The first time I saw Ian McAllister, I thought he was a bear.
It was fall and great curtains of rain were thrashing the Mussel River estuary on British Columbia's central coast, where grizzlies had gathered to feast on spawning salmon.
Half a dozen bears were hunting in the shallows, their big heads swinging to scan the water. But in between the moving bears, one dark, hunched figure sat still. It was only through binoculars I saw it was a man, leaning over a camera on a tripod, under a black umbrella that shook from the beating rain.
This is the world that Mr. McAllister has inhabited for the past 25 years, stalking some of the most amazing wildlife images ever captured in Canada, and in the process getting shockingly close to some of North America's biggest predators.
"The fresh smell of salmon, blood, and ripped flesh comes in chaotic waves with the mist," he writes describing a photo shoot in his new book, Great Bear Wild – Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest. "The noise makes me feel like I'm under water – there would be no warning of an animal's sudden appearance beside me."
On many days, bears have crept up behind Mr. McAllister, or he has stumbled on them sleeping next to a trail.
"Sometimes they come pretty close," he says laconically.
Ever been within six feet of one?
"Yeah. Sometimes," he says.
Ever been threatened by a bear?
"No, not really," he says. "So far, so good."
When Mr. McAllister first went to the Great Bear Rainforest more than two decades ago, he expected to stay only one week. He ended up making his home on an island near Bella Bella, where he founded the non-profit conservation organization, Pacific Wild. He often spends months at a time in the field, waiting for the perfect shot.
"So much of photography and wildlife observation seems like a bit of a roller coaster of boom and bust experiences," he says. "It seems like everyone is hiding away and not showing themselves and then suddenly you have a bunch of days where it's just non-stop amazing wildlife activity."
Every few years, he emerges from his remote home to promote one of his books. His latest work features the kind of stunning bear and wolf photos he has become famous for, but also shows him pushing into new territory as he moves away from the rain forest into near shore waters.
"I don't think there was any moment where there was a shift. It's been more like a journey of evolution that has increasingly pushed me more towards the ocean," he said of his increased emphasis on marine shots. "It just seemed like a natural progression to try to look at the ocean with a subsurface lens and, of course, to look from the ocean back to the rain forest."
He is particularly proud of a photo of a wolf wading toward his lens, its legs underwater, its eyes just above the surface, focused clearly on him. The picture, in which the predator is hunting for herring eggs laid on seaweed near shore, took years to get.
"It's an image I'd thought about because I'd watched that pack of wolves for six or seven years," he said. "The wolves would emerge out of the forest and start feasting on these eggs. Of course, they are following the tide as it drops, so they are always close to the water, or in the water and that's the kind of marine image I'd really hoped for … the ocean and the rain forest, the wolves, the herring all in one picture."
And he waited years for the dramatic grizzly shot on the book jacket, which features an animal he has followed since it was a cub.
"I saw that bear tumbling out of the forest [when it was] about the size of a Nerf football, a bunch of years ago," he said. "I had the opportunity to watch it each year, growing into this big, big beautiful animal that you see on the cover."
He has not got all the pictures he dreamed of yet, including a shot of a cougar pouncing on a salmon.
"There's a long list of images you always have in the back of your mind. Sometimes it happens," he says. The rest of the time he just waits, watching the wild world slowly unfold around him.