Interview with Donna Good, December 2010 Photo of the Month Winner
Wife, mother of two and grandmother to nearly every child she meets, Donna Good is the quintessential good neighbor. She is warm, inviting, patient and kind. Her role as a photographer just happens to emphasize all of that. Sometimes during the week, Donna picks up one of her grandchildren from school and gets to work capturing those effervescent moments of joy. A self-proclaimed lover of nature, even her portrait photography seems to sneak in hints of organic life. Senior shots on the beach, baby portraits taken under an aged oak tree, candid photographs of feet in the fields of grass. Donna seems to live life at an effortless pace. In the most cliché of ways, she is a "CoverGirl": easy, breezy, beautiful.
Coming a long way "from the girl who dropped her film off at the corner drugstore", Donna has her husband and Steve's Digicam's forums to thank for her real start in photography. "I really didn't get into photography seriously until about four or five years ago. I had always been interested, always had a camera. But that was back in the days of film and I never have a dark room or anything. And I was always reduced to dropping my pictures off at the local drug store." After fiddling with film and receiving muddled images back from the drug store, Donna's husband gifted her with a small point-and-shoot camera. "At that time, I knew nothing about digital photography or even how to turn on our computer. I would shoot, load the photos and spend the day looking for the files on the computer. When I could find the photos, and sometimes I couldn't, I would share a few on Steve's forums. Someone there suggested I get a homepage on Flickr." And with that seed of support and motivation, Donna became part of a growing community obsessed with capturing and recording life.
When asked if she felt whether or not that community she fell into was warm and inviting to a newcomer, she responded positively stating that despite its cliques, the online community was constructive and friendly. In an act of unheard of determination for a woman of her generation to understand this "digital age", Donna took matters into her own hands. She struggled for a few years getting acquainted with an ever evolving computer world but eventually segued into digital photography software. Fortunately for Donna, her original camera, the Nikkormat FTN film camera, allowed her to learn manual settings and how to manipulate the camera to obtain the best possible image. "I kind of started working my way up into the whole digital age. And then Flickr and Steve's and all those really great forums really fed that obsession. There is really so much talent on the web and for the most part people like to share and it is so inspiring. So I have pretty much been compulsively shooting for the past four or five years." And it shows.
Completely self-taught, Donna has taken it upon herself to learn the art of digital photography. "I spent serious time studying and shooting and learning Photoshop. When I accepted a few paid jobs, I reinvested my earnings in professional equipment and software." Not only has she mastered the art of turning on the computer, she utilizes that ability by attending Nik webinars to improve her skills and techniques. In fact she was coming out of a webinar just before the interview. If there is a software trial out there, she's tried it. If there is a free download, she has it. Donna is extremely proactive and involved in her photographic education, leaving no stone unturned.
Coming leaps and bounds from her first Fujifilm point-and-shoot with a whopping two pixels, Donna now shoots with her highly evolved Canon EOS Mark 5D II with accompanying 20mm f2.8 prime lens maxing out at approximately 22 pixels. But even with her home school education and expensive equipment, Donna knows she isn't done learning. "I'm rarely satisfied with what I do. Part of that is just my nature; I want my style to be easily recognized but not easily repeated. I see work all the time that I am in awe of and I aspire to. I'm always reading books on Aperture or Lightroom...I would love to feel more comfortable using my flash or Speedlight and exploring lighting." Lucky for her, she can keep learning with her new Ricoh CX4 camera she received after winning December's contest.
Inspired by her daily life, Donna takes the time to literally smell the roses. "Once in a while, I have gotten really cool shots because while I'm having my morning coffee I'll just notice where the light strikes the room throughout the day. And I must say I never would have noticed that sort of thing before I got into photography. I think photography helps you to become more intimate with the things around you. You develop a closer relationship because you notice things more when you are interested in photography. Everything is a potential photograph." On top of her keen eyes, Donna seeks inspiration from her peers online. Calling it one of her favorite non-traditional photographic tools (meaning: not a lens, light meter, flash, etc.), she counts on glossy magazines or the web to supplement her inspirational needs. 1x.com and Flickr quickly come to mind when Donna recalls the usual suspects. The work posted on Steve's also plays into her quest to become better.
Photographer Becky Earl captures her interest as well; her style of photographing family portraits in a fresh yet sometimes provoking manner pushed Donna to see deeper. But the curve ball in the inspiration pile is Joe Buissink. Capturing genuinely unique, charismatic yet calculated images, Buissink exudes preparation and planning, something that is so totally unlike Donna. Lucky for her, age is on her side and she's still young enough and determined enough to learn new tricks.
When asked if she goes out looking for the final shot, Donna responded with a casual "Depends on what my intention is...At times I simply want to record what I saw. In that case I do a bit of curves, custom white balance and sharpen. If I am trying to convey a mood, I use CS4 Photoshop, NIK Filters or actions. And I always shoot RAW and convert in either DPP or Aperture before opening Photoshop. But I am a perfectionist and rarely satisfied...I try to keep my eyes open for texture, light, shapes or in the case of people, candid, honest emotion. I try to see what is before me." That's the thing about Donna: she doesn't try hard to be as good as she is. It comes naturally. Her photography is a direct result of her lifestyle and philosophy. "[Photography] is a way of noticing on a deeper level; finding beauty and emotions that I might have missed had I not focused on it using my camera. Being a photographer is really living life on a deeper, more intimate level with everything around you because you really notice it. And when you pay attention to something, you become familiar with it. You do more than glance when you pick up a camera."
But on the opposite end of the spectrum, Donna is wise enough to put the camera down and actually live in the moment with the family and friends she is shooting. "I'm trying to shoot with more intention. In other words, just because you can take 500 pictures doesn't mean you should shoot it. I try to be a little more intentional with what I take. I'm very deliberate about getting things off my hard drive. I don't have thousands of pictures I don't particularly care for; I just save the ones I really love." This coming from a woman who says she's never satisfied. Donna clearly knows what she likes and what qualifies as a good picture. She's got a computer full of her own satisfying work.
What can only be described as one of the best examples of skill, photographic philosophy and life's motivation, her winning photograph exudes Donna. Natural, innocent and uncontrived, "The Littlest Angel" is as effortless as it gets. "The best moments are really the unscripted ones. Even my senior portrait work is more about me getting out of the way so the client can comfortably present themselves to my camera. Unscripted natural portraits are the most beautiful because they are the most authentic." Oblivious to the camera, the Littlest Angel just happened to have been in the Christmas program at her church.
One of Donna's surrogate grandchildren, she epitomizes the spirit of the season and how perfect simple photography can be at the same time. "I wanted to go backstage and get some shots of the kids as they were getting dressed in their little costumes. Kids that age are so unselfconscious and fully into themselves that whatever you capture is authentic. They were all really adorable. That particular little girl is a favorite of mine and she has the biggest blue eyes and blonde bob. It's hard to miss with her." It's that keen eye Donna has worked hard to maintain that helps her win with shots like these. Hopefully Donna will continue to capture something that seems so lost today: innocence, ease and a timeless beauty that extends out from the camera and into our hearts.