By Carolyne White
Ask Donovan Preiser, South Sound native and professional photographer.
In 2013, Donovan was one of four Washington State high school seniors selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship from the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation (YEF). The then senior at Federal Way Senior High School won the NFIB/Betty and Steve Neighbors Young Entrepreneur Award.
The YEF scholarship program raises awareness about the critical role of private enterprise and entrepreneurship in growing America’s economy among the nation’s youth. The foundation selects approximately 100 recipients from a nationwide applicant pool of more than 500 graduating high school seniors.
What led to the now University of Washington student’s successful business?
It all started with a keen artistic eye and a 1988 Jaguar XJ6. Donovan’s dad, a vintage automobile enthusiast, restored this Jaguar and exhibited it in various car shows. This auto won best of show in North America three years in a row. Starting in 2005, Donovan attended every show with his parents, taking pictures with a film camera of participating cars.
Donovan’s dad wrote articles for his Jaguar club’s newsletter. The newsletter editor wanted photos to accompany these articles. As the newsletter required digital images, Donovan, at age 11, received his first digital camera. His initial assignments focused on shooting pictures at car club shows and rallies.
Along the way, the LeMay Foundation used several of Donovan’s published car pictures to promote the funding of the now constructed LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. When Donovan’s dad saw these photos at a fundraising event, he asked that Donovan be credited as the photographer. These photos are still on display at the Tacoma location and are part of the “History of the Museum” pictorial presentation.
Although vintage auto photos started Donovan’s photography career, it was his love of the outdoors that launched his successful business that focuses on wildlife and landscape scenes.
It all started with Mt. Rainier. His first encounter with Mt. Rainier occurred during a Jaguar auto rally —20 cars driving up to Paradise. While there, Donovan captured a scene of Paradise Inn with Mt Rainier in background. Through a chance encounter with the reservation specialist for the Inn, Mt. Rainier Guest Services licensed this photo for use on their website.
From this point forward, Donovan’s passion for photography combined with his love of the natural wonders of the great Northwest. At any opportunity and in all seasons, Donovan and his dad explored the backcountry of Mt. Rainier, hiking the complete Wonderland Trail twice. These explorations provided photo opportunities in the more remote areas of the park. Donovan’s work appeared in several Northwest publications, such as Washington and Oregon AAA magazines, Sunset, Portland Monthly, Seattle Magazine and the Washington State Visitor’s Guide.
Commercial Interest increased in Donovan’s photographic efforts. At age 14, he signed a contract with Mt. Rainier Guest Services to provide photo note cards and matted prints to the stores at Mt. Rainier. With this, he officially launched his photography business.
Since 2011, Donovan has entered his work in various local art shows, winning several first place and best-in-show awards. Master photographer Art Wolfe sponsors an international photography contest with the theme of ecology and preservation in nature. In 2012, 72 photographic artists were selected world-wide, with 3 students included as part of this group. Donovan was chosen as one of these three students, receiving an honorable mention in this category. The winning photo, “Stehekin Fall Colors,” toured the US with this elite group after appearing in the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture for six months.
Donovan‘s photos of wildlife are very personal and authentic. Unlike “trap” photos of animals— i.e. those taken automatically with a motion sensor— he “works” with the animal. One picture may take one to four hours of patient waiting and observing to capture a winning pose.
On a hike with his dad near Comet Falls in Mt. Rainier National Park (MRNP), Donovan witnessed a pika moving small branches around. Keeping a respectable distance of 20-feet, he waited for that pika to emerge from a rocky hole, which turned out to have two entrances. With help from his dad, who managed to corral the pika at the other exit, Donovan caught the image of that little pika toting around his leafy morsel.
Donovan also had a close call with a bear. While hiking the Wonderland Trail in MRNP with his dad, Donovan encountered a bear standing in a field of avalanche lilies. Seeing a great photo opportunity, he set up his tripod at a respectful 20-foot distance. All went well until his dad stepped on a twig, snapping it. Suddenly, the bear started running toward them, passing them at just five feet away. Donovan figures that, since both he and his dad were standing in the shade, the bear couldn’t see them.
Through his business, Donovan is funding his goal of pursuing a college education by doing something he loves and is passionate about. Beyond his chosen major in environmental studies with a minor in business, Donovan hopes to one day work as a photographer for National Geographic as well as open galleries around the world to share and sell his artwork.
You can view Donovan’s artwork by visiting his website donovanpreiserphotography.com.