3.5 reasons to buy faster glass

[Nikon D2X, 24mm ƒ/2.8, 1/4, ISO 800] Ismael Tarnagda and Jay Shafto wind up a long day in Sabtenga, Burkina Faso.

1.    You need a faster lens to capture a scene
2.    You need a faster lens to increase the shutter-speed
3.    Bokeh: You want a silky smooth out of focus background and/or foreground
3.5.    Status symbol

If you are still shooting film and don’t have a digital camera shooting fast glass is a necessity in low light. Kodachrome only went to ISO 200 and sure you could push the ISO and pay extra to process, but the quality just falls a part.

If you shoot color negative film you can find ISO 1600, but again there is a lot of grain to contend with in your photos.

[Nikon D2X, 28mm ƒ/2.8, 1/10, ISO 800] Ismael Tarnagda and Jay Shafto wind up a long day in Sabtenga, Burkina Faso.

On my Nikon D4 the ISO is expanded to 204,800. This looks better than my film did at ISO 1600.

This is all to say that if you cannot increase your ISO for any reason you need a faster lens to capture a photo. One of the first lenses many photographers first buy to get the faster glass is the 50mm ƒ/1.4.  This lens is affordable as compared to almost every other ƒ/1.4 lens.  The Nikon 50mm ƒ/1.4 sells for about $289 on the street.

Many of Nikon’s cameras come in a kit with the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX (VR) Lens. By adding the 50mm ƒ/1.4 the photographer gains 2 ƒ-stops.

If you are shooting architecture getting faster glass isn’t that important for the most part. Most of these photographers are stopping down the glass to get everything in focus. Also, they can put the camera on a tripod and since their subject doesn’t move they can shoot a long exposure time.

If you shoot people, then shooting much slower than 1/30 shutter speed will capture motion blur due to the subject moving.

[Nikon D2X, 30mm ƒ/2.8, 1/60, ISO 400] Clinic attendant Ester Betnam assists George Faile, general practitioner as he sees patients at Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu, Ghana.  Outside his door are patients waiting to see just him for today. 

Stanley’s Shutter Speed Guidelines

  • 1/30 for people when they are stationary. You could do family portraits with your camera on a tripod (to avoid photographer movement) to get good results.
  • 1/500 for sports. This is for most sports you can get sharp photos of the athletes. Things like football, basketball, and baseball will fall into these sports that will work at 1/500.
  • 1/2000 for high-speed sports. If you want to freeze the hockey puck or the motorcyclist in a race you need to crank up that shutter speed even more.

These are just guidelines. Shooting a photo with a shutter speed of 1/30 maybe too slow if you have an active child in a family photo. Maybe you want to pan with the racecar and shoot a slower shutter speed to blur the photo and therefore you wouldn’t want to shoot at 1/2000 shutter speed.

These are just ways to evaluate your need for faster glass in a situation.

With today’s zoom lenses being incredibly sharp as compared to earlier models they rival the sharpness of some of their prime lenses counterparts. Due to this increased quality I recommend finding a zoom that fits your style of shooting.

[Nikon D3, 16mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/50] Sunrise in North Georgia for a balloon ride over Lake Lanier.

Here are some of my recommendations from Nikon’s lens lineup.


Photojournalism/Documentary/Street Shooters

  • Wide Angle Zoom (one of these) 
    • AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED 
    • AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR 
    • AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED 
  • General Zoom (one of these) 
    • AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR 
    • AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
[Nikon D4, 105mm of 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 1/640 ISO 12,800]

Sports Shooter Zoom (in addition to the above)

  • AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II

[Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, 1/100, ISO 800]

Prime Lens Suggestions

Photojournalism/Documentary/Street Shooters

  •     AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
  •     AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G
  •     AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
  •     AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
  •     85mm (either one)
    •     AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
    •     AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G

Sports Shooter

  • AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR 

[Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, 1/250, ISO 100]


If you desire the silky smooth Bokeh there is another thing that affects the background—sensor size. This is especially true when you go to the smaller chips. The lens gets closer to the sensor and when this happens the depth-of-field increases. This is why your smartphone photos look in focus with a ƒ/2 lens. It is like shooting at ƒ/8 or ƒ/16 with a full-framed DSLR.

Buy a full-framed sensor camera to get the silkiest of all backgrounds.

[Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/8, 1/6, ISO 100 for light I used Alienbees B1600 at 1/16 power being triggered by Pocketwizard Mini TT1 on the camera and Plus II transciever on the strobe. The strobe is powered by the Vagabond Mini Lithium]

Nikkor 28-300mm ƒ/3.5 – 5.6 can replace the Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.4

Nikon D4, 28-300mm (300), ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/25 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the PocketWizard TT5 and is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.


Bokeh originated from the Japanese word [bokeh], which means blur. Today, many photographers are buying the ƒ/1.4 lenses to get that silky smooth background for when you shoot the lens wide open.

If the reason I am reaching for a lens is based on getting a silky, smooth, out-of-focus background, I might be wasting my time. You see, so much of what I shoot is with the AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, and to take the lens off to put on my AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D IF I could be just creating an unnecessary step.

If you compare the lenses at the same aperture and focal length, then it would make more sense to grab the 85mm ƒ/1.4. As you can see in the photo below shot on the 85mm @ ƒ//5.6, the background isn’t all that silky Bokeh.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/50 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the PocketWizard TT5 and is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.
Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/2, 1/50 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash is on the PocketWizard TT5 and is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.

Shooting, however, at ƒ/2, you are seeing a significant difference on the 85mm as compared to itself. But now compare it to the first photo on this blog shot with the 28-300mm when the lens is zoomed in to 300mm and shot wide open at ƒ/5.6. I am having a tough time seeing any difference in the Bokeh.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/50 – Off-camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900. The Flash iFlashthe PocketWizard TT5 is triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the flash output. Flash is -2 EV, and the Camera is -1 EV.

When shooting at ƒ/1.4 with the 85mm, the depth-of-field is slightly more shallow than the 300mm @ ƒ/5.6.

This is where you might just be scratching your head, as I was after doing this little test.

The trick to getting that silky smooth background has as much to do with how close you are to the subject as the ƒ-stop.

I would argue that if you want that shallow depth of field with a creamy Bokeh, you can do it with the 28-300mm ƒ/5.6 and not have to buy another lens to carry around.

There are other reasons you might want an 85mm ƒ//1.4 in your bag–stay tuned in for that post later.

Nikon D4: Sports Camera Setting

In an earlier blog post, I gave you my standard settings for the Nikon D4 for how I shoot. Here is a link to that post.

These are the settings that I use on my Nikon D4 for shooting most all sports action. Nikon has made it pleasant to allow photographers to save these settings so they do not have to remember every little scene they like to use for a style of shooting.

If you go to Menu and under the camera, the icon picks the first item, “Shooting menu bank.” I have chosen C, which is my sports menu.

If you toggle into the “Shooting menu bank,” you can rename those settings. Once you choose one of these settings, everything you do to change the menu will be saved in that menu bank. I recommend going ahead and trying all my settings and then tweaking them to your preferences.

When shooting sports, it is prevalent for the lighting conditions to change instantly. While the football player runs toward you, they may go from shade into direct sunlight. For this reason, I let the camera do some of my thinking.

Go to the camera icon and look for “ISO sensitivity settings.” Select this, and you will then see this menu:

I turn on the “Auto ISO sensitivity control.” Then, I set the minimum shutter speed to 1/2000. The ISO setting is what you see in the smaller window below the menu. I put this to ISO 100 and then set the “Maximum sensitivity” to ISO 12800.

While I am in Aperture Mode shooting, the camera will always pick 1/2000 shutter speed. If in sunlight, I am at ƒ/4, the shutter speed may go as high as 1/8000 at ISO 100, but as the scene changes and the athlete is now in the shade, the camera will automatically drop to 1/2000 @ ƒ/4 and then change also the ISO up until I can still shoot at 1/2000.

The only time the shutter speed will dip below 1/2000 is if the ISO peaks out at 12800. If my aperture is wide open, the camera is doing everything I would have done manually but faster than I could ever adjust the camera. That is how you get more shots than the guy next to you.

Under the custom settings bank (Pencil Icon), I go into the autofocus setting.

I changed the “Focus tracking with lock-on” from Normal to 4. What happens when I do this is the delay for the lens to refocus if something occurs between the camera and the subject (like a referee). While I am following someone, the camera will not refocus right away. This is something you need to try and pick what you like. You may want the lens to be more responsive and go to set one, which will let the lens refocus instantly.

Focus Settings

I set the camera to AF mode. I also run this in continuous focus mode rather than single.

I go into the menu, select the AF activation under custom settings, and choose “AF-ON only.” This means it will not focus on the lens when I press the shutter. It will only fire the camera. I am using the AF-ON button on the back of the Nikon D4 to focus.

By changing these settings, you will notice the camera stays in focus and shoots at a faster frame rate. Great for following a baseball player sliding into a plate and another player trying to tag them, or maybe a football player is running toward you to score. You will find more photos tack sharp in a series.

I generally put my focus point dead center and lock it so I don’t bump it. I am trying to get photos of moving subjects; the off-center is too tricky. I may crop later for a better composition, but I want the issue to focus first.

Now, of the 51 different focus points, you can choose groups of these to help with focusing. I went with Nikon’s suggested 21-point dynamic-area AF.

Here are suggestions by Nikon in the manual:

The only other setting is on the lens that I turn on VR.

Nikon helps to continue solving photography’s number one problem

Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 6400, 1/50, ƒ/5.6 (shot at 112 focal length)

Photos are not sharp

While the photo above is not terrible it isn’t sharp. Look at the enlarged section here below.

The reason the photo isn’t sharp is not due to the camera or lens. You see the number one problem facing most photographers today is soft images due to camera movement.

No matter the camera you are shooting, the best thing to combat camera movement is a tripod. Your images will be the sharpest possible, that is if your subject is perfectly still during the exposure.

The second thing you can do is to increase the shutter speed. The rule-of-thumb is turn your focal length into a fraction. Put 1 over your focal length and then find the closest shutter speed on your camera faster than it and you are generally good to go. 

In the photo above I was shooting at focal length of 112. I would convert this to a fraction of 1/112 and then shoot to the closest shutter speed, which for my camera would have been 1/125.  Notice however I was at ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6 and 1/50.  I needed to go up by more than 1 stop to do that for this photo.

For various reasons I couldn’t raise the shutter speed. To raise it would have been to push the ISO to 12,800 and the D3 really didn’t look all that good at 12,800. I was already wide open and so I couldn’t open up the aperture any more. I couldn’t shoot with a tripod in the hair salon because I would be in the way of customers.

