Kamchatka, in the Russian far east, is a land of pure and wild nature. In the south of the peninsula is Lake Kuril, the largest sockeye salmon spawning site in Eurasia. Thanks to that fact, many brown bears come and feast on countless fish to gain weight before their winter hibernation.
In recent years I’ve been guiding photography workshops here every August. Last year, I spent 20 days at Lake Kuril, taking the shots you see. Of course there are new and different challenges every year. In 2018 the challenge was there were few salmon due to climate change and overfishing.
I’d always dreamed of travelling to Kamchatka since seeing a National Geographic special many years ago as a child. Getting to Lake Kuril in southern Kamchatka isn’t easy. It requires travelling by helicopter and spending many days there, sleeping in tents on the lake shores, in the ranger’s camp. It’s remote and without communication to the outside world, which in itself offers up a set of challenges.
While it’s one of the best places in the world to photograph wild bears up close in an intimate and relatable way, the bears can be incredibly dangerous. These are wild animals, and getting close does have its risks. Thankfully we were accompanied by rangers from the Russian Department of Nature Management. Said rangers decide what is safe and undertake all precautions required.
I always spend time thinking beforehand of what I want to photograph. Then I create a list of images and video footage I’d like to shoot while on the assignment. Of course, reality always ends up different from any list. Certainly, I create other, unexpected, images as well while on the journey, but even if I only get three or four images from my list, I’m more than happy with that.
Equipped for the job
I’m currently using the Nikon D850 along with Nikon 180-400mm f/4E 1.4TC FL ED VR, Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF VR and Nikon 500mm f/4E VR lenses. I love the quality and details that my Nikon provides and the flexibility of the new PF lens, which is very light and easy to work with. I also use a Gitzo tripod and Manfrotto video head for high-quality video-shooting situations.
I love spending time in the field – the wilder the place, the more content I am! Being so close to bears, observing their interactions with one another and witnessing their amazing characters is an experience unlike any other. And, of course, there’s that one thing only photographers can relate to, and that is sharing these experiences through images – whether it’s in magazines like N-Photo or online. Photography, for me, is about taking people with me on these wonderful adventures, and sharing the story of a subject, in this case, it’s these powerful brown bears.