He sits silently with his camera in hand, careful not to disturb the ritualistic feeding taking place before him. Slowly, he lifts his camera to his eye and makes the right adjustments.
The sound of the shutter gives away his position. He keeps still, carefully monitoring his breathing. They know he’s there, but it doesn’t matter, their focus drifts back to catching more salmon.
Photographer Daryl Balfour gives us a glimpse into what it’s like photographing Grizzly and Black Bears on the Katmai Peninsula, Alaska. It’s an adventure that Daryl undertakes year after year with a select group of photographers. Venturing deep into the wilderness, they journey to capture one of greatest photographic events of the year, the salmon run.
The salmon run is the annual migration of salmon upstream. It is a difficult and dangerous journey where they must navigate numerous steams and falls, all in an attempt to ensure the next generation of salmon survive. They must overcome obstacles, strong currents and other perils. But what makes the salmon run truly a sight to behold, is the feeding frenzy, where large schools of salmon attempt to swim through a gauntlet of bears, eagerly waiting their arrival.
It’s one of nature’s most spectacular events, one that reveals the intricate circle of life and the true nature of the wilderness. A battle for survival, as the salmon try to ensure the survival of the next generation, and the bears try to eat enough to survive the winter. An action-packed ordeal of flying fish and famished bears.
Daryl Balfour is an expert at photographing this event. Over the years, Daryl has come to believe that the best way to capture this incredible scene is to increase your ISO. This will help you obtain the fast shutter speeds needed to capture their movements. In addition, he believes that hand-holding your lens will also give you the freedom and flexibility to follow the action, wherever it is.
In terms of equipment, Daryl prefers using two Nikon DSLR bodies, the D5 and D500. Both cameras deliver exceptional performance at high ISO, which is often necessary when shooting in the rain or low light conditions. When dealing with wild animals, you have to prepare for erratic movement and behaviour. It’s always good to have reliable autofocus speed and tracking, like the D5 and D500 that offer high continuous shooting rates of more than 10 frames per second.
However, taking photographs is only half the battle. In order to overcome the terrain, you need to have equipment that is compact, lightweight, and versatile. Daryl likens hiking across the Alaskan tundra to ‘walking over a wet sponge with random bowling balls embedded in it’. With that in mind, there’s no wonder that he relies on the lightweight AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, complementing it with the stellar AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. To get close to the action, Daryl also utilises a variety of teleconverters, such as the AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E III, AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E II, and the AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III.
In the 80s, Daryl was a pioneer of wildlife photography. Instead of simply capturing his subjects in their habitat, Daryl decided to put his own spin on the genre. Thirty years ago, Daryl began to capture his subjects at eye level. Looking at them from their own perspective, allowing them to reveal their true emotions, capturing that wild spirit in their eyes. It was Daryl’s willingness to get up close and personal that helped him develop into the photographer he is today.
When asked what drives him, Daryl simply replied, “I am inspired simply by the wilderness, being out in the wilds, seeking out remote corners of nature and sharing them with others not as fortunate as I am to travel and enjoy nature’s bounty.”And when asked what advice he would give other photographers, Daryl stated, “There is no substitute for trial and error. Just keep shooting, see what works and what does not work for you.”
Daryl Balfour has been a professional wildlife photographer for almost 30 years. He bought his first Nikon camera in 1973, and from the Nikon F to the F5, along with many of the side-shoot bodies of those eras, he has used and paired his cameras with most of the NIKKOR telephoto lenses. Now with the D5, D810, D750 and D500, he continues to enjoy showing people who might never have the opportunity to see wildlife for themselves, just how amazing and beautiful animals really are. He strives to take his viewers into the lives of his subjects, and find that this is best done through intimate close-ups. Through his work, he hopes to portray wildlife in a manner that shows the viewer just how similar to humans these animals really are.