Nikon to the rescue

Nikon added two lenses to some of their lenses to help with camera shake. These lenses help with vibration and reduce the camera shake by counteracting it. They call these lenses VR which is acronym for Vibration Reduction. Nikon VR lenses use two angular velocity sensors, one that detects vertical movement (pitch), the other, horizontal movement (yaw), with diagonal motion handled by both sensors working together. The sensors send angular velocity data to a microcomputer in the lens, which determines how much compensation is needed to offset the camera’s shake and sends that information to a duo of voice coil motors that move selected lens elements to compensate for the detected motion.

If you ever go on a cruise the ships have similar devices called gyroscopes that help stabilize a ship in rough water. If you have ever been on a ship and you still felt the roll of the sea this is because there is a limit to how much they can compensate.

The compensation of the Nikon VR II lenses is about equal to four stops. What this means is if you were shooting hand held with a camera lens at 1/60 then you should get the same sharpness as if you were shooting at 1/1000.  So you should be able to handhold a 1000mm lens at 1/60 based on this technology.  But if you have ever handheld a 600mm lens you know that few can actually hold one up.

The VR system can also detect the use of a tripod, recognize panning―an instance in which you wouldn’t want the lens to compensate for movement―and address the specific shake caused by the ongoing vibration patterns produced when shooting from a moving vehicle. From my personal experience you want to turn off the VR function when shooting from tripod.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12,800, 1/80, ƒ/5.6 300mm

Just a few years later I now am shooting with a Nikon D4 instead of the D3 above. I can now shoot ISO 12,800 and I also have the newer AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR that is a VR II technology.

I am hand holding this lens and just loving the results.

This is cropped area of the photo above. Notice how sharp the eyelashes are in the photo.

When I started shooting professionally 30 years ago I was using the Nikon FM2 film cameras. Let me list a few things that have changed making the above photo possible that I could have never done before.

  • Auto focus lenses
  • Highest ISO I shot in 1982 was ISO 400 for color and today I regularly shoot ISO 12,800
  • Vibration Reduction (letting me hand hold images four stops slower)
  • In Camera White Balance today (Only Daylight, Tungsten and BW film in 1982)
In 1982 Nikon had a 50-300mm that weighed 6lb 2.8oz

The lenses were manual focus early in my career and weighed a lot more than today. They are not as sharp as today’s lenses due to the ability of computers to help in the design today.

Today this 28-30mm lens only weighs 28.2 oz and can focus faster than I could ever do with manual lens.

Nikon has helped me take photos I could never have taken before in available light, which is helping me provide services to my clients that have never been done before.

My go to lens

The AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens might as well be bolted onto my camera. I do use other Nikon lenses, but this is always my first choice in majority of the situations I shoot. This lens with the Nikon D4 is one of the best combinations in camera gear today.

Nikon D4: Normal Camera Setting

These are my settings for everyday shooting. Regular shooting is more photojournalistic for me, and I use many available lights and lenses from the 14 – 300mm range.

The first thing I do is select my shooting menu bank in the menu. I have saved two primary shooting setups.

I have normal for most average situations and shooting using studio flash. You can rename these to whatever you like to use. I have occasionally set up a sports menu bank as well. Once you select this setting, everything you set in your menu will be saved here.

My primary slot is the XQD, and the secondary slot is overflowing. I am usually shooting in RAW in this setting. This means I can change the white balance later, with more control than I would have in JPEGs.

Also, I have set the bit depth to the highest setting of 14-bit to give me the most significant possible data capture from the sensor.

I set the picture control to standard, affecting only the RAW previews. If you are saving as JPEG and RAW, then the JPEGs will be a little more punch than the Neutral, which, for me, is too flat.

I shoot in the ADOBE RGB color space, and after editing in Lightroom, I output to sRGB. I have the most significant color space in Adobe RGB; therefore, I will have more information when editing, giving better color in the final image.

I prefer to shoot in AUTO ISO. The ISO sensitivity is set at ISO 100 and set to max out at ISO 12,800. I will go into this setting and often tweak the minimum shutter speed, especially when shooting under fluorescent lights, to 1/100. I wrote about Auto ISO in an earlier blog post here. The concept hasn’t changed since the article about the Nikon D3S was written. Earlier, I wrote about why we should shoot at 1/100 with fluorescent lights here.

I only changed a few things from default to custom settings.

I use the autofocus points of 51 with the auto setting on single. It will look for faces automatically. I may override this if the auto setting isn’t locking in where I typically want it to. Often, it is faster than I am, and sometimes, I need to override who I wish to be the focus point when many people are in a photo.

I also like to embed my name in all the photos, so I put my words in the Image Comment and Copyright Information.

I will write more in future posts on studio strobes and sports settings.

Imaging USA EXPO

David Bergman speaks at the Nikon booth during Imaging USA EXPO.

This blog post may seem a little disconnected, but it is more like a journal of my experience today at the Imaging USA Expo. I had a lot of fun and learned a few things.

Kevin Ames is photographing a model at the Sigma booth. Kevin is is sponsored by Sigma.

The reason I drove to the convention was to see my friends. All the gear I have seen before and no company was rolling out new gear at the show that I knew about.

One person that always is good to have in town is Bill Fortney. Bill is retiring July 1st from Nikon as one of their representatives. I knew I wanted to have some time with him as well as get a chance to talk with his boss Bill Pekala, the head of Nikon Professional Services.

Bill Fortney is handling all the questions from the convention attendees.

In a few weeks I will be doing a similar role to Bill when I am answering student questions about their next purchases. While Bill thought I was just hanging out to say hello, I was actually listening to how Bill handled all their questions.

Bill was helping people understand the Nikon lineup of cameras. For the most part Bill was talking to people about the differences between the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D600.  For most folks the Nikon D600 fits the bill just fine is what he was telling them. Fortney thinks of his Nikon D800 like a 4×5 camera. When he shoots with it this is serious. He knows he wants all the detail possible and pulls this camera out of the bag.

For the most part Bill explained how much he enjoyed shooting for the most part with the Nikon D600 as his everyday shooting camera.  You can read a blog Bill wrote on this here.

Dr. Charles Stanley asks Bill for some advice on his upcoming trip to Africa. He didn’t want to take all his gear and asked Bill for what he recommended. Bill recommended the Nikon D7000 and the Nikon 18-200mm lens for the trip.

You need good relationships with the camera representatives because they know the gear the best and great people to help one navigate their lineup of cameras and lenses.

I went by the Nikon Professional Services room and even met for the first time face to face Melissa DiBartolo. For years she has helped me with getting my cameras repaired and answering questions. I walked in and she knew me right away and this was so reassuring to know they are taking the time to help us out.

Jeff Raymond enjoys meeting Dr. Charles Stanley in the hall of the convention.

While I was having a chance to renew friendships I also was starting new ones. Jeff Raymond was able to meet Dr. Charles Stanley and talk about his work in missions.

Coming up the escalator was my friend Tara Patty who has a photo studio in Colorado Springs, CO. I was enjoying hear how her business is growing and changing. Years ago she was shooting 90% commercial and only about 10% portraits for the public. Today she is shooting 10% commercial and 90% portraits and her business is growing.

I then met my friend Mark Turner who said the last three years have been great for business. He only wonders how much better if the economy was stronger.

As I talked to friend after friend I was finding they were all doing much better and had made changes in their business as well.

If you have time I recommend taking it in yourself if you are in Atlanta on January 22nd.

You can go here to register and enjoy the event www.imagingusa.org/registration.

How to get repeat business and referrals from assignments


A popular myth maintains that those who know how to do something can teach others. Not True.

The ability to communicate a concept to another person and teach them is more than just knowing how to do something. Giving instructions has a lot in common with teaching. Giving assignments to creatives about something which can be very abstract requires more than an understanding of what you want. I know it when I see it isn’t a good teaching technique.

I have written this blog for two different audiences: 1) those giving assignments and 2) those doing those assignments.

Assignment Photography

Just because you know what you want from a photographer does not necessarily mean you know how to communicate it to a photographer for an assignment.  One of the biggest mistakes made in communication is making some assumptions.

Everything is “Clear Only If Known.” We can make assumptions as simple as telling someone directions and assuming they know where certain landmarks are along the way. Another example is telling someone to turn on something. Sometimes there are many steps to turning on something. They need to know where the place is to turn something on and sometimes there are multiple steps before it will turn on.

There are two standard ways many people making assignments like to communicate: 1) written and 2) spoken.

Most likely the person you are giving instructions to doesn’t do well reading or listening. To be sure you have covered your bases you are best served speaking to the person and sending them written instructions.

The problem with using only these two methods is there are some people who don’t listen and read instructions very well.  Understanding instructions can easily be linked to someone’s learning style. This is how they best learn to do something new.

You see there are seven different learning styles:

The Seven Learning Styles

    Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
    Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
    Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
    Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
    Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
    Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
    Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

One thing I think that can really help in addition to spoken and written assignments is some examples.  Many clients have given me and I have given to others have included visual examples.

Sometimes when the clients talks about a style or approach I will look for my own examples and send these to them for confirmation of an approach.

Besides conceptual approaches just the business side of the assignment can cause problems. For example, if a client needs photos sent to them electronically using a ftp site, then it is a good idea to do a dry run. I have done this to find out that the information they gave to me wasn’t correct. It is better to find that out before you are on a deadline.

The dry run is a great way to verify understanding of the instructions or at least most of them.

If you are the person giving the instructions then you want a balanced approach. Here are some tips that will increase the odds of understanding and implementation of your instructions.

  1. Spoken instructions – Be sure to give your instructions orally and in person if possible. This helps with them asking you to repeat things and getting clarification. Your tone of voice also helps communicate. When in person your body language will also help inform them.
  2. Written instructions – Be sure you also have all your instructions presented in writing. This will help you also review all your desirable outcomes. You have now a permanent record of your request. Sometimes this helps avoid problems in your voice tone or body language.
  3. Visual examples – If you have examples of past assignments and what you liked from other photographers please send this to them. If you have examples of how it will run in a printed piece or a link to a website then send this as well. 
  4. Test shots – Try to have a contact on site or be there yourself to look at what is being produced. You can ask the photographer to email you an example of what they have setup. Let’s say it is a portrait of the CEO. You can have a model stand in and take some test shots, then if the style and/or approach is off or just perfect you and the photographer can verify or make changes.

How do you learn best?

If you are on the receiving end of instructions you need to know your learning style to be successful. If you get an email asking you to take on an assignment and you know you are a verbal learner you may ask if they mind you calling them to clarify a few things.

When writing your contract it is always good to spell out the deliverable. I have even put photo examples into a contract and stated that the deliverable will be similar to what is in the contract.

Ask questions and clarify those expectations so you can meet and exceed their expectations. Even if everything is sounding really easy and routine, take the time and restate their expectations in your words to show you understand the assignment. It is very important when this is your first time working with someone to be sure you have complete understanding.

If you do better with written instructions and the person is just calling and not sending instructions ask them to send it in writing. Stress that you want to be sure they get exactly what they want and having the written instructions to refer to will help you. Now if they for some reason cannot send you instructions, make written notes. Be sure to stop and clarify points.

