Canadian Mountain Wildlife Photography with John E. Marriott

Canadian wildlife is as diverse as it is elusive. John Marriott has truly mastered the difficult skill and art of capturing wildlife images. Learn what it takes to get a great shot, and the issues concerning mountain wildlife today.

John Marriott headshot
A local legend in the photography world, I recently sat down with renowned Canadian wildlife photographer John E. Marriott to discuss his incredible work.
John, how did you get started in photography?
I started pretty young, about the age of 5 or 6. I was given a Kodak Instamatic as a gift so for several years I was enamoured with that. I was always out looking for animals at our cabin in Salmon Arm BC where I grew up. I still have a photo album of shots with tiny black specks off in the distance. I lost track of photography a bit in my teens early 20s until I got a job in Banff as a Park Guide which rekindled my passion for it. I borrowed my mom’s old camera and started up again.
How long have you been in the Bow Valley (Canmore & Banff area)?
Since 1992. I lived in Banff until 1995 and then moved to Canmore which is where I live now.
What are the keys to getting a great shot?
Pretty simply I think it boils down to 3 things: Being prepared. Luck. And having the right gear.
Where do you like to go?
I go all over the place but my favourite places close to home would have to be the Saskatchewan Crossing area in Banff National Park. It’s halfway up the Icefields Parkway. I’ll go up early when it’s quiet. I’ve had a few nice wolf encounters and owl encounters there.
How did you transition into doing photography full time?
I started pursuing it in1996 and worked 4 years of odd jobs to support myself. I taught computer classes and did various things until 2000 when I was able to go full time. It was pretty tenuous for the first few years. In 2003-04 I started my greeting cards line which helped pull me into the black, and it just grew from there. I published a coffee table book in 2007 and another in 2008, and yet another in 2009. In 2009 I also launched my tour company called Canadian Wildlife Photography. People can come on workshops or tours, for example, a trip to the Arctic. I’ll advertise it on Facebook and they book up quite quickly. My tours have sold out completely in the past fours years. Sometimes I’ll partner with another photographer like Paul Zizka and we’ll organize a tour together.
How did you get to 107,000 fans on Facebook?
It happened very organically without any advertising. I think posting lots of photos, and consistently posting 3-4x per week really helped. I’m also not afraid to speak my mind and I think that attracts people. Fans have come to know me for my rants so it’s not always just pretty pictures. I like to make sure there is a message to go along with the imagery.
What are the big concerns in wildlife conservation right now?
There are many. Wildlife is something I’ve been concerned about and invested in right from my days with Parks Canada. My degree is in Wildlife Management. Before I got into photography, I convinced my bosses with Parks to let me write a column called Carnivore Conservation. Having grown up in BC and now living beside a National Park, I became aware of the juxtaposition between how wildlife is protected within park boundaries but not protected outside of them. The result is that animals behave differently. Outside the park every wolf runs at the sight of you, but inside the park wolves and bears act much more naturally.
I want to help people understand that we don’t need to manage the wildlife, we’re not overrun by wolves and bears. There is a real lack of education about how animals live in a natural ecosystem. People think that we’ll be overrun with carnivores if we’re not culling them but that is simply not the case. In the North (in both BC and Ontario) there is a cull and a proposal to have wolf hunting be a year round activity and without limits, and this is going through the Ministry of Environment in BC. It is an issue as rife with politics as any other facing Canadians today.
What are your views on hunting?
I’ve always been a huge proponent of hunting to put food on the table. I support people spending their time outdoors, hunting and eating wild game. In almost all cases it’s much healthier. Where I draw the line is when it turns into sport and trophy hunting where hunters are not eating or utilizing their kill.
What would you like to see happen?
I’d like to see wildlife management move towards managing people rather than the actual wildlife. So, if there is an area where moose populations are going down, instead of killing predators we should be managing the people and put a limit on hunting. Or maybe we just allow bow hunting, for example. A friend of mine said it well (and he is an avid hunter), if we have a surplus of predators then hunters should be thrilled because we can only have a surplus of predators when we have a surplus of their prey. Predators simply adjust their numbers to reflect their food supply. We need to change people’s perceptions and approach wildlife management from an overall ecosystem perspective rather than managing species individually.
What can people do if they want to get involved?
I think it’s great if people want to get involved on social, share things they see that interest them. People can get involved politically by donating to environmental causes or phoning their MLA or MP, writing emails or tweeting. I’m very active in all of those, and also with donating images. Spreading the word is key.
How do you feel you can influence these issues?
As wildlife photography is growing I have a responsibility to represent how it should be done ethically. I mean, what are you willing to do for the shot? I’m not willing to cross lots of lines. Such as throw out mice to lure game, do my work at a game farm or drag a deer off the road to bait a predator for a photo. All of my shots have happened completely naturally. There will always be times when a photographer will influence animal behaviour, but it needs to be minimal if at all. I might walk over to one side of a meadow where an elk is browsing, it may move 50 metres over, so I have made a mistake and influenced it’s behaviour, but it hasn’t run away and I’m still able to capture it without further disturbing it because then I know where the line is and I respect it.
How do you get your amazing bear shots?
A lot of my shots were taken from tours in places where bears can’t be hunted, the result being that the bears act naturally. I also drive a lot of roads in remote areas looking for them. I don’t capture bears much in the park anymore, more so in Northern BC. I use my vehicle as a blind of sorts. Not getting out of the vehicle helps the bear to act much more naturally, and helps me get great authentic shots. This technique works with wolves too.
Spirit Bear Marriott
What have you learned about wildlife behaviour?
I have learned so much about all kinds of species over the years, but one thing that seems to be common is that most species are quite curious and there are bold individuals in every type of animal. If you’re doing something interesting you’d be surprised how much they can get engaged in watching you.
Have you ever been in a situation where animals made you nervous?
I’ve never been in any really hairy situations, but I’ve had a few heart-pounding moments. I was hiding in a blind once near Prince George and had a grizzly walk right by my blind and scare the crap out of me. I also got really close to a big bull moose during the rut once by happenstance when a cow popped out behind me. The bull charged over but thankfully ran right by.
The only really dangerous encounter I had was when I disturbed an elk calf by accident while I was photographing a loon. The mother came charging towards me so I turned and ran into deeper water holding my gear over my head. Thankfully she stopped where her calf was but eventually I had to come out and she chased me all around the side of the lake. That incident was an accident, but I have never knowingly put myself in danger. You can get close, but be smart about it.  For bear photography, I’m often in a boat so then you’re able to keep 25 metres of deep water between you and the animals. That’s why you see lots of the fun shots of bears playing, they were captured as I sat on the sidelines in a boat waiting for them to do something interesting.
Have you ever thought of capturing animals from another ecosystem outside Canada?
Yes, I have thought about going to Africa or India. What would interest me are mountain animals like gorillas and tigers. But an African safari doesn’t appeal to me as much, lots of people have done it. There are a lot of advocates for African wildlife already. I have always been much more fascinated by Canadian wildlife and there is still a lot I haven’t captured. I haven’t done walrus, or bowhead whales. I haven’t done musk ox or wolverine very much. Not that wolverine would be easy! But I never get tired of it.
Tell me about Exposed with John E Marriott, your new web series?
Yeah, this has happened because one of my photo tour clients named Kim Odland, who owns a production company in Edmonton, approached me about 3 years ago with the idea. We went for coffee and he pitched the idea to do a TV show or Web Series. The focus would be on nature, adventure, a survivor-man sort of thing. So we pursued the TV show idea first and got quite far along before we determined that we’d be quite scripted if we went that route, and we really wanted to be authentic with our message. So last winter we decided we’d pursue the web series side so we could say exactly what we wanted to say. We’re pretty happy with how it’s going so far.

