British Columbia's 21-million-acre Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest on Earth.
Humback Whale British Columbia's 21-million-acre Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest on Earth. © Jon McCormack

Stories in Canada

Photographing the Great Bear Rainforest

Reflections on one of the world's most spectacular landscapes—a 19-million-acre coastal temperate rainforest in British Columbia.

Photographer and TNC supporter, Jon McCormack, has found inspiration in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Jon McCormack - External Photographer

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What first drew me to the Great Bear Rainforest was the surprise of it all; it was absolutely profound.

I find the Great Bear Rainforest to be a fascinating place to observe nature in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’ve been on a sandy beach 20 feet away from a giant mama grizzly bear who was gorging herself on mussels. I’ve spent all day, waiting for a chance sighting of a spirit bear and been absolutely sure nothing was going to happen—and then this magical, little silver-white bear comes out of the green forest. I’ve seen 66,000-pound mammals jumping out of the water to feed. It’s like nothing that exists at all. And it will be there for a long time.

Grizzly Bear
Hungry Grizzly Bear "As long as I wasn’t bothering her, she didn’t care less because there were so many yummy calories of mussels between her and me." © Jon McCormack
Sea Lions
Sea Lions "You get in the water with them and you understand what it is like to be a dog’s chew toy—which sounds really scary but then you realize they’ve got no malintent." © Jon McCormack
Hungry Grizzly Bear "As long as I wasn’t bothering her, she didn’t care less because there were so many yummy calories of mussels between her and me." © Jon McCormack
Sea Lions "You get in the water with them and you understand what it is like to be a dog’s chew toy—which sounds really scary but then you realize they’ve got no malintent." © Jon McCormack

I had never heard of the Great Bear Rainforest, and there was a part of me that thought, how can this giant wilderness exist that I’ve never even heard of—and I became intrigued.

I have spent a lot of time in Sub-Saharan Africa, and I sort of had this idea that for all of the big, interesting, megafauna photography opportunities, you have to go on a plane forever to go visit. I had no concept that anything that vast—and quite frankly vibrant—exisited not very far away from where I was in Monterey Bay, California. So I started photographing it, and I have been back a couple of times. I became fascinated with not just the wildlife, but also with the local First Nations who have been the stewards for centuries.

It is extraordinary—the Indigenous communities working to protect this vast natural resource. It’s so incredibly forward looking and thoughtful for these folks to say, "We’re going to preserve this wilderness not just for us, but for future generations as well."

The Great Bear Rainforest is teeming with life above and below the water line.
100 Feet Below "I’ve spent a lot of time underwater there thinking about this idea of 100 feet below and 100 feet above the waterline in and around the Great Bear Rainforest." © Jon McCormack

When I started off with photography, I was traveling a lot for work, and I just had a camera with me because I was going to cool places. Like most beginning photographers, I was pretty indiscriminate; I just sort of took photographs of everything.

Then I started looking for a way to have photography be not just this thing I do, but a way to give back. I realized I can go and engage with the things that I really care about and find organizations that are going to use the images that I create with a point of view that I share.

Great Bear Rainforest
The Original Stewards The mist-shrouded peaks of the Great Bear Rainforest have been home to First Nations communities for centuries. © Jon McCormack
Spirit Bear
Spirit Bear "You take a photo of a spirit bear and, for me, that photograph has to be used to promote the protection of the spirit bear and the lands that they exist in." © Jon McCormack

I unabashedly have an editorial point of view. I believe the environment is our most precious thing. The animals in our environment have just as much right to live on this planet as we do. What I want to do is take my editorial point of view and use the biggest megaphone that I can to talk about that. For me, that means partnering with organizations that I share values with, like TNC.

Great Bear Sea
Great Bear Sea "It is that water line that makes such a difference. The cold waters are really nutrient rich, and this creates some fascinating ecosystem stuff." © Jon McCormack
Underwater photography
Great Pacific Octopus "There was no sense of big scary creature from the deep. It was this really sort of beautiful experience." © Jon McCormack

My overwhelming tip is practice photography a lot where you are. Because I live 50-odd miles from the beach in California, I photograph the beaches there a lot. Through that I’ve come to see these beaches much more deeply, get to understand them, get to go back and back and back and interpret the same place over the years and really get to know it. I’ve become a better photographer. I’ve gotten to understand the environment I live in much more deeply.

Whale watching
Monterey Bay Whale "I’ve started to realize there are things that I really care about, that I can use photography to team up with folks willing to make a difference." © Jon McCormack
Kelp Forest
California Kelp Forest "A lot of photography is practice and technique. My biggest advice: Don’t put photography off as this thing you have to go somewhere else to do." © Jon McCormack
Monterey Bay Whale "I’ve started to realize there are things that I really care about, that I can use photography to team up with folks willing to make a difference." © Jon McCormack
California Kelp Forest "A lot of photography is practice and technique. My biggest advice: Don’t put photography off as this thing you have to go somewhere else to do." © Jon McCormack

We are grateful for the support Jon McCormack has provided to our work in the Great Bear Rainforest. His photography donations have allowed us to better tell stories about our work there.

So, on whatever your favorite hike is, think photographically on that hike. It will teach you to see more deeply. You’re looking for patterns and shapes in trees and trails. That will get you much more in tune with where you happen to live. Then, if you do happen to get somewhere fantastic like the Great Bear Rainforest or Monterey Bay, you’re not spending a bunch of time worried about your settings and composition. Because really what you want to be doing is enjoying this wonderous moment.

Learn more about how we're working with Indigenous communities in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Photographer and TNC supporter, Jon McCormack, has found inspiration in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Jon McCormack is an award winning photographer based in California. His work has been published by international organizations including TIME, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, UNESCO, The Nature Conservancy, Africa Geographic, Conservation International, The Guardian, CNN and The Telegraph.