Use an App on your smartphone to record the phone call. Google Voice needs no introduction, its features and uses are well known, but one feature that not many know exists in Google Voice is the ability to record calls. This can be achieved by pressing the number four while in a received call. With the price of free and no hidden fees, Google Voice is a winner. If you really want to get a lot of features for phone calls that happen to include recording then go with Google Voice, you will not regret it.

Your self perception of the assignment is based on what you see and what you think or know and not what is actually there. What I am saying is that just because you are using the same language and words as the person talking to you or writing to you it is still very easy to have different interpretations as to what you are talking about. This is where having some samples of previous assignments to refer to will help you clarify the expectations. You might just follow up on the phone call and summarize your take on the assignment and then maybe attach or embed a photo or two saying this is an example of what they are looking for.

Your individual temperament and motivation are the personality traits that must be taken into consideration. Temperamental variables include impatience, mood swings, and a distorted perception of goals. As we get older we become more aware of how some of these traits of ours can interfere in our communications. If you like taking pictures and cannot see yourself doing anything other than this for a career and you have bills this will help motivate you to suck it up and learn to compensate for the few moments it takes to get an assignment.

You want to practice with some friends to be sure you are being perceived as a good listener and test to see if you are comprehending instructions. Even if you think you are polished it is a good idea to work on your replies that you will use with people. This is very important when you are maybe dealing with your own learning disabilities and need a few things from the person to help insure you are understanding them correctly.

You may find in practicing you need to work on your delivery so the tone of voice communicates your desire to help and not so blunt as it puts off people. Your friends can help you evaluate how you are coming across. It is much better to get experience through practice than with clients. Making the mistakes in practice will help you avoid a failure with a client.

Do a great job with a client and not only do you get repeat business they tell others about you. Do a bad job and the reverse is true.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Five – Conclusion

Don Rutledge (photo by Ken Touchton)


To a non-Christian, Don would have been considered crazy for taking the positions with Southern Baptist. Going to the Home Mission Board was a step down in pay and prestige for Don Rutledge. Why would someone leave a superposition to drastically cut salary and work with people who generally did not understand photojournalism? Why would Don repeat the cut in pay and prestige and leave the Home Mission Board to go to the Foreign Mission Board? The answers to these questions only come from one source, and that source is God.

Don turned down positions with Life magazine, Associated Press, and many others. The Associated Press job would allow Don to travel the country doing any feature story he wanted. The AP job also would require him to go with the President of the United States on any overseas coverages. Don turned down what most would not have thought twice about taking as jobs.[54] 

These people dressed in white are going to the Eny River to be baptized and become members of the First Baptist Church in Novosibirsk, Siberia; Thirty-five people are in the group. The person who is leading them is a deacon in the church. His name is Vladimir Korniyshin. According to Eduard Genrich of Second Baptist Church in Novosibirsk, working with outsiders means listening and being heard. People here say they are encouraged and helped by outsiders but taken advantage of by some.

Don did not follow the average direction that most Americans seek. He did not climb the ladder as most would. In our culture, we are trained to continue to go up vertically. We move through our school years doing this, and most continue to do the same in the corporate ladder climb. However, Don learned to follow his Lord——Jesus. Whenever Don decided, there was no brass ring to grab. In hindsight, Don’s life is a testimony to how the Lord cares for his children. 

John Howard Griffin was a black man in New Orleans in 1956. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin was getting dressed in a hotel in 1956. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin is looking at movies playing. He would have a separate entrance when going in as a black man. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin as a black man and polishing shoes for a white man. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

Don’s life has been a testimony to other photographers who are not Christian. He is often asked to speak at conferences for the National Press Photographers, Atlanta Press Photogra­phers, and The Southern Short Course and also speaks for numerous camera clubs around the country.

This writer concludes that Don has exemplified better than most that following your Lord does not mean giving yourself to a lesser life. Those who earlier criticized Don for leaving Black Star to work with Southern Baptist have repeatedly called him asking if there are any openings for them to serve.[55]

New York City, NY 1966:  Lady on the rooftop. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

Those who want to follow in Don’s footsteps need to be warned that the road that Don has paved still has potholes and other problems that will require one to proceed cautiously. They must realize Don focused on relationships with all those around him. They must build strong relationships. 

While working with Don at the Foreign Mission Board, this writer observed how the administrative assistants and those working in the file area of photography often teased Don. After one trip, Don’s office was wholly rolled with toilet paper. Another time, one of the girls in the office had everyone dress like Don. Don always wore the same style of shirt, making teasing him easy.              Another time, Don came back to discover his desk stacked with mail. Virginia Adams, administrative assistant in the communications department, made labels with Don’s name and address. Virginia asked everyone to bring in all their junk mail. She then put the labels on all that mail.

Boy in the mirror. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

One does not build this relationship by looking out for themselves alone. Don was not around much at the Foreign Mission Board, but he knew how to put all at ease around him. He was well known for the stories that he told. Don always had a story to tell and keep people laughing. 


Don’s ability with people is strongly related to his relationship with Christ. No matter how good one is with the camera or words, one must understand that Don’s success is due to the diligence and patience given to him by Jesus Christ. You will never hear Don preaching or grabbing shirt collars to witness. Due to Don’s life, many have seen Christ’s compassion for the world. Looking at Don’s photographs allows one to see the world from a Christian perspective. One does not have to work with a Christian institution to do what Don does well. One only needs a Lord they call their master to understand how he does it all——his Lord enables him.


[54] Interview with Rutledge.

[55] Rutledge.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter One

Figure 1 Harley Shields is a Southern Baptist Home Missionary whose workplace is in Selawik, Alaska. Don photographed him in 1978.

This writer has en­joyed seeing the world, approximately 137 coun­tries, and all of the United States without ever leav­ing his own home.

Most of the travel­ing was done with the help of The Commission Magazine and Missions USA. Both maga­zines have won some of the highest awards in the country. The Commission Magazine has placed third in magazines in the “Pic­tures of The Year” contest sponsored by the Na­tional Press Photographers Association in 1989 and 1990. Missions USA has earned similar awards. These Southern Baptist magazines are in league with National Geographic and Life Magazine for their photography and design. The reason for their success can be significantly tied to Don Rutledge. For this reason, this writer is doing his thesis on Don Rutledge for publication.

Don has worked for the Black Star photo agency in New York for over thirty years. He has also worked for the Home Mission and the Foreign Mission Boards of the SBC. He has won more than 400 awards for his work. In addition, he has been published in many magazines and books around the globe. His career has taken him throughout all fifty states, Canada, and 135 countries.

Today, Rutledge is a mentor to many professional photographers and students. All of the photojournalists in the Southern Baptist Convention point to Don as the reason they are where they are today. All of them hope one day to make the impact he has already made for Southern Baptists and the cause of missions.

Having worked with Don Rutledge for many years, this writer has developed an excellent appreciation for him. He has understood that working with people is the common thread that binds all those in minis­try. Don works with people so well that he has made significant changes in magazines with his soft, encouraging voice. Wherev­er Don goes, he makes many friends.

Figure 2 Every year, Carl Holden, a home missionary, takes his young people tubing from his church, Central Baptist.

Don’s ability with people is a gift. Don puts people at ease with or without his camera. This is a talent envied by photo­jour­nalists the world over. Those in the field of Christian photojour­nalism understand where this gift came from. They know how Don’s faith is lived out through his camera.

As one looks at Don’s photographs, one feels he is in the room with the people. Don becomes a part of the woodwork wherever he goes. He blends in so well that people can be themselves. His subjects looked as though Don was not present. They are not reacting to his presence but are free to be themselves. Don has allowed God to be so much a part of his work that when one speaks of how Don is a part of the woodwork, one can picture how the Holy Spirit works through him.

Figure 3 In 1967, Don Rutledge went inside the Artic Circle and captured this Eskimo child playing.

His reputation often precedes Don, now that people know of his integrity without ever meeting him. They can see a man who gives dignity to his sub­jects. Often, many pho­togra­phers today will exploit their sub­jects. They pho­to­graph a handi­capped per­son and exag­gerate his handicap so that one never really sees the per­son. Don’s pho­tos call one to feel a part of the per­son. Don says the eyes are the windows to the soul. He re­veals the inner­most aspect of people in a brief instant that is frozen on film. The more one looks at the photo­graph, the more one sees. He packs so much information into a photo­graph that one can go over and over it and see something new every time—Don in­cludes small details in his photo­graphs like a good writer who pulls his reader into the situation.

Don studied to be a psy­chologist and worked on his doctorate in the field. He also studied for the minis­try and was a pastor for a short period. He still uses his psychology in pho­to­graphing people, and his pictures reach more than 1.5 million weekly.

Don’s work has helped people see the result of mission­aries’ work worldwide. In addition, he has helped the mission board reach the world for Christ.

Growing up as a home missionary kid helped this writer realize the importance of relationships in ministry. This writer felt the call to the church and went a traditional route of majoring in social work and planning to go on to the semi­nary to become a pastor. While in college, this writer discovered photog­raphy and the camera’s power as a communication tool. Knolan Benfield, Jr., was a photogra­pher who worked on Missions USA magazine and introduced this writer to Don Rutledge. This writer was intrigued by the work that Don did on the maga­zine.

After talking with Don, this writer felt redi­rect­ed in his call to be a minister who used the camera as a central part of his ministry. Many who are Christian photojour­nalists have struggled with the call. In many ways, the Chris­tian photojour­nalist is a preacher. The photo­journalist’s illus­trations are not done with words in the pulpit but with photo­graphs on the printed page.

As one will see, Don’s work is powerful, and his style can be seen in most photojournalists who work for the Southern Baptists. They will tell you they hope someday to be like Don.

Don dreams of publications combining words and pictures effectively to communicate God’s concerns in his heart. This driving force in Don is the Holy Spirit convicting him of the message of missions. His photographs have one common theme: Love. They have moved people to become in­volved in tasks. God has called them into missionary service after they looked at the mission field through the “eyes of Don.” Don’s work has helped meet the needs of people worldwide.

When considering the skills of Don Rutledge, one can see that he could have become very wealthy from his photography if he had not worked with Southern Baptists. In the three months before coming to work with Southern Baptists, he made more than he would make in the next two years working with Southern Baptists. His decision to be a minister with a camera meant choosing the narrow road. Don decided to follow Jesus Christ. Due to his follow­ing Christ, his work as a Christian photojour­nalist has helped spread the gospel worldwide.

[1]Howard I. Feinberg, The Best of Photojournalism 16: The Year in Pictures, (Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers, 1991), 232.


Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Four

FOREIGN MISSION BOARD, 1980 TO 1993         

When Dr. Keith Parks went to the Foreign Mission Board in 1975, his responsibility was to head up the mission support division. Establishing one of the finest communications departments possible was one of Dr. Parks’s goals for himself and the Foreign Mission Board. He discovered Don Rutledge did the finest photojour­nalism work around the denomination. However, Don is now working for the Home Mission Board.

