Behind the shot: The King of the Paramo

This is one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken of this species, the Andean Bear is a well known mammal here in Colombia and many nature enthusiasts would do almost anything to have an encounter like this one.

Here is the process of how to get this shot.

First, the gear, I used my Nikon D500 camera which has an APSC sensor (cropped) and an amazing focus system. The reason why I chose this camera was cause I needed to focus fast and have the most amount of range posible to get close to the bear without putting myself at risk. The lens that I used was my Sigma 150-600mm with a max. aperture of 6.3 which was a good choice taking into account its not super heavy and has an amazing range. It was an overcast day and due to the brightness of the sky I was able to shoot fast at 1/800s which would eliminate any motion blur caused by my shaky hands and an ISO of 800 which is not that noisy on this camera.

Second, getting the framing right. The animal appeared inside Chingaza National Park close to the road on top of one of the mountains. The fog was hiding the animal and once it cleared we spotted it around 200m from our vehicle. There where several attempts to frame the animal in the right way so I could capture the feeling of being in the paramo. First, I tried shooting at 150mm to get more of the environment behind the bear. At this moment the animal was not asleep yet and getting close to it was more difficult due to its awareness. Later, I tried to zoom in and waited for 20 min to see if there was some sort of behavior shot that I could take but with a sleeping bear there wasn’t too much action going on. Basically, I waited for the animal to change seeping poses and I have to admit there are some cute results but the background was blown out by the fog (which changed every 2min due to the wind at the top of the 3600m mountains).

Finally, I tried to change my position so I could be leveled with the bear and try a more intimate shot. Then I waited for the clouds to change and when they did I was shooting at high frame rate and the camera was making a lot of noice. When I finally got the background that I wanted the animal was waking up due to the camera noise. To avoid this from happening I changed the camera settings to quiet mode (which is not the same as silent mode in the new mirrorless cameras but it does reduce noice). Finally, I changed from horizontal to vertical so I could use the trees at the background in a more pleasant way in my composition.

I hope you liked this post and you learned that taking this kind of pictures is a combination of being prepared and having lots of luck! After the final image I decided to leave the bear sleeping and I climbed back to my car with no more further disruption to the bear’s sweet dreams.