Forgive yourself if your first Spirit Bear photographs turn out a bit blurry. That’s because it’s almost impossible not to tremble with excitement and awe the first time you witness a Spirit Bear materialize from dark, dense, moss draped old growth forest. Instantly, you understand why the First Nations peoples of the area refer to this magnificent creature as Moksgm’ol, the Ghost Bear.
Everything about Spirit Bears is special. They are one of the rarest bears on earth, with perhaps 200 to 400 in existence – no one knows for sure. They reside only in the pristine environs of the Great Bear Rainforest of coastal British Columbia, the largest temperate rainforest left on the planet. Neither a polar bear nor an albino, science explains Spirit Bears (Ursus americanus kermodei) as the product of rare recessive genes. But to the First Nations peoples of the area they are sacred symbols, Ghost Bears, their unique coloration the result of an ancient bargain made with Raven, the Creator, to remind us of an age when the world was covered with ice and snow.
Opportunities to photograph Spirit bears are almost as rare as the animals themselves. Most of the time, they lead solitary lives deep inside inaccessible rainforests. But for a few weeks each autumn, spawning salmon coax them to gather along coastal streams where they feast on Mother Nature’s annual abundance. Access to these areas is under the control of the local First Nations peoples like the Gitga’at. Practically speaking, the only reasonable chance of seeing and photographing Spirit Bears in the wild is to join an organized trip sanctioned by a local First Nations group. Our partnership with Gitga’at guide, community leader and “bear-whisperer”, Marven Robinson allows a small group of photographers to experience a wildlife photography opportunity of a lifetime. It is safe to say that no one alive has spent more time observing and working with Spirit Bears in the wild than Marven, which is why photographers and film crews from National Geographic, IMAX and the BBC invariably choose to work with Marven for their Spirit Bears projects.
Ken’s goal is to help you make the most of this opportunity and bring home portfolio-worthy images of Spirit Bears and other wildlife. He does this by using a combination of formal instruction and informal one-on-one coaching. Day 1 in Prince Rupert is dedicated to covering wildlife photography fundamentals as well as more advanced techniques specific to the conditions we will encounter in the rainforest. We will also spend significant time on practical ways to develop your Photographer’s Eye, the key to moving beyond mere animal portraits to more expressive photographs. After we arrive in Hartley Bay on Day 2, Ken’s focus will switch to more in-the-field coaching – answering technical questions as they arise and providing feedback on compositions, etc. Ken will also host several optional post-dinner sessions on image management and post-processing for those who have the energy.