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Legendary Photos: The Stories Behind 7 of Art Wolfe’s Iconic Images

Nature photographer discusses his classic shots
Photo of a brown bear by Art Wolfe

Have you ever wondered about the stories behind some of the world’s most iconic images? Our series “Legendary Photos,” features photographers from Canon’s Explorer’s of Light program, past and present, giving us behind-the-scenes insight on how they captured these unforgettable moments.

For this installment of Legendary Photos, wildlife, nature, and native cultures photographer Art Wolfe shares the stories behind seven of his incredible images.

Brown bear (Ursus arctos) leaping after salmon, Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA

For well on five decades now I’ve been traveling to Katmai for the bears. There is simply no other place quite like it (though I have yet to get to Kamchatka, a peninsula in Russia). The first time is memorable simply because I was so young and inexperienced — snacking on candy bars at Brooks Falls while bears wandered nearby. Luckily the bears were far more interested in the salmon. This has been the case with every trip there over the years: loads of chill bears catching salmon and putting on massive amounts of weight for winter and raising their young.

When you visit a location as often as I have, you begin to recognize the “locals,” and I have a history with this bear [in the above photo]. She’s a young female I’ve photographed in years past, catching fish like none other. In 2018 she had two cubs demanding her attention and was still the best. As the male bears splashed and thrashed at fish, she was like an efficient machine; feeding her cubs was her prime objective. I knew exactly what she would do and focused on her. I have photographed her since and, no joke, she felt comfortable enough to park her three cubs near my group while she went fishing.


Nearly every year I lead workshops in Katmai. I love opening people’s eyes to the vastness of the wilderness and the proximity of the wildlife. For gear I recommend a medium range lens such as the 100-400 or better yet the 100-500, which is my new favorite lens.

For this photo, I used a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at f/5.6 for 1/5000 second, ISO 2500.

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