While Dr. Parks was trying to direct the communi­cations department, Everette Hullum and Don Rutledge were asked to provide a workshop at the Foreign Mission board. During the seminar, Don and Everette talked about working as a team and how they did coverages. Don remembers that Dr. Parks sat in on the workshop.

Later, around 1979, Dr. Keith Parks heard through the grapevine that Don Rutledge may be interested in leaving the Home Mission Board. Then, Dr. Keith Parks approached Don to come to the Foreign Mission Board.[41]  He also tried to get Everette Hullum but was unable to do so.

“I feel that he [Don Rutledge] brought a new standard and new level of photojournalism here [Foreign Mission Board] to The Commission as well as other products,” said Dr. Parks. “The significant detail about Don is not only his sensitivity but also his unselfishly giving. Many others have come on our staff fairly new and fairly young, and Don has given a lot of time training them, giving them tips, and working with them. He has shared his expertise very unselfishly.”[42]  This writer is one of the ones Don took under his wing and trained at the Foreign Mission Board. Joanna Pinneo was another of those whom Don helped. She successfully took Don’s suggestions and moved on to work with Black Star and National Geo­graphic.

Figure 32 In Guatamalla, missionary Jane Parker works with the Kechi Indians.

When Don worked with a person, it was usually because they initiated the contact rather than Don. This occurred as a person went to Don ask­ing for advice and continued to return over and over and put into practice Don’s suggestions. Those who understood and could incorporate Don’s suggestions into their direction in photogra­phy did very well. 

Figure 33 Don often talks of the eyes as the “windows to the soul.”

“We needed a flagship piece at the Board,” said Dr. Parks.[43]  They made The Commis­sion maga­zine that flag­ship. They determined they needed on-the-spot coverage to communicate the message through this piece. They had done this but had gotten away from on-the-spot coverage. They relied on the missionaries to send in information they could from the fields. They designed the idea of getting information at the location. The philosophy of team coverage was the direction taken by the board. They hooked a writer and a photogra­pher together to work on projects. They went to the countries to gather together material to be used in publica­tions. Some material was used for mission studies, news releases, and feature articles.

On 14 March 1985, shows to Egoingpia to cover the hunger problem. Here, volunteer nurse Sally Jones holds an Ethiopian child and comforts the child amid other babies their mothers are having.

The team philosophy was not new in Southern Baptist life. It was copied from the Home Mission Board, with Don acting as a consultant. Don also brought ideas from his days with Black Star to the Home Mission Board. The old saying two heads are better than one applies to effective communication. Besides a writer and pho­tographer working together, the team was more significant. A designer, edi­tor, depart­ment head, librarian, and others were included in the planning process for the distribution of the product. The team concept made everyone on the team become special­ists. This specialization causes each person to make his contri­bution the best possible. The photographer concen­trated on the images, and the writer could concentrate on the words. The de­signer worked at combining the two ele­ments to work together to communicate the most effective package possible.

Figure 35 shows an older man who came to the feeding shelter sponsored by Baptist. Many are not only hungry but very sick.

Before these coverages could occur, issues like budget needs had to be raised and planned into the schedule. Planning a year or so was often done to work out necessary details. Usually, these plans would change at the last moment. Even with de­tailed planning, the team discovered that when they arrived on the field, the mission­aries did not un­derstand what the group was doing. Due to the miles and cultural patterns in­volved in trying to communicate with the whole world, many problems had to be faced. 

Figure 36 An Ethiopian child is rescued from starvation by volunteers. Mary Saunders, one of the volunteers, comforts the child’s mother.

         All this planning later helped them to respond positively in crises. They covered the Earth­quake in Mexico City and the mudslide in Colum­bia.  Both of these coverages were released through the Associated Press and helped the world see how Southern Baptists responded to the world’s crisis. This provided good public relations. It helped Southern Baptists who had never seen The Commission magazine or a Baptist state paper see the positive work done through Southern Baptist missions for the first time in their local paper.

Figure 37 Joy is all that can be seen in the eyes of the young. Rescued from starvation and given hope once again.

Don’s ability to capture people on film in such a natural way provides a positive con­trast with photographers who wet up posed situations. Don’s photography “has helped in the total scope of communications” for the Foreign Mission Board.[44] 

Figure 38 HOPE——In the face of starvation, food is provided to many people at the shelter while others take the food and return home.

Don is a compassionate person. He is sensi­tive to other people. He can gain their confidence and subtly work himself into a situation. He has tremendous spiritual depth. Therefore, his pictures reflect his sensitivity to people and his spiritual commitment. I have never seen him take a picture or seen a picture he has made that in any way would embarrass people who saw it. He always did it in such a way that the people who saw it would be as proud of it as he was. He has such a sensitive touch, such a high standard, and the feeling of wanting the people who were the objects of the picture to be as proud of the picture as he was as the picture’s taker. Of course, he has such a tremendous background in all his travels and his awareness of Southern Baptist life and other Christian groups; he brings a quality and a character to the work that many people don’t. It’s not just a technical profession to him; it’s a spiritual calling. You sense that in what he does and how he does it.”[45] 

Figure 39 With food in hand, the people leave the shelter and grounds to return to their families.

Dr. Keith Parks resigned late in 1992 due to the controversy at the Southern Baptist convention, making it difficult for him to do the job as he saw it. Don Rutledge and writer Robert O’Brien went with Dr. Parks on his last trip to Rio.

Figure 40 Surgeon Tim Pennell got five colleagues from Bowman Gray School of Medicine to commit weeks of vacation and thousands of dollars to meet their Chinese counterparts.

Although Don took hundreds of pictures, I hardly noticed because he did it in such an unobtrusive way. When he put it all together, he had caught the highlights of the meeting and the impact that he wanted. I think that he is a first-rate fellow from every measurement professional. Of course, he can and does meet the highest standards of the secular world, and yet his deep spiritual commitment has caused him to give himself to the spiritual cause he believes in rather than selling his skills to the highest bidder. I think that quality and character come through in his pictures.[46] Dan Beatty, the design editor of The Com­mission maga­zine, commented,  “Don is the one person who has completely influenced the magazine’s direction. Before Don came, we knew that there was a sure way we wanted to present the mission material in the magazine. None of us had a firm grasp on what direction we should go to achieve our goals. Don provided the direc­tion for us to go. Don never expressed any strong feelings about——in a critique type way——on the mag­azine. Just Don’s presence and constant example of someone who always strives for the best is what guided us along. He constantly connected us with different individuals in photojour­nalism and lay­out and design. He felt these would be good influences on the maga­zine or effects that would help us along the road where we wanted to be with the publication.”[47]  

Don and those around him heavily influenced Dan. Through Don, Dan was introduced to the people of National Geographic, The Virginia-Pilot, and The Ledger-Star, those at Black Star, and others. The awards for best use of pictures by a magazine, given out by the National Press Photographers at the an­nual Pictures-of-the-Year contest, were basical­ly awarded to Dan Beat­ty’s efforts.[48]  As a result of Dan receiving this award, most per­sons in photojournalism considered Dan to be at the top of the field. Dan says, “I would not be doing what I am doing at the level I am doing it if it hadn’t been for Don. He is an example of con­sistency and integrity in a field where that is not always a constant with the different people I’ve met. He represented something that I wanted to achieve myself. He has been the most significant influence I can think of on me personal­ly and the different photographers I have worked with along with Don. What impressed me most about Don is his sensitivity and his regard for human beings. That made him the asset Dr. Parks sought in communi­cating about Foreign Missions to Southern Baptists and other people. No matter the situation, the dig­nity of the human being is so important to Don. To me, that is the real strength of Don’s work.”[49]  

Figure 41 Philippines Clustered on the split-bamboo floor for a meal are (clockwise from left) missionary Boe Stanley, Supreme Datu Manlapanag, Basilisa Feril, Jean Tolintino, and Arsenio Garilao.

Not everyone on the board was so excited when Don came on board. He replaced the only photographer when he went to the Home Mission Board. There was not a photogra­phy department. However, when Don went to the Foreign Mission Board, there was a lab, a photo library, and photographers already working there. The For­eign Mission Board was in many ways not any further along photographi­cally than the Home Mis­sion Board was when he went there in 1966. Here in 1980, they were shoot­ing their coverages on medium format cameras. Hasselblads, to be specific. These cumbersome bodies did not let one shoot available light photogra­phy. The photogra­phy being done was only glorified snapshots. 

Figure 42 Dr. Jerry Bedsole, a career veterinarian mission­ary, doctors the animals of the people in his open-air clinic.

Survey trips were the way that Photography was done. The photographers would plan a trip and shoot stock photography. These pictures were for the files and not for any specific story usually. The images did not tell a story at all. They were scenics of buildings, and when people were included, they all stood facing the camera. If there were more than two people, they generally lined them up for the group shot. 

Figure 43

The magazine was dull. The technological advances in layout and design had passed the board years ago. The Foreign Mission Board had a more extensive lab, more photogra­phers, and even a more extensive photo library, but still, their work was much poorer than what the Home Mission Board was producing. Some might say that Don had lost his marbles. Why leave the Home Mission Board and go to a place like the Foreign Mission Board? It sounds so familiar for the same reasons that he went from Black Star to the Home Mission Board.

Figure 44 The child is suffering from malnutrition.
The volunteers often see these faces of hopelessness, and they bring back hope for the families.

After going to the Foreign Mission Board, Don ran into problem after problem again. The board had adopted a policy to help those moving to Richmond get loans through the F.M.B. But Carl Johnson told Don that although the govern­ing council had approved it, he could not let Don use this program. Interest rates were sky-high. Don took a cut in salary and went from paying a house payment of a couple of hundred dollars to four times as much. The house wasn’t much more significant. It was just the nature of the housing market. Don said he took a substantial cut in pay when figuring out all the move costs.

Figure 45

Phil Douglas, a layout and design specialist, was putting together a book and had asked Don to contribute some of his work. The Home Mission Board and the Foreign Mission Board used and had used Phil Douglas’ consulting services at the time. Ken Lawson did not think this was a good idea and refused to let Don’s pic­tures from the Foreign Mission Board be used in the book. The Home Mission Board cooperated with the project and allowed Don’s photos to be used. Many in the com­munica­tions department were giving Don a hard time. Dr. Keith Parks had as­signed Don directly to the top of the Communi­ca­tions Department head, John Scofield. This infuriated many in the department. They felt they had been there longer and deserved the prestige that was being given to Don by Dr. Parks. 

Figure 46: No shoes or protection for their feet leaves many with foot problems.

After looking at the two agencies and comparing Don’s acceptance to the difficulties he incurred at the two agencies, this writer has concluded. At the Home Board, Don was faced with people questioning his technical knowledge, while at the Foreign Board, they were jealous. He communicat­ed well at both agencies. The sources of his problems at the agencies were very different. 

