Katmai Bear Trip with Cubs

The top image is a combo of Topaz Impression and Topaz Glow that I then converted to B&W. In this photo the sow and cubs are alerted by the scent of another bear; they have an exceptional sense of smell.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ~ One of my favorites, I am calling it “Teething”

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ~ It is beyond cute when one of these small cubs stands up.

I just got home after my very successful and fantastic Coastal Brown Bear Photo Workshop in Katmai National Park, Alaska. In my entire life I never thought that I would be so close to these bears with their small cubs. From the Alaska Department of Fish and Game site: Brown and grizzly bears are classified as the same species even though there are notable differences between them. Kodiak bears (brown bears from the Kodiak Archipelago) are classified as a distinct subspecies (U. a. middendorffi) from those on the mainland (U. a. horribilis) because they have been isolated from other bears since the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. “Brown bears” typically live along the southern coast of the state where they have access to seasonally abundant spawning salmon. The coastal areas also provide a rich array of vegetation they can use as food as well as a milder climate. This allows them to grow larger and live in higher densities than their “grizzly” cousins in the northern and interior parts of the state. .

And boy are they big!!! We stayed our distance as we watched and photographed the bears, observing their behavior. It was amazing to hear and even smell the bears as they ate their way through the lush green grass. But, at times we had to stand still so that we would not disturb them–as they got pretty close. I shot mostly with my EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens attached to my EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR Camera , which is a full frame body. It was a little sluggish when the action started and I missed the rapid fire of my Canon EOS-1D X DSLR Camera that I didn’t bring, however, I think the files look nicer! I also used myExtender EF 1.4X III and my Extender EF 2X III for some of the shots. Our guides were very professional and have been working in the National Park for over 20 years and they have the upmost respect for the bears and their natural habitat.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Some of the cubs have a white fur collar around their neck which they will lose by the time they reach two years old. Our guide said that these cubs were born in January or February and are referred to as a spring cubs as that is when they would have first emerged from their dens.

During the trip we were privileged to see sows nurse their small spring cubs. The tenderness was off the chart! After the feedings, we watched as the cubs played with milk laced mouths; all the time, staying very close to mama for safety– and for good reason. It would not be unusual for a boar to attack and kill the cubs. The female would fight –sometimes to the death to defend her cubs but if she survived and her cubs did not she would then mate with the boar to produce another batch of cubs. We did see a boar walk very close to a sow with three cubs and she held her ground, it was nail biting for a minute or two but the old boar just walked away as the sow was quite large and fit.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ~ The Twins

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ~ The Triplets

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ` This was one of the three year old cubs that had recently been kicked out of the family circle.

It seems so harsh when you watch the youngster coming to mama bear and she chases it away. Afterall she has new cubs to feed and care for…yikes! It broke my heart to watch as this young bear sat on the edge of the grass trying to feel close to its family. It was backlit so I decided instead of disturbing the bear’s rest I would shoot it that way–tight and backlit. The fur color tones varied between bears with some being much blonder than others, even in the same family.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ~ These were mid-sized cubs with milk all over their faces as they just finished feeding.

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography

Image © 2017/Denise Ippolito Photography ~ Just hanging on…

As you can see I spent a lot of time with the cubs but there were plenty of full sized bears to be had. I also thought that our time in Kodiak before the float plane was quite productive for shooting eagles. All in all it was an awesome trip and I am sooooo glad that I booked it three years ago!! I have loads more images to go through but I need to get some sleep first 🙂 .

Coastal Brown Bear Cubs in Kodiak Alaska ~ July 7-12, 2019
A Creative Adventure Workshop
5 Full days and 2 half days – $6899 Limited to 9 participants.

Join Denise Ippolito in spectacular Katmai National Park, AK for six days of photographing Coastal Brown Bears. Early July is prime time for viewing and making images of small, young milk-laced mouth cubs. The cubs, and these dates, are so popular that I had to reserve them well in advance to secure them. There are lots of bears each year in June, but the mothers only rarely risk bringing their tiny cubs out in the open for fear of predation by rival bears. In addition to making portraits of both adults and cubs, we hope to photograph the wrestling youngsters and the tender nursing scenes. At this time of year the bears are either grazing in lush grass or clamming. There will also be some two- and three-year old cubs to add to the fun. And we will get to photograph it all.

Our “base camp” is actually a 78’ boat that is anchored near the beach where we will get dropped off on by our 25 foot skiff which has lots of room for our gear. Meals on the boat are good and special dietary needs can be accommodated within reason. We will likely spend most of our time at Hallo Bay as that is where the bears with cubs are generally feeding. On the odd chance that we do need to relocate to another location we can do so quickly and easily without having to venture into any potentially rough seas.

Aside from the bears we will likely get to photograph Horned and Tufted Puffin Harbor Seal and Sea Otter in addition to Eagles. Halibut fishing (license required/not included) is optional.

It is mandatory that you be in Kodiak no later than the late afternoon of July 6th to avoid missing the float planes to our boat on the morning of July 7. With air travel in Alaska being what it is–with the chance of fog or other bad weather–being on Kodiak on July 5th is a much better plan.

