category: Campus News

Preparing for luck: Barrett Hedges made the most of his Carson-Newman experience

Bears permeated a recent Omega Gallery photography exhibit at Carson-Newman University. Although owls, wolves, eagles and tigers were among the offerings, bears – of the black, grizzly, polar and sloth variety – held sway.

“I love bears,” Carson-Newman alumnus Barrett Hedges told a class of photography students the day before his exhibit opened. National Geographic Creative represents the freelance photographer and offers his work for use through its website (

As one of his images filled a screen behind him, he intoned, “Bears are my thing, so this was heaven for me.”

His commitment to excellence is an exacting standard. “I want my images to portray nature as I saw it, not like I imagined seeing it.”

Shortly after his 2008 graduation, his shot of a bear in full charge earned him broad recognition through the 2010 Energizer Ultimate Photo Contest with National Geographic.

Like most of his photos, the prizewinner, taken midsummer 2009 in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, has a backstory.

“It was towards the end of the salmon run, so some of the bears had dispersed to other rivers to fish. There weren’t as many bears… so I didn’t feel intimidated to go out in the water.”

A mother bear and her pair of large cubs moving back and forth on far side of the stream led him to second-guess his decision.

“I kept my distance from them, obviously, but they decided to come a little farther down toward a fish that had gotten stuck in a shallow area fairly close to me.”

He said his initial thoughts flashed “Oh, no!” But they soon turned to “‘Yay, the bear is going to come, and (then) she’s running right at me!’ And, in a sense, she is, but she’s really going for the fish.”

The perceived danger and ferocity, evident in the bear’s face and displaced water, elevated the entry past 14,000 other submissions to National Geographic. The honor featured the shot’s inclusion in a monthly issue of the magazine and a nine-day sailing pleasure trip around the Greek Isles.

While the prize and subsequent attention was an important boost, he has found that that the most important component has been time spent in the field, be it Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, Canada or Southern Asia. The investment of time is not limited to travel, backpacking and the actual photography, but is also required in marketing his work, producing products to sell and finding creative ways to promote his work and abilities.

The self-motivation he sharpened as a Carson-Newman student continues to serve him well as an independent shooter. In the last couple of years, that support has come to include a thriving photo-tourism business, through which he leads photographers of varying skills in Yellowstone National Park or the Alaskan wild for up to a week. (His website,, features workshop offerings, including a June opportunity in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park.)

While helping Carson-Newman art professor David Underwood curate the alumni exhibition for Homecoming, Barrett took a call from The Rymer Gallery, a Nashville fine art enterprise that offers his work. As he was learning about a new business opportunity for the future, Underwood praised his former student’s work as “superb, top-notch and really world-class.”

A Celestial Selfie – Barrett, who winds down for the evening with Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) as his backdrop, says his searches for the best locations for wildlife sometimes include up to a month-long stretch using his vehicle for lodging.

To help make his case, the professor pointed to a tiger photograph that was taken during a seven-week trip to India in search of sloth bears. The animal seemed as if it could walk off the canvas.

“You know, a shot like that looks like it might have been a fun afternoon, but that could have taken 10 days – to put himself in the right place at the right time; find the right lighting and track the animal,” said Underwood, who paused and added, “Luck favors the prepared mind.”

A Postcard Office – Using nature as his subject matter and workspace means the Tullahoma native spends his days where many people try to vacation, like the Alaska Range, which encompasses three national parks.

While Barrett notes good fortune in often being in the right place at the right time, he credits Carson-Newman with preparing him, in both mind and experience. He said he is especially grateful for Carson-Newman’s proximity to one of the world’s best wildlife photography laboratories, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

And he admits to relishing such trips in front of roommates and buddies.

“I’d tell my friends, ‘Hey, I’m going to the mountains to do my homework.’ And they’d be like, ‘I hate you,’” he recalls with a chuckle.

Barrett is grateful to Carson-Newman and professors like Underwood who helped him develop his gifts and articulate his craft.

“It (Carson-Newman) set a really good foundation to grow from,” he said. “I loved learning the different realms, different types of photography and ways to shoot. It gave me a really good setting to go from.”

Family Affair – When Barrett says he comes from a Carson-Newman family, he means it, as evidenced by being one of seven graduates over three generations, beginning with his granddad 55 years ago. The group gathered for a family photo during the Omega Gallery opening reception at Homecoming. (L-R) His dad, Rusty ’77, Andrew Best, who is engaged to 2012 alumna Cara; sister-in-law Allison and brother Aaron ’06 (holding their daughter Stella), grandmother Jean, grandfather Ernest ’60, Barrett, mom Dana ’77 and brother Corbin ’14.

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