The female Kodiak bear was only 10 yards away from Kim Hubbard and wasn’t sure what to make of her.
“We were like right there,” said Hubbard, a professional photographer who graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1991.
Standing in tall grass in the Alaskan wilderness, Hubbard was on assignment for the New York Times.
“I’m up with the camera tripod, so I’m the only thing the bear’s looking at,” she said.
Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Females can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds and, at full speed and in short bursts, they can run up to 40 mph. If the bear decided she didn’t like Hubbard’s attention, it would all be over in the blink of an eye. Physical contact between bears and people usually doesn’t end well for people.
“I was shaking, and thank goodness for autofocus because I was freaked,” said Hubbard, who graduated from UTC with a degree in English literature. “The bear is slightly foaming at the mouth because she’s nervous. That’s what happens when they get stressed.”
The bear decided to go its own way, so Hubbard was able to photograph the animal without bodily harm. One shot is so clear and close up, it might work as the bear’s senior photo in its high school yearbook.
Hubbard grew up in Hixson and graduated from Hixson High School. She will be at UTC on Wednesday, March 1, for Photo Night, the annual event that highlights the work of professional photographers who give the audience an inside-baseball look at their jobs.
Along with Hubbard, other photographers scheduled to join Photo Night are recent UTC graduate and Chattanooga Times Free Press photographer Olivia Ross, Pulitzer Prize nominee Kathleen Greeson, independent photojournalist Wade Payne and Billy Weeks, associate lecturer in the UTC Department of Communication and former photo editor at the Times Free Press.
Ross graduated from UTC in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and was hired as a staff photographer at the Times Free Press early last year. Being able to quickly switch from one type of story is one of the lessons she quickly learned about daily journalism.
“I could have a trial to go to, but I could also have the Corgi parade,” said Ross, who was a photographer at The Echo student newspaper at UTC. “My day is kind of always interesting, and I never really know what I’m going to get.”
After more than 25 years as a photographer, Hubbard knows there’s far more to being a professional photographer than aperture settings, lighting, composition and knowing exactly when to press the shutter-release button.
“You have to be able to pivot in real time. You really must think on your feet because there’s so many situations that can turn nasty really quickly and you can get killed,” she said.
Photographers also “have to be able to take direction because it’s no good if you’re the best sports photographer in the world and, if I send you out to take a picture of a flower, you can’t.”
For her, photography has always been a passion. Her father, Jim Hubbard, was a professional portrait photographer in Chattanooga.
“I grew up around it. I grew up taking pictures,” she said.
Hubbard is photo editor at the National Wildlife Federation and Scientific American. Over the course of her career, her work has appeared in the National Audubon Society magazine, The New York Times and The Washington Post and on the Discovery Channel. She also spent 10 months as White House photo editor during President Barack Obama’s second term.
Wildlife, scenes of nature and documenting different cultures have been constant themes in her career. She has photographed in the Amazon River basin, in India and for the MarAlliance marine wildlife conservation organization.
Her “favorite project ever” was making a slow-motion video that captured cheetahs from the Cincinnati Zoo running at a farm outside the city. Made when she was senior photo editor at National Georgraphic, the video won the Multimedia Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors.
“We had two radar guns there to clock their speeds,” Hubbard said. “During the shoot, Sarah, the fastest land animal ever clocked, broke her own speed record (61 mph), but we don’t have any footage because she outran the cameras. She was actually picking up speed when she ran out of room to run.”
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Kim Hubbard’s award-winning video, “Cheetahs on the Edge.”