UGA Journalism Student Jane Ellyn Hardy Shadows Stanley Leary

Jane Ellyn Hardy

Mark Johnson, senior lecturer of photojournalism at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, has his photojournalism students follow a working photojournalist for day. They are to produce a SoundSlides show where they interview the photographer and capture what they experienced.

UGA student Jane Ellyn Hardy reached out to me to follow me for a day. I told her what I was working on and then was encouraging her to cover some other photojournalist friends of mine. She still wanted to shadow me for the day.

Mark Johnson enjoys the day that everyone in his class shares their stories of spending a day shadowing.  While each student learns something first hand with their professional, the class of twelve students, gets to expand that with the SoundSlide stories that each of them share.

photo by Jane Ellyn Hardy

So in one class these students are seeing what is going on right now in the industry. Mark even told me about a time one of the students shadowed a photographer who was super negative. From the moment the student interacting with them until they finished that day, the pro was telling them to do anything but photojournalism.

This opened up the eyes of the class. They talked about this reality for some photographers and contrasted this to those who were still positive.

photo by Jane Ellyn Hardy

Maybe the reason Mark Johnson has one of the best job placement rates in the industry is because of this project. The students are getting real world experience. he averages about 75% of his students working in the industry six months after graduating.

Those students who graduated this past May 2013, 87.5% are now working in the industry. It might be even higher but he isn’t sure where some landed.

Tips for contacting professional photographers for help

Ways to connect

You can reach out to photographers in so many ways. First I think it is important for you to know some basic etiquette for connecting.

Introduce yourself

Tell the person who you are and why you want to connect. “hi my name is—after reading about you I noticed we have a few things in common” or “hi my name is—I have been following your blog and really liked your post on …”

Give the person a reason they should want to connect with you!

Tell them about you. When you reach out to someone and tell them very little and they go and click on your profile it needs to help them.

If on Linked-in I highly recommend a professional headshot. This goes a really long way to show you are a real person, rather than a blank avatar. The blank avatar makes you look like a creeper.

You really need your profile to be up to date and helpful to those you are reaching out to for connecting. Make it easy for people to see why they should respond positively to you.

The point of the about me section is to show yourself as an authentic person and a great way for people to want to connect with you. We are not interested in a sales pitch. Things about your hobbies and interests go a long way to help people want to connect. If you were an Eagle Scout this helps others who have this background connect on a different level with you.

The about section is all about you and a great way to introduce yourself to others. Fill this out as best you can or otherwise many of those requests for connecting will be ignored.

@ email

If you choose to email a photographer, be sure you follow a similar protocol.  Keep the letter short and to the point. 

I think three simple questions you need to answer in the email in some way:

  • Who are you?
  • Why are you contacting me?
  • What do you want me to do?

Connect the dots for the recipient. Don’t make them have to figure out what you are saying.

Be willing to pay

There are many places to go for someone to critique your work. There are camera clubs, workshops and seminars where photographers will give you some of their time.

The expectation of a private consultation where you are getting career advice is something you should be willing to pay. Free advice is often worth what you pay for it.

It would be great to spend half hour each week having coffee with Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin or Jeffery Gitomer for free. You know this might actually happen for a couple people and most likely they are already good friends with them.

Good mentors are hard to come by and getting good advice that can save you time and money in your career is worth every penny.

Unless the person you are contacting is on staff with a regular salary, they make their living through photographyshooting or consulting.

Good mentors have connections which this alone can change your life forever. A few years ago I had a young college student who was about to graduate ask me for an internship. We talked for a while and the next day she sent me a thank you note for taking the time to talk with her. She also thanked me for some very specific points from our conversation.

Needless to say I was impressed with her character. I was not in a position at the time to pay her and I let her know I would give her time to ask any questions each week. She went with me just about everywhere for about two months.

My client Chick-fil-A was as impressed with her as I was and offered her a job as a writer. 

She paid me for my time by helping me and due to her investment landed an incredible job.

Stanley and Knolan Benfield in Kona Hawaii for workshop on lighting.

Early in my career I went to numerous workshops with NPPA and ASMP. There were two major workshops where I shelled out about $5,000 per week to study with two of the icons in the industry.

I went to the Maine Workshop and studied with Steve McCurry from National Geographic. The total cost of flying, hotel, food and the workshop was just under $5,000.  I learned a great deal from that week and not just from Steve, but from others in the class with me.

