Tips for photographing bears from hides

There are a couple of things to consider when photographing wildlife from a hide. Preparation is key, so I thought I should write something about this. Hopefully someone will take away something from this. It will help a lot if you can get some information about the hide you are going to stay in. email the company that you are going to and try also to get them to send pictures of the hide, both inside and outside so get a sense of the layout. In most cases the organizer has several hides to choose from. Try and book which hide you would like to use in advance. Witch hide you prefer depends on your photography goals.

Try and get answers to these questions.
1.     Will I be sharing the hide with some else or am I alone?
2.     Is there a bed in the hide?
3.     Is there a sleeping bag and pillow in the hide for cold nights?
4.     Witch directions is the hide facing?
5.     Is there a toilet in the hide?
6.     Can I get low eye-level shot from the hide?
7.     How many camera openings does the hide have?
8.     When do we enter and leave the hide?
9.     What is the transportation to and from the hide?
10.   What is the walking distance to the hide?
11.   Can I use a tripod or is it enough with just the ballhead?

Every organizer has a set of rules that must be followed, so keep an eye out for that information.

Benefits of using hide
1.     Hide is ideal that will increase your chances to get stunning pictures
2.     You can get very close the subjects
3.     You can observe natural behaviour
4.     You can move around inside the hide

What to bring
1.     Binoculars
2.     Ballhead/Wimberley head for your lenses
3.     2-3 camera bodies
4.     Lenses. It all depends on what you own but try and bring at least a normal, midrange zoom and a telephoto 300 – 800mm.
5.     Memory cards
6.     Spare batteries
7.     Wireless remote can be handy to use
8.     Snacks to keep you awake
9.     Coffee or Tea
10.   Water
11.   Sandwiches
12.   Indoor slippers can be nice to have if it gets cold
13.   Gloves and hat
14.   Fleece sweater
15.   Wool base layer

Know your gear
Know your gear before entering the hide is very important. Things can happen very fast in the wild, so you have to be prepared when things happen. There can be many hours when nothing is happening, but the light often keeps changing so it’s important to continually change your settings and be prepared for quick action and when the unexpected happens.  Dependent on what kind of wildlife you are photographing, it can be a good idea to use silent mode (if your camera supports it), at least for the initial shoots you take. Always keep an eye on the wildlife and see if they react to your camera shutter. In my experience as soon as the wildlife starts to eat they get less sensitive for sounds and camera movement.

Get to know your animals
Read up on the animals your about to photograph. Try and learn as much as possible about their behavior before your trip.

When to go
It all depends on what you want when photographing bears. It’s not much use going during winter when they are hibernating, but it can be a very interesting time in late winter when they come out of there hibernation. You can some very unique pictures of bears in snow. In Scandinavia there is a chance you can spot both wolverine and wolf, since they are looking for food all year around.

Spring
Early spring is the time when the bears have to catch up on food. From middle of May throughout June is the mating season. If you are lucky enough to see this or even photographing mating, then you have a chance to take some really interesting behavior photos.

Summer
Summer can be a great time to photographs young bear cubs with their mother. Normally it’s a better chance to see cubs during summer after the mating season.

Autumn
Now is your chance to take some nice pictures with bears in autumn colors.

Last thoughts
It’s easy to get caught in photographing the animals, but don’t forget to stop taking pictures and just watch their behavior and enjoy the moments you get. Keep you self-busy if you get bored by photographing nature and birds. Do not use any mosquito repellent or any kind of deodorant!

European herring gull and Smew

Brown Bears in Finland

Here are some pictures from my last trip to to northern Finland in May. 5 days in different hides gave us some unique opportunities with bears. We had a lot of encounters with yearlings still with it's mother. It's great fun to watch these 1 1/2 year old cubs fight with each other, training for adulthood.

Bear on the bog in evening sunlight

Yearling trying to figure out who I am through the blind opening

Yearlings fighting

You bear drinking water in the spring heat

Yearling sparring on the bog

Yearling and it's mother

Curious bear trying to figuare out what our hides are

We had one opportunity with Wolverine which lasted for only a few minutes