There are few places on earth where one can experience true wilderness, as most areas are highly populated and harvested by men. To me, Kamchatka is still one of these places. With an area about the size of Germany and a population of a little more than 300k it is clearly dominated by nature. The peninsula is home to a special crater lake named ‹Kurile lake‹ on its southern tip. The area is full of local bears who eat lots of salmon. Some of the most impressive pictures of bears were probably taken right there. Hence I do understand why some people call it the ‹kingdom of brown bears›.
As the location is extremely remote, some local companies offer ferry flights in MI-8 helicopters (an experience by itself) from the capital Petropavlovsk to a camp site offering refuge to scientist who have been studying the bears for years.
The rangers show you around on their boats, which allows you to both get really close to the bears without disturbing them too much and effectively staying safe. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to mess with them. I have never seen so many bears at one single beach. Little ones, big ones, moms, single males.
Some of the details and textures of these animals are remarkable and only visible if you look at 100% crop images.
And this young guy tried to catch some fish but was out of luck.
After some time ‹Casanova› (that’s how the rangers called him) showed up and it was remarkable to see all of the others (in particular moms with pups) slowly vanish.
Casanova seemed to have had quite a few fights. At least his scars told that story ..
We did have some amazing encounters from within the camp. Interestingly, it was us humans who where fenced in for once.
On our way out in the MI-8 you could see some bear tracks in the high grass.
I shot most of the pictures on a Nikon D4 with a 70 – 200mm/2.8 or a D850 with a 80 – 400mm/5.6 at ISO around 1’000.
Once per year the Swiss Air Force invites the public to observe how their fighter jets do target practice in a Swiss valley called Axalp. This year, we won the lottery as the weather was magnificent, very little wind and no fog high up. There is one peak called Wildgärst on almost 3’000m above sea level which offers a 360° view of the spectacle. It is a 3 hour hike which we did during the night to be ready for the first low-pass flights early morning. What an experience!
I used a mix of Nikon D750 and D850, which delivered unprecedented results, especially with morning light and the right angles. I did learn though, that my 80 – 400mm lens is not ideal, especially if used with a 1.4x tele converter. Getting sharp and crisp images becomes close to impossible. If one is really serious about such images, I propose focal lengths > 400mm and non-zoom lenses (such as the new 500mm). Yet this setup can deliver quite the images, given you use the right settings and practice.
The following settings worked for me:
- Shoot in manual mode only
- Enable Auto ISO with a cap of about 3’200 (both cameras are superb at high ISO)
- Shoot at shutter speeds > 1/1’000 for jets, < 1/500 for turbo-props and < 1/250 for helicopters (shorter for larger rotorcraft)
- Don’t aim for bokeh and use apertures > 8
Now see for yourself.
I was really impressed by the sharpness and resolution the D850 produces. See a 100% crop of the F/A-18 on his back pictured above:
Thank you to my buddy Marc for teaching me how to photograph aircraft. He never risks a compromise in sharpness and relentlessly seeks yet the best aircraft shot. He is working on changing his 90-style website .. I took a screenshot for archive purposes, you never know.