National Geographic: Celebrate 125 Years with 3 Iconic Photographs

Joel Sartore on the Decisive Moment

Salmon fishing, Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska, 1999

"Even as a kid, I always thought, ‘Man if I ever have the opportunity, I’d love to try to see that bear fishing spectacle at Brooks Falls — and try to photograph it, too.’ So when I was assigned to do a story on grizzly bears for National Geographic, I figured out a way to get up to Alaska.

"When you’re watching those bears catching those fish — it happens so fast you literally can’t see it happening. I mean, if you wait to see a bear snapping at a fish before you press the shutter release, you’ll miss it. The key is, you look at their shoulder blades. And if a bear’s shoulder blades tense up or move at all, just lay on the motor drive. I really only got one frame that was any good — that one picture. And that was on film, so I didn’t even know I had it for weeks. It’s a lucky shot. But luck favors the prepared, right?

"I would guess I was only about 30 yards away from the bear for that shot. But the bears and the people have an understanding there. The bears are used to people and, hopefully, the people are respectful of the bears. The food’s plentiful for the bears and the bear-viewing is world class, so it works out great.

"I would be more concerned with how the people behave than the bears. Having spent a lot of time in zoos, I can tell you the worst animal in the zoo is people half the time!" — As told to Christie’s

To explore more iconic National Geographic images from Christie’s exclusive collection of rare and beautiful prints, visit the online auction from July 19 to 29. For more on this and other online-only sales, see