Nikon Learn & Explore

Photographing An Elusive Spirit Bear

Michelle Valberg photo of a spirit bear looking at the camera

© Michelle Valberg

Z 9, NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens, 1/1600 second, f/6.3, ISO 2000, manual exposure.

In the heart of Canada's pristine wilderness, I found myself standing before a breathtaking scene, camera in hand, ready to capture the raw beauty of nature. As a Nikon Ambassador for Canada and a wildlife photographer, my mission has always been to convey the essence of the wild through my lens—to elicit emotion, spark curiosity, and ignite a deeper connection between people and the natural world.

Thoughtfulness, intention, and emotion have always been the compass guiding my photographic journey. Each gentle click of the shutter stands as a humble testament to my dedication to conservation and my heartfelt commitment to unveiling the untamed narratives that our magnificent planet weaves.

Last fall, during an early morning journey into the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, the sun's gentle rays were just beginning to caress the landscape. A majestic spirit bear was emerging from the dense forest, a powerful embodiment of the wild's enigmatic allure. My heart raced with anticipation. This was my chance to capture a moment that could resonate with viewers, to create an image that would transcend the two-dimensional world of photography and transport them into the wilderness that is the bear’s world.

Michelle Valberg photo of a spirit bear among the rocks

© Michelle Valberg

Z 9, NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens, 1/1000 second, f/6.3, ISO 2500, manual exposure.

I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with bears, watching their behaviour, trying to understand their habits and movements. Knowing more about these creatures, allows me to predict their actions, which I believe helps increase my chances of capturing a moment of pure authenticity. Being a silent observer of awe-inspiring creatures, I rely on patience—which is my greatest ally. And to be honest… I don’t have patience for much else.

My intention behind every click of the shutter is not merely to document the bear's presence but to tell a story. I want viewers to feel the bear's power and vulnerability, to understand its role in the ecosystem, and to appreciate the importance of preserving its habitat. Many people have never heard of the rare and elusive Spirit bear before as they only exist in this remote region of British Columbia.

I believe the true magic lays in emotion—the key ingredient that elevates photographs from a mere visual experience to a profound connection. As I peered through the viewfinder, my heart swelled with a mix of admiration and humility. The spirit bear's eyes held a depth of emotion that resonated with my own. In that moment, I felt a profound connection to the wild, and I knew that capturing that emotion was the greatest key to creating an impactful image.

Michelle Valberg photo of a spirit bear in a forest

© Michelle Valberg

Z 9, NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens, 1/1600 second, f/6.3, ISO 2500, manual exposure.

As the bear moved gracefully through the river in search of salmon, I poured my own emotions into the image. My intention… to intrigue my viewers with curiosity and a yearning to know more about this beautiful creature.

The bear stood at the edge of a pristine river for a moment and then walked intently to the middle of the water. With the soft light of dawn casting a warm glow, the bear's eyes held a wisdom and a vulnerability that spoke to the soul. In that moment, I knew the opportunity was there to capture an image that could resonate with my viewers.

My journey as a wildlife photographer and Nikon Ambassador for Canada has carried me across the globe, offering me the gift of incredible experiences on every continent. Through the power of photography, I strive to inspire a new generation of conservationists, to create more engagement, and to foster a genuine interest in the preservation of our planet. Because, in the end, it is the emotion evoked by an image that has the power to change the world—one click of the shutter at a time.