Photo Coleslaw

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Into The Rabbit Hole with Michael Donnor

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Welcome to the 1st Installment of Guest ‘Slaw, where we get the story behind the photos from an invited photographer.

Michael Donnor, a commercial and fine art photographer, recently published a new portfolio called The Rabbit Hole. These photos were a departure for Donnor, a foray into the world of color.  These images aren’t sitting still, their world is one of mystery, intrigue and innuendo. If these photos were alive, they would be up over at the bar ordering a Jack Daniels, straight up. They represent the work of an artist willing to walk across the line of his own boundaries and also to ignore accepted conventional aesthestics.

I asked Donnor for some thoughts on his creative process and this is what he shared:

“In February myself and photographer Mike Sakas set out to create a photo shoot that would be a unique departure for us. We placed restrictions on ourselves; first budget – basically we had none, then time frame – we had one day to shoot, add in minimal wardrobe, 4 models, and one farmhouse… ready go! This portfolio represents the images that came from that one day.

The creative process for me begins by being uncomfortable. I knew I wanted to have a visual aesthetic that was different from anything I had done in the past.  I chose color film, used a flash for the first time in my life, and I never let myself feel comfortable. It was time to shoot and the models were the first to arrive, then the wardrobe, and everyone was ready, waiting for me… what was I going to shoot!?   For me to get to the frame I need, I have to work behind the lens. This went on for the whole day, a kind of uncontrolled chaos, not knowing what I was doing but knowing I was doing exactly what I needed to. I essentially boxed myself into a corner for this shoot, and then wanted to see how I fought out of it.  That also best describes how I worked with the camera, I like to photograph as if I am in a dirty scrapping fight with my camera, one I must win, I can never fail it is not allowed… “to the death!”    But when it was all over and the dust settled I thought I had failed miserably.

But then it came to the edit, which for me is as important to the creative process as shooting. When I edit I keep in mind the mood that helped drive the aesthetic, I use music and feeling, building it together into the cohesive body of work that was always there, but hidden. The same way every stone has a sculpture within, but the excess just needs to be chipped away.

When I was done I had the work I wanted to create all along.”



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My primary objectives right now are to breath and survive.   I’m at that point, 3 years in, when most sane people get out.  It’s the true test, are you crazy enough to go forward when a brontosaurus-sized neon sign is flashing “ABORT NOW – BECOME A TRUCK DRIVER!”  As photographer, Keith Carter, says, “You have to learn to embrace a life of uncertainty.”

So I gotta breathe in.  Stay the course.

Surviving the photo industry is one part vision, one part business and all heart.

Luckily this year has come with two revelations that I am finding helpful in this department.   The first is that getting a business plan onto paper is incredibly important.  It’s hard to stay the course, when you’re driving down the highway at 85 mph and thinking,

“What course?  There was a course?   Was it back there at mile marker 112 with the KFC?”

A written plan comes with a serious sense of serenity.

Secondly, involvement with a solid photo community cannot be valued highly enough.  People to get inspired with.  Give you an honest critique.  Remind you why the hell you left that great dental and 401K plan behind.   So this blog post comes with a huge thanks to everyone who is right there in the trenches with me.   To all my photo friends: your support is invaluable .

I’ve just posted a bunch of new photos in all of the categories on my website.  Check ’em out when you have a moment –

I’ll be here, surrending to the uncertainity, right on course.

Written by Spelman

01/07/2010 at 10:19 pm

Lessons from 2009

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Did I say December for updating my blog?  I must have meant January.  Better blogging is on my resolution’s list.  A list filled with concepts like: set business plan to paper, develop a concrete marketing plan and check into rudimentary ballast.    Or something like that.

Seriously though, big plans for the blog this year.  This month will mark the first installment of GuestSlaw, a series of interviews throughout the year delving into the techniques and thoughts of several well-known photographers.  We may even discover a few hamsters in their closets while we’re at it.  Anything goes, it’s wild and crazy over here at the ‘slaw factory.

As the first blog of the year, I wanted to reflect back on 5 pictures I learn from in the last year. Probably shot around 10,000 frames in 2009, but these are a few of the ones that have a message I’ll remember.

1. His shirt was pressed so crisply it could have stood up proudly on it’s own and ordered a pulled pork sandwich.  His smile belied a firm handshake.  His name was Marvin and he was a Clarksdale, MS contractor.   He’s a big believer in people having dreams and following them…. living in a constant state of moving forward.  Marvin reminded me of why I take pictures.  To meet people like him.

