Don Farrall, of Light-Works Studio, Inc. a commercial photography studio located in the historic Haymarket district of Lincoln, Nebraska, has been producing images for the advertising community for 33 years. His first photography position was with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri; after five years he moved to Texas and founded Dallas Photo Productions, Inc. with another Hallmark photographer, David Bullock. After five years Don returned to his home state of Nebraska. In 1996 he began supplying photos to Getty Images.
In addition to working as a photographer, Don has invented a few photographic devices for which he holds patents and speaks at industry events. Recent awards from Communication Arts and numerous regional and national Addys prove that it is possible to produce top quality work while living and working in a non-major advertising market.
If you have a degree in what field is it? I graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara CA in 1979, with a BA in photography. I was only twenty and I had no idea what the next thirty years would bring.
What was your strangest assignment? I was asked to travel to Kenya to photograph “Safari-style” furniture, while on safari in the Great Rift Valley. It was a ten-day shoot with elaborate outdoor sets that featured the furniture, propped with native Samburu Warriors and, of course, wild animals. I suppose exotic is a better word to describe it, but it was the most unusual project I’ve produced and certainly one of the highlights of my career.
Which photographer would you like to meet? I have actually had the pleasure and good fortune to become friends with a large number of very talented photographers from around the world. Notice that I said, “become friends with” and not just “met”; the relationships mean so much more to me that just meeting someone in the field. Some of them began as a result of my speaking at events and others have developed through web forums that resulted in in-person meetings. The value of the interaction, though, is beyond measure.
Which famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? Interesting question for a guy who mostly photographs things, not people. I think I would most enjoy photographing someone that was a character, like Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin or Jim Carrey. I don’t enjoy photographing people who take themselves too seriously.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? Film is dead. In this age of the digital darkroom I suppose the obvious answer is Photoshop and a Mac. It’s not a unique answer but in order of importance these two tools fall next in line.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? If I think about this real hard I can come up with a few controversial subjects that I wouldn’t shoot or retouch, but the list would be short and would reflect my moral convictions as opposed to a feeling that photos should depict reality. Most of my work includes some level of retouching.
From where do your best ideas originate? Experimentation. I love going into the studio and just playing, without any preconceived ideas about how something is going to look, and pounding away at an image or a process until something cool happens.
How do you overcome a creative block? For most of the assignment work that I produce, the creative direction is worked out ahead of the shoot. In some cases I’m involved in the process and in others I’m executing someone else’s creative plan. When I shoot for myself, it’s usually for stock so I try and produce images that I believe will fulfill a buyer’s needs. Since most of my images are of things, I have to decide what “thing” to shoot, get my hands on it and produce better images of it than what’s currently offered. To make money in stock photography in today’s market, it’s necessary to lead; it’s not enough to provide “me too” images.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? My wife and I have a great appreciation for historic architecture; our contribution to this craft was the construction of a new-old house. A tribute to the Victorian era, our house project (Castle Victorian) got out of hand and became an art project and we invested a bit more of ourselves into executing it than we should have. But we did enjoy the process and the finished work is truly a one-of-a-kind residence.
What music are you listening to right now? Adele and Norah Jones. Not at the same time.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? My work/life balance is probably better now than it has ever been. When I was younger and building up my business I worked too much. I have two grown children that my wife and I are very close to and we all live in the same community and see each other a lot. I was around when my kids were young but still I have some regrets about late nights processing film and working on Saturday mornings. You can’t get those years back. My advice… don’t blink
What’s your favorite quote? William J. H. Boetcker’s “You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.” I don’t imagine you were looking for a political answer to this question, but it’s what came to mind. Producing advertising photography has allowed me to meet a great number of successful people that have started companies and created goods and services and jobs, while also creating a measure of wealth for themselves. I have great respect for the sacrifices and risks taken by entrepreneurs and I am disheartened by the suggestion that they aren’t paying their “fair share” or that they some how don’t deserve the fruits of their labor. I prefer to admire success, not to look upon it with envy.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? We are no doubt living in a time when it is more difficult than ever to establish and maintain a photography career. The digital world has lowered the “barrier to entry” making it easier for anyone to produce and distribute images that are of sufficient quality to be used commercially. Volumes have been written on the new paradigm of photography as a career; the short of it is that the supply of photos and photographers far exceeds the market. To succeed in this environment takes incredible perseverance. Some will make it happen, many will play around the edges. I often mentor young photographers who are sure that they want to enter the field. I strive to be encouraging, but I also tell it like it is: Only the truly passionate and completely dedicated can make a career of photography in the present environment.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? In my early years as a photographer my approach was very technical. I considered photography a craft and I wanted to be a consummate craftsman. It took a few years for me to loosen up and stretch and to allow myself to consider that there was artistry in what I was doing. Many of my first assignments involved following a very tight layout or working as a camera operator after someone else set up the shots; eventually opportunities presented themselves and I began to contribute more to the process. Shooting for stock has also allowed me to mature as a photographer and to develop a style that goes beyond a strictly technical approach to image-making. I now consider myself a craftsman who at times is an artist. I don’t know that there would have been any benefit in knowing this when I was starting out, but it has been a revelation, nonetheless.