A Mural Project for the Birds … and the Bears and the Gators, Too

Photographer Brian Hampton had been shooting the wildlife at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla., for years before an idea to collectively capture many of the creatures came to him.

While individual photos of the animals were stunning, Hampton had a different visual in mind: A collage of 20 different species that live in the Sanctuary. This “masterpiece mural,” as he calls it, could become a signature piece of art in the main visitors center at Corkscrew, which has approximately 100,000 annual visitors.

Sanctuary print

Hampton, and his wife, Donna, donate photography and video work to several organizations and wanted to do the same for Corkscrew. Hampton commissioned artist Tom Heflin to paint the original 30-by-60-inch collage. Once complete, Hampton had it scanned digitally, then he printed the 7-by-14-foot mural in 3-foot-wide panels on Sunset Select Gloss Canvas using his Canon imagePrograf 8400 printer. The panels were applied to a custom wall panel installed in the center.

“I was looking for a canvas that would show the mural’s brilliant colors,” Hampton says about his choice in Sunset canvas. “Sometimes canvas can look really flat, and I wanted a more saturated look.”

The Hamptons created a video that gives a look behind the scenes of the project:

The mural was installed in early February 2015, and since then Hampton has used the same image to make T-shirts and posters, which have sold well at Corkscrew’s gift shop. “I’m hoping others will want to do something like this in their towns,” he says.

Stories Exposed in the Field at the Rockford Art Museum

Large Format Photo Prints
Brian Hampton describes his close encounter with a silverback gorilla at the opening of Rockford Art Museum’s feature exhibition, Exposed: Akerlund, Hampton, Nordlof.

Brian Hampton can tell you some hair-raising stories from his photography travels around the world, and he did at the opening of the Rockford Art Museum’s feature exhibition called Exposed: Akerlund, Hampton, Nordlof.

Large Format Inkjet Photography
Brian Hampton’s African wildlife photography on display at the Rockford Art Museum.

The exhibition opened the weekend of April 26 highlighting the work of Nels Akerlund, Hampton and Bradley Nordlof. Each brought a distinctive style and focus to the exhibition. Akerlund is known for his unique portraits of prominent people in the Rockford area, Hampton for his wildlife photography and Nordlof for his landscape photography. Each artist gave a short lecture, fielding questions from attendees about the images brought to life with wide-format inkjet printing.

Hampton fielded a lot of questions about the shot he captured of a silverback gorilla in Rwanda. It was the largest print selected from Hampton’s collection for the exhibition at 44″ x 66″, printed on LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper.

Large Format Landscape Photography
Bradley Nordlof explains his amazing landscape photography at the Rockford Art Museum.

The capture is stunning, but the story behind what happened after the capture is, in hindsight, both terrifying and humorous. Hampton relates that the group trekking up the mountain to see the gorillas was warned by their guide to look out for any nervous behavior amongst the gorillas. Hampton took the warning to heart and told his wife, Donna, to “keep the video rolling in case something happens; it might be double indemnity on the insurance,” Hampton recalls.

Sure enough, that big silverback got nervous. Hampton could hear the guide saying, “He’s nervous. He’s nervous. Move back. Move back.” Hampton was about 30 feet away at the time when the gorilla charged. The guide told Hampton to hit the ground, cover up his head and not to look at him.

Now fully engaged with the ground below him, head covered, Hampton peered out of the corner of his eye to see two hairy feet right next to him.

Printing Portraits
Nels Akerlund discusses his distinct portraiture style at the Rockford Art Museum.

“I heard something go snap, then seconds later he whacked me in the back with a sapling tree I was standing next to. It didn’t really hurt, but I wondered what he was going to do next. After 10 or 15 seconds he started walking away. It looked like he made his point and he was going to move on. I stood up, the guide came up to me laughing and gave me high fives,” recalls Hampton. “I turned to Donna and asked if she got the video. The guide laughed and said, ‘She was running so fast the other way that there’s no way she took any video.'”

