WATERVILLE — What’s been a hobby for Jody C. Hildreth since he was about 18-years-old has now become a growing passion and possible “new job” after retirement.
The Sauquoit Elementary School media specialist started to get involved in bird watching when he was a teen-ager, which eventually grew into an interest in photographing them in their natural habitat. Today, Hildreth goes on the road selling his work and travels to unique destinations to capture not only birds, but other unique animals and breathtaking landscapes.
“When I was 18, I started listening to birds, got a pair of binoculars and was big into bird watching. But then I wanted to document the birds I observed,” the photographer said.
“Then I was the Birder of the Year because I replied to Bird Watching Magazines’ question of the month, ‘What’s your favorite children’s book about birds?,’” Hildreth recalled. “The prizes included all these optics, but I didn’t need them all, so I traded them in and bought my first camera.
That contest helped me get into digital photography. And as part of the prize package, I also got a trip to Texas, where I got to see a lot of new birds and try out my new camera, and I had a lot of fun.”
Later Hildreth would hook up his camera to a spotting scope and begin his exploration into the world of Digiscoping. As his eyes started seeing the other parts of nature while photographing birds, his scope of subjects evolved.
But what the photographer will never forget is a call he received from a fellow Waterville resident requesting him to come take pictures of the hummingbird nest in her yard.
“I had a lady in Waterville who found a nest in her lilac tree and she called me to come look at it and photograph it,” he said. “I would spend 3-4 hours a day for three weeks there. I just loved sitting at the nest and photographing it. I set up a tripod that was 9 feet tall and I set up my camera with a remote trigger, so when the mom came out to feed her young, I would just click.”
Hildreth said he’s learned from the pros that magazines don’t like photos of birds “sitting on a stick.”
“They need to be doing something,” he laughed. “So my favorite was my photo of a hummingbird’s beak touching her baby’s beak, which I feature online. It’s called Mother’s Touch. I love getting action shots of birds.”
In Grand Teton, Wyo., Hildreth would participate in a photographers’ workshop where he received the opportunity to enhance his skills by learning from other professional photographers out in the field for a week. It was there that he received guidance and advice on the business side of photography and selling his works.
“The first time I went to the Grand Tetons, it was when we had the big government shutdown,” the photographer recalled. “The government closed every national park and on my second day in the Tetons, our tour guide got a call from the park rangers saying the park was closed and we were not allowed there, and if he allowed tours, he would lose his license.
My first trip was cancelled after just two days. That was in 2013, and then I rebooked the trip for June 2014. It was just phenomenal to get up to photograph from sun rise, all day long and through sunset to get the glow on the mountains.”
Hildreth said he loves his job as an elementary school media specialist, but after five more years, he plans to retire so that he can take on photography on a full-time basis.
“This is just a hobby still,” he said. “It will be five more years until I retire, and I’m looking ahead to traveling and picking up extra money while selling my work. I have so many things I’ll want to do.”
The photographer said he has enjoyed going on trips with his wife Kelly. The couple has two daughters, Tessa, 20, and Aubrey, 19. But he has also gone on some excursions solo as he concentrates solely on his artwork.
“I’ve taken the family to Alaska, which I love, and then last summer I went back up there by myself for 10 days,” Hildreth said. The family “is good at going on hikes with me, but then I also (while on vacation) have to balance it with shopping, down time and restaurants. When I go by myself, I’ll bring a tent and sleep in a park, so I’m definitely roughing it.”
Daughter Tessa has also gotten bitten by the photography bug and will join dad on some photo-taking excursions. Aubrey is more “sports-minded,” Hildreth said, and likes going to baseball games where he enjoys photographing the pitchers.
“My older daughter wanted to start going into photography and I gave her one of my old cameras. This past weekend we were in New York City and I told her, ‘Let’s see if we can get the sunrise” over the skyscrapers, he said. “We ended up getting up at 4:30 in the morning and drove to the George Washington Bridge. It was cloudy, but we had fun.”
As for Aubrey, “We go to baseball games, and one of my favorite things is to photograph the pitchers and then we try to get the photographs signed by the players,” Hildreth said. “That’s kind of our thing. The down side is that I can’t sell those because MLB (Major League Baseball) has copyright restrictions.”
Hildreth posts much of his work, especially his experimental pieces, on Facebook, but also has a website, www.photoperch.com. It’s at PhotoPerch where the photographer has displayed shots of a frozen bubble that he captured during the winter months.
“This past winter I did frozen bubbles and the photo crystals as they formed inside them,” he said. “I thought it would be so easy to blow a bubble outdoors, but then it would burst or blow away, so I had to find a stand to get them on then while trying to photograph them, there were lighting issues and the wind. So I set up a mini studio just for my bubble shots.”
Hildreth said, “I have a golden one (bubble) illuminated by candlelight. I paid to attend another workshop that was in the Smokey Mountains, and they were big on teaching us how to capture light and the moods it creates. I’ve experimented a light with lighting now with the flowers in my flower garden, and I’ve even used a fog machine. I’m just really trying to fine-tune the technique. It’s much like experimenting.”
In the near future, Hildreth plans on a 13-day trip to the Town of Perce in Quebec where he plans to photograph the Milky Way. He also hopes to take advantage of opportunities to capture some gannets at one of the Atlantic Ocean’s largest sea bird colonies.
Those interested in checking out more of Hildreth’s work and purchase one of his pieces may see him at the Hamilton Farmers Market until the end of July. He also plans to host a booth at the Sauquoit Valley Fine Arts & Crafts Show in November and has applied for the New York Mills PTSO Annual Craft Fair.
Hildreth also has 21 framed art pieces on view at Hamilton Public Library through July 22.