We should get to photograph bears on our first afternoon and then again every day for the next five days after that, all weather permitting of course. On our last mornings on the boat, July 12, those who would like to enjoy one last photo session will have the opportunity to do so. The group will return to Kodiak via floatplane from late morning through midday. Most folks will then fly to Anchorage and to continue on to their home cities
What’s Included: 7 Days/ 6 Nights on the boat as above. All meals on the boat. National Park and guide fees. In-the-field photo tips, instruction, and guidance. Small group image review, image sharing, and informal Photoshop instruction on the boat.

What’s Not Included: Your round trip airfare to and from Kodiak, AK (almost surely through Anchorage). Your lodging and meals on Kodiak. The cost of the round-trip float plane to the boat and then back to Kodiak as above (approx. $600.00). The suggested crew tip of $200.

Deposit Info: A $2,000 per person non-refundable deposit by check only, made out to “Denise Ippolito” is required to hold your spot. Contact me via e-mail to sign up.

Your deposit is due when you sign up. That leaves a balance of $4899. The next payment of $2899 will be due on January 15, 2018. The final payment of $2000 is due on August 15, 2018. I hope that you can join me on this exciting adventure to walk with the bears!!

*This trip needs 8 participants to run. If this trip doesn’t run your entire deposit will be refunded.
*based on double occupancy

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23 Responses

  1. Tom Rostron says:

    Wow. Looks like I missed the best trip. Your images are again perfect. My favorite the 3 year old cub sleeping and the “Teething” pic, but love the rest of them to.

    Hi Tom, the most important thing is that you are well and there is always 2019!

  2. Richard Carlan says:

    Amazing images and wonderful narrative. Denise, you are truly at the top of your game.

    Thank you so much Richard, I appreciate it!

  3. David Steele says:

    I enjoyed this post so much – not only the beautiful photos but also the interesting and well-written copy that goes with them. Thanks for sharing.

    Hi David, thank you so much-it means a lot to hear those kind words.

  4. Sue Eberhart says:

    What a treat to see these intimate images and read your narrative, Denise. The trip was a treat for you and me, through your photos.

    Hi Sue, thank you so much, it was a great trip–sorry you were not there!

  5. Michael Zajac says:

    Great pictures Denise, It was a fun trip thank you.

    Hi Michael, glad you loved the trip!

  6. Sharon Hallowell says:

    I love the goofy one gnawing on the root/stick. All are fabulous!

    Hi Sharon, Thanks so much, that one is my fave too!

  7. Jim Fennessy says:

    I so loved this Brown Bear adventure. It was the trip of a lifetime. It was, by far, the best photography experience, and best nature experience, of my lifetime. Now to start processing my images.

    Hi Jim, I am so glad that you loved the trip, thank you for all of your smiles during our time there!

  8. Ed says:

    National Geographic quality Denise , award wining photographs , thanks for taking us along on your journey thats always surprising and fascinating with such natural beauty ….

    Hi Ed, thank you so much, that means a lot!

  9. Nancy Bell says:

    Fantastic images and story! Your tenderness shows in your images.

    Thanks so much Nancy, see you soon!

  10. What wonderful images Denise! Each one more entertaining than the last. Another trip to add to the ever-growing list. 🙂

    Hi Lori, Thank you. I could see you loving this trip!

  11. Kris Morgan says:

    Had been dreaming of bears and looking forward to our trip to Katmai NP and you didn’t disappoint. Your images and words reflect the awesome, magical time we had ‘dancing’ with the bears and cubs. Thanks for the wonder-filled, memorable experience.

    It was my pleasure Kris,I am glad you enjoyed the trip as much as I did! And we did see the cubs dance!!

  12. Neeta Kiran says:

    Beautiful frames Denise.. Each one bringing out the best..

    Thanks Neeta, I appreciate the kind words.

  13. Sally Foster says:

    It was indeed a fantastic trip. Sloshing through the waters with waders to reach the shore and following the “bear trails” was worth it–to see and be so near to the sows and their cubs and watch their behavior. When we thought one day was great the next day was even better. It was unbelievable! Thanks Denise so very much.

    Hi Sally, I am so glad you were on the trip, it was fantastic for sure. Loved every minute of it and you added so nicely to the group.
    hugs, denise

  14. What a treat to get that close-like you said!!! Love them all! I hope you and family–esp Jaxson–are doing well.

    Thank you Donna, much appreciated!

  15. Alan Lillich says:

    Wow. So, just how excited were you when you saw the cub chewing on the tree root?

    I knew that it was going to be a great opportunity so I tried to make the best of it and inch up a bit to fill the frame. I was elated!

  16. Kristen Eder says:

    Hi Denise,
    These images are great!! Bears are always so much fun to photograph, you never know what they will do.

    Hi Kristen,
    Thank you very much Kristen, yes, they are a trip!

  17. Pingback: Backlit Bear -Two Ways | A CREATIVE ADVENTURE photography by denise ippolito

  18. Hugh Metcalfe says:

    Hi Denise, did you use the Induro 304L for support or handheld?

    Hi Hugh,

    I used the Induro for most of my bear shots.

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