And so it is when you’re in the bush, so to speak, whether it’s Africa or Alaska, two of Hampton’s favorite places to shoot.

Each of the photographers displayed around 25 images at the exhibition. Hampton’s images were loaned out from a restaurant, a jeweler and a corporate headquarters that proudly display his Africa work. The images generally ranged in size from 30″ x 40″ to 40″ x 60″, with some exceptions such as the silverback gorilla close-encounter image.

“All of the images looked very nice because the art gallery has new lighting, high ceilings and black walls; the images really popped,” says Hampton.

Capturing and Printing Wildlife for Charity

Limited edition coffee table book
This photo, featured in Brian Hampton's book, Captured I: Africa, was the 2008 Grand Prize winner of the annual Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Award. Book photo by Nels Akerlund Photography.

Brian Hampton’s coffee table books are much more than just coffee table books; they’re works of art that benefit four worthy charities: the Rochester, Minn. chapter of the Ronald McDonald House; Carpenter’s Place in Rockford, Ill.; the Salvation Army; and Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the Everglades.

The books – Captured I: Africa and Captured II: Everglades – are the culmination of Hampton’s global wildlife photography, meticulously captured, printed on LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, bound and packaged.

Both are available in 12″ x 12″ and 18″ x 18″ sizes, which retail for $1,895 and $2,500 respectively. There are only 15 copies of the 18″ x 18″ version available.

Printing a coffee table book
Brian Hampton prints the coffee table book's pages three-up on LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper.

“I don’t make a profit on the books, nor do I want to: 40 percent goes to the causes and the rest goes toward helping me recover my costs on the project. I want to raise as much money as I can for those organizations,” explains Hampton. “The books are printed using the highest quality printers, either a Canon iPF8300 or an Epson 9900 through ImagePrint RIP software, on Sunset Photo eSatin Paper. I like detail. For that reason a glossy paper would be my favorite for detail, but it falls short because it’s generally too touchy; it can show a dimple or wrinkle so you have to be very careful handling it. Sunset Photo eSatin shows very good detail, and it’s a friendlier to handle.”

Everglades coffee table bookHampton prints the pages and sends them to Mel Englander, Englander Studios in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to be bound and packaged. The books come in a velvet case inside a black box, to which Hampton applies the book cover image, printed on Photo Tex from LexJet.

A successful entrepreneur and corporate turn-around artist who has been CEO of five companies over the past 40 years, his success in business allowed him to pursue two of his favorite pastimes – photography and philanthropy – and then blend both with the creation of his wildlife photography books.

“When I first started shooting I began with an area in the Everglades where we have a home. I bought a digital camera and started taking pictures of wildlife, mostly birds at first. Six years later I had a little over 20,000 images, and in between that time my wife and I took several trips to Africa. I got more involved in wildlife photography and my wife got into HD video production,” explains Hampton. “I produced the Africa book first and then began working on the Everglades book. At the same time I began thinking about ways to raise money for non-profit organizations.”

Africa coffee table bookOne of Hampton’s shots from Africa, which captures a lioness charging through the water on its way to a kill, was the 2008 Grand Prize winner of the annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards, for which it was featured in a special exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. that same year.

Hampton is working on a third book based on his travels to Alaska. Hampton says he has 50-60 images that are “book-worthy,” and he would like to take a photography trip in the winter to capture the unique snow-covered beauty of Alaska and its wildlife that time of year.

Alaska coffee table book
Brian Hampton is working on a third book documenting his trips to Alaska.

Hampton adds that perhaps the most difficult aspect of producing the books was choosing from the literally tens of thousands of images he’s captured over the years. When Hampton is out in the field, he shoots with a Canon 1-series professional camera with “L” glass. As he puts it: “I only shoot with the best possible equipment from the best possible locations. The nature of photography, especially wildlife photography, is that you have very little time to capture the perfect moment so you had better be prepared.”

For more information about the limited-edition, custom books and the charities they support, go to store.brianhamptonphotography.com.