Tips for Photographing Black Bear

With summer just around the corner, black bear are on the move. Mother bear (sows) are bringing their new cubs out into the fields. Males (boars) are looking for new mates and they are all feeding just as much as they can.  People love seeing & photographing bear, with that I thought I'd share some tips on photographing the black bear of eastern North Carolina. The best places to see bear in western North Carolina are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cataloochee Valley & Cades Cove (Tennessee) are probably the easiest places. Here in eastern North Carolina we have two places that are great for seeing bear. Pocosin Lakes NWR & Alligator River NWR. These locations have the highest density of black bear on the east coast and is home to some the largest black bear in the country.



When in bear country, it's best to always practice any & all safety precautions. Here are few things to do & not to do while searching of bear.

  • Bring Bear Spray
  • Always hike with a friend
  • Wear normal colored clothing, you want the bear to be aware of you
  • Talk loudly while hiking. Bear have poor eye sight but have excellent hearing
  • Do not surround, approach, follow, or block a bear’s line of travel.
  • Keep a safe distance away at least 50 yards or more
  • Do not run or make sudden movements or anything to provoke the bear


If you're wanting to photograph black bear, remember that this is an animal that doesn't want to harm you but can very easily. DO NOT intentionally approach a bear, put any kind of stress on the animal, do anything that causes it to change its behavior. During summer, sows will protect their cubs and males are out looking for females. I've personally seen a bear mock charge someone. If left alone they will act normally, naturally and you'll be awarded with some great photographs. The following tips will help you locate bear, stay safe & photograph them. They are in no particular order.

1. Bear Crossing

The simplest way to see black bear at Alligator River/Pocosin Lakes is to simply ride slowly through the refuge's many roads. Bear in these refuges have developed a high tolerance of people & cars. If you take your time, bear will normally walk right out in front & behind you. Most times people don't even see them and they drive right past. *Please follow all the National Wildlife Refuge System's rules & regulations.

This bear was feeding in a field, crossed a canal and ran across the road just steps away from where I was sitting.

This sow crossed this road and stood up to look over the canal to make sure it was clear of any bear/human.

Late spring into summer, sows begin to bring their new cubs out in the open. They can be easily spotted feeding out in fields with soy beans, corn & winter wheat.

2. They're in the Trees!

Don't forget to look up at all times! Black bear cubs from a young age instinctively know to climb trees when danger is near. Male bear will kill young cubs to bring the female into season so he can mate with her. Also during the heat of the day, bear will climb up and rest in trees. Its a beautiful sight seeing a sleeping bear in a tree.

Sows will sleep in trees with their cubs to help protect them from predators including large male bear.

Don't be afraid to play around with lighting. I saw this bear coming and chose to underexpose for a more dramatic image

3. Early & Late

During most of the year you can see them throughout the day. Bear are normally diurnal, feeding all day and sleeping most of the night. But in areas where there are more people they become crepuscular, meaning they feed & are more active in the early morning and evening hours. If your driving around the refuges in the early morning & late evening hours you will see the bear coming to/from their feeding grounds. Such as corn & bean fields. Normally the first/last two hours of the day is the best time to see them.

4. Standing Bear

While out searching for bear, in fields with tall crops, be sure to wait a little longer if you don't see anything right away. Bear can be hidden and will periodically stand up to look around & smell the air. Also, remember bear have very poor eye sight. So if they see you or something they can't make out, they will stand up to get a better view and to try to sniff it out.

5. Photography Tips

When photographing bear I recommend the following technical tips to help you achieve that perfect photo.

  • Use telephoto lenses (200mm or greater)
  • Don't forget to shoot those wide environmental images too (50-200mm based on distance)
  • Fast shutter speeds to freeze any action (500th of second or faster) bear can move quickly
  • Use tripod or mono pod to help achieve a steady shot
  • Keep an eye on your histogram, with black bear you can easily clip you shadows
  • If photographing from the ground, get a lower perspective to show less depth of field and making the bear more dominant in the image

Photography is all about the experience, be there with an open mind, open schedule and have fun!


Cheers, Neil.


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