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What It’s Like to Photograph a President With David Valdez

“You always want to exceed the guest’s experience, client’s expectations and take it a step further.” ~David Valdez

Presidential photographer, the man responsible for helping Disney move from film photography to Digital, Vice President for business development for Blue Pixel working with Nikon and Microsoft with many more titles and achievements amassed. Through the years, David Valdez (@davidvaldezusa) has become a respected talent who captured some of the most important moments in history and helped preserve the stories that will last lifetimes.

What was it like to photograph Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Princess Diana, Presidents and prime ministers from around the world, the Queen of England, and a President as he hang-glided? What was it like to have a US Postage Stamp with one of your photos? What was it like to be thrown out of Buckingham Palace?

David Valdez has undoubtedly lived an adventurous life thus far. When it comes to success, David explains that real success is giving back and sharing with people to help make somebody else successful. “It’s not so much about me, but what I can do for others”. Valdez dives deep into the stories behind his journeys.


In This Episode

  • 0:32 – Setorii introduces David Valdez, a presidential photographer and the man responsible for helping Disney move from film photography to Digital. David became a respected talent who captured some of the most important moments in history and helped preserve stories that will last lifetimes.
  • 1:40 – David reminisces how he unintentionally started his career as a photographer.
  • 7:11 – David shares some of his memories of George Bush Sr. and Barbara Bush, and their amazing relationship.
  • 17:34 – David talks about the historic moments he captured through his lens as a photographer.
  • 23:53 – David gives advice on how to build relationships and trust the people that will help in your personal and professional life.
  • 25:13 – David talks about the different US Presidents that he’s photographed and his experiences with each of them.
  • 29:45 – Setorii asks David how he started working with Disney.
  • 34:56 – Davids talks about the types of equipment he has used in his career as a photographer.
  • 38:10 – David shares the things that he does before photoshoots.
  • 46:13 – Setorii asks David what is his favorite photograph he’s taken and is his definition of success.
  • 49:27 – Setorii and David encourage listeners to check out David’s website or his social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) to see his photos.

Jump To Links and Resources


Transcript

What if you could be in the room with different presidents, global leaders, the Pope, the Queen of England, travel to almost every country and all US states, sit in the most important meetings in the world while you were part of the most powerful life events of the late 20th century? What if you were responsible for having to capture the images of those iconic moments in history, and you have no room for error? Or that moment will be lost forever. Let me introduce you to President George Bush Sr.‘s personal photographer, David Valdez

David’s background, as everybody heard in our introduction, is so dynamic. You have done so many amazing things, and the start of a photographer is very telling. You actually served in our military, correct? In the US Air Force?

Right, yeah. When I graduated high school, I received a wonderful letter from President Nixon inviting me to join the military. I went into the military, into the Air Force actually. I got there, and he said, you’re going to be a photographer, and I literally turned to the guy next to me, and I said, what is that? I don’t even know. 

They trained me as a photographer, and I was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. It was parades, award ceremonies. Also, it was the place where the fighter pilots tested live ammunition just before going to Vietnam. Every once in a while, those guys would crash, and I’d have to go out and do the medical photos, the autopsies, and the plane crash photos. Also, the strike commander was there, and they pretty much ran the Vietnam War. 

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At 18 years old, I was photographing 3-star generals and being presented with a lot of classified information just by being around. I spent my whole time there. A lot of photographers start out with, “Well, it’s a hobby,” and “Let me take pictures of the babies, the dogs, pets, and flowers in the garden.” I was 18 years old, and “Let’s go photograph the general.” That was my whole experience. 

The other thing that I did in my career wasn’t too shocking to me because that’s really all I knew. I was never a baby or a pet photographer. It was great, great training. Another sidebar thing that happened that was very fortunate for me is that the military paid for my college. I was able to get a degree in journalism and radio and television production for free. 

I see today all these kids with college debt. I say, “I know a way to get a college degree for free.” I meet people all the time, and they say, “My son is this and that,” and I say, “Well, they don’t know what they’re going to do. You go into the military, and you get a pretty incredible job experience and the whole college thing.” For me, it was the best thing that ever happened. Later on, as we’re talking on, I’ll refer back to this because this training at 18 years old literally helped me along the way and the rest of my career. It was a great way to start, and I was blessed to have that opportunity.

What an interesting start. You had no choice. You never wanted to start as a photographer. How is it that they picked you and they said you’re going to be a photographer?

Well, it turns out I was in the Air Force and the Air Force had a real need for photo people. They had different types of photography, aerial photography, motion picture photography, photo lab work, and still photography, and I got still photography. Now, this is interesting. Twenty-seven years later, I’m the president’s photographer. I’m from Texas, my parents were living in San Antonio, and we were doing an event in San Antonio. That evening, my parents invited the White House staff over to their house for a barbecue.

