Complete the form below to create your account

This will be your public name in the community
We need this to keep you informed about your account

Mandatory data.

Why you'll love MyOMSYSTEM

All members get access to exclusive benefits:

  • Member community
  • Register products
  • Extended warranty
  • Monthly newsletter

BEHIND THE SCENES Bear photography with Brooke Bartleson

"Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it."

John Murray, The Great Bear: Contemporary Writings on the Grizzly

My life revolves around bears inland grizzlies in the lower 48 in the spring, coastal brown bears in Alaska in the summer, polar bears on the northern tundra in the early fall and black bears in late autumn for those last few glimpses before winter pushes them into hibernation.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1000 s • F4.0 • ISO500

Growing up, I could always be found with some sort of bear in hand. Teddy bears, plastic bear figurines, Lego bears and books about bears filled my hands and my pockets and accompanied me everywhere I went. As I grew up and began to explore my passion for the outdoors, tales of bears and the promise of potentially encountering one in the wild motivated me to hike further and longer, always pushing deeper and deeper into nature in search of the wildest animal I could imagine. Through wildlife photography I discovered the career of my dreams working as a bear guide. After years of photographing bears, I realised that I could supplement my living by sharing the opportunity to experience bears with others. Working as a guide specialising in bear viewing means I get to take clients out to see bears in person, keep both the humans and the bears safe and show the humans how easily we can safely coexist with these imposing and charismatic animals.

OM-1 • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1125 s • F4.5 • ISO100

All of the bears I photograph and work beside are truly wild. This means there are no fences or barriers between me and the bears. This is not something I would recommend unless you have extensive experience working with bears and have studied their body language and behaviour. If you don’t have a detailed resume of bear experience, the best way to safely photograph bears in an intimate setting is to hire a bear guide like me.

OM-1 • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 150 mm • 1/640 s • F4.5 • ISO500

The locations where I guide and photograph bears are remote. Extremely remote. Accessible only by a tiny bush plane equipped with floats designed to land on open water, these are not areas that can be accessed by driving or even hiking. Often, the float plane ride is only the first part of the expedition. After being dropped off, my clients and I must often continue onward through down narrow waterways by kayak or boat. Once we make landing on shore, we proceed to hike across rocky beaches characterised by uneven terrain with thick forests and steep mountains rising up overhead. I often feel as though bear country reflects the characteristics of bears themselves: intimidating, extreme, inspirational and wild.

The harsh conditions that I face in bear country means I need to be selective about what gear I bring along. Packing light and bringing durable equipment is essential. For my camera, I bring along the OM-1 equipped with the M.Zuiko Digital 150-400mm f/4.5 TC 1.25X 200 IS Pro Lens. This power combo enables me to shoot in endlessly variable conditions, and capture bears from whatever distance they may decide to be visible.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 1/800 s • F5.6 • ISO500


Bears are thick-coated animals, which means the harsh light of midday hours or warm days with direct sunlight can be exhausting for them. Bears are more likely to be active and photographable when the light is softer and temperatures are cooler. They prefer the early morning or late evening when the sun hangs low in the sky, or extreme weather conditions like heavy rain, wind and cloud cover. The low-light capabilities of the OM-1 enable me to push my ISO as high as I need to to get the shot, no matter what the conditions are.

OM-1 • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/250 s • F4.5 • ISO320


The weather sealing on the OM-1 and the 150-400mm f/4.5 Pro means I don’t have to think twice about shooting in the driving rain, or over the edge of my kayak or boat while I’m on the water. Since bears are most often active when the weather is poor, it is essential to have gear that can withstand the conditions. Long hours spent in the driving rain, freezing wind, or salty ocean spray hasn’t affected my camera’s performance at all. I have a theory that my camera can withstand conditions that even my body can’t.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1000 s • F4.5 • ISO500


The distances between me and the bears can vary considerably, with some encounters bringing bears only a matter of metres away, while other times bears can be so distant they can be challenging to spot with the naked eye. The incredibly variable zoom range of the M.Zuiko Digital 150-400mm f/4.5 TC 1.25X 200 IS Pro Lens means I can change my focal length accordingly and ensure I never miss a photo opportunity

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1000 s • F4.5 • ISO500


The image stabilisation offered by the M.Zuiko Digital 150-400mm f/4.5 TC 1.25X 200 IS Pro Lens combined with the in-body stabilisation of the OM-1 means I never need to carry a tripod with me in the field. This is incredibly freeing, because space is limited on bush planes and small watercraft, which means bringing a tripod along is often impossible. This also enables me to keep my camera stable while photographing from the water while my kayak or boat bobs along with the tide.

OM-1 • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1125 s • F4.5 • ISO100


I need a camera that can fit inside my guide pack along with all the safety equipment (emergency medical kit, communication devices, extra layers and survival gear) that I carry. Most telephoto lenses offered by other brands are enormous and require an entire backpack of their own, but my body and lens fit in my 50-litre pack alongside my guide gear with room to spare. The compact, lightweight portable nature of OM System cameras will forever rank as one of the most important features for me.

With all these features in mind, here’s a glimpse into a day photographing and guiding among coastal brown bears in Alaska.