Figure 47: Flies and dust crust the eyes of a mother and her baby as she struggles through the jagged, arid Ethiopian highlands, hoping to find food and medicine for her child at the Southern Baptist feeding and health care center at Rabel. Her husband died along the way.

Those that Parks asked to change their approaches had to deal with significant issues. Dr. Parks wanted Don to direct the publications. Perhaps those who followed willingly possess more self-esteem than those who fought the battle of falling. Don did not confront this issue. He just let his work do the talking. Slowly, many changed their views after seeing the impact of Don’s work.

Figure 48 Seeing this landscape shows how the area looks without grass or growing; it is very lonely.

Don’s ties with Black Star and others in the secular world helped many staff members. Steve Helber, the Asso­ciated Press Photographer for the state of Virginia, called Don one day asking for some help. Steve had worked in Atlanta and knew Don from those days in Atlanta. Don was too busy but suggested that Joanna Pinneo could probably help. This introduction helped Joanna, a lab techni­cian in the Foreign Mission Board’s darkroom, get the shooting experience. Steve Helber took Joanna under his wing and taught her the ins and outs of wire service photogra­phy. With Steve and Don working with Joanna, Joanna soon began doing coverages for the Foreign Mission Board.

Don helped Joanna by going over her contact sheets with her. Slowly, things were coming together. Her background was in art and psychology. Don helped her use this background in photo­journalism. Steve Helber helped Joanna develop her style of impact. In the wire ser­vices, pictures had to have an immediate effect, or the editors would not use them in their papers. This understanding, cou­pled with Don’s magazine background, helped Joanna get some of the founda­tions that she later built upon to make her one of the most successful pho­tographers in the field today. Howard Chapnick was grateful for being introduced to Joanna through Don.[50]  One can see through Joanna Don’s teaching ability.

What does Don teach others that they do already know? Don teaches people how to see again. “Why is the sky blue? Why is one flower red and another yellow? How do the stars stay up in the sky? Why is the snow cold?” are questions Don says that children ask and adults forget to ask. Once these questions are not asked, the world becomes humdrum. Don teaches those around him how to appreciate the small details and how these small details say so much. Don says, “Photography forces me to continue asking questions which began in my childhood and probing for answers in the maturity of my life. The ‘seeing beyond what the average person sees’ fills me constantly with excitement and allows me to keep the dreams of my youth. It gives my ‘seeing’ a newness and freshness as I work hard to communicate through photog­raphy the messages I want to convey.”[51] 

Figure 50 Volunteer Mike Edens taught these two pastors, Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk, MasterLife Discipleship training in Cypress in 1984.

Black Star allowed Don to pursue this direction; later, the Home Mission Board nurtured this call of Don’s. The desire keeps him going now with the Foreign Mission Board. As a result of working with these groups, Don has been in all 50 states, all but two of the Canadian provinces, and 137 countries.[52]  This travel has helped Don to see how small the world is. He has noticed that once he arrives in another nation, the people are very similar and live very much alike. The smile still means the same the world over. 

Often, Don is asked to speak at photography conferences. He advises the photo­journalists who work on the local papers to learn how to work where they are now. The ability to look good has little to do with where you are and who you photograph. The power to communicate must be there in the local market. This writer/photographer has looked at Don Rutledge’s work for the past twenty years. The pictures in Russia look very similar to his photos in Kentucky. The differences were more minor than the similarities. Don’s photographs concentrate on people’s emotions. People’s feelings stand above languages and cultures, no matter where you are located. These small moments of expression communicate across our language barriers. Foreign Missions has been one of the best places for Don’s work to excel. Here, his style of Photography was not bound by words or cultures. Body language is a potent form of communication. The difference between a “No Comment” on a show like 60 Minutes and the exact words in print is evident.

Figure 51 Missionary Kid Ellen Duval loves her cats and books, which helps her make a home in Indonesia.

While Don was doing coverage to show where Lottie Moon grew up in the mountains of Virginia, he was reminded of how small the world had always been. He discovered that Lottie Moon spoke several languages and that many people in the hills of Virginia today speak many languages. Some of the people Don ran into speak Asian languages like Chinese.[53]

How does Don continue, year after year, to make photographs where the people appear not to notice Don? Don’s favorite lens for years has been the 28mm lens. This lens requires Don to get twice as close as he appears in the photo­graph. When viewing Don’s photographs, realize that he is usually twice as close as he seems. Don’s style of photogra­phy requires the subject to allow Don to enter his personal space. If someone enters most people’s personal space, they appear uptight and tense. But if their best friend enters that space, they seem warmer and more personable. This immediacy that Don creates with the camera breaks down the walls of culture and status. People become real when Don photographs them. Don wants us to see the positive side of people. This ability comes from years of hard work by a man committed to his calling to ministry, the ministry of helping others, the people, and the world with “his father’s eyes.”

[41] Dr. Keith Parks, interview by author, Tape recording, Richmond, Virginia, 26 October 1992.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Dan Beatty, interview by author, Tape recording, Richmond, Virginia, 27 October 1992.

[48] Howard I. Finberg, The Best of Photojournalism 16: The Year in Pictures, (Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers, 1991), 232.

[49] Interview with Beatty.

[50] Interview with Chapnick.

[51] Don Rutledge, “Using Photography: To look beyond the backyard fence” unpublished, 1992.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Don Rutledge, Interview by author, Richmond, 1985.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Three


When Walker Knight went to the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1959, he was handed photo story packages done by Don Rutledge. He published some of those photo stories. Walker Knight became acquainted with Don Rutledge. When Don traveled to Atlanta for coverage or passing through town, Don stopped by and visited Walker Knight. At the time, they had Ralph Rogers as a photogra­pher. Mr. Rogers’ direction was portrait and commercial. When Mr. Rogers left, they were without a photogra­pher. Walker Knight and Jay Durham hoped they could secure Don Rutledge to fill the position.[17]  At the time, Jay Dur­ham was the Director of Media Services for the Home Mission Board.

Figure 14 Baily King in front of his home in Quinten, Mississippi.

Don did not drift into mission work. Don Rutledge’s turning from a secular career to expressing his artistry as a Christian was a conscious decision on Don’s part.[18]  This was not the only avenue open for him. The economy did not force this decision. In the three months before Don went to work for the Home Mission Board, Don made more money than he did in the next two years at the Home Mission Board, even when his salary and travel budget were included.[19]  All this is to say that Don’s acceptance of the invitation to come to the Home Mission Board fulfilled his call to the minis­try.      

Walker Knight recommended Don to Jay Durham and L. O. Griffith, the Director of Communica­tions, at the Home Mis­sion Board. They replied that Don wouldn’t come to the HMB for our salary. Knight replied, “Let’s let Don make that decision.” “Okay, they said, but will you call him to see if he is interested,” Walker called Don, and he was interested; then Jay made the call, and the Audio Visual Department hired him. Don agreed to come on a trial basis for a year. Right from the start, there were problems. These problems all revolved around changes. Most of the changes were from the old technology to something better. For example, the Home Mission Board used 4 x 5 cameras, and Don was accustomed to using 35mm cameras. Earlier, Don had an experience with LIFE magazine over this issue. He had been assigned through Black Star to photo­graph a story at Georgetown College in Kentucky. The story was about how the actors were made up to look like stained glass. Don thought this would make a good story and contacted Black Star, who then got LIFE.

Figure 15: “I got what I knew from watchin’ and listnin’ and thankin’ for myself.” [Home Missions, December 1979, 2.]

Everything went fine until I checked into the hotel the night before the coverage. Don called the theater department to confirm a story he was doing. The director informed him that another LIFE photographer, Don Cravens, was there to photograph the same story for LIFE. It was not uncommon for this to happen; since LIFE was so extensive, some departments would cover the same story. Don Rutledge contacted Black Star, and after talking with

Figure 16 The difference between Bailey King and one of his childhood neighbors is that his neighbor only had to buy a guitar, and Bailey had to purchase land. That was the difference between him and Johnny Cash. [interview with Don Rutledge, 1985]

The decision was made to go ahead and shoot the story, and then LIFE would decide on which coverage to use. Don let Don Cravens shoot the story first. Don Cravens shot the story on a 4 x 5 camera and took until 4 am with the actors to shoot. Don Cravens had to set up lights due to the nature of the camera. Don shot the following night on 35mm and was done by midnight.   Don used 35mm cameras, allowing him to use available light and record the natural setting easily. LIFE used Don Rutledge’s pictures in their national and international magazine editions. The images were used all over the world by many different magazines. Don Cravens’ pictures were never used. It could be that the time involved in shooting a 4 x 5 does not do well with photo­graphing people in everyday situations.[20]  The 35mm allows for a more candid look to photo­graphs since it does not require as much light for exposure or a bulky tripod.

Figure 17 Most of Bailey’s neighbors are poor and black. He was one of the few white men in the area. Bailey also saw himself as equal to his neighbors. They all had much in common—even though their skin was different.

L. O. Griffith, the Director of Communica­tions at the Home Mis­sion Board, was a photog­rapher himself and could not understand why Don could not make the transi­tion from those “ama­teur 35mm cameras” to 4 x 5 cameras. He liked Don’s work but had a real problem understanding Don’s refusal to shoot with 4 x 5 cam­eras. The issue of using 35mm versus 4 x 5 had to go to the top of the Home Mission Board to be solved. Dr. Arthur Rutledge, who had no relationship with Don but was the Executive Di­rector, had to decide. Dr. Rutledge stood behind Don, Walker Knight, and Jay Dur­ham. Like the camera issue, many other problems were repeated at the Home Mission Board.[21]

Figure 18 Luvenia, Bailey’s wife, monitors the children.

Broadman had a contract with the Home Mission Board regarding film strips. Broadman would produce the film­strips, and the Home Mis­sion Board would supply the material. They came to the Home Mission Board for an important meeting to set things straight. In a sizeable de­partment session, Don was told how to put his camera for proper expo­sure and what filters to use in different lighting situations. Shortly after this meeting, the Broadman group complied with the demands of the Home Mis­sion Board. They were to listen to Don and the photo department, not the other way around. This did not work. The Home Mission Board ended up producing the programs by themselves.

Figure 19: George, a bowlegged Chihuahua, Bailey’s companion and friend. He keeps Bailey company since the doctor said Bailey would not work again.

While Don was considering coming to work at the Home Mission Board, Walker Knight hired an associate editor, Dallas Lee. Dallas Lee and Don Rutledge teamed up as a writer and photogra­pher team. The idea of two specialists, the photographer and the writer, was very new for Southern Baptists. They revolutionized the way the Home Mission Board communicated. Walker Knight commented that he “credited Don Rutledge’s photogra­phy as changing the nature of photography in the Southern Baptist Conven­tion. We never had a standard before, and Don provided that standard.”[22]  Don taught and befriended many photogra­phers throughout the conven­tion. Many of these have worked for national magazines like National Geo­graphic. After meeting Don, Ken Touchton, Steve Wall, Jim Wright, and others went on to significant careers in photojournalism.

