Behind The Image: Midnight Ghost

Brown bear tour in Finland

Behind the image 

High summer on the Finland-Russia border brings with it a mixture of weather conditions. Hot daytime temperatures and humid air can produce powerful thunderstorms; with clear skies often leading to cooler nights. In August, weather like this is common, and an exceptionally warm day quickly cooled after the sun had set. Light levels dropped significantly around 11pm, as a thick layer of mist rose off of the swamp, shrouding the surrounding environment. After the ‘prime’ golden light had long passed, and the light faded I decided to call it a day and get into bed. Minutes later I heard a distant splashing sound, which got louder and louder, soon followed by the eerie sound of a bear breathing heavily outside the hide. I got out of bed and peered outside, to see a ghostly silhouette passing through the mist by the front of my hide. The light was poor; however, I was able to capture a single sharp silhouette before the bear moved on. Atmospheric lighting and weather conditions may push your camera to its technical limit, but allow you to capture powerful images that aren’t usually possible.

Equipment & Settings:

Canon 5D mark 3; Canon 300mm F2.8 lens; F2.8; ISO 2000; 1/30th.

Tips for photographing bears in low light:

The use of a full frame camera and a fast lens is important when photographing with limited light levels. A stable tripod head or beanbag is also essential to capture sharp images with slightly slower shutter speeds. I shot this image using manual mode to give full control over settings. The use of a high ISO was important, so to increase the light sensitivity of the camera's sensor as the bear appeared. When photographing moving subjects in low light, shooting with the largest aperture is essential, letting more light into the camera through the lens. I then experimented with the shutter speed, checking the sharpness of the image and the exposure after each attempt. In low light, the camera may struggle to autofocus and lock on to the subject, in which case manual focus should be used to capture sharp images. When you are happy that your settings are correct, shooting lots of images in a sequence will give a greater chance of rendering at least a few sharp images.