocks.

Milky Way Over the Village of Lubec, Maine

Nikon D850 and NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8 lens @ 14mm. This is a blend of multiple shots. The sky is a result of star stacking 20 separate exposures, each at ISO 6400 for 10 seconds @ f/2.8. The star stacking was done in Starry Landscape Stacker (Mac only), but you can do it in Sequator for Windows, or Photoshop. The result is a sky with pinpoint stars and low noise. That result was then blended with 3 foreground exposures, each shot at different focus distances for focus stacking (increasing depth of field). Each foreground shot was at ISO 1600, with 2 at f/2.8 for 4 minutes and one at f/4 for 8 minutes. The final result is an image with low noise and everything in focus from the stars to the foreground rocks.

Learn more about my Milky Way editing techniques through my video tutorials for sale on my website,

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Photo Of The Day By Stephani Holdorf

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Bottoms Up at Sunset” by Stephani Holdorf. Location: Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Photo By Stephani Holdorf

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Bottoms Up at Sunset” by Stephani Holdorf. Location: Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including Assignments, Galleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

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Photo Of The Day By Lia Smaka

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Lake Catherine” by Lia Smaka. Location: California.
Photo By Lia Smaka

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Lake Catherine” by Lia Smaka. Location: California.

“Lake Catherine sits below North Glacier Pass, in the Ritter Range of the High Sierra,” describes Smaka.

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including Assignments, Galleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

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Panasonic Lumix GX9

If the Lumix GX9 looks familiar, that’s because externally it’s almost indistinguishable from the Lumix GX8, Panasonic’s previous premium rangefinder-style mirrorless camera. The Lumix GX9 does not replace the cheaper but similar-looking Lumix GX85 (GX80 outside the US), but we can assume it will take over from the Lumix GX8.

While things may look the same on the outside, a few things have changed inside, although the Lumix GX8, launched way back in 2015, was arguably ahead of its time, and the improvements here are subtle rather than revolutionary. Panasonic is pitching the Lumix GX9 at amateur photographers who want a ‘professional’ experience.

The difference between this camera and Panasonic’s new Lumix G9 is that the Lumix GX9 is a smaller, more compact camera designed for portability – hence the ‘street’ camera label. The G9 is a bigger camera styled like a DSLR and better suited to sports, action, bigger lenses and more ambitious styles of photography.


  • Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor, 20.3MP
  • 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,240,000 dots
  • 4-stop built-in image stabilization

Panasonic uses Micro Four Thirds sensors, which are smaller than the APS-C sensors in most interchangeable lens cameras, but match them pretty well for performance and image quality. 

The Lumix GX9 comes with 4K video, as we’d expect from Panasonic, and the company has also enhanced its 4K Photo modes. Here, the camera uses its 4K video processing power to capture images designed to be exported as 8MP stills. The 4K burst mode captures frames at an impressive 30fps, and the GX9’s new auto marking feature puts markers in the burst where there’s a significant change in the frame contents to help you find key moments later.

The 4K Post Focus mode is even more impressive. The camera captures a short burst using every focus point, and in playback mode you can simply tap on the picture to choose the focus point you want. This enables you to do something which feels like it ought to be impossible: focus after you’ve taken the shot. And new in the Lumix GX9 is in-camera focus stacking, so you no longer need a computer to merge a series of images with different focus points into a single photo that’s sharp from front to back – something that's impossible to achieve in macro photography with a single exposure.

There are also new focus and aperture-bracketing modes, and Panasonic has extended the battery life in Power Save mode to 900 shots, and increased the regular burst rate to 9fps (with focus locked on the first frame) or 6fps with autofocus.

The in-body image stabilization system has been enhanced with 5-axis compensation

Inside, the in-body image stabilization system has been enhanced with 5-axis compensation, which works alongside Panasonic’s in-lens optical stabilizers to enable you to use shutter speeds four stops slower than would otherwise be possible and still achieve sharp shots.

The Lumix GX9 now has Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi, and analog film fans will be pleased to hear there’s a new L.Monochrome image style, along with a Grain effect available in three different strengths for enhancing that ‘film’ look.

Build and handling

  • Rangefinder body with tilting EVF and LCD
  • External EV compensation dial and focus lever
  • Weighs 450g

The Lumix GX9’s body may be designed in the style of a compact rangefinder camera, but it’s actually quite substantial, and no smaller than a Sony A6000-series camera (such as the Alpha A6300) or even the compact DSLR-style mirrorless Fujifilm X-T20. This does give the Lumix GX9 a quality ‘feel’, although given the size of the body it’s a shame there aren’t a few more external controls.

There is a mode dial on the top plate and, stacked below it, a EV compensation dial, and the focus lever on the rear of the camera can be used to switch between AF-S (single shot), AF-C (continuous AF) and Manual focus modes, but other routine settings like the drive mode, 4K Photo modes, focus point selection, ISO and white balance settings rely on buttons and the Lumix GX9’s on-screen interface. 

While the GX9’s weight and solidity give it a ‘proper camera’ feel, its reliance on menus and icons for routine adjustments can be tiresome

While the GX9’s weight and solidity give it a ‘proper camera’ feel, its reliance on menus and icons for routine adjustments can be tiresome. The touchscreen is responsive and effective, though, and you can use the twin control dials for menu and feature navigation rather than tapping on the screen.

The top dial is easy to spin with your forefinger. The rear dial is squeezed in above the thumb rest on the back of the camera and isn’t quite so easy to use, however, and it has a ‘click’ action which you can sometimes engage accidentally when you meant to spin the dial.

The electronic viewfinder is very good, and even offers a 90-degree tilt for viewfinder fans who find themselves working at awkward angles. The rear screen also tilts, but stops short of a fully-articulating pivot, so it doesn’t work as well when the camera is held vertically.

Image quality

  • ISO200-25,600 (expandable to ISO100-25,600)
  • No optical low pass filter
  • Monochrome Image Styles

We'll need to spend more time with the camera to fully review performance and image quality to get the full picture on how the Lumix GX9 performs, but did get to shoot with the camera.

Panasonic has removed the low-pass filter from the sensor in the Lumix GX9 to further enhance fine detail rendition. This does increase the risk of moiré effects (interference patterns) in fine textures and details, visible in some of the shots we took with the camera, but it squeezes the absolute maximum detail from the sensor. We obviously couldn't look at raw files either, so check back once we've got full review sample.

Early verdict

With a launch price of £699 body-only in the UK and AU$1,399 for the 12-32mm kit in Australia (US pricing is still to be confirmed), the Lumix GX9 looks good value. 

It’s well made and packed with high-end features. We tried it with Panasonic’s retracting 12-32mm zoom, which is a good size match for the GX9’s body; longer lenses, such as the Panasonic and Leica 12-60mm lenses, could make it a little more front-heavy, but there is a 14-42mm kit lens option too.

Even though the emphasis is on classic camera styling and handling, we think the Lumix GX9’s appeal lies more in its digital capture and processing technologies than in its physical design. If you’re really into knobs and dials rather than menus and icons, you might be disappointed.

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