“The first episode of EXPOSED with John E. Marriott hits the web today with a hard-hitting, short and intense six-minute examination of the British Columbia grizzly bear hunt, featuring the kind of sharp and candid commentary Marriott’s growing audience has come to expect from him.” Click HERE to watch the first episode.

We’ve launched 1 episode already and have 16 more episodes lined up for 2016. We’ll launch one every 2 weeks and they’ll all be slightly different. The first one was about the Grizzly Bear Hunt, the second is more an adventure piece we filmed at the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary.
Some of our future episodes will focus on the Alberta wolf cull, wolf and coyote snaring, Canada Goose jackets, the Ontario wolf hunt. So we’ve got lots of great content coming up. We’ll be going to the Arctic to cover the caribou migration, we’ll do a spirit bear one from the Great Bear Rainforest, and another spirit bear one by Terrace BC.
The content won’t always be serious. There will be a real variety and even some ‘how to’ more tutorial or workshop type stuff for people who are into photography.
How can people stay up to date with it?
The best way to keep up is on We’ll have all have all the episodes online and people can subscribe. People can also follow on Facebook.
And all this while keeping up with your publishing?
Yes, it’s a lot! I’ve got 2 books on the go as well. One on the Pipestone wolf family called The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family, and the other for the 20th anniversary of turning pro.
How can people buy your work?
I take orders on my website from everywhere in the world. My books and cards are also available in many of the local stores.
Note from the writer:
John kindly invited me to choose some photos from his Facebook page to share here along with the article. There were so many mind-blowingly beautiful shots that I had a very hard time keeping the gallery to a reasonable size. This is Canadian mountain wildlife captured authentically and artfully. Enjoy!