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My Friend, Donald

Aug 11

In Friends at 7:54am


Happily, I was in Donald’s company last week in Santa Fe, when a storm came up. Wind was rattling through the old penitentiary, speaking in tongues, maybe in the voices of those who died so viciously there. I looked outside, and looked at the sky. Then I went looking for Donald.

Donald and I go back a ways now. I think the reason I’ve been able to knock off the occasional good frame of him is that I like him so damn much. To say he is wise and decent is to understate the case. He is a soulful, a twinkly eyed water witcher of the human spirit. He finds what is good in people.

He recognizes the flip side, too. We had a hoot sitting and talking last week. He arched his brows as he mentioned a couple of posing experiences he had lately, referring to one shooter we had mutual knowledge of as “as bull headed pain in the ass.” Ah, Donald. Not only wise, but to the point. Photogs need to remember they make an impression, and it’s a lasting one.

I’ve seen him weather his own storms. He is a cancer survivor, and a few years back, he kept coming to class, posing for the workshops, without his wonderful swatch of white hair. That danger receded, and his hair grew back, and blessedly, he kept working for the workshops. And when he comes to class, he comes to class. He brings his own clothes rack, and array of boots that would stock your average western apparel store, multiple hats, dusters, overcoats, and ties. He is always early.

And, he knows more about lighting than your average Joe. I’ve seen him coach a workshop participant. “You’re gonna wanna lower that light.” He’s invariably right.

We shot this together in a matter of minutes, again, ’cause we know and trust each other. We jumped up in a pickup bed to get some elevation. I told Mike Sakas, who was working with me to help him up, even though I knew that was fruitless. Donald jumped into the back of the pickup easier than I did, that’s for sure. Help? Not in his vocabulary, unless he’s offering that to others.

Shot it with a D3X, 24-70mm lens, and a Quadra pack and head, jacked into a small strip light soft box. Maxed the Quadra to give me about f22, so I could drag shutter to about an eighth or so. Hoping the wind might whip his hair into a frenzy, which it did. The wind almost whipped poor Michael away, trying desperately to position the light. See below, shot by Garrett Garms.


With my course assistants Michael, Meghan, and Sakas coaching me, I pushed and pulled this a touch in post. (Mongo push slider! Mongo like!) They were great. I felt like a person in a self help workshop, being coached to overcome some debilitating malady or fear. “You can do it Joe! Just use the slider! You can walk! Walk to me Joe!”

Donald don’t really need much pushing and pulling. He is comfortable in his own skin, and that’s the way I’ve always shot him. He loves his honey, and takes her out on the dance floor every week. He told me at one point, “Joe, we really complicated our lives this past year. We learned a new dance step.”

He also said to me once, “Joe, the day they put me down, all the music in the world’s gonna stop.”

Here’s to the music playing for a long time…..more tk….

68 Responses to “My Friend, Donald”

Michal Fanta says:

on August 12, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Awesome post as always!
I have to “copy & past” the way you talk/write about the story behind the photo! :)
Great work!
Thank you for sharing.

Charlie Flynn says:

on August 13, 2010 at 7:53 am

Please provide a tutorial to explain (once more) the process of “drag shutter”.

I have several of you fine books, and may have missed “drag shutter ” chapter.

Charlie Flynn
Amateur Photographer

Todd says:

on August 13, 2010 at 11:43 am


Love it. Thanks for pushing… which invariably pushes all of us folks to get out there and create. Feel like I am in the same boat with PS. Sometimes I am afraid to let Mongol out of the cage as well!

Thanks again!


Bryan says:

on August 13, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Your stories and your pictures transport us into your amazing world ..

Brian says:

on August 14, 2010 at 10:33 am

Great photo. Donald’s hair blowing in the wind looks like lightning crackling across the sky. Very cool.

Michael Murphy says:

on August 15, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Simply, Awesome!!!

Michael Shi says:

on August 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm

jizhuangxiang says:

on August 16, 2010 at 2:39 am


Sina says:

on August 16, 2010 at 2:51 am

It’s all about the passion… I think it will be different taking picture of the people that you already “know” with person that we just know. I think it is not just about the light.

Fotograf Katowice says:

on August 16, 2010 at 11:02 am

Great work Joe. I,m here first time and i see it’s the pursuit of knowledge (i apologize for my english).
Greetings from Poland !

Lee says:

on August 17, 2010 at 1:11 am

Charlie, dragging the shutter is simply a term used to indicate a slow shutter speed that allows you to capture the ambient light. Some cameras allow when using TTL to use a rear shutter that delays the flash a split second to enhance the effect to get some what of a blur.

Will Alan says:

on August 17, 2010 at 1:31 am

A beautiful portrait and touching respectful story… thank you.

AYRTON360 says:

on August 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Joe, this is a COOL portrait.
I really like it.
Thanks for sharing so much stuff on your posts

Greg Zenitsky says:

on August 17, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Fascinating portraiture!

Greg Brave says:

on August 19, 2010 at 8:36 am

That last sentence tells a lot about this man…

Amy Parish says:

on August 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm

What a magical post about your wonderful shot of Donald! I love Donald, and really enjoyed photographing him. I would like to photograph him again sometime soon. Maybe i will try to take YOUR class next summer in Santa Fe. Thanks for keeping it real.
Amy Parish (Albuquerque)

Shaana MAC says:

on August 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Hey Joe great photo – can you please explain what you mean by “Maxed the Quadra to give me about f22, so I could drag shutter to about an eighth or so?” I understand that your probably pushing all the power that the Quadra has but it’s the F22 that has me stuck – don’t you just set your camera to F22.? How does maxing the Quadra give you about F2. Sorry if this seem like a dumb question but I am trying to understand lighting.

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