This week’s guest Blogger is Cindy Tucey, a former member of the Manassas Warrenton Camera Club now based in California.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is home to approximately 300-500 bears, making it one of the most densely populated areas for black bears in North America! However, despite this density, spotting and photographing a bear while in the park is a treat and can be challenging. If you are lucky, you may see bears foraging for food in the forest while on a hike or crossing the road when driving on Skyline Drive (so please drive the speed limit to avoid hitting them!).
The summer and fall months tend to be the best for seeing bears in Shenandoah. By early summer, mother bears have emerged from their dens with their young cubs, who will spend one year with their mother before venturing off on their own. In the fall, black bears spend 16-20 hours per day foraging for food in preparation for their winter hibernation. Their diet consists of plants, grubs, insect larvae, nuts, acorns, fruits, and since they are opportunistic in nature, bears will occasionally go after other animals.
While bears can be seen anywhere in the park, we have typically had good luck seeing bears in the Big Meadows and Skyland areas, including near the Big Meadows campground. We have also seen bears on many of the trails, such as Cedar Run, Whiteoak Canyon, Hawksbill, and Stony Man. Last June, we saw a mother bear teaching her cubs to turn over rocks looking for grubs in the forest near the Big Meadows Lodge.
Here are a few tips for photographing the bears in Shenandoah:
1) Use a telephoto zoom lens, which allows for full-frame shots while maintaining a safe distance and not frightening the bear. Bears are wild animals and as such it is important to not approach them too closely.
2) Also, be sure to check the histogram, as it may be necessary to manually underexpose the photo by ½ to 1 stop since the black fur can trick the camera’s meter into thinking the scene is very dark.
3) Finally, it can be difficult to get fast enough shutter speeds because there is less light in the forest and due to the fact that bears are most active at dawn and dusk. To counter this, try taking a burst of photos in the high-speed burst mode, as a few photos will likely be sharp even at relatively slow shutter speeds.
We were fortunate to come across this black bear in late October 2010 in Shenandoah, near the Big Meadows area. He seemed plump and about ready for hibernation, even sitting down and yawning several times before ambling off through the woods.
Technical Details of the Photograph: Canon 7D, Canon 100-400mm lens, f5, 1/125 sec.