Black Bear Photography - American Bear Association Photo Policy


Black Bear PhotographyThe general public may photograph and video the bears from the viewing platform at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary during our open hours. It is a wonderful way to enjoy your visit and relive the experience later. We ask that you refrain from using tripods, as they may impede the viewing experience of other visitors. Monopods are acceptable. The Sanctuary is open to the public each Tuesday through Sunday, from 5PM till dusk, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. We are closed on Mondays, except holidays.


Benefits: There are 80+ individual wild black bears that visit the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary throughout the summer season. They range in age from sows with spring cubs to old males approaching their thirtieth birthday. They vary in color from the deepest black to all shades of brown. They exhibit natural behaviors that even seasoned researchers rarely, if ever get to witness including scent marking, mating, play, dispersal, nursing, and dominance struggles. Some have called the Sanctuary "the best place in North America to photograph wild black bears in their natural habitat".


If a professional photographer, videographer, moviemaker, or any individual wants to film or view the bears during closed hours, a fee will be required. The fee for still photographers, Tuesdays through Sundays, is $200 per person, per day.

The fee for videographers is $300 per person, per day, Tuesdays through Sundays. Videographers are considered on a case by case basis and are required to contact the ABA directly for approval and registration. Please call (218-757-0172) or email ( our office if you wish to register for a videography slot.

Film crews will be assessed a fee of $550 per day. An additional $200 per day will be charged if the staff or volunteers of The American Bear Association are required to perform setups. Setups are restricted and reviewed on a case-by-case basis. No film crew should assume that any setups will be performed. The purpose of the shoot may change the rate upon the approval of the ABA Board Chairperson or ABA President.

The Sanctuary is closed to visitors on Mondays. Photographers wishing to shoot at the Sanctuary on a Monday will be charged a fee of $300 per person.

The number of photographers on the ground may not exceed 4 people.   The VSWS should not over schedule photographers for any day, but may do so with the authority of the ABA President or ABA Chairperson.  Scheduled photographers have priority over walk-in clients. It is possible client groups would be scheduled on the same day with other client groups not to exceed 4 people total for all groups.

Photographers not making reservations will not be assured the opportunity to shoot unless the maximum number of registered photographers has not been met for that day and staff is available for supervision.


A 100% deposit is required for all photographers when you make your reservation. If you cancel 30 days prior to the photography date you can receive a full refund. Cancellations after this time will forfeit deposit.

You may photograph only after the liability waiver is signed and bear safety rules are reviewed and understood. We require you to show up the day before you are scheduled to photograph during regular business hours to complete these forms 5pm-9pm. If you cannot make these arrangements, please call or email the office prior to your arrival to make other arrangements to dispatch your forms. If photographing on a TUESDAY, we are CLOSED ON MONDAY so prior arrangements must be made with the office to fill out the bear safety forms. Payment can be made by Visa/MasterCard/Discover.


Please read before making a reservation

These are an addendum to the general bear safety rules that are required of the staff of The American Bear Association and volunteers of the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, a copy of which will be provided and discussed with you prior to photographing. You will be responsible for following all the general rules as well as the following:
  1. Photographers will be permitted to wander in the open meadow to photograph from sun-up until 5PM on Tuesdays through Sundays.
  2. Photographers will NOT be allowed to follow the bears into the woods or beyond the creek at the north end of the meadow area. However, the bears frequently climb trees or stand near the edge of the meadow for good "in-the-forest" photos. We are doing this for the safety of the bears so they do not learn to accept the presence of strangers in the woods or outside the meadow area.
  3. Beginning promptly at 5PM, when we open to the general public, photographers are welcome to remain and continue photographing. However, all shooting MUST be restricted to the area directly below the viewing platform for the duration of our visiting hours, so as to remain out of sight of the visitors. The presence of humans often interferes with the viewing experience of our visitors and with the messages we are attempting to convey to them.
  4. We request that photographers do not feed the bears for the safety of both photographers and bears. We do not want to condition the bears to accept food from strangers. Please maintain a safe distance at all times! Back away slowly should a bear or cub approach you.
  5. While we accept that photographers may need to crouch to get a particular photograph, we ask that you limit your time spent in this position. Excessive time spent in a lower position than the bear can lead to a negative encounter, since the bear may see it as an opportunity to advance its standing in the dominance hierarchy. If we are required to repeatedly remind a photographer about these safety precautions, that photographer will be asked to leave. No refunds will be issued. AT NO TIME will a photographer be allowed to lie down on the ground. If a photographer does so, he/she will be asked to leave immediately. No refund will be issued.
  6. While we try to accommodate the various needs of all the visitors, our focus is education. Photography is not our primary mission. This is not a photographic game farm and these bears should not be expected to behave as models. We ask that you please not yell or jump to get their attention, as this is disruptive and can be perceived as a threat. Please respect the bears' space and wildness. We ask that you be patient and allow them to act naturally. If we are required to repeatedly remind a photographer about these rules, that photographer will be asked to leave. No refunds will be issued.
  7. Photographers must be 18 years old. No person under 18 years old will be allowed to photograph as a private photographer or attend a photography workshop.


The American Bear Association is not responsible for any damage that may occur to vehicles, photography equipment or personal effects. Space will be provided to store your gear and precautions to protect your vehicle will be suggested.

When your dates are confirmed, you will receive instruction on how to enter the Sanctuary (the gate remains locked during closed hours), where to park when you enter, and the procedures you need to follow once you arrive.

Since the consumption of food or drink outside of buildings is strictly prohibited, photographers are welcome to use our Cook Shack facility for meals. Alternatively, a grocery store and restaurants are available in the nearby town of Orr (14 miles).

We ask that you please remember we are a nonprofit organization. All of the funds you contribute help the bears at the Sanctuary. We truly appreciate the dollars you provide.

The opportunity to view black bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is extraordinary. We believe it can be a special experience for everyone. However, please remember, we are here for the bears and all decisions we make come with the bears' well-being in mind. Thank you for your understanding and good luck with your photographic endeavors!


All inquiries regarding photographic reservations must be made in advance by contacting The American Bear Association (ABA) office in Orr at 218- 757-0172 or by writing to The American Bear Association, PO Box 77, Orr, MN 55771. Our e-mail address is: . A calendar will be maintained to schedule dates for photographing on a first come - first served basis. A reservation will not imply sole use of the area. However, the number of photographers will be limited in order to reduce the impact on the bears. Participants will be required to sign a liability waiver and review bear safety rules prior to any photographic sessions.


Every year, The American Bear Association organizes Photographic Workshops in July and August. Both workshops take place at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary.

Photographers who wish to hold their own workshops at the VSWS should get in touch with the office by phone or email for prices and availability.
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