There are bears and then there are bears!
A bear cub laying on the shores at Lake Clark, Alaska as it mother hunted close by for fish
I recently finalized a photography tour to Alaska for next July which if you know me is quite the departure. I have never been one for traveling lots for photography. I have a ton of wildlife right here in my own backyard, the Boreal Forest plus my frequent trips to Jasper allow me to see and photograph grizzlies, bighorn and elk which I don't see in my region. My work focuses on telling the story of the wildlife of the Boreal Forest so I do not frequently travel globally to take photos of other species.
A behind the scenes look of the photography tour in Lake Clark, Alaska in 2021
Two years ago I went to Alaska, it was a very last minute decision. I was frustrated with some events that had happened in my life. Those events made me take stock of where I was in my life and that is when I made the commitment to seriously invest in my growth as a photographer. In what seemed like serendipity a well known wildlife photographer who I admired was leading a tour to Lake Clark and had a last minute opening. On the spur of the moment I replied to the email saying I wanted in and three weeks later I was on a flight to Alaska. I had seen bears all my life but they were frequently skittish, in terrible places to get good photos and usually with their heads down in grass or berries. So I was totally unprepared for Alaska. Here the bears were out in the open, no trees in front of them, in open meadows or along the shore or stream banks fishing. They really could care less about the people and you could stand 50 feet away from them with a bear guide with no issues. That closeness makes you really feel like you are in their world, there is an intimacy to it. Although I love the wildlife where I live I have been yearning to get back to Alaska to photograph bears ever since, the experience is like no other!
A male brown bear in the rain in Alaska
On that trip with me to Alaska was a gentleman that was a guide in Katmai National Park near Kodiak. We got to chatting and he talked about what it was like to photograph bears in Katmai. I was so intrigued with the idea and was very grateful when he invited me to come anytime to Kodiak to see the bears in Katmai. Last year I started talking seriously about doing a photography tour in Katmai with my friend as our guide. For those of you that follow my work you may know I did a podcast at the start of this year with Jenny Wong on the challenges of being a female wildlife photographer; believe it or not there is intimidation, bullying and harassment in this work even today. Wildlife photography is still a very male dominated field and sometimes as a female there are times you just do not feel safe in the field and it is not due to the wildlife. I know other female photographers who carry pepper spray and even knives with them. I have heard women myself included referred to in very derogatory terms in the field by male photographers and frequently male photographers will not make room for a female to get good shots and even deliberately try to block them out. Having said that though I have experienced and have had the privilege to work with some amazing male photographers, excellent men that I love to work with, are ambassadors for the profession and supportive of female wildlife photographers.
A male brown bear in a meadow, taken in Alaska
In thinking about getting back to the bears in Alaska and what a tour might look like to Katmai, I knew I wanted to do something different, something that was meaningful. This is when I started thinking about leading a tour for women by women, to provide a space where women could feel free to ask the questions they want to ask, to have the space they want in field, the time they want to spend in the field and get the positions they want in the field to get great shots. I wanted the women I lead on a tour to get assistance and guidance from a female photographer who has had some success and who knows what it takes to make a shot. I wanted them to know that there is space for women in this field and that other women are ready to help, mentor and guide them. I was fortunate to connect with Jennifer Hadley a very accomplished and award winning photograph who was totally on the same page and wanted to work with female photographers in the field too.
A mother brown bear and her cubs in Katmai National Park photo by Jennifer Hadley and used with permission
Through many zoom calls, emails and texts the trip came together. We were bold and we were daring, we decided we were not just going to fly into Katmai each day and photograph bears but we were going to stay there. Camp in the wild with the bears and provide an extraordinary experience that many women might not be comfortable doing with male counterparts; for 5 days in the backcountry, no internet, no access to the rest of the world, just us and the bears and our guide. After all the planning we waited for the camping permissions to approved by the parks service in Alaska and finally it was complete. We had everything arranged and booked and we were ready to announce to the world our tour. Jennifer and I were both nervous and excited and thankfully the response for the most part has been truly wonderful and supportive. In less than 24 hours we had 6 of the 8 spots booked with great participants, who were enthusiastic and excited about the trip and the unique opportunity.
A mother brown bear and her cub in the meadow at Katmai National Park photo taken by Jennifer Hadley and used with permission
Those bears oh yes those bears, to get back to them in Alaska, in a majestic space and share that experience with other female photographers for their first time or their fifth time is something I am so looking forward to and know it will be an experience of a lifetime. One trip on the spur of the moment two years ago, that time in the wilderness, those gorgeous bears who let me experience their world Lake Clark and the people I was with on that tour have all played a part in leading me down this path to today. To work with two extraordinary people in planning this trip and the privilege to be trusted by a great group of ladies who have put their faith in me and Jennifer for this experience is a gift. There are bears but then there are bears and the bears in Alaska I have to thank on sending me on this special journey.