The Further Photographic Adventures of Pacific Symphony’s Official Photographer, Doug Gifford
Having photographed over 1500 weddings worldwide, Doug Gifford is well-versed in the ceremony of “I do’s”. He has loved creating wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime, memories with his brides and grooms, and, conversely, he has enjoyed overcoming the inevitable challenges that come with the complex productions that weddings can be.
“How many weddings went perfectly? Very few. I had to draw on my years of experience and be creative in solving whatever issue came about quickly, with grace and empathy, because the clock keeps ticking.”
He recalls one of his early weddings where an incident occurred that should have freaked just about any bride walking down the aisle.
“I’m standing there with the bride as she’s ready to walk down the aisle when mom turns and says, ‘where’s the harpist’?”
The harpist who was hired to play the wedding march never showed! Gasp!
Without time to find a new harpist, Gifford had just the idea. He suggested that the wedding guests hum Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” together as the bride walked down the aisle. The best man ran down the aisle and announced the new plan. The guests loved the idea, executed their humming perfectly, and, most of all, the bride was happy. A fond memory for Gifford.
For most of his photography career, Gifford has lived and worked in Orange County. He is well known in the O.C. arts and entertainment community, and he sometimes finds his way up north with the stars in Hollywood.
For a dozen years before COVID, Gifford photographed six big events annually for the American Film Institute (AFI). The AFI Awards Luncheon, where they honored their picks for the top 10 motion pictures and top 10 T.V. It was a very exclusive event with only the actors, producers, and directors of the projects. There were no spouses or agents. Photographers like Gifford were the only attendee exceptions.
Actors like Tom Hanks would always give Gifford a wink and nod as they got used to having him around every year.
“The event was filled with photo opportunities. While I would be respectfully waiting to take a picture of Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg, I could hear conversations by them or others talking about their next film project or deal. These were the top people in the industry. It was the coolest event to photograph, and I looked forward to it every year.”
In 2008, Disney released a documentary yacht racing film directed by Mark Monroe and produced by Gifford’s friend, Roy E. Disney, titled, “Morning Light.” The film tells the story of 15 rookie sailors as they train and then compete in the 2,225-mile Transpac Yacht Race on their high-tech sloop, “Morning Light”. In addition to providing a rare peek into what it’s like to sail the Transpac, it’s a fantastic film about leadership.”
The Transpac is a biennial yacht race that starts in San Pedro, California, and ends in Diamond Head, Hawaii. Gifford was fortunate to work as a still photographer on this project along with his friend, world renowned yacht photographer, Sharon Green. Since 1995, Gifford and Green have worked together on several America’s Cup campaigns and other large global yacht racing projects.
Gifford began photographing yacht racing in 1986 as the official photographer with the Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s Eagle Challenge for the 1987 America’s Cup in Perth, Australia.
A few years earlier, Gifford began photographing Formula One race cars at the Long Beach Grand Prix (where he’s been head of photography for a decade). These experiences led to photographing Formula One and Indy racing globally as well as speaking and judging international print competitions. Along the way, Gifford was honored to photograph two U.S. Presidents.
As a young photographer looking to make camera work his career, Gifford was inspired by the work of Ansel Adams, famous American landscape photographer. Although this kind of photography was something he was drawn to, Gifford soon realized that making a living in the genre wasn’t for him.
“I wanted to be the next Ansel Adams but, after finding out that most of his money was made after he died, I decided to go into people photography to make money while I was living.”
While Gifford has been able to make a successful career in portrait, wedding, and commercial photography, he enjoys pursuing nature and landscape photography with peers, especially those with his “Cosmic Tours” group.
This group of trailblazing and like- minded photographers would sit around campfires in national parks or overlooking scenic villages, ports, and more in Europe and Asia, to share stories and techniques. After returning home, they would enjoy a potluck dinner and review one other’s photographs from the trip providing suggestions and praise. It gave Gifford a lot of confidence and tips on how to become a better photographer.
Some of his favorite escapades are with his wife, Karen, who was the impetus behind Gifford’s involvement in auto and yacht racing as well as the entertainment industry. This was spawned by opportunities she leveraged in her early corporate career with aerospace and information systems, and innovative technologies like CAD/CAM with McDonnell Douglas Corporation (now Boeing).
Traveling has been integral to each of their professional and personal lives. Between them, they have traveled to over 60 countries and 43 states creating special memories like a chef-prepared, white linen lunch on the Great Wall of China, Christmas Day at the beach in Australia, New Year’s celebrations in the United Kingdom, watching a wildebeest be born from a hot air balloon over Kenya, bungy jumping from New Zealand’s Kawarau Bridge, river rafting with family in the Pacific Northwest, dining with top chefs and winemakers, experiencing live performance of all genres, and relaxing with friends in beautiful Kona, Hawaii.
These are all just quick snapshots of Gifford’s career filled with fascinating stories. Gifford continues to seek new adventures and create lasting memories for himself and his beloved clients.
Read more about Gifford’s photography background and accomplishments here.
Make sure to check out his Humans of Pacific Symphony story here.
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.