Les Picker is a professional landscape, wildlife and award-winning travel photographer, and a Moab Master photographer for Moab Fine Art Papers. This month, we are going behind the lens with Picker as he tells the story of finding the perfect shot in the Alaskan wilderness.
I captured this image in Alaska, but the back story of how I got this image is what I think will be of interest to photographers. Moral of this story: perseverance matters.
I was in Canada’s Yukon Territory where I lead a photo expedition each year. Once the expedition was over, I took a week photographing by myself. Unfortunately, the bad weather pushed me further south to Haines, Alaska.
There is a riverine system in Haines known as the Chilkoot where bears gather to gorge themselves on salmon before winter’s sleep. I love photographing grizzlies. They are the apex predator in these parts and they are a joy to watch and document. For three days I followed a sow and her two cubs, photographing from early morning to sunset. I got some good images, but none of them stood out.
On the fourth day I had to leave Haines by noon in order to get back to Whitehorse, Yukon to catch a flight home. I vacillated between getting up early to get one more try at this bear family or to just sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading home. Fortunately, I chose the former.
For two hours I watched the playful cubs bothering mom with their antics. Finally with only an hour to go before I had to leave, mom entered the water for some serious fishing. She sampled a few salmon, taking a bite before going on to the next one. I kept my telephoto glued to her face, watching her jump after one fish, then another. Finally, she surfaced with the salmon you see in the image here. One of the last frames I got was of her with her awesome claws clutching her prey. I knew I had the image I had been chasing for years. I collapsed my tripod and headed for home.
What I love most about the image is the predator-prey storyline, the ultimate gift of one life to sustain another, so that mother and cubs might better survive the impending brutal winter. As I captured the images I was also conscious of the fact that she, in turn, was giving me a wonderful gift.