2. I’ve never met a bayou that I didn’t want to photograph.   I’m never going to meet a bayou I want to swim in.

3. As much as it pains me to note, every once in a while a picture belongs in color.

4. The straight picture is never as interesting to me as the ambiguous one.

5.   I wish they sold those blinders they put on donkeys for human use.  You know the ones that keep ’em from getting spooked. I shot this picture on a day when I was frustrated with my photography and it reminded me that you never know when your next favorite might come along.  That this job comes with a lot of distractions, but in the end, sometimes it’s just as easy as keeping your eyes faced forward and pushing a button.

As Colin Hay sings, “I watch the sun as it comes up, I watch it as it sets.  Yeah, this is as good as it gets.  My, my, my it’s a beautiful world.”


Here’s to 20-10….

Written by Spelman

01/05/2010 at 8:24 pm

Behold…. Lightroom!

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Picture sitting in a room with 413 file cabinets surrounding you.  They’re huge looming things and each one has multiple files within it.   Every time you need to retrieve a  file you have to rely on your memory or an elaborate list that you manually enter all of the critical information into.

Look a little closer and those drawers seem to be laughing at you.

Such was the case before Adobe Lightroom entered into the file management system.   Those file cabinets were actually folders on your hard drive with multiple subfolders.  A lot of photographers would simply curl into the fetal position and rock back and forth when faced with the task of finding all of the images related to “Dog”

Now picture those same filing cabinets, except they’re operated by invisible hands and multiple drawers can zoom open and closed simultaneously on your command.   Employ Lightroom into your workflow and quite frankly you might just find yourself sleeping better at night.

An ongoing theme within Photo Coleslaw will be the tricks to maximize the power of Lightroom.   The less time you spend on file management means the more time you can spend on shooting.  Or cleaning your gutters.  Whatever strikes your fancy.

To start?  The power of Smart Collections.   They have two important functions within my workflow.  They automatically sort out my best files for me (handy when you are looking to update your portfolio) and they sort out the problems in my workflow (files who somehow escaped keywording tagged onto them)


I employ a 3 star system in my editing process.  1 star for decent, 2 for solid and 3 for possible portfolio-worthy.   I have a Smart Collection set up to filter all images that have a 3 star rating and were captured within the last year.  My best, recent work is always there – constantly evolving with no effort from me.  Kind of makes you smile, eh?

Picture 6

The flipside of that is the isolating of images that need attention.  Lightroom comes with a Smart Collection already set up to filter all files that have no keywords attached to them.  Normally keywords are added upon import, occasionally a mistake is made and they are not.  This collection ensures that I catch those files and they don’t disappear untagged into the system.

Picture 7

The power of Smart Collections lies in the fact that they operate completely independently and automatically.  They constantly update themselves as you move through time.   Take that laughing file cabinets!  You’ve just been rendered obsolete…

Written by Spelman

09/23/2009 at 10:13 am

Hey there…

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Back in the day, artists striving for viability went out and purchased black.  Buttondowns, turtlenecks, t-shirts.  A little black = decent art.  A lot of black and edgy glasses = stellar art.

Seems in this day the new black is actually a blog.

So here we go….  it’s called Photo Coleslaw.  It’s my shared attempts at finding the perfect recipe.  Some people like carrot, others only use red cabbage and a few really avant gardes go for pineapple.  The same is true for photography – gotta get the mixture just right.   So as I try out new equipment, work on my creative vision, and basically have those elusive a-ha moments, I’ll share them.

To start, a topic I hold close – self-portraits.  Pretty much falls into the territory of wearing black.  All artists have a go with them.  They have the benefit of a model who will work for free, has infinite patience and is vested in the process as much as you are.  Can’t argue with that.

Besides, how much more narcissistic can you get than to publish 3 pictures of yourself on your very first post?

Start making them for long enough and they become like a Rorsch ink-blot test.  You can peruse back over them and see exactly where you were at any given point in your life.   They force an honesty out of you.  Somehow its really hard to lie to a camera that no one is on the other side of.  It boils down to what you have to say.

Squeezed in one last camping trip last week.  Was trying out a Nikon tilt-shift lens, gives you depth of field control not just front to back, but pretty much any way you please.  Only so much landscape I can shoot.  Pretty soon a pile of wood has turned tripod and I am scrambling to get myself into the frame in a way that doesn’t yell “she’s camping and two days past a shower”




Thanks for stopping by.  Come back next week for…..  your guess is as good as mine.   Could be a guest photographer, might be a guide for Lightroom workflow or my grandmother’s absolutely secret ‘slaw recipe.  Kind of exciting, eh?

Written by Spelman

09/13/2009 at 9:24 pm