In Bear Company

From time to time KPTMC will feature a guest blogger of THE KENAI. Today we would like to share an article written by Joyce Lehman about a place of legends, Hallo Bay Bear Viewing Camp.

My husband, Scott, has a passion for photography, especially wildlife photography. In 2006, we planned a trip to the Hallo Bay Wilderness Camp in Alaska, which is part of the Katmai National Park and Preserve. Hallo Bay offers one of the largest concentrations of Alaskan brown bears in the world. It also promises seclusion and an authentic experience of the wilderness.

Clint and Simyra Hlebechuk organize and run the camp in a manner that gives people an opportunity to view the wild animals in their natural habitat without disturbing the wilderness. Since our first visit in 2006, we have returned every year so that Scott can observe and photograph the Alaskan brown bear.

Getting to the Hallo Bay bear camp is an experience in itself. Once we arrive at Homer, Alaska, we board a small bush plane. The plane carries only five passengers, including the pilot. I am not fond of flying in general, so on our first visit, when I realized we would be landing on a narrow strip of beach, I closed my eyes, placed a death grip on my husband’s hand and prayed. But my fears were unfounded. It was one of the best landings I had ever experienced, especially considering that the landing strip changes with the tide.

When visiting between May and mid-July, we hike to a beautiful meadow where we see bears feeding on sedge grass as they try to fatten up after long months of hibernation. We also see spring cubs who are very cautious and stay close to their mothers.

When visiting between mid-July and mid-August, we hike to a different area, where the bears feast on salmon. Usually, the dominant male takes the best fishing spot and guards it from the others. At Hallo Bay, we enjoy watching bears fishing for salmon, digging for clams and nursing their young; dominating male bears protecting their territory by running off their opponents; nearly adult bears engaging in playful sparring bouts, and much more.

The Hallo Bay camp organizers have been guiding visitors to this area for over 20 years. The bears have even grown accustomed to the clicking of cameras; at times, you would swear they are posing. When they get tired of being photographed, they just walk off into the brush. While the bears tolerate human presence, one must never forget that they are large, powerful and wild animals. While not normally aggressive, they can be extremely dangerous, and it is best to be careful.

We ourselves have never been threatened by a bear. However, once we witnessed a ferocious fight between two adult males. While they were fighting, a third bear, who seemed rather anxious, circled around the whole time. The fight got nasty, and fur flew everywhere. Our guide explained to us that they were fighting over territory.

Bears are not the only subject for photographers. The area also teams with foxes, wolves, eagles, beavers, moose, seals and sea otters. My husband has photographed all of these animals. At the camp, we meet photographers from all over the world who share our enthusiasm for the bears — interesting people we would not have otherwise met.

When my husband first suggested that we go to the bear camp, I was less than enthused. Now I cannot imagine not going. It is truly an experience that everyone should explore at least once in their lifetime.

Thanks to her husband’s passion for wildlife photography, Joyce Lehman,

General Chemical Industrial Products, has become a bear camp enthusiast.

Click HERE to learn more about the Hallo Bay Bear Camp

The Great Alaskan King Salmon

Hooking and landing a big salmon is the dream of most of the fisherman who come to the Kenai Peninsula. From early May to the first of August fisherman from all over the world test their skill and luck chasing the allusive King. The world record King Salmon, caught by Les Anderson in 1985 in the Kenai River was, 97.25 lbs.  In fact, of the top 10 king salmon record holders, 9 of these fish were taken in The Kenai.

When the Kings begin their return to their spawning streams they will generally follow the Peninsula coastline until they get to their waterway and head up the stream or river of their hatch until they reach their original spawning beds. It is during this annual migration that the sport fishing for the King salmon in both the saltwater (from Anchor Point to mouth of the Kenai River) and freshwater (Anchor River, Deep Creek, Ninilchick River, Kasilof River, Crooked Creek and the Kenai River) is excellent.

How to catch an Alaska king salmon:  For the fisherman on an Alaska fishing vacation, the best way to catch the Alaska King salmon is to obtain the services of a professional Alaska fishing guide. State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics show in recent years that the unguided angler will spend nearly 40 hours fishing before he will even hook an Alaska King salmon. Guided Alaska fishing vacationers will often only spend a few hours before they land a big one.

Photographing your wild Alaskan experience

When capturing Alaska to take it home as your own, you need to know your boundaries.  We’ll start with wildlife. Alaskan wildlife is in fact wild.

A Grizzly Bear can run up to 35 miles per hour (or 55 km/h). Typically you’ll have wonderful opportunities to observe a bear in action, catching a salmon in mid stream, snuggling with her cubs or displaying their wild dominance by taking advantage of the awesome packages available through some of our local fly-out services.

While you prepare for your shot follow the critter with your camera. Taking pictures doesn’t mean FREEZE and CLICK! You will reduce motion blur  my following the action with precision.

The moose can be quite docile in appearance but very aggressive in protecting it’s territory. Males in prime condition weigh from 1,200 to 1,600 pounds (542-725 kg). Adult females weigh 800 to 1,300 pounds (364-591 kg). Only the bulls have antlers.

Having the right type of lens to shoot nature in low light is going to be key during Alaska’s fall and winter months. Something with a low aperture and a decent focal length. If you can afford it, a 70-200mm lens with a fixed aperture of two. Also understand that even with a lens like this, ISO 100 probably won’t do unless you have ventured to our land of the midnight sun during the summer months.

Alaska’s picturesque beauty will stun you. Experience raw depth, color, and still movement within our landscape. When shooting an unclimbable mountain or rich sunrise/sunset, there are a few factors to consider to encapsulate the perfect image.

Get up early or Stay Late

Know What the Weather is Doing

It might be nice and sunny at your place, but up in the mountains is a different story. The weather can change very quickly from sun to snow in a short space of time, so before you set off, make sure to check the forecast for the area you’re heading to, and if its looking a little dodgy, then be prepared by taking warm clothing and don’t forget your mobile! Take something to shield your camera from the worst as well.

Add Some Movement

Moving objects can add a lot to a mountain scene, conveying things like the blowing wind can really make a shot. Up in the hills, clouds tend to race across the tops, so capturing this motion can look quite striking, likewise with blowing trees, and grasses, having them blur a little gives your viewer a bit more input on what it was like at the time. Moving water in a mountain scene is a classic. Having a fluffy babbling brook in your shot can look great; try using a Neutral Density filter to allow you to extend your shutter speed.

Find the Angle

Its quite easy to just take shots from your standard tripod height, but this can lead to the same perspective in each shot you take. Try varying your view on the scene, get down amongst the grasses for a bugs perspective, or if you’re including a stream in your shot, try taking your shot from within the stream (if its safe to do so) for something a bit different.