Charlie Hamilton James is one of six photographers who contributed to National Geographic magazine's special issue on Yellowstone. Learn about the other five at natgeo.com/yellowstone.
Since photographing otters with his first camera, Charlie Hamilton James admits, he’s been an “otter nut.” One day during the year he spent in the Yellowstone area, Hamilton James got a call from a friend with a pond on his property: “Get here now. The otters are here.” He grabbed his dry suit, his underwater camera, and the weight belt he’d last used in the ocean.
At the site, “I jumped in the pond and sank straight to the bottom,” says the award-winning wildlife photographer. He had too much weight on the belt—but chances to photograph wild otters underwater are scarce, and he was determined. So he struggled to the surface, gulped air, and then sank again, repeatedly.
“Every time I got to the bottom, the otters swam down to hang out with me,” Hamilton James says. “As an encounter, it’s incredibly rare.” But, he admits, “it was ruined by the fact that I was trying not to drown.”