Jim Wright was a college student who worked as the only lab technician for the Home Mission Board at the beginning of Don Rutledge’s time at the Home Mission Board. Jim knew very little about print­ing. Don had con­tacted the Modern lab Age that Black Star was using in New York. He had Modern Age print some negatives for Jim Wright to use as guides.

Figure 20 Lacking a formal education did not stop Bailey King from living; it just held him back.

Jim Wright put them on the dark room walls as guides. Jim printed the negatives until he could match the quality of the prints made by the Modern Age. Every good photogra­pher needs an equally good lab techni­cian. The lab techni­cian is just as creative as the photographer. Often, negatives are challenging to print since they were shot under existing light. Existing light gives character and mood to the photo­graph, but often, it needs a good lab techni­cian to develop within the print the quali­ties that enhance the commu­ni­cation process and play down the distracting ele­ments. This requires the print­er to understand what the pho­tog­ra­pher was think­ing and to bring out those elements to improve the mes­sage and to play down the other factors so that the print grabs the viewer and gets their atten­tion.[23]   Jim Wright helped establish qual­ity control in the printing process, which is still used today at the Home Mis­sion Board.

Figure 21 Bailey King was broken by a lifetime of poverty and dawn-to-dark labor when Don Rutledge came to spend several weeks with him and his family. Doctors claimed it was meningitis and a stroke. “It wasn’t that,” a friend said. “His body just plumb wore out.” But King’s mind was keen — and his lifelong belief in accepting others and sharing what little he had shone through. Rutledge’s photographs found the windows onto his soul in the lines and ridges of King’s weathered face, in the light and shadows of his sagging clapboard house.

Dallas Lee was excited by the stories Don and he were working on together. He would walk in early, see all that was happening, and assume that Don was busy shooting what he saw. He would find out later that Don often would go into a situation and not pick up his

Figure 22 The King children enjoy the water to cool off during those hot days.

Cameras until he had been ab­sorbed by the place. Don would wait long enough to understand what was happening rather than immediately beginning to shoot.[24]  Don has an ability with the cam­era to see situations. There is always that special mo­ment from every situation that Don would capture. Henry Cartier-Bresson called this the “decisive moment.”  Dal­las Lee said that Don taught him to have pa­tience and to ab­sorb infor­mation before jumping into the story. This was the “round­ing out” of a jour­nalist: al­lowing the story to tell itself rather than his getting in the way of the journalist’s per­cep­tion of the sto­ry.[25]   Don’s ability with people and his love of people are the driving forces of Don’s work.[26]

Figure 23

“Skilled hunters don’t crash through the woods with guns blazing or over­load themselves with unnecessary gear. On the con­trary, they move quietly and careful­ly so as not to attract attention or fright­en off the game. They blend with the environment.”[27]  Don’s ability to blend into the wood­work is best shown in the cov­erage of Bailey King. As one looks at the pic­tures, one moves from where they are to the sub­ject. This immedi­a­cy brings an interaction between the reader and the sub­ject that breaks down barriers of time and space.

Figure 24 Luvenia and Bailey King enjoy moments like these that keep them going and close.

“Being poor ain’t so bad. It’s just inconve­nient,” said Ba­iley King.[28]  Bailey King was photo­graphed by Don for some three weeks. Don went to Quin­ten, Missis­sippi, to show how a poor family lived in this country. Don bathed in the pond like the rest of the family and ate just like they ate. He contributed just enough to cover his cost without changing the level of the family’s income while he was there. Later, he gave them money to help the family. Due to this story photographed by Don and written Phyllis Thomp­son, the Kings were pro­vided a brick home by the read­er­ship of the maga­zine.[29]  Before going to Missis­sippi to do the cover­age on the King family, Don had been reading Hans Kung’s book On Being a Christian. After listen­ing to Bailey King, Don heard many of the deep theolog­i­cal concepts that he had been reading earlier by Hans Kung out of Bailey King’s mouth. Considering that Bailey King couldn’t read or write, Don realized God speaks to all people uniquely. God seemed to be preparing Don for this sto­ry. With this prepara­tion, Don lis­tened to Bailey as a good journalist and for the common sense gained from everyday life with Bailey King.

Figure 25

Mr. King lives in a primarily black neighborhood. Everyone around him lives in similar clap­board-styled homes. Poverty is the lifestyle, but that does not make King less of a man. Don sees in his photo­graphs that people will see into the man. Don uses the camera to move the view­er to a new level. People who sing in church all hear the music; some get a little deeper and let the words speak to them, but those who lead the music must be func­tion­ing spiritually to move the people beyond the mu­sic.[30]  Don, like all minis­ters, must go ahead of the people and be able to bring the audience to the experience. Don moved Southern Baptists with this coverage. As a communicator, he had mastered the skills to show Bailey King to Southern Bap­tists. He did not allow himself to get in the way of the communication.

Figure 26: “On special occasions, people pay $100 for a plate of food when I’m happy to get a sweet potato. The pore man spends most ‘o his life half­way livin’.” [Home Mission, December 1979, 14]

“The Bi­ble says man, not white man, not black man, not Chinaman. Jus’ man. So why do some of us think we are better than others?” —— Bailey King[31]  King had an excellent under­standing of such a complex idea. Theologians studied for years to develop the same understanding of the Bible that King put into words. The gospel is for everyone and not just for the elite. So what better way to communicate the need for us to go and help the poor than for a poor man to humble us all?           

“I have been workin’ since I’m five, and I ain’t got no more now’n I had then. It is hard for me to walk. But you can’t give up jus’ ’cause you hurt a little bit. If you fall on your knees and break down ’round here, you ain’t gonna get up no more.” –Bailey King.[32]

As one looks at Don’s photographs, one notices that often the pic­tures have two or three pic­tures in one pic­ture. Don excels in this approach more than any other dominant photo style he does. Usually, when Don uses this composition technique, there is a primary subject in the photo­graph. Then, the sec­ondary element adds a touch of in­formation about the environment. It also adds that qual­ity called the “slice of life.”  By includ­ing these extra elements, the photo­graph does not look trite or so composed as it just makes you feel like you were there yourself. As a result, the photo­graph has much infor­mation and keeps giving information every time one looks at the photo­graph.

Figure 27

Many photographers like to keep things simple. For example, they may use a tight shot to show the tear in the child’s eye. Don does this also, but his ability to cap­ture the big picture sets him apart from most of his colleagues in the profes­sion.

Figure 28 “People don’ wanta fool with nothin’. But you gotta fool with thangs. People is worth foolin’ with. All o’ them is. I guess not carin’ is ’bout as bad a thang as is.” [Home Missions, December 1979, 18.

To tell someone’s story through the use of pictures, one must come to a deep under­standing of the peo­ple he is photo­graph­ing. He needs to understand the subject well enough to simplify the message so it does not get lost in the communication process. By living with the King family for three weeks, Don got to know the people. Many other pho­tog­ra­phers have tried to do what Don had done, and usually, they have come back too soon with the story. Often, the story others come back with is their perception of the situation. Many pho­togra­phers can not get their egos out of the way to listen to the people.

Figure 29 An Appalachian migrant family in Ohio in 1968.

While egos are being mentioned, it is essential to note that most people who are pho­tojour­nalist may have relatively large egos. Without some ego in this busi­ness of pho­tojour­nalism, many would not survive. The ego gives the drive necessary in a field so competi­tive. Photojournalists are called many names by media personnel. Christlike is far from the description provided to the media in general. The difference with Don is that his ego does not show like most jour­nal­ists.[33]  What drives Don is not the ego but the love of God. Don listens to Christ in his walk; in this way, he is very different from the secular photo­jour­nal­ist. “When a bunch of pho­tog­ra­phers, including some big names like Eugene Smith, would get together, Don was the one who would go for coffee for everyone——he’s just that kind of a guy,” said Knolan Benfield.[34]  Knolan Benfield was the Di­rec­tor of Photo­graphic Ser­vices for many years at the Home Mission Board and worked very directly with Don. Don was his manager. Knolan Benfield is this writer’s uncle and introduced Don Rutledge to him.

Figure 30 Angela Fung works in the daycare program at Utopia Parkway Baptist Chapel in New York City.

“The most important thing about Don is that he al­most single-handed­ly raised the level of photojournalism within the convention and also creat­ed a stan­dard of excel­lence by which ev­ery­body else who worked around him had to be measured or measured themselves. These two things are enor­mous con­tribu­tions to South­ern Baptist communications efforts. His pres­ence demands such a high production standard from edi­tors, writers, and other photogra­phers. Don does all this with a great deal of humil­ity. This is also reflected in his willingness to help young photogra­phers. This all stems from Don’s enormous sense of securi­ty within himself. He is sure of who he is and what he can do. He knows what his abilities are. This gives him a solid foundation for helping others without any threat to his career, fame, or notoriety.”[35]

Don can help one grow in the field of communication. His gift is pointing out the weaknesses and the strengths.[36]  After the writ­er had been taking his work to be critiqued by Don for several years, the writer noticed that Don would look for positive things on which to com­ment and would pass over much of the work. As the writer focused on the positives, the more Don would com­ment. Finally, when the writer became bold and asked Don what was wrong with some other photographs, Don spoke more openly. Don is careful not to criticize. He looks for the positives in the work of others.

Knolan Benfield re­mem­bers many times when he thought that Don should tell the person to try another field. Don would ask others to review the work and let them state the negatives. On one occa­sion, a photographer came to see Don and, after talking with the man, introduced him to the writer. After looking at the portfo­lio, the writer made a few suggestions for improvement. Several months later, the same man returned with the same portfolio. No changes had been made. It was as if the man never listened to Don or the writer. Don comment­ed later that he could not believe one could have the nerve to show the same portfolio to him twice and not correct the problems.

Don’s graciousness was needed to talk to the Southern Bap­tists in leadership at the Home Mission Board and other agencies. He had a way of gradually getting others to join his team. He did not put down their work, but by showing what he was doing, he led others to join in and participate in the process.

Figure 31 Boys at a Baptist community center in Kentucky in 1970.

Dallas Lee, naive and still young in his profession, thought he could photograph and write with the best of them. After meeting Don, he was hum­bled.[37]  Don has only good things to say about many of his colleagues at the Home Mission Board. His admiration for Dr. Arthur Rutledge’s direction in home missions made Don proud to be a Southern Baptist and inspired him to do some of his best work ever up to that point.