A few years later I took another class at the Maine Workshop with Jeff Smith studying location lighting. Again I learned so much from Jeff and the classmates.

I offer personal workshops for people who are interested in this profession. I charge $125 an hour with a two hour minimum for whatever they want to learn from me. I have taught people one-on-one how to organize their images. I have done personal workshops on using hot shoe flash off camera for portraits. I have taught people business practices and/or marketing.

If you know of another professional photographer that you would like to learn from, then approach them and if they don’t offer workshops propose to them they do for you.    

If you are not willing to make an investment in your career, why should anyone else want to either?

Master’s Thesis on Don Rutledge: 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 definitely a step down in pay and prestige for Don Rutledge.  Why would someone leave a super position to take a drastic cut in pay 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 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 that he wanted to do.  The AP job also would require him to go with the President of the United States on any over seas coverages.  Don turned down what most would have not thought twice about taking as jobs.[54] 
Siberia—Working with outsiders means listening and being heard, according to Eduard Genrich, of Second Baptist Church in Novosibirsk. People here say they are encouraged and helped by outsiders, but taken advantage of by some. (photo by: Don Rutledge)

            Don did not follow the normal 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 takes care of his children. 

John Howard Griffin as a black man in New Orleans in 1956. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin getting dressed in a hotel in 1956. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)
John Howard Griffin looking at movies playing. When going in as a black man he would have a separate entrance. (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 asked often to speak at conferences for the National Press Photographers, Atlanta Press Photogra­phers, 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 that earlier criticized Don for leaving Black Star to work with Southern Baptist have called him over and over asking if there are any openings for them to serve.[55]
New York City, NY 1966:  Lady on roof top. (photo by: Don Rutledge)

            For those who want to follow in Don’s footsteps they need to be warned that the road that Don has paved, still has pot holes and other problems that will require one to still proceed with caution.  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 that worked in the file area of photography were often teasing Don.  After one trip, Don’s office was completely rolled with toilet paper.  Another time one of the girls in the office had everyone dress like Don.  Don always wore the same style shirts and this made it easy to tease him. 
            Another time Don came back to discover his desk stacked in mail.  Virginia Adams, administrative assistant in communications department, had made up 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 mirror. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

            One does not build this type of relationships by looking out for themselves alone.  Don was not around a great deal 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 ability with people is strongly related to his relationship with Christ.  No matter how good one is with the camera or with words, they must understand that Don’s success is due to his 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 come to see the compassion that Christ has for the world.  Looking at Don’s photographs allows one to see the world in a Christian perspective.  One does not have to work with a Christian institution to do what Don does so well.  One only need a Lord that 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 work place is 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 Magazineand Missions USA. Both of the 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 a league with National Geographic and Life Magazine for their photography and design.

The reason for their success can be tied greatly to Don Rutledge. For this reason this writer is doing his thesis on Don Rutledge for publication.

Don has worked for Black Star photo agency in New York for more than thirty years. During this time 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. He has been published in many magazines and books around the globe. His work has taken him throughout all fifty states, all of Canada and to 135 coun­tries.

Today, Rutledge is mentor to many professional photographers and students. All of the photojournalists in the Southern Baptist Convention point to Don as being 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 a great appreciation for him. He has come to understand that the common thread that binds all those in minis­try is working with people. Don works with people so well that he has made major changes in magazines by 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 under­stand how Don’s faith is lived out through his camera.

As one looks at Don’s photographs, one feels as if 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 are able to be them­selves. His subjects look as though Don were 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 part 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 back 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 is using his psychology in pho­to­graphing people, and his pictures continually reach audi­ences of over 1.5 million people week by week.

Don’s work has helped people see the work of mission­aries around the world. By doing this 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 ministry and went a traditional route of majoring in social work and then planning to go on to the semi­nary to become a pastor. While in college this writer discovered photog­raphy and the power of the camera as a communication tool. Knolan Benfield, Jr., was a photogra­pher who worked on Missions USAmagazine, and he 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 the work of 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 the concerns God has placed on 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 missions. God has called them into missionary service after they looked at the mission field through the “eyes of Don.” Don’s work has helped to meet the needs of people the world over.

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 his 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 chose to follow Jesus Christ. Due to his follow­ing Christ, his work as a Christian photojour­nalist has help spread the gospel around the world.

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