The Fine Line of Wildlife Photography

by Jill Cooper & Simon Jackson
March 2, 2014


Grizzly bear by

For years, we have enjoyed months of wildlife photography, but have enjoyed it in a safe and responsible manner.


We’ve studied bear behaviour and Simon has been trained by world renowned bear biologists and bear guides. With over 20 years of experience photographing and researching not only bears, but many other types of wildlife all across North America, we have a good sense of how to photograph wildlife without threatening the animal’s wellbeing.


That being said, there is the concern of habituating wildlife and the omni-present reality that, when photographing animals in a public space, a misguided tourist will inevitably cross the line and harass the photographic subject.

For this reason, many have argued that if you see a bear in a national park, you should not stop to watch it or take a photograph, knowing that it will lead to a bear jam. And while we understand this argument, there is an important counterpoint.

Bears – and other indicator species – need large, roadless wildernesses in order to survive. While many of these spaces exist in the world, places like Banff are not and never will be a roadless wilderness.

In fact, though the perception is that these wild spaces exist to conserve wildlife, the reality is they were created for the benefit of the people.


Pika by

Many national parks are trying to re-wild their front and back country and put a heightened focus on animal conservation. This is admirable. But roadways and trails (and, frustratingly, towns and golf courses and ski resorts in Canada’s parks) are here to stay.


As a result, this imperfect version of protected wilderness needs to strike a fine balance between animal needs and the bigger picture of helping people foster a love for nature and conservation.

Seeing bears in the wild is a remarkable experience and positive bear (and wildlife) encounters are critical to creating a culture that appreciates and supports conservation.


salamander by

It’s a known fact that people who have first-hand experience with a region or a specific animal are more likely to believe in its protection. So while most of us can appreciate why many parks discourage bear watching, in our opinion, it’s a futile fight and a misguided one to boot.


mountain goat kid by


Parks like Banff will never be enough on their own to sustain functioning populations of large carnivores. Yet, in order to create the political will to establish large, connected and roadless wildernesses, these parks can assist conservation through land protection, yes, but more critically can act as the conduit for people to understand and appreciate the inter-consecutiveness of all life.

We need parks and rangers to champion policies and people that use wildlife jams as a manageable tool to provide people with first-hand education and positive experiences (and photos) to take home and share with their social networks.


Baby black bear in tree by


Yes, there will be times when a wildlife jam is inappropriate (impact on the animal, impact on traffic, people safety, etc.) and a good ranger knows the difference between a bad jam that can’t happen and a good jam that is safe.


bighorn sheep jumping out of river by ghostbear

But by educating people at jams – and, in a sense, deputizing them to help look-out for animals and people at jams without rangers – parks can create the conditions for positive experiences that will translate into an environmentally conscious populous.


This is a philosophy that is increasingly embraced in Banff and Jasper.



River otter by

Still, places like Kananaskis Country in Alberta – ironically, the great bastion of libertarianism – persist with actively preventing people from watching bears, all the while enacting policies that could very well do a disservice to the animal they seek to protect (more on that in another post).

marmot looking over the valley by

Ultimately, it’s a balance. Guidelines exist for a reason and all animals should be respected and given their space.

But we also need parks to help people find inspiration from nature and wildlife watching – wildlife photography – is an absolute must if we are to help sustain true wilderness areas, places where the animals must come first.


The Photographers:

Simon Jackson portrait Simon Jackson is an award-winning and widely-published nature photographer.

Since seeing his first bear at the age of seven, Simon’s passion for the wild has been fuelled by his passion for nature photography, believing the camera can freeze moments that inspire a wired world to appreciated the interconnectedness of all life.


Simon founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition at the age of 13 and, for almost two decades, led the largest youth-led environmental movement in the world in the pursuit of saving the white Kermode bear, also known as the spirit or ghost bear. For his efforts, he has been named a Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine and was selected as one of the 100 Guardian Angels of the Planet by UNESCO and the Founding Congress of the Green Games.


Today, Simon focuses on speaking, writing, and strategy to help put forward a 21st Century vision for nature and uses photography to enhance his message. His images have appeared in books, films, newspapers, magazines, textbooks, and even museums around the world, including Time Magazine and National Geographic.



Jill Cooper portrait Jill Cooper grew up in rural Ontario, Canada and spent most of her summers outside. Whether observing the wildlife in her backyard, or visiting a park in her area, she was always surrounded by nature. In 2007, Jill was given her first DSLR from her father. Since that day, she fell in love with photography.

Her learning of the art of photography continues, and she is happy to be able to share her love of nature through the lens of her camera. She has been published by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and her photos have also appeared in several publications and web sites in support of education and conservation advocacy.

Email is:
Twitter: @GhostBearPhoto
Instagram: @jill_coop


[ Top ]