EDITOR’S NOTE: Don Monroe of Hibbing started taking pictures when he went back to school five years ago in his early 50s. Now he was 1,400 followers from 40 countries and clients in Europe. The proud grandfather and proprietor of DonMon Photography is this month’s featured photographer. – B. Miller
What is your name and business name if it’s different and tell us a bit about yourself.
Hibbing is home now, but I grew up in Babbitt, MN. Graduated in 1977 and have also lived in Duluth, MN and Fargo, ND. Married for 35 years to Barb; we have three sons and five granddaughters, who range in age from 13 years to 8 months. All of the kids live in Hibbing as well, so we do get to see all of them on a regular basis. How did you get into photography?
I have been shooting photography for just over five years. Up until that point, I had shot with the Kodak Instamatic and a Polaroid back in the days when they were popular. My current journey began at Hibbing Community College. I had gone to HCC at age 52 to get the degree that I should have gone for when I was 18, which is a long story that I won’t get into now. In order to graduate, I needed some sort of art credits, and my two choices were either photography as art or pottery. Well, I simply could not see myself making teapots and bowls, so I opted for the photography class, and I absolutely loved it, at least once we were able to get behind the cameras. What education do you have?
Other than the education mentioned above, I have no professional training. I have had several mentors along the way and also spend a great deal of time reading photography tutorials online. I am sure I drove a few of my mentors nuts with all the questions I would ask them when I was first starting out. I also asked several of them to critique my images and was always given constructive advice. Studying other photographers’ work and trying to replicate it has served as a great teaching tool as well. Is this a passion or a career?
Unfortunately yet fortunately, I became disabled officially in 2017 due to several health issues including fairly severe joint deterioration due to arthritis. So while it is a full-time passion, I don’t get out as often as I would like to. Winter, ice and not so mobile legs don’t play with each other very well. I have made the decision to make 2018 my official inaugural year for change from a hobby to a business. So we will see how that goes. What type of photographer are you?
I do all types of photography, but my favorite is wildlife and landscape. Some of the best therapy in the world is to sit out along a shoreline, or in the woods somewhere off the main roads with my bag of bird food or cracked corn, my canvas folding chair, a cup of coffee and my camera. I like to call it feather therapy; it’s so relaxing and serene. Typically, I will set up my base and wait for the critters to come to me. It is a wonderful way to see and commune with the beauty in nature that is all around us. What inspires you to go out and shoot?
One of the main reasons I am inspired to get out and shoot is the positive aspect of sharing the beauty that I find while out with creation. I have said since I started seriously with my camera, that if I can’t find anything to shoot, I just haven’t looked long enough. I strive to improve my technique and technology as often as I can. The more that I can improve my skills, the better my prints and inspiration of my viewers becomes. My ultimate goal is to move my viewers to a memory from their past or to feel nearly the same sense of awe that I am feeling when I push the shutter release. My motivation comes from my viewer’s comments when they see what I do. If I can inspire a “wow” from a viewer, I know that I have done my job and it motivates me to continue to improve my work. What is your go-to lens?
I would say my go-to favorite lens would be my Nikkor 55mm x 200mm as well as my 55mm x 300mm zoom lenses. They have so much flexibility, that I can use them for distance shots as well as really quite nice macro work. I shoot with a Nikon D3200 body and a Nikon D7100 body, which are far from a high-end cameras. However, having good glass even on a fairly inexpensive body is the key. So one piece of advice I would give to someone just starting this adventure with photography is to not be afraid to get good lenses. You won’t ever regret having good glass, and you do get what you pay for. Color vs. black and white? Why?
Color is what I most often use, I like the vibrant contrasts and showing the intensity of a blue jay in among the richness of green leaves, the intense white feathers of a trumpeter swan on a dynamic blue lake or a spectacular red rose. On the other hand, I do appreciate a great black and white with vintage buildings or when you want to give the impression of the tests of time on the structure you are shooting. For example, old barns or industrial buildings display very well in black and white. The intensity of the lighting and shadows can really be shown off in a b&w image. Indoors or outdoors? Why?
I would say shooting outdoors is my preference. Light is such an important element of photography; when you are able to have the sun as your ambient light source, it is an amazing thing. The intensity of the colors becomes enhanced and enriched in the sunlight. Reality is, however, as long as I am behind my camera, I’m a happy camper whether I am in or out. Which photographers influence you?
Several local photographers have somewhat mentored me when I was first starting out. They include Paul Pluskwik, Matt Herberg, John Heino, Kevin Milani and Randy Murray –all excellent photographers that spent the time to answer my questions and point me in the right direction. Thank you guys for sharing your passion with me. What is your favorite season to take photos?
My favorite season is by far spring. After our long cold winters, it is so refreshing to see nature coming back to life, migrating birds returning, lakes opening back up after being covered by thick ice all winter long. How much time per week do you think you spend taking photos?
On average, I am shooting between 30 and 50 hours per week. It might be for myself or it could be working with The Bottom Line (band) that I shoot promo shots for, or weddings, graduate pictures, pregnancy photos, or whatever. Some of my favorite subjects are my five granddaughters. I hope my viewers don’t get tired of seeing the girls; they are one of many of the delights of my life. How do you continue to educate yourself?
I study the work of other photographers, ask lots of questions, and read online tutorials. I still have my textbook from my college class and I do refer to it for some technical things. Among your collection of photos or shoots, which one is your favorite?
I have accumulated thousands images over the years, so it is not easy to identify one single favorite. If I had to pick one, it would be a shoot in the Sax-Zim bog in January 2014, photographing great gray owls. I had only seen photos of these birds up until that point, so I really didn’t even know what I was looking for. As I was driving on Admiral Road, I spotted something huge flying into the woods maybe a quarter mile ahead of me. Stopping at the point where I thought he had gone in, I waited a bit hoping he would come back out near the road again. Fortunately, the hunch was right, he did come back and proceeded to sit about halfway up one of the scraggly pine trees alongside the road, no more than about 30 feet from where I was. I was so excited, I could barely hold the camera still. What as advice would you give new photographers?
Never give up. Photography can be very frustrating at times when you aren’t able to get the shot you want or think you should be able to. Photography is about telling a story, sharing yourself and your sense of awe when you see something remarkable. Taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Most importantly, keep shooting and have a blast!
Don Monroe can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find his work on Facebook at DonMon Photography.