It started about 14 years ago, when Gary Hamilton was a soon-to-be-father of twin girls, and he wanted to be ready.
“I figured I would need a decent camera to take pictures of the kids,” said Hamilton, a research attorney with the Connecticut Judicial Branch. “After a short time, I got hooked on it. I started upgrading camera bodies and lenses. Then I started to do nature and wildlife photography because I love animals and the outdoors.”
Hamilton’s hobby has grown since his daughters were born. Although he spends his work week delving into legal research and writing and coordinating continuing legal education programs for the state’s judges, on weekends and during vacation time he escapes to nature, photographing what he discovers.
When he takes photos during a trip, he typically goes out alone, rising in the predawn and staying out until sunset. He takes precautions when traveling to places where bears and venomous snakes live, even more so since his wife died of breast cancer in April 2012. “My kids can’t afford to lose me,” he said. “I will still photograph bears and such, but only under the safest possible conditions.”
Hamilton’s hobby has taken him nearly a dozen times to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, where he photographs bears, elk, bison and wolves while they are active and feeding in the spring. He also has traveled to Florida and South Texas on multiple occasions to shoot hummingbirds, egrets and herons.
During Thanksgiving week, Hamilton planned to travel to Palm Beach, Fla., with his daughters to capture more birds in their natural habitat.
“There’s a steep learning curve in photography,” he said. “It takes a few years for it to sink in before you’re good at it. I started by buying photography books and practicing wherever I could.”
One of his most memorable trips occurred a few years ago when he participated in a guided trip for photographers through Katmai National Park in Alaska to photograph coastal brown bears in a remote part of the state. He was up close to massive bears, on foot with no weapons for protection.
“That was unbelievable,” Hamilton said. “The bears came up to about 25 feet away. They looked so small through my camera and I had to keep doing a reality check to realize the bear was right there. There was a huge lump in my throat, but the guide told me not to worry because they had plenty of food and the bears never bothered us.”
Hamilton remembers taking a lunch break within a couple dozen feet of the brown bears as they munched on sedge grass.
Hamilton’s photography has earned him recognition too. One of his bear photos was published in the Sierra Club magazine in 2011, and he was among 30 finalists in a National Geographic Traveler magazine competition for a photo of a descending egret he took in Florida.
“I sell some prints at arts-and-craft fairs or through word of mouth,” Hamilton said. “I’m sort of the photography guy in the office. If people are looking to buy a camera, they seek me out to tell them the pros and cons of equipment. Or they’ll ask me about a good trip to take or what time of the year to take it.”
In October 2012, Hamilton traveled to Costa Rica to photograph hummingbirds, tropical birds, red-eye tree frogs and other animals in the rain forest. After hitting it off with a tour guide who enjoyed his images, Hamilton was invited to lead an 11-day tour next November with about six other photographers.
It will be an opportunity for Hamilton to share some of his knowledge while enjoying more time in the outdoors surrounded by the wild.
“It’s like meditation and relaxation for me,” said Hamilton. “Sometimes I spend hours outdoors and never get pictures of anything. But it’s calm and peaceful. You get away from the distractions and bombardment of civilization. It refreshes you.” •
To view more of Gary Hamilton’s photography, visit www.garyhamiltonphotos.com.