Red Ryak Photography (Donna Van Vlack) Talks the Talk with 1stAngel

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When did you first become interested in art, in general?

I have always been interested in art for as long as I can remember. My mother and grandmother were both painters. My first piece of art was a sculpture of a dolphin in the third grade.  Then I took up drawing and now my passion is photography.

When did you first become interested in photography, specifically?

I became really interested in photography after I started hunting.  I really wanted to be able to capture all the beauty I saw around me and share it with my family and friends – create memories they would cherish long after I was gone.

In what other forms of art do you also work, if any?

I still draw a little, make jewelry and I paint.


On which style(s) of photography do you specialize?

I specialize in wildlife and nature photography.  Because I am an avid hunter I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, so that specialization just seemed to come naturally.

Has your style changed from when you first began? If so, why?

I think my style has changed and continues to change.  Since I am self taught, I am learning things everyday.  I can see the growth in my photography.

At first my photographs appeared to be more like snapshots and now I see in my photography, what I see when I’m out hunting or just spending time outdoors.  I see the passion in my photographs.

What kind of equipment do you use?

I started out with a Nikon D-60.  I have always used a digital camera. Now I have a Nikon D-5100, with several lens – a 50mm lens, a macro lens, a couple everyday shooting lens, and a telephoto lens.  I tend to stick with Nikkor lens.

What made you choose that equipment?

I have a few friends who are photographers. I told them I wanted to be able to capture what I saw around me and Nikon was what they recommended. I have been using Nikon all along and it has worked for me, so I figure why change a good working thing.

How do you choose what you’re going to photograph?

I’m not sure I choose as much as it chooses me.  I take my camera everywhere. When I first started I drove around looking for things to photograph, but that never really seemed to work out.  So now as I go about my daily life, it’s like BAM that would make a great photograph.  I think it drives my husband crazy at times because I yell, “OH my god stop the car.” When he figures out it for a photo opt, well you can imagine.

arizona grey squirrel ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What kind of editing do you perform on your photographs, if any?

I try not to edit my photographs too much.  I really try to capture what I see naturally.  However, I have discovered the fun of HDR, fractals, and digital art.  So I do edit my photographs for that stuff, but you can tell it is digital art.

Sometimes I adjust the exposure a little if I got it wrong, but usually not much editing if I can help it.

How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?

Well right now I am working on capturing a white winged dove on a saguaro cactus bloom for my husband.  I have been working on that for a while.  But normally, when I come home from a hunting trip, or day trip, I have hundreds of photographs to sort through.  It take me usually 30 days to come up with the photographs I am going to keep and upload to my gallery for sale.

How do you know when a piece is finished? Is it easy to walk away?

It’s finished when I like it or when my husband says to me,’ it looks great honey knock it off’.  It’s not always easy to walk away.  I am a perfectionist, but I’m getting better at it.

mission granary pots ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?

When I have a block I usually take a day trip with the intention of just relaxing. By the time half the day is over I have taken a ton of photographs.

The other thing I do is turn to my husband. He has an artist’s soul.  So I will ask him to take me out and I will take photographs of the things that move him.

How well do you take criticism and how do you make use of it?

I think I take criticism really well. I want to be the best photographer I can be and I know there are others out there that are so much better than I am.  So when someone gives me constructive criticism I take it in and do with it what I can.

Who is your favourite photographer?

I belong to several photo groups and I find inspiration from every photograph I see.

My favorites are Joel Sartore, Robert Clark, and Michael Melford.

Which one of your photographs is your favourite?

My favorite photograph is one I took of my chocolate lab, Ryak, watching my grandchildren.

chocolate labrador – womans best friend ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Have you exhibited any of your work in galleries?

I have exhibited my work in my mother’s gallery in San Pedro California, called Charle Rae.

Will your work be included at any upcoming contests or galleries?

I have some photographs in some upcoming contests on  They start the voting on them in January 2013.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now my plans for the future are to ride out this economy until I retire in 5 years and then, hopefully, open my own gallery and devote full time to my photography.

What advice do you have for budding photographers?

The best advice I have is get a camera, read all about it, learn everything about it and don’t be afraid to shoot everything you see.  Ask questions of other photographers out there, they are usually really friendly.

stanley hotel – estes park colorado ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Have you done any courses to help you?

I have read several books on composition and exposure from Bryan Peterson.  I have also taken a couple of courses at the Arizona Desert Museum in Tucson Arizona.  I am a member there and they offer three day classes on just about everything.

The best class I took was called “A Photography Workshop with Dr. John P Schaefer.” He demonstrated and discussed his concepts of basic composition, isolation of the subject, focusing, depth of field, and exposure control.

I also took their behind the scenes photo walk where you get to take photographs of all the animals and, while doing so, get instruction along the way.

What do you do to market your work?

I belong to Fine Art America and Viewbug.  I enter as many contests as I can.  I have business cards that I hand out all over the place. I donate my wildlife photographs framed to conservation organizations to auction at their fundraising banquets.

Do you use social networking in your day to day life?

I use social networking a lot to get my name out there.

wide open wyoming sky ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Are you available for work (commissions)?

I am available.  I have never had anyone ask me for specific photographs other than my husband, but I would love to give that a shot.

Have you got hobbies?

I have too many hobbies.  I am an avid hunter and conservationist, I volunteer for the National Wild Turkey Federation, I am a hunter education instructor, I make jewelry, I love to read, I have grand-kids, I crochet, I paint and I draw,

Where are you based?

I am based in Tucson, Arizona

Isabella FA Shores
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Isabella FA Shores

Founder at 1stAngel Arts
I live in Sale, Cheshire, England, and am happily sharing my life with a mental budgie, two Alsatian puppies, and a long-suffering, sculptor-boyfriend . . . not necessarily in that order. 🙂 Often accused of being an insufferable know it all, I often do, but more often do not.
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7 thoughts on “Red Ryak Photography (Donna Van Vlack) Talks the Talk with 1stAngel

  1. lois

    Beautiful images … I visited the Arizona Desert Museum once a few years ago and enjoyed the day more than I can tell you. I envy you your membership there and ability to take classes!! What fun!!!

  2. Very nice interview! I always wondered where the “Ryak” came in. 🙂

    1. Thank you and now you know.

  3. Valerie Bruno

    Enjoyed your interview and I too love the image of the chocolate lab.
    Also liked the misson granary pots.
    Thank you for joining Digital Photography Group. Good Luck on your sales and your images are gorgeous.

    1. Thank you very much. I appreciate your kinds comments and I’m glad you liked my photography.

  4. Great Interview Donna,I love the Kanab Photo its really fantastic,it is so beautiful it doesnt look real it looks like its from a Movie.All your photos are really good,But, there is something very special about the way you capture skies.It looks like the clouds move in the pictures.Congradulations on your Featured Interview.You so much deserve.You are a natural photographer. I wish you all the best.God Bless you.

    1. Thank you so much Manuel. I am so glad you like my photography. Your comments mean a lot to me and make my day. God Bless.

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