If you’ve lived anywhere in Florida for any amount of time, you’ve likely already heard of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. He’s known for his witty one-liners as he smacks a printout of a mugshot on his podium, announcing another arrest.
That’s when he’s in front of the camera.
Behind the camera, it’s an entirely different scene.
When he’s not in his dark green sheriff’s office uniform with a badge and gun strapped to him, he’s wearing a breezy PFG shirt, a sun hat and toting around his DSLR.
“You know, God creates the art,” Judd said. “You just have to be there to capture it.”
Judd picked up nature photography more than a decade ago. He enjoyed taking pictures as a kid, then got back into it after a less-than-subtle nudge from his doctor.
“I went to the doctor and he said, ‘What’s your hobby?’ And I said ‘work,'” Judd said. “He said, ‘Well, you need a hobby.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t. I’ve got a hobby.’ He said, ‘Well, you need a distraction.'”
It’s in nature’s quiet, far away from crime scenes and caution tape, Judd finds his calm.
“We’re in the middle of conflict every day at work all day long and this is the antithesis of conflict,” he said.
Swapping conflict for harmony, as the sun rises, Judd spends the hours before his shift at Circle B Bar Reserve. Nature has become Judd’s church, where he goes to disconnect from his day-to-day and connect to the things that matter most to him.
“Nature is all interconnected,” Judd said. “And that’s why my soul is filled when I’m out here because this is where I feel closest to nature and closest to God.
“It’s where your inner being understands that you’re part of this, whether you acknowledge it or believe it or not.”
If you find yourself inside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, you will likely see some of Judd’s work hanging on the walls.
Malique Rankin is a general assignment reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. You can email her story ideas at email@example.com and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.