Don cannot do all it takes to put out the work of his caliber alone. It takes the team approach to make it happen. Don believed that the photo lab did its best to print his job to make it stand out and make people stop and look. Don always had professional labs print his work. While with Black Star, He tried to develop his style. One day, he walked into the lab he used, and a lab technician was out front. He asked Don if he was Don Rutledge. The man wanted to talk to Don. He had been printing Don’s work for many years and admired it. Don did not want the man to know that he was unaware of his style. So he asked the man what he liked about his style. The man said he liked the way he treated people with dignity. He noticed that Don was very religious and had a deep apprecia­tion for social issues. This man told Don so much about himself that at that moment, Don realized that what he had been working so hard to do was succeed­ing. He also learned how much one knows about him by looking at the photo­graphs.

The central theme in all of Don’s work is LOVE.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am noth­ing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surren­der my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.[38]

While working with Black Star, Don communicated this message through his photographs and did not necessarily need to work at the Home Mission Board to accomplish this task. Today, many Christian photojournalists work in secular positions nationwide, communicating the Christian message through their pictures. One group that the writer and many others are members of is Christians in Photojournalism. 

Why did Don leave Black Star, come to the Home Mission Board, and take a cut in pay and status to work with people who frequently produced inferior quality products? This question directly points to Don’s pioneering spirit about him and his work. Photojournalism is a relatively new profession. LIFE did not transpire until 1936, and this magazine developed the picture story and fashioned the field of photojournalism. Staying with the significant magazines would have proven very lucrative for Don.            Walker Knight knew that photojournalism was the direction needed. However, few Christian photojournalists existed who could have made the dreams of Walker Knight and others become a reality for Southern Bap­tists. Finally, Don Rutledge was able to do this. His studies at a very con­servative Bible college and his upbringing in the Baptist life, coupled with his skills as a photojournalist, made him a prime candidate to deal with many of the issues he was to take on while working for the South­ern Baptists.

Many leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention have one thing in common. They were pastors at one time or another. This common con­nec­tion helped Don in ways that other photojournalists after him have not had. His ability to understand those he was working with when dealing with complex issues helped him communicate effectively. While in college studying psychology, Don learned valuable insight into human nature from one of his professors. When it comes to logic and emo­tion on any given issue, emotion usually wins out in the argument.[39]  Walker Knight re­al­ized that by writing alone, he was preaching to people, but with the photographs, people saw for themselves the con­dition of people and how they were living. The photo argued through emotion. Don let his work speak for itself and used a few words in meetings to make his points. If people liked Don’s work, respected his opinion, and asked for his opinion, then Don spoke. On a few rare occasions, Don gave his idea when not requested.

After coming to the Home Mission Board in 1966, Don significantly impacted the agency’s publication work. Don’s coverages and the writers he worked with highly affected Southern Baptists. People were writing to complain and to complement the magazine. Due to Don’s abilities, the Home Mission Board made a difference in Southern Baptists. Walker Knight had moved in the direction he saw as his calling, and Don Rutledge visually helped make it possible.[40]

    [17] Mr. Walker L. Knight, interview by author, Tape recording, Atlanta, Georgia, 22 November 1992.    [18] Ibid.    [19] Don Rutledge, Interview by author, Richmond, Virginia, 5 November 1985.    [20] Ibid.    [21] Don Rutledge, Interview by author, 15 January 1993.    [22] Interview with Knight.    [23] Interview with Rutledge.    [24] Mr. Dallas Lee, interview by author, Tape recording, Atlanta, Georgia, 7 January 1993.    [25] Ibid.    [26] Interview with Knight.    [27] Dave LaBelle, The Great Picture Hunt, (Bowling Green: Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, 1991), 15.    [28] Phyllis F. Thompson, “Somebody, A Poor Man,” Home Missions, December 1979, cover.    [29] Rutledge.    [30] Dr. Leafblad, Fall 92 lectures in Introduction to Church Music.    [31] Thompson, 6.    [32] Ibid. 8.    [33] Interview with Lee.    [34] Knolan Benfield, Interview by author, 30 May 1992.    [35] Everett Hullum, interviewed by author, Tape recording, Atlanta, Georgia, 5 January 1993.    [36] Ibid.    [37] Interview with Lee.    [38] 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 New International Version.    [39] Interview with Rutledge.    [40] Interview with Knight.

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: Chapter Two


Don was born in Smithfield, Tennessee. The family moved to Murfreesboro, Ten­nessee, South of Nash­ville, shortly after being born. “Good ole’ home folk,” is what you would say about the Rutledges. They lived on a farm where they all worked together as a family. Growing up in rural Tennes­see is where Don was ex­posed to the world. Don’s family was involved in the local Baptist community church, where they often prayed for and listen­ing to missionaries from all over the world. Although this family was in the coun­try, they were not limited. This world vision is what would drive Don throughout his life.        

One of Don’s uncles had a box camera. Don asked if he could use it. He bought some film at the local drugstore and returned to the farm to explore his home with a camera. Don took many different pictures of the farm while he was a teenager. Having these photographs developed, he started to see the mysteri­ous power of the photo.

While attending Temple College in Chattanoo­ga, Tennes­see, Don took photo­graphs for the student paper and yearbook. This experience helps to build his techni­cal skills and proficiency with the camera.

During the sum­mers Don went on mis­sion trips to help mis­sion­aries in places like Central America. Recording these visits with his camera, he then would show the pictures to his church and other groups.

Figure 4 John Howard Griffin uses heat lamps to help tan his skin with the aid of drugs. This process helped to change him into appearing Black.

They enjoyed the photo­graphs and were “trans­ported” from Tennessee to Central America through the “eyes of Don.”  Don was always pulling for the underdog since he could relate. While in high school, some boys jumped Don and seriously hurt him. He had been wearing braces at the time. His mouth was beaten up outside and inside. He later found each of the boys alone and repaid the fa­vor. He knew very well what it was like to be a minority in number. This experience taught Don that there are times when people need others to help them.

Figure 5 John Howard Griffin uses makeup to smooth out his complexion.

Don’s helping nature moved him into the ministry. Don was an­swering the call to the ministry that he felt deep inside of himself. After talking to church leaders, Don was led to believe that the only place that he could serve as a minister was as a pastor or a mis­sionary.

Don Rutledge majored in religion and psychology in college. These two give Don the edge in understanding people. Theol­ogy is cen­tered on relation­ships.  The Bible teaches us how God wants and desires a relationship with his people. We also learn through the Bible about the relationships between people. Nurturing each other as believers and reaching out to God’s world is what the Bible teaches. Jesus said,

Figure 6 Checking his makeup one last time before venturing out as a Black man.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, what­ever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”[1]

Don’s life reflects this passage.

Psychology taught him how to read body language. Body language is critical in Rutledge’s photographs. Body language is more than peak actions of anger, sadness, or happiness. It runs the full range of emotions. The theology and psychology become so integrated in Rutledge’s work that it is difficult to separate them.

Figure 7 Mr. Griffin talks to the help in a restaurant in New Orleans.

Don wanted to help people in need and aid them in acquiring dignity. Through preaching, Don tried communicating with people but was never truly comfortable in the pulpit.

While at Temple College, Don served as president of the student body. He was a rapid thinker in his own right. Don grew up in the most conservative of backgrounds. Like many from this traditional background, Don saw some of the faults of this thinking. Later, Don would see that very few groups have it all together. Throughout college, Don started trying to find his niche in society.

After graduating, the Director of Missions of Murfreesboro Association in Tennessee asked Don to consider pastoring a church. He talked to Don about how the church was falling apart. Going into this pastorate, Don planned to help the church close its doors. Coming from a very conservative group, where most pastors ruled with a specific authority, Don took a completely different approach. Don encouraged the people to grow as individuals and as a group. He let them take control of the church. The reason for this “hands off” practice was twofold:  (1) Don did not believe in telling people what to do, and (2) he was pursuing a career as a photo­journalist during the week.

Being a bi-vocational pastor allowed Don to combine two loves. Don was fulfilling the call to the ministry and was trying to understand this call of photog­raphy.

In 1955, Don frequently wrote Howard Chapnick at Black Star, a photo agency in New York. Don had noticed the photographers’ magazine cut-lines and that Black Star represented many photographers. Black Star told Don they wanted to see a portfo­lio before giving him an assignment. Don didn’t have a portfolio. When Don was corre­spond­ing, he gave them story idea after story idea.

Figure 8 The shoe shine man had to be told by Don that John Howard Griffen was white and not black. He could hardly believe that this man was really white.

Black Star was frus­trated with the person who kept writing them so often. He had some excellent ideas, but can he take a photograph? They wrote back, telling him they liked one of his ideas. They contacted the parties to see if they were interested. That first story was for Friends magazine. This was the magazine of the Chevrolet Compa­ny.

Don was so de­lighted with the response that he immediately contacted the people in the area for the story, went and shot the story, wrote the material, and sent the package of contact sheets and material to Black Star. Black Star was quite upset. “We haven’t even talked to them, and you have already shot the story,” was the reply Don received. They also informed him of the many holes in the story and how it would not work. This was their mistake.

Figure 9 In New Orleans, John Howard Griffin is outside a movie theater entrance.

Don contacted the people again and went back, filling in the holes. This was Don’s first time to have someone cri­tique his work and guide him. The Friends magazine liked the work and wanted to use Don again. This began a close relationship with Don with Black Star and even more with Howard Chapnick.

Figure 10 Don’s awareness of body language is sometimes very clear-cut, like here in this photograph of the teacher and students. Often, the body language is more subtle in Don’s photographs. Body language is always essential in Don’s photographs.

Meanwhile, Don’s career with Black Star was growing, and so, too, was the church. Don’s leadership style, which required all the people to become in­volved, saved the church and helped it to become a strong church of the com­mu­nity. Don realized that the church needed someone full-time. Don joked with the people, saying that when he was gone doing an assignment, and another person filled the pulpit, the attendance was always higher. Don felt more at ease as a photog­rapher and less content as a pas­tor. Don re­signed, and the church today still has good memories of Don. They continue to invite him to speak at homecoming.

Living so close to Nash­ville was ideal for a photogra­pher: Black Star needed to cover the Grand Ole’ Ole and special cover coverage of the personalities in the Nashville area. Mirror magazine had asked Black Star to find the next—and—com­ing country star in Nashville.

Figure 11 Don took this in 1967 inside the Arctic Circle. People are so comfortable with Don that he can be a part of the woodwork.

Don was given the assignment. Don asked around about how to find someone who would know about the up—and—coming stars. After searching throughout the Nash­ville area, Don was told about a man who gave pens to those stars that were up and coming. This man was supposed to be the best at spotting new talent. The man happened to be under Don’s nose all the time. The man who knew all the up—and—coming stars worked at the camera store Rutledge patronized. The man who had been waiting on Rutledge for years was the expert on the country singers.

After talking with this expert, Don went to this unknown country singer’s home and wondered if this person knew what he was doing. Don sat on a crate, talked to Loretta Lynn, and did the story. This interview is portrayed in the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  Don helped launch Loretta Lynn’s career. Don photo­graphed many of the stars of Nashville for Black Star.

