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  • Aiming at a fraction of a second: photographing bears in Kamchatka Peninsula with Renowned Wildlife Photographer Roie Galitz

  • The Kamchatka Peninsula is a remote area of land situated in north east Russia. The climate is unforgiving with temperatures reaching as low as -20 degrees in winter. Despite this, the environment is rich in wildlife and provides plenty of resource for its most popular resident – the Kamchatka brown bear. Here, renowned and passionate wildlife photographer, Roie Galitz, explains why he visits the region each year to capture one of the nature’s most iconic hunters in action.

    The location

    Kamchatka produces up to one-fourth of all wild Pacific salmon and hosts the greatest diversity of salmonid species on Earth. Its vast network of free-flowing river networks – unaltered by human development – provides an ultimate hunting ground for brown bears, who use the location to perfect the art of catching fish.

    ‘Young cub’ Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR | 330mm | f/7.1 | 1/1000 s | ISO 400 © Roie Galitz

    Despite Kamchatka attracting a healthy 2,000 visitors every year, Roie is encouraging more photographers and tourists alike to experience the picturesque scenery and vibrant wildlife during peak season, which is late summer and early autumn.

    I have traveled all over the world photographing these animals and learned they behave differently everywhere I go. Here, they are calm and relaxed which is why I have been coming back to this exact spot for three years. The bears pay hardly attention whilst I’m shooting – they are too busy fishing!

    The right kit for photographing bears in the wild

    Each year Roie sets up camp by Lake Kurile, towards the southern tip of the peninsula. When discussing the challenges and opportunities of photographing these majestic creatures, Roie responds:

    I opt for the D5 every time I’m in a situation that promises fast-paced action because I love the camera’s incredible speed. You can shoot at up to 12 fps with AE/AF tracking, or at up to 14 fps with mirror up. This rapid frame rate is perfect for bear movements and expressions that can be over in a fraction of a second.
    Also, I use the camera’s continuous focus capabilities – AF-C – normally with single AF points. Sometimes, if the action is really fast, I use the group AF mode so I don’t miss the subject when it’s moving erratically at speed.

    Although the temperament of the bears in Kamchatka is somewhat relaxed, they remain unpredictable. For this reason, Roie always recommends keeping a safe distance, no matter how relaxed they may seem.

    From experience, I’ve learned these bears can move fast, very fast, so I would always recommend keeping a safe distance between you and the subject. I like to pair the NIKKOR AF-S 500mm F4/E FL ED VR with the D5. For wildlife photography, it’s one of the best lenses out there; the image quality, low-light performance and focus speed are brilliant.
    ‘Feeding time’ Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR | 400mm | f/8 | 1/1250 | ISO 500 © Roie Galitz
    Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR | 350mm | f/7.1 | 1/1600 | ISO 400 © Roie Galitz
    Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR | 400mm | f/8 | 1/800 | ISO 800 © Roie Galitz

    Roie’s recommendation to photographers interested in visiting the Kamchatka Peninsula

    Lake Kurile is the second largest salmon spawning site in the world. It continues to be a point of interest for scientists, globally, who are learning more about the migration and reproduction patterns of salmon in the region. It’s an area of natural wonder and for this reason, its potential for photography is significant. I can’t recommend it enough.
    Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR | 230mm | f/5.6 | 1/1250 | ISO 640 © Roie Galitz

    Interested to see more from Roie Galitz or perhaps join him on one of his expeditions to some of our planet’s most incredible destinations? Visit his website