Barrett Hedges was born in Tullahoma, Tennessee, in 1986. His family has taken summer vacations to different National Parks all over the United States throughout his life. From the beginning he knew that he had a love for the outdoors, and soon he realized he had an eye for photography. On one such trip in 1998, his parents bought all the children a disposable camera. Barrett was much more excited about this than his siblings. On that trip Barrett, and his parents, were soon to find out about Barrett’s knack for photography.
On a hike in the Grand Teton National Park, they came across a mother bear with two cubs not far off of the trail. There were already people watching the bears. At one point a woman wanted a better view and decided to step onto an old log. Not long after that, it gave way and she fell and made a lot of noise. The mother bear rose onto her hind legs, and the cubs ran up a tree. Barrett, with his disposable camera, moved quickly to get a shot of the cubs. He happened to move right in front of his dad, who had a 35mm camera, but he captured the scene and made his dad a little angry for getting in his way. Barrett was really excited about the capturing of that moment.
The next summer Barrett was allowed to use the 35mm film camera for limited photos. When the pictures were developed, Barrett’s pictures were better than his parents, so on following vacations he was allowed to have the camera the entire time. His pursuit of capturing wildlife and wild places with a lens had begun.
In 2004 Barrett graduated from Tullahoma High School and went to Carson-Newman College in East Tennessee to study photography. Since those earliest vacations, Barrett knew that he wanted to be a wildlife photographer. While at Carson-Newman, Barrett spent countless days and weekends hiking and camping all over the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, only a 45-minute drive from campus. For many of his class assignments, he would head to the mountains to take pictures. Photographing buildings or people was never of interest to Barrett -- only wildlife and nature would do.
In his final semester of college, Barrett started to look for places to continue increasing his knowledge of photography. While searching he came across a job in Alaska. All his life Barrett had heard about the great numbers of wildlife in Alaska, a place where animals still roamed freely. Upon seeing that job, he knew immediately that Alaska was where he wanted to go. After graduating in May 2008 from Carson-Newman, Barrett headed to Denali National Park, Alaska, and many unknowns. He wasn’t worried about being 4,000 miles from anyone he knew; he was very excited to be in a wild place with an opportunity to take pictures.
Barrett worked at the front desk of the McKinley Chalet Resort, near the entrance to Denali National Park. It wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but the location was everything. Almost every weekend that Barrett had off was spent hiking in the vast park. Denali has over 6 million acres of protected land, and the only true way to experience its pristine beauty is to backpack into the valleys and mountains. Each backpacking trip Barrett took was memorable and fun. He was sad to leave at the end of the summer, but he knew he would see Alaska again the next summer.
That first job was the beginning to Barrett working seasonally in beautiful places so that he could build his portfolio. His first two winters out of college he worked at a ski resort in Colorado. Being free and living and skiing in a beautiful place was great! But Barrett loved his first Alaskan experience, so he went back to Alaska the next two summers and worked in Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks. Both of those summers were spent surrounded by brown bears. Barrett grew up loving bears, and being able to spend two entire summers around the bears was amazing! Seeing all the bears at the waterfall in Katmai, and then bear guiding in Lake Clark would leave Barrett with invaluable experience.
In November, 2010, Barrett was the Grand Prize winner in the National Geographic Energizer Ultimate Photo Contest. His photo, “Coming At You,” of a large grizzly bear running straight at him in the Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska, was published in the December, 2010, issue of National Geographic Magazine. Early in 2011 he signed a contract with National Geographic Creative. This really helped Barrett gain recognition and credibility in the photography community.
During the winter of 2010/11, while working at Big Sky ski resort, Barrett often camped in Yellowstone National Park. He camped in the snow and in temperatures that were sometimes 20 degrees below zero in order to capture photos of wolves, bison, and elk in the early morning light. Barrett knew at this point that he would do what it took to capture photos and pursue his passion of being a professional wildlife photographer.
Barrett took his first professional road trip solely for pictures in January 2012. He researched places he wanted to photograph before he left, and headed out on a trip that would change his life forever! The freedom and pictures he was able to take on the three-month trip opened his eyes to what was available to him, and he wasn’t going to let anything deter him from traveling more often for wildlife photography. He has continued to grow from that experience, and now travels 9-10 months of the year photographing. He has no permanent residence, and never fully knows when and where he will be somewhere, but that is how he likes it. He lives out of his 4-Runner, and moves as the wind blows him and as the animals migrate.
His first big trip overseas was to India in the spring of 2014, and that gave him a whole new view on photography. It opened his eyes to what was in the world, not just in North America, and the possibilities that are out there. Becoming a full time photographer was a hard journey, and it by no means is over, but through his hard work and passion he has been able to make enough money and support himself. Barrett has no idea where he will be led next, but he is looking forward to traveling and photographing wildlife all over the world.