How exactly do you capture a wide-angle, close-up, underwater photograph of a massive brown bear feeding without turning into the bear’s second course?

That’s the first question we had when we saw Mikhail Korostelev‘s amazing photo that recently took home the top prize for Underwater Photographer of the Year in the Wide Angle category.

MikhailKorostelev jpg by Mike Korostelev on

The photo was clearly captured from mere feet away… it seemed impossible that it wasn’t remotely triggered, but the image was so perfectly timed that it also seemed impossible that it WAS remotely triggered.

So I did what any editor would do: I asked Mikhail himself. His answer was simple… the photo was shot from inside of a cage:


But before we get to the cage part, a little backstory is warranted.

The photo was captured in August of 2015 in the far East of Russia, specifically Kamchatka, in the Ozernaya river near Kuril Lake. The subject of the shot is a male brown bear, fully grown and approximately 16 years old.

The image shows the bear fishing, something it does by dipping its head underwater and staying completely still for about 20 seconds, or until the fish get used to him and stop avoiding his head. Then… he lunges.

Okay, back to the cage.

IMG_9492 (2)

Thanks to the cage, Mikhail was able to get as close as 1 meter (about 3 feet) away from the massive animal without fearing for his life… much. From there, he would watch and capture the action over and over again.

“This bear came to this place in the river several times a day,” he explained over email. “Each time he caught about 5 fishes and went for a rest to the beach. Then he returned again.”

Fortunately for Mikhail, the bear was only interested in fishing, paying him no mind. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t awed every time the bear came close.

“I had incredible emotions,” he told us. “When the bear froze to catch fish, I also froze in the water, not to frighten the fish and not to disturb the bear. Fish swam through the cage, touching me. At some moment the bear made an abrupt lunge, and I took photos of it.”

That paid off with the money shot:

MikhailKorostelev jpg by Mike Korostelev on

If sitting down inside a cage in 3 feet of 50°F water for a full day photographing a massive brown bear as he feeds on the other side of the bars from you doesn’t sound like fun to you, we get it. But that’s what it takes to capture an image like this.

Was it worth it? We’ll let you make your own judgement. We certainly think so, and given the look on Mikhail’s face, he does too.


To see more from Mikhail, follow him on 500px, check out his LiveJournal, or visit his website.