While some people dream of traveling the world and capturing moments of natural beauty, Hollister photographer Don Smith has been doing just that since he transitioned from sports photography to fine landscape photography in 2002.
Raised in Hollister, Smith said he found his passion for photography while in high school when his friend’s father allowed him to use a camera.
“He knew I was really taken with it,” Smith said.
Following high school, Smith pursued photography while beginning a career as a professional ski racer. When training outdoors or enjoying the crisp snow, Smith would take black and white photographs of his friends and the surrounding area.
Though an injury stopped Smith’s skiing career, it ultimately led him to receive a BA in photojournalism from San Jose State University and get into sports photography, first for the Hollister Freelance and later for Sports Illustrated. Smith also enjoyed a 28-year career as a photographer for the San Jose Sharks.
Though he enjoyed his time with the Sharks and shooting a Sports Illustrated cover of San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds, Smith switched to landscape photography and hosting workshops fulltime.
“I always had a love for shooting landscapes,” Smith said.
When reflecting on his early years shooting landscape photography in San Benito and Monterey counties, Smith said that there was never “a loss for subject matter.”
This belief still holds true today, as Smith’s online photography portfolio includes images that capture the natural beauty and contrast of the surrounding area.
Among these photographs, vibrant pinks and oranges of the coming day radiate over the Diablo Range in San Benito County, as well as the jagged peaks of Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles National Park is such a prime spot for shooting photographs for Smith that he even has a section of his website dedicated to the park.
“I want people to be aware of how important this park can be to this community,” Smith said.
In addition to shooting within San Benito County, Smith has photographed locations including Iceland, Scotland, Namibia, Yosemite, Big Sur, Patagonia and New Zealand. He used an example of capturing the Northern Lights in Iceland during the winter and seeing the vibrant colors in the night sky to explaining what appealed to him about landscape photography.
“It was one of the most incredible moments I have ever experienced in nature,” Smith said. “Those kind of moments in nature light me up.”
Smith spoke of how photographers have to be prepared to get the perfect shot.
“When the weather turns bad and everyone’s going in, that’s when a good photographer should be going out,” Smith said.
Being out in nature includes understanding that lighting is just as important as location, Smith said. When preparing to take a shot, a photographer should ask important questions like, “How do I create an image of what I see here?” and “How do I align myself with the elements?”
Smith’s love of photography has also led to him lead photography workshops in outdoor locations in Monterey County, as well as in Scotland, New Zealand and Patagonia. For each workshop, Smith teams up with another photographer to enrich the experience and ensure that if an emergency occurs the workshop will not need to be canceled.
“For every one location we have in a workshop we have scouted five,” Smith said.
The workshops include constructive image review, feedback sessions and allowing participants to self-discover.
“A mark of a good instructor is knowing when to step in and when to step back and let them get into their creative energy,” Smith said. “I tell my classes, ‘You are going to learn more in your failures through photography than in your successes.’”
Asked what challenges came with his career, Smith explained how continual travel and precise schedules could be physically taxing.
“I’m really lucky that six to seven times a year I get to do what others would consider a nice vacation, but it is a business with a regimented schedule,” Smith said. “It looks really glamorous, but the grind of the travel is rough. We really aren’t relaxing. We are going, going, going.”
For Smith, the ability to be creative and finding his path is well worth it.
“I think the minute you try to recreate someone else’s work, that’s when you aren’t being creative,” Smith said. “Find what lights you up.”
More information on Don Smith’s photography and upcoming workshops is available here.