Don did coverages for Black Star on religious subjects. He followed the Wycliff translators into the Amazon. He photographed a theater group at Georgetown College in Kentucky that painted their faces like stained glass. The story was again religious.

Figure 12“Don discovered these two young­sters who proudly displayed the results of their morn­ing hunt. In that section of Cincinnati, rats were not particularly difficult quarry to locate.”
[Walk­er Knight, See How Love Works]

While Don had started working with Black Star, our country was in significant turmoil. Although Lincoln had helped to free the enslaved people, the Blacks were still in bondage in America. Racism had led the nation to the Civil Rights Move­ment.  Don photographed Dr. Martin Luther King and other prominent people in the movement. His camera helped America to see itself in the mirror. Most of the country did not like what it saw. Don Rutledge helped America know how the South was an apartheid. Today, in South Africa, it is being played out again. But in the late fifties and early sixties, the United States had its insides turned out for the world to see.

Don was raised amid the racist environment of the South but was not at all a part of the oppression of the Blacks. Don was one of the most vital photojournalistic voices during this time.   Don not only covered the news events but also created with a writer one of the most influential books during the Civil Rights move­ment: Black Like Me.

One day, while reading the newspaper, Don noticed an article about a street in Atlanta, Georgia, with more Black millionaires than anywhere else. How could this be? Black millionaires in the South? Don contacted Black Star to do a story on this idea. They checked their connections to see what magazines might be interested. They found a magazine based in Fort Worth, Texas, that was interesting. They sent the writer, John Howard Griffin, to work with Don on the coverage. While the two of them worked on the story, Howard Griffin talked with Don about an idea concerning the Civil Rights issue.

John Howard Griffin had the idea of taking some hormonal drugs that would alter his appearance, making him look Black. He also would style his hair differently to look as Black as possible. His idea was to cover the story of what it was like to be a Black in the South just from having a different skin color. This story intrigued Don. After complet­ing the tale on the million­aires, John Howard Griffin and Don disap­peared into the deep South to do the coverage for Black Like Me.

Figure 13 In 1967, Don went to Dania, Florida, and photographed this Seminole woman sitting under a chicken, a thatched hut of Indian design.

As they worked on the coverage, they returned the pictures to the maga­zine. This ensured everything was coming out fine and the cameras were working well. Howard Chapnick of Black Star told this story repeatedly to many photogra­phers, emphasizing the difficulties one can encounter when working without a good agency. Don was not on staff for Black Star but was a paramount freelancer.

The magazine editor sent some of the photographs over the wire service before Don and the writer were ready for them to do so. This had editors all over the world call­ing, wanting the story. They were bid­ding for first rights to the novel. Black Star sold the book all over the globe. Then the pub­lisher indicated that Don had committed to him all the rights. “This was what I thought was an unscru­pulous publisher,” according to Chapnick.[2]  There were meetings with Don, Howard Chapn­ick, and the publisher. The publisher said, “You are sophisticated urban New Yorkers, and I am just a country boy.”  “Well, this coun­try boy took us over,” remarked Howard Chapnick. “Because of his high sense of ethics, he didn’t want to battle the man for money. So all this good work that he did and our good work in placing the material all went for naught regarding Don’s financial return.”[3]

“His strength over the years was his high sense of ethics and his religiosity if you will,” commented Chapnick. “This carried through into his concern for humanity and the important issues. He tried to use pho­togra­phy to make people aware of the great problems in the world. He used it as a force for change, changing public perceptions and alert­ing the world to the problems that the world suffers like poverty and sickness.”[4]

“One of his great strengths is that he was very observant of the world around him, not only in terms of the big stories but the little stories, too.   He had this happy faculty of being responsive to visually translatable ideas which could be made into saleable entities.”[5]

Don was concerned that the pictures were becoming more important than the story itself. Don gave the negatives to John Howard Griffin. The book came out. Don never received any roy­al­ties. The result was that Black Star had to provide all the money it had received to the magazine.

“Don was always good at providing background information and captions, and this is something that isn’t always apparent with a photojournalist. They tend to be pretty sloppy in adding the important words, which give more information than photographs, which sometimes are ambiguous. Few were as prolific as Don,” remarked Howard Chapnick.[6]

Eugene Smith could be considered to be Don Rutledge’s mentor in photogra­phy. Eugene Smith tried to capture with the camera more than just people as objects——he tried to capture the person’s essence in his photographs. Eugene Smith kept the dignity of those he photographed and made them heroes in the story. The subjects were romanti­cized by Eugene Smith. People, like the Doctor that he shot for Life mag­azine were al­ways por­trayed in such a way that the viewer identified with the sub­ject.

Don studied pho­tography masters and often quoted them. This was Don’s education——reading and studying the masters of photogra­phy and being aware of the world in which he lives. Being a Christian means growing in Christ. As a Christian matures, he should be able to move quickly into situations and respond with the heart of Christ. “One does not think dur­ing creative work any more than one thinks when driving a car. But one has a background of years——learning, un­learning; success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this——then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment,” was the statement made by Edward Weston.[7]

Jesus looked at people as individuals——he saw the tree in the forest. Christians, too, must focus on the individuals in their minis­try. Photographing people should reflect how one cares for people. “The photographer should not come to his subject with his image all fabricated in his head,” says Robert Doisneau. He continues, “The photogra­pher must be absor­bent——like a blotter, allow himself to be penetrated by the poetic moment, by the spirit of the place where he finds him­self.”[8]

Don is true to the moment and never asks people to stage something. He may ask them to repeat something but never fabricate anything unnatural. “Nature has much more imagination than I have; why should I try to improve on it? The best I can do is to look for these manifestations and photo­graph them before they disappear.”[9]

Don believes that pictures are not merely to document an event or show what a person looks like but to communicate the essence of the event or person to the audience. “The best pictures are made by those photographers who feel excitement about life and use the camera to share their enthusiasm with others. The camera in such hands is a medium for communicating vital experience,” voiced Roy Stryker, editor of Life magazine.[10]  For Ben Shahn, “Photog­ra­phy is a matter of communi­cation in human terms and mostly in human subjects, and I have set this very sim­ple problem for myself, of showing humanity in those terms that interest me and in the clearest way.”[11]  Eu­gene Smith said, “The more important the story, the better the photographer should try to tell it. Even when the material is suffi­ciently important to make its impact regardless of the quality of my print, the more powerful the picture, the more certain I am that people will have a chance to understand what I want to say.”[12]

Jesus, rising from the tomb, was the culmination of the gospel. He defeated death. The choice of his words was so wise and timely. The Bible pictures important events as moments, not as long events. To me, photogra­phy is recognition in a fraction of a second, simul­taneously of an event’s significance and the precise formal organization that brings that event to life.

The camera works fast, and so does the photogra­pher. He must see, feel, understand, select, react, and act within the second. Movement and expression are unseen before it is stopped. A movement that never was and never will be again is captured.

All attention is con­centrated on the specific moment, almost too good to be true, which can only vanish in the second that follows and produces an impact impossible with any staged set­ting.[13]
Photography has a unique power to awaken the social conscience. Suppose you are genuinely concerned with the plight of the people you photograph and are convinced that your photographs can do something——however slight——to help them. In that case, your sincerity and good intentions will inevitably shine through. This will help you secure from the people around you the cooperation that is essential if you are to produce good pictures.

On a practical level, try to be as sensitive as you can to the feelings of the people you are photo­graphing or working with, and make sure your photo­graphic technique reflects this sensitiv­ity. Keep a low profile by using avail­able light, not flash, and remember that many people are easily intimidated or antagonized by ostenta­tious display of photographic equipment.[14]

When Don’s colleagues are asked about Don and how he has impacted them, they all refer to his integrity. Don communicates well the idea of the eyes being the window to the soul. Maybe this is because Don tries to keep the innocence of a child when photograph­ing. Don says,

Photography is a fascinating communications medium.  It forces us to see, to look beyond what the average person observes, to search where some people never think to look.  It even draws us back to the curiosity we experienced in our childhood.

Children are filled with excitement about their surrounding world:  Why is the sky blue?  Why is one flower red and another yellow?  How do the stars stay up in the sky?  Why is the snow cold?

As the years go by that curious child matures into a normal adult with the attitude of “who cares anymore about those childish questions and an­swers?”  At that moment much of the world becomes mundane, little more than a place of survival until retirement and finally death.

But photography, in its best usage, will not allow us to do that.  It forces us to continue asking ques­tions which began in our childhood and probe for an­swers in the maturity of our life.  The “seeing beyond what the average person sees” fills us constantly with excitement and allows us to keep the dreams of our youth.  It gives “seeing” a newness and freshness as a person works hard to communicate through photogra­phy the messages that need to be conveyed.[15]

Don always tried to look at life creatively. Don took frequent rides into the country with his wife, Lucy. The writer and his wife would go along. Often, Lucy wanted to look through Don’s camera to see what Don was seeing. “He always sees something that I do not see,” was Lucy’s praise of Don. She enjoyed seeing Don’s photographs. Don says that she is his most prominent critic and fan. She can be so honest with Don, and Don listens.

For Don to be on the road and have two young boys growing up required Lucy to run the household while he was away and help make the transition when Don returned home. Things were not always smooth at home, but today, Mark, the oldest, is a mission­ary with his wife in Haiti. The youngest, Craig, works with the Home Mission Board in Atlanta at the main office.

Today, Don does not enjoy eating at fast food hamburger places; that was all he could afford for the first years on the road. Often, Don drove home several hours after a cover­age to return early the following day because he did not have the money for a motel. For Don to make the pilgrimage that he did, he had to remain committed. He also had to have a real call, for the struggles were sometimes unbear­able. Going from the pulpit to the streets of the world opened Don’s eyes and allowed him to see God’s world as a boy from the farm in Tennessee could have never imagined. Don’s coverages in the fifties and sixties helped pave the way for the coverages he would later request in the religious establishment. These years with Black Star they established him as capable of delivering. Don had a background that showed he had covered the top stories in the world. Even with this background, Don continued to struggle. Portfolio or no portfolio, his next stop in Atlanta tested his patience and endur­ance at wanting to be a minister with a camera.

    [1] Matthew 25:35-40, NIV (New International Version).
    [2] Mr. Howard Chapnick, interview by author, Tape recording, New York, New York, 12 October 1992.
    [3] Ibid.
    [4] Ibid.
    [5] Ibid.
    [6] Ibid.
    [7] Jacob Deschin, 35mm Photography, (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company 1959), 14.
    [8] Ibid.
    [9] Ibid.
    [10] Ibid.
    [11] Ibid.
    [12] Ibid., 15.
    [13] Ibid.
    [14] George Constable, Photographing the Drama of Daily Life, (Chicago: Time-Life Books, 1984), 72.
    [15] Don Rutledge, “Better photos for your publication or photography for communicators.”  An unpublished article was given to the writer by Don Rutledge in 1992.