The Great Bear Rainforest is a natural eden. Two-thirds the size of Ireland, it is one of the world’s most special wild places. Picture ancient trees, up to a thousand years old, with extraordinary animals, such as spirit bears, coastal wolves, whales, salmon, and so much more. It is also home to more than two dozen First Nations.
But it wasn’t always protected. In the 1990s, these ancient forests were being logged to the point of collapse. In 2016, however, a groundbreaking agreement was reached to permanently protect 85% of the Great Bear Rainforest from industrial logging, while the remaining 15% are subject to the strictest legal standard for commercial logging in North America.
The Gitga’at Guardians program is an environmental monitoring program led by the Gitga’at Nation. By protecting the wildlife (including the spirit bear), resources, and ecosystems of their territory, the Gitga’at Nation is also ensuring their way of life is sustained for future generations. As part of this tour, we are excited to be donating to their important conservation work.
This tour is all about spirit bears. During the course of our tour, we will have the opportunity to see several different spirit bears that have previously been spotted in the area. September is the best time to see spirit bears because it coincides with the annual pink salmon run, which draws the bears to the creeks to feed.
You’ll have the opportunity to photograph spirit bears fishing right in front of you in their pristine natural habitat. We will also likely see several black bears who will also be fishing for salmon. If we’re lucky, we may see cubs, bald eagles, and coastal wolves.
With our position on the creek, we will have a great view of all the action. Because this area has been protected, the bears are extremely tolerant of humans. We will be accepted into their world as an observer, which is an honor and a privilege that will be life-changing.
Our typical day starts shortly after sunrise. After quick coffee and breakfast, we will grab a packed lunch and head out in the boat in search of spirit bears. Once we arrive at one of the various landing spots, we will hike about 10-15min to the prime spirit bear fishing locations, though we may encounter a spirit bear at any time.
We will be out all day until sunset. This schedule ensures we are maximizing our time in the field for photographing spirit bears. Patience is required and is necessary for spirit bear photography. Sightings may last from only a few minutes to several hours. While we wait, we can often photograph black bears fishing for salmon.
Since we will be on foot in the rainforest, sturdy rain gear and rain coverings for your camera equipment are a must. It will worth it a million times over once we see a spirit bear emerge from the forest right in front of us. Once sunset arrives, we will walk back to the boat and make the journey back to Hartley Bay for a warm hearty dinner.
We want help you to become a better photographer. And to do so, we’re going to go the extra mile. Before the tour, we will have 3 hour long one-on-one sessions with you to understand your shooting style, discuss topics of interest (such as field techniques, composition, post-processing), and provide guidance to help you grow as a photographer and storyteller.
During the tour, we will have at least 2 optional image review sessions so that we critique our images and thereby make necessary adjustments while we’re in the field.
After the tour, there will be 3 more hour long one-on-one sessions to help you choose and edit your favorite images from the tour, and discuss other topics of interest. We will also organize a Zoom group event so each of us can present our favorite images and share stories.
Our policy is simple: ask us anything at anytime about gear, technique, strategy, composition, post-processing and beyond. We are here to help you!
The tour departs from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. Please plan to be in Prince Rupert by September 18th because we depart the following morning on the water taxi to Hartley Bay, the first day of the tour.
How many spirit bears will I see?
Wildlife is unpredictable, BUT we are going at the best time of year to see spirit bears in close proximity. At this time of year, the kermode bears are attracted to the creeks which fill with salmon each September. Last year, we saw only 1 spirit bear, affectionately named Strawberry due to the reddish-orange coloring on her back. We were very fortunate to see her multiple times over the course of our stay. In previous years, multiple different spirit bears were sighted. In addition to spirit bears, we are likely to see several black bears fishing for salmon. So in summary, a good deal of patience is required. We will do everything we can to find spirit bears, but we must remember that nature operates at its own rhythm and flow.
What other wildlife can we see?
We may see bald eagles, pine martens, deer, stellar jays, and if we’re really lucky coastal wolves. We will of course see many salmon so consider bringing an underwater housing for your camera. Salmon make great subjects for half over, half under type of shots!
How wet will it be?
It will be wet, which comes with the territory of operating in a rainforest. It is crucial to have a 100% waterproof jacket and pants, as well as high water proof boots. We recommend hip waders, which makes navigating through the small water passages worry-free. You will also benefit from a waterproof hat and gloves.
What focal range do you recommend?
For spirit bear photography, every focal range from 24-600mm can be of value. The wider perspectives are great for showcasing the spirit bear in its natural environment, with the green moss, salmon-filled creek, and ancient trees. Tighter compositions can be great for portraits and headshots. Last year, we shot about 50% of the time with a 70-200mm lens, 45% with a 200-600mm lens, and 5% with a 24-70mm lens. There are so many compositional possibilities that have a variety of focal length options will serve you well and help you to photograph the same scene from multiple perspectives.
Can I bring a tripod?
Absolutely. You will just need to carry it with you on the short hike from the boat to our setup location.
What's the bathroom situation?
There are four beautiful bathrooms with hot showers at the guesthouse. Out in the field, there are portable camping toilets available.
What's the food situation?
Hearty. We will be well fed on this trip. Any dietary needs can be accommodated.
What's the cell coverage like?
Good. There is reliable cell reception in Hartley Bay and we will have WiFi at the guesthouse. Once we board the boat and head out each day, expect to leave this connectivity behind.
Is Harley Bay an alcohol-free community?
Yes. There will be no alcohol available on this tour.
Send us an email and we’ll be happy to arrange a time to chat through everything with you and answer any questions you may have.
- All guiding
- Photography instruction
- All meals and non-alcoholic beverages
- Return water taxi from Prince Rupert
- Insurance (required)
We value our guests, so everyone who travels with the Wildlife Collective will automatically receive a 5 percent discount on all subsequent tours. It’s our way of saying thank you for your support!
All of our tours have a conservation focus. We will learn about the challenges facing our primary subject and ongoing conservation work. Plus, every tour makes a donation to a conservation partner.
We take you to the world’s most amazing wilderness destinations, which were chosen based on our ability to offer our guests the ultimate wildlife photography experience.
Every tour includes photography sessions before, during, and after the tour. With our hands on learning, you are going to leave our tours as a better photographer. Ask us anything at anytime!
We will never exceed 8 clients per instructor, and in most tours, the ratio will be even smaller. This ensures that you get the personalized attention that you deserve on our tours.
We work with the world’s best wildlife guides, who also happen to be our good friends. They are experienced, keep us safe, and put us in the best possible position to create a compelling image.