I recently walked in the door from photographing bears for two solid weeks. 16,000 images of bears doing about everything you can imagine. Honestly, we had some of the best weather I have ever seen in Alaska in this area (I was there in June, and it rained multiple days). And we also got lucky with a very strong red salmon run. My main setup was a D6 with 500mm 5.6 PF for tight wildlife, and a Z7II with 24-200mm for scenic and backed-off shots. But one piece of gear was especially important this trip; a polarizing filter. Without it, I couldn’t have created some of my favorite images.
My favorite polarizer is the Singh-Ray LB Neutral Polarizer. This filter is not your ordinary polarizer. First, the glass is top notch. Go ahead and put it on your expensive lens, your images will be tack sharp. Next, this ‘LB’ filter transmits more light, so you don’t have to worry about your autofocus taking a hit. Things stay bright in the viewfinder, and you don’t need to crank up your ISO. And finally, this filter polarizes with a cool tone, so it works on red rock deserts or big mountain scenes with a clean color balance.
One image I have been trying to get for years is a grizzly bear surrounded by red salmon. I had plenty of bears with salmon in their mouths, but I wanted a higher viewpoint to show the scene from above. Luckily this trip I found a high bluff that looked straight down on a stream loaded with red salmon. Now I just needed a bear, and some sunshine. Getting a bear wouldn’t be too hard, we were seeing about 40-50 a day because the salmon run was so good this year. But sun, you can go days in Alaska and not see sun.
On day 12 of consecutive bear photo shooting, I got lucky. We were headed back to our floatplane and passed the high bluff above the river. Numerous bears were fishing in the schools of fish. But the sun didn’t look promising. We only had an hour before we had to get back on our plane, but amazingly a small hole in the clouds let the sun shine for a few minutes right on this amazing scene. The shot without a polarizer looked pretty bad. The water had a strong glare, the colors were washed out, and you couldn’t see the fish in the stream very well. But once the polarizer was on my lens, the scene transformed into the image I had imagined for years. This bear was snorkeling, putting his head underwater to watch the salmon. He waded right out into the middle of the school, and a perfect circle of fish surrounded him. Everything came together, and the polarizer made the image possible (image at top of post). You can’t control glare and reveal underwater features with photoshop filters, but using a polarizer makes it as easy as twisting the filter for the right effect. A polarizer is always in my photo pack and can transform a snapshot into a beautiful photograph.