Summer is winding down. From the window of my float plane, I watch the leaves turn gold on the mountainside. It is a dreary day, but the soft rain and low hanging clouds add a sense of moody wildness that feels fitting for a bear viewing expedition. Slowly, the pilot banks and turns the plane away from the mountains and navigates us north and then west along the coast while humpback whales breach the water below. The whales offer brief glimpses of their steel grey backs and tails before they sink beneath the dark sea again. Soon, the whales will head south to warmer waters. Around the same time, the bears will prepare to head into the mountains toward their dens and the promise of a long winters sleep, and my bear season will come to an end.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1250 s • F4.5 • ISO200

Slowly, the pilot begins to descend. The plane lands smoothly on the surface of the glassy sea, skidding to a halt a few yards offshore from a rocky beach. The pilot and I swing open our doors and climb out, balancing on the float of the plane. Together, we use an old canoe paddle to push the plane the rest of the distance to shore.

Once we are close enough to dry land, I help my four clients disembark one at a time onto the isolated beach. We sling our packs over our shoulders and watch as the pilot taxis away from shore and takes off again, flying away into the grey skies above. It will be five hours before he returns. As the sound of his plane fades into the clouds, we are finally alone. Just me, my clients and the bears.

We walk slowly along the rocky beach, heading toward a stream that is choked with salmon. The salmon run is in full swing, and the colourful fish bridge the gap between the aquatic world of fish, and the terrestrial world of fish-eating bears. Once we reach the stream, we quietly take a seat beneath an outcropping of rocks to wait and watch for bears.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1000 s • F4.5 • ISO500

It doesn’t take long before a mother bear and her two young cubs step quietly from down the beach, following the exact path we had walked just moments before. We remain calm and seated as she approaches. She sniffs once, twice, quickly recognising the smell of humans. She shows no fear. No frustration. No aggression, no aggravation. Humans are predictable here, in this remote location accessed only by bear viewing guides and their clients. The bears have learned that we will not harm them, we will not approach them and we will not interfere. This mother bear has learned a sense of trust. She trusts that she can pass by and proceed unharmed.

As she approaches, I reach for my camera. Quietly, with silent sequential shooting enabled, I photograph her coming toward me. Her cubs tumble along playfully behind her, hardly paying any mind to me and my clients. I zoom out as they come closer, filling the 150mm frame with their faces. Soon, they’re too close to get a good photo. I gently place the camera on the damp ground beneath me and breathe in the exhilarating moment that they walk right past, mother bear only briefly glancing at me before trotting by as if to say “I’m going, I’m going, nothing to worry about here.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/800 • F4.5 • ISO2000

Just as soon as they appeared, they are gone. They cross the stream and disappear into the dark spruce forest, where she will nurse the cubs beneath the private safety of the canopy of the trees. For the next few hours, we sit quietly in the same spot. Hardly moving. Patiently waiting. Rain falls softly, splashing quietly across my camera. Every so often, other bears meander down to the creek or along the beach. Some stop to fish, some dig for clams and some just continue on without stopping, preoccupied with whatever bear adventure they are on during that late rainy afternoon day. All the while, I pick up my camera and photograph these moments, feeling endlessly grateful for this wild life I live and the incredible opportunity I have to capture it.

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1250 s • F4.5 • ISO2000

OM-D E-M1 Mark III • M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO • 400 mm • 1/1000 s • F4.5 • ISO500

Featured Products

About the author

Related Tags


  • McDfoodforthoughts is an online survey platform designed by McDonald’s UK to collect feedback from customers about their experiences at the fast-food chain. McDonald’s Food For Thoughts Survey allows recent customers to share their feedback and opinion from their visit experience. Click here:
  • MyBKExperience Survey is an online survey that collects customer feedback. Burger King relies on customers, to be honest in their feedback.
  • Through your feedback, they will gain knowledge about the food, ambiance, cost, and quality; this will enable them to improve the services and quality. The primary goal of the survey is to win over customers' loyalty by providing them with the greatest meals possible.
  • Hi to all of you lovers of McDonald's! Greetings from the McDfoodforthoughts universe, where we value your opinions. You're in the ideal place whether you love McDonald's delectable food or you have some very great ideas to share.

Show more comments (3)

More from ‘Wildlife’

  • First Impression of the M.Zuiko Digital 2x Teleconverter MC-20

    Two years ago, if you’d asked me if I was interested in using a 2x converter the answer would have been an unequivocal “no”. I’d had a few bad experiences when I was using my old DSLR system, resulting in poor image quality and unreliable autofocus. When asked to test the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 2x Teleconverter MC-20, I was tentatively excited. I knew I had complete confidence in Olympus equipment, but it was impossible...
    M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150 F2.8
  • Pro Capture ‘Back to the future’

    A blessing for action photography, a tool that makes fast-paced photography much more relaxed and accurate or simply a great feature that is literally ahead of its time! These thoughts, and nothing else, continue to run through my mind when I take photographs like they did in the ‘olden days’. As a nature photographer, the times of relying on my reaction and the chance factor alone are over. As are the times of extreme...
    E-M1Mark II
  • 12 Reasons to Choose the OM-1

    We asked 12 of our ambassadors who have been using the OM-1 since launch what stands out for them about this ground-breaking camera. Whether you are wondering if it is time to upgrade or considering joining the OM SYSTEM for the first time, take a ...