Photographing Bears in Alaska with Robert Hawthorne

Flylords caught up with Robert Hawthorne, a photographer specializing in wildlife, landscape, and action sports. He was up in Alaska this summer and took some insane photos of the local grizzly bears. Check out the interview below.

Flylords: Who is Robert Hawthorne?

A wildlife photographer from Bozeman, Montana. Photography has always been a method of sharing my most treasured memories with everyone who may never witness it for themselves.

Flylords: What makes Alaska such a unique place to shoot?

Capturing wildlife in Alaska is on another level than what is available in Montana or anywhere else for that matter. Alaska is home to the largest salmon migration in the world, and as a result, the coastal brown bears convene in numbers seen nowhere else in the world. Katmai National Park, in particular, offers an unparalleled experience for both bear photography as well as world-class fly fishing.

Flylords: What was the first thought that went through your head when you snapped the picture (above)?

At the time of this photo, I was walking across the river and happened to notice the two fishermen and their spectator. Believe it or not, seeing this was no cause for alarm or immediate action. If you spend any time on the same rivers as the bears, you will soon realize that there is no way to avoid encounters with bears in close proximity. And very rarely are these encounters threatening. The park service has done a phenomenal job of creating a respectful relationship between fishermen and photographers. It is not uncommon to see 20-30 bears in a day on a single river!

Flylords: What did the anglers say after you showed them the photos? Did they ever freak out?

I was never able to track down who the anglers were and get them this photo, but I hope through more publicity, that it will cross their path! I would love to get them a copy of the photo for their wall! So if anyone might know them, send them my way ;).

Flylords: Do you have any advice for close bear encounters or tips for shooting bears in the wild?

As far as advice for shooting bear photos, I’d encourage anyone interested in spending time with bears to educate themselves on bear behavior and especially their body language. Bears are incredibly expressive when it comes to their emotions and intentions. Especially in these protected national parks, as long as you are attentive to bears’ personal space and maintain a non-threatening composure, bears’ can be among the most cooperative wildlife photography subjects. There is rarely a need for any aggressive actions like waving your arms, shouting, throwing rocks and so on.

Nothing drives me crazier than watching a group of fishermen unnecessarily attempt to intimidate a passing bear on the river. We are in their home, and they will most likely ignore your presence and pass right by your side if you just remain composed.

When a bear approaches on his own terms, these are the best times to capture photos and observe them up close and personal. But I am by no means discrediting the need for bear safety such as pepper spray, a pistol and most importantly, ensuring you never surprise or threaten a bear.

Don’t forget that a public land bear is going to react very differently to you, then a bear who has lived its life in a protected national park. Most of all, just get out exploring and bring your camera along, and never forget we are guests in their territory! Respect that, and you will have encounters you have to see to believe!

Be sure to check out Robert on Instagram at and online at Robert is also gaining interest to host an Alaskan Brown Bear Photography Workshop in 2020, so be sure to reach out if you are interested.

How to Stay Safe Fly Fishing in Bear Country

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