For the next few days the film crew from Koas Entertainment would be guided by Kent. They had taken over my old campsite (now dubbed Camp Koas) and I had moved to a camp slightly north. Everyone was interested in shooting bears fishing, and as the occasional sockeye was making its way back and forth, it seemed that the bears had picked up their interest in their favorite food source. As we left camp Kent turned on his old transistor radio which picked up an odd music/weather station from Homer. He said the bears did not like Barry Manilow and it kept them away. I laughed when the station started playing a Celine Dion song, and I knew for sure the camp would be safe. I was happy to be going out to shoot bears fishing, it was fun with a lot of action and it was a situation I was both familiar and comfortable with.
There were several bears out fishing and Kent positioned the film crew to catch the action. We needed to be away from the camera men so that the sound of our camera shutters did not disturb their footage. Kent parked us quite a ways out in the shallow water of the braided flats. I thought we were too far away from the bears, especially since I was only shooting with a 70-200mm lens with 1.7X converter. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind when I spotted a sockeye swimming towards me. I thought ‘oh great here will be some action’ but at first the bears did not react. The fish swam closer, into the shallow water and ran aground about 10 meters from me and started flopping in the sand. “oh shit” I said out loud. Not because I was afraid of the bears coming that close, but because I knew that it would be only a matter of seconds before the bears would come after it, not enough time to switch to my short lens!
Sure enough the big female came thundering through the water and galloped right up and grabbed the fish. As if showing off she laid down facing us with her catch between her enormous paws and proceeded to devour it. I cant begin to describe the sound of a bear tearing apart a fish. The rip of flesh and crunch of bones, fish eggs squirting out, is quite the event. Minutes later another fish ran aground and we were again thrilled with close up action. The film producer was thrilled with the footage, it looks like they plan to use the piece with the bears starting at one end of the flats and charging right in front of the two photographers. It was an awesome morning shoot!
We arrived back at camp around noon and Kent took me for a short hike up on Bear View Bluff. The panoramic scene was breathtaking, looking down on the low tide. It was curious to see how many bear beds were situated at the top of the bluff. Little beds were dug in the most precarious places, all with the most amazing views.
Exhausted, we took a much needed mid-day siesta. I slept well for two hours and then spent some time changing my packs around. I was having a tough time with my camera bag and my back was starting to spasm. I had to come up with a better way to lug all this gear around. I pulled all my clothes out of my MEC backpack and reloaded it with camera gear. I figured, worst case scenario, the pressure points would just be in different places. It turned out to be much better. I also changed to carrying my tripod and big lens on my hip. Totally not cool but at that point I really just needed to be more comfortable with my load and didn’t care if I looked like an amateur in front of all these pros.
The fun part about shooting with the film crew was hearing about how they were composing their shots, their story lines and sequences. They were all experienced and well known photographers and between Kent’s advice and eaves dropping on the crew I was picking up great information. The name of the project was “Grizzlyland” and it was going to be a series of 8 shows.
We headed out again around 6pm which seemed to be just about the time it got cool enough to work and the light was less severe. It was turning into a record breaking summer for high temperatures in Alaska. The haze from the fires was starting to dissipate and some nice clouds were starting to appear. Finally some interesting skies were coming our way.
The evening shoot was back to the fishing area. When we arrived only one bear was out on the flats. Then, as if someone had rung the dinner bell, 4 bears appeared over the burm and the action was on! Not only were they catching fish but several arguments ensued. Loud roaring and much posturing took place as the bears reinforced the pecking order and defined their space. Bandit, a bear I had seen fishing last year, was there, the rest were older females. They were having no part of his antics of trying to steel fish and he was forced to fend for himself. The light was phenomenal and we shot until the sun went down, about 11pm.