Humans of Pacific Symphony: Meet Photographer Doug Gifford
“Learn, Practice, Learn, Practice. Just Like a Great Musician.”
For over 30 years, the Symphony has provided its community of Orange County exciting moments filled with top musical talent and stunning live events. And since then, no one has captured these moments or told the story of the PS brand better than long-time photographer and friend of the Symphony, Doug Gifford. He has made these joyous Symphony memories last forever with his years of expertise in photography and attention to artistry, detail, and storytelling.
Born and raised in Orange County, Gifford grew up a tried-and-true California beach boy with passion and love for where he lived. As a young boy, Gifford’s Orange County had just one singular freeway! This is almost impossible to imagine with its now abundant freeways and highways system that we begrudgingly deal with every day at rush hour. One special Orange County milestone that Gifford was able to be a part of was opening day at Disneyland in 1955. He does not recall much of it though as he was only 2 years old.
“My childhood was filled with playing in the nearby orange groves which surrounded us then and with my friends in the safety of a small city. I would spend my summers going to the beach everyday.”
His passion for the arts and photography began as a young boy, but his decision to make it his lifelong career all leads back to his time in the Vietnam War. Drafted in October 1972, Gifford was sent to Camp Casey near the DMZ in South Korea. His job on base was as the Battalion Legal Clerk, but, to his surprise, he got the opportunity to offer the Army much more than that. With some proficiency in drumming, Gifford and an old friend from Eagle Scouts formed a rock band that would play at the clubs on base. They became so popular, in fact, it became their full time gig for the rest of their time in South Korea.
“With some luck, skills, and a pair of drumsticks in my back pocket, I was fortunate to make it home without seeing combat. Others who served were not so lucky as they were injured or paid the ultimate sacrifice. I honor, appreciate, and think about them more than I can really express.”
Also, during his time in Korea, Gifford bought his first SLR camera and lens. He learned how to develop and print his own film and began practicing his photography. He got great inspiration during a month-long trip to Japan, Thailand, India, and Nepal while drafted. After this whirlwind experience, Gifford was completely hooked on traveling and photography. And although getting drafted was not something a young man like Gifford was particularly excited about at first, he recalls how much that experience pushed him into the artist lifestyle he wanted to pursue.
“Given a chance to live an artist life as a photographer I took that opportunity and have been blessed to do that for 42 years and counting.”
When asked if he still practices his drumming to this day, Gifford disclosed that it has been several years since he picked up his sticks. However, drumming was such an important part of his past life that he memorialized his drum set by placing it on an above-ground stage in his living room. It reminds him of how art changed and shaped his life, and, of course, is an amazing conversation starter for any visitor to his home.
“If you think about it, photography and being a drummer are all about timing. I guess you could say I am still using skills learned as a musician and drummer in my work as a photographer.”
Thanks to his time in the Army, Gifford was fortunate enough to be granted a free college education where he continued his pursuit in photography. After graduation, breaking into the business of photography proved to come with a lot of challenges and life lessons. But through constant practice and gaining experience wherever he could, Gifford soon became a photographer that stood out as a true talented professional.
“Anyone can ‘take’ a good photograph, especially today; but, if you want to learn how to ‘make’ a good photograph, it takes time to learn the camera, techniques, skills (including people skills) and it never stops. Learn, practice, learn, practice. Just like a great musician.”
“I have worked hard to master my craft and be recognized as an internationally acclaimed photographer with a relaxed, natural style, and one of the most versatile visual storytellers you will find today.”
With experience in photography for over 1500 weddings, traveling to over 50 countries, and working with big names in the arts industry in Hollywood and Orange County, Gifford’s career has taken him to many exciting places and given him lifelong memories. One of his favorite memories was meeting Steven Spielberg at the American Film Institute Awards for his film “Lincoln”. Gifford attended as a photographer at the event.
“He was excited that I liked the movie and shared with me in great detail about the lighting. We talked for several minutes; more than I felt I should be doing. It was fun and will always be a great memory.”
Other fun adventures photography has lead him to include auto races such as Formula 1, Indy Car, IMSA, and the Grand Prix of Long Beach; competitive yacht racing competitions like America’s Cup, Big Boat, and Transpac; and political press events where he has photographed 100 or more politicians including two U.S. Presidents: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Because of his expertise and strong grasp of brand identity and story, Gifford has worked for many businesses in art and entertainment in Orange County, including Pacific Symphony and Segerstrom Center for the Arts (SCFTA). In fact, Gifford has so much deep rooted history working with these organizations that he was actually present during the construction of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
“It was fun to be there for the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall groundbreaking ceremony on July 7, 2003, to document the construction, and then to be there opening night on September 15, 2006. I spent a lot of time in a hard hat, safety glasses, and a vest.”
Today, he is grateful for his relationship with Pacific Symphony and is honored to capture the talent of its musicians.
“Pacific Symphony always delivers an excellent performance which pushes me to try and match my work to theirs. Their music makes my images and visual storytelling better. It is a great relationship.”
Read more about Gifford’s photography background and accomplishments here.
To be continued…
Read more: The Further Photographic Adventures of Pacific Symphony’s Official Photographer, Doug Gifford.
Guest blogger Samantha Soriano Horrocks is freelance writer and content creator with a passion for communications and the entertainment industry. She graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in Communications, specializing in Entertainment and Tourism. Her extensive knowledge and experience in these fields have allowed her to develop a unique perspective that she shares through her writing.