MEET. Donald Miralle

© Donald Miralle

Today we feature, Donald Miralle, best known for his sports, adventure, and documentary stills and motion work for our ‘Meet’ a member interview.

Do you have a favorite podcast?
Embarrassed to say but I don’t really listen to podcasts. Just read books, newspapers and listen to NPR in the car. I’m a little old school 🙂

Who are your top 5 favorites that you’re following on Instagram?
NatGeo, NatGeoAdventure, NASA for science, NYTimes & LA Times for current events.

What 3 words describe your photography style?
Clean, graphic, and composed.

What do you listen to when you’re shooting? 
Don’t listen to music when shooting as I am usually outdoors focused on what’s in front of me. But I love listening to all types of music when I’m relaxing or working out including classic rock, jazz, reggae, alternative, classical music. When I’m in a studio shooting indoors, I usually ask the model or athlete I’m shooting what playlist they would like to listen to!

What inspires you? 
The form and function in nature, human emotion and connection, and when both are reflected in art.

What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?
Photography has been my ticket around the world to visit new places and meet new people. No two days are the same, I get to be outside alot of the time and you only have to sit at a desk when editing or doing expenses. Photography is an international language that any person from any country speaking any language can understand and relate to. Being able to use one of the most powerful and universal forms of communication as your job is empowering and important!

When you aren’t making photographs, what other pastimes do you have?
Being in the water every day: swimming, surfing, paddling. The water is my happy place!

Describe your daily or weekly work habits. (Pre-Covid and currently): 
Get myself and kids out of bed, brew pot of coffee, make breakfast and pack their lunches. Lauren and I split school dropoffs, and I have a surf check on the way back; if there are waves I surf, if it’s flat I do a paddle workout. Then I finish my coffee over emails and look over my shooting schedule. Expenses are done and turned into clients before my noon swim, then I pick up kids and drop off to afternoon sports. While they’re at sports I finish off any edits, then after picking them up I get one more workout in or a sunset surf if conditions are good.

Who were your biggest influences?
My first Editor at Allsport / Getty Darrell Ingham, who guided me early on, saw that I had a little talent and drive and fostered it. If I didn’t have a mentor like Darrell, I don’t think I would have made it, and I can say the same about most young photographers. Although he lives in Windsor, England now, we still keep in touch and talk on holidays. Another Englishman who has influenced me in a different way is legendary sports photographer Tony Duffy, one of the founders of Allsport Photography, the first company I worked for. Although he left the company shortly after I joined, he always was supportive of my work and then became a good friend once I moved to Encinitas a couple miles away from him. One of the biggest influences on my career is my friendship with Al Bello. Al started at Allsport several years before me, and was very supportive of my photography, especially when I showed up on the scene specializing in underwater photography, which was a rare skill set in the 90’s. We shot side by side at many Olympic Games, Super Bowls, and other major events, and I love the creative process of bouncing ideas off of each other. He has always been one of my biggest supporters and best friends on my journey.

What was the best piece of advice you were given starting out?
Less is more. Focus on your strengths and your unique vision and figure out a way to get it to an audience or client that fits you.

What are the current challenges that you face as a photographer?
So much has changed in the last 3 decades I’ve been a photographer. When I started there was a very small group that was able to do the craft well: you needed to be able to shoot manual focus as AF didn’t even exist, shoot E-6 chrome film for magazines exposing properly (within 1/3 stop using a light meter), shoot C-41 negative film and develop on-site for newspapers on deadline, and be proficient in all aspects of photography including studio lighting, darkroom, editing, and delivery to clients. You needed a solid portfolio book of commercial work to even get considered for big jobs. Now digital cameras are so good the market has been flooded with hobbyist or part-time photographers taking jobs or lowering the standard rates and the bar that was set years ago. Most of the jobs are not for print but web/social only, and the majority of the photographs are not taken in camera but created in post-production. In general, the world changed once iPhones and smartphones put everything in the palm of your hand including a camera. And although I’m not resistant to chance, I do like the way the old craft of photography was executed and enjoy using the new technology to take that same approach.

What have been some of the highlights and challenges of your career so far?
Highlights include 10 Olympic Games, 6 World Press Awards, an Emmy Nomination for video work, and seeing my images published for the first time in Sports Illustrated 24 years ago and National Geographic 12 years ago fulfilled a dream of mine. The biggest challenges were walking away from my Senior Staff job at the world’s largest photo agency that I helped grow for 10 years to become a freelancer to do my own thing and expand into other genres of photography. Balancing work/travel with being home with the family is always a challenge. Also, getting in a ski accident where I couldn’t walk or work for four months was a challenge physically and mentally as well. But to be truthfully getting over those challenges were as satisfying as the highlights!

What were you doing before you became a Photographer?
I was always a student / athlete growing up, and competed mostly as a swimmer through high school and into college at UCLA. When I quit swimming because UCLA dropped its program because of Title IX, I had ALOT of extra time on my plate. I worked in local restaurants to make money and assisted photographers on the weekends. This is when my reality of what I wanted to major in and what direction I wanted to take for a career started to change…

If you weren’t a Photographer, what would you be doing?
Working at McDonalds? When I was in high school I thought I wanted to be a doctor or surgeon as I loved biology and had a very steady hand from drawing. After a couple years at UCLA as a Biology major, what I thought I wanted to do drastically changed and I switched to fine art and design. I was mostly interested in painting and sculpture at the time and photography was in the background. But when I graduated I had a couple of job opportunities, one with Disney Studios as a background artist, one with a large sunglass company as a designer, and the other with a sports photography agency. I often wonder where I would be if I took the other two options…

What do you do when you get stuck?
Go outside and workout

What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back 10 years? 20 years?
Don’t be afraid to take more risks. Do more personal projects and stories.

What do you see yourself doing in five years?
Hopefully doing what I’m doing now! I haven’t worked a day in my life because I love what I do and I don’t want to “retire” anytime soon because I’m already doing what I want to do!

Check out more work from Donald Miralle.