Everybody came. I was this hotshot guy, and my mother says, “Hey, everybody, I have to show you something David did as a little boy.” I was horrified. She pulls out a photo album that I had done as a little kid. In crayon, I had written on the front, “Pictures I’ve Taken by David Valdez.” I sewed it together with some ribbon and a little black and white snapshot. As a little kid, I was running around the neighborhood taking pictures. I had no idea really what I was doing, but I still have that album today.

You can look at some of the photos, and you can see basic theories of composition in my little snapshots like meeting lines, and it was a little square White-Rodgers camera. I would turn it on the vertical to compose a diamond instead of a square. I had it in my eye and in my heart. When I got into the military, there was just a random need for photo people in the Air Force. I was fortunate enough to wind up getting that still photography position and changed my life.

Your work has inspired so many people. You’ve touched on so many steps that have taken place in your journey. I would love to understand even more if you don’t mind. Can you give us a little context into understanding what you know about the Bush’s? How was Barbara Bush? What was she like as a person and then their wonderful relationship together? I think people know that they have such a great relationship, and they really care about family and the unity of their marriage, but you have this fly in a wall perspective that nobody else would know. Could you share with us a little bit about their relationship and about Barbara?

They met as teenagers. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, George Bush said, I’m going to join the military. He wound up becoming one of the youngest navy fighter pilots in World War II. On his plane, he had written Barbara. He said he named his airplane Barbara. He wrote her all the time. I think there’s a book of their love letters. When he came back, they decided to get married and George Bush’s father was a United States senator, and her father was a publisher; he published the Redbook magazine. They were quite accomplished. 

In my career, I've been able to touch a lot of people. Given them a little bit of a nudge and they've gone on to be very successful in their own right.
In my career, I’ve been able to touch a lot of people. Given them a little bit of a nudge and they’ve gone on to be very successful in their own right.

He was offered, he could have taken that path and said, “We’ll put you into the family business and you’re set for life.” He said no. He had this desire to go out west, to go to Texas and they went to Midland, Texas to live. They lived in a little shotgun house, and half the house—they always used to joke—belong to a single woman who had a lot of friends. They used to have to lock the bathroom because there was only one bathroom, and they shared the bathroom. It built a lot of character. 

They wound up participating in the local churches, in Little League, just the Texas stuff. He worked his way up and became an independent oilman, and then he decided to run for senate. He lost. He ran for congress, and he won. They moved back off to Washington.

Now, the family’s moving again. This is kind of the characteristic of the family as they round up moving many, many times honestly. Barbara Bush used to say when they lived in the Vice-President’s House, the Navy Observatory in Washington, DC, that that was the longest they had lived anywhere. 

The family became the most important thing to him. There’s a saying, when we talk about the Bush’s, the most important thing is their family, their faith, and their friends. Of all the things that George Bush accomplished, the proudest moment in his entire life is when his son was being sworn in as President of the United States.

But nobody told me about the Barbara Bush factor. She was definitely in charge at home, and I’ll never forget that. First of all, she was the one that suggested I come over early in the morning and take pictures of them with the grandchildren. She knew that there was something there and I was able to capture it and was successful at that. One time, we were there—the Bush’s love Mexican food—and one morning, they were cooking this pot of tamales on the stove.

They were done, George W. was there, Jeb was there, I was there, and we were in the kitchen, and the tamales were just done. We were pulling them out of the pot and standing there at the stove eating them. Mrs. Bush walked in, and she slams her hand on the counter. She says, “I don’t feed animals in my house.” Of course, I was horrified, and we all went over and sat down at the kitchen table. As close as I was to them physically and intimately involved in just about everything they did for years, I never forgot the fact that I was an employee, a staff member.

People don’t know that about the Bush’s, though. President Bush was a jokester, wasn’t he?

It was the summer of 1984. It was my first time going to Kennebunkport and he’s walking me around the walkers point where their house is and we get down to the dock. He tells me that as a little boy, he used to go swimming there. He said, “You and I ought to do that.” I’ve got jeans on, a sports coat, and my cameras, and I’m a guy from South Texas, and that’s Atlantic Ocean. I’m looking at it and saying, “Nah. That’s a little cold for me,” and he says, “No, it’d be fun.” He says, “Look, I got a couple of swimsuits up at the house.” We walked back up to the house, go into the bedroom.

The White House storage are there, and Mrs. Bush was there. There were Secret Service agents, the windows are open, and we walked into the bedroom and he’s like, come here, put on this swimsuit. We stripped down, we both put on swimsuits. We walked down and he says, “On the count of three, we’ll jump. One, two, three.” I jumped and we walked back to the house. We had a lot of fun. 

A good friend of his passed away, General Brent Scowcroft. He was a national security adviser for President Bush, but he also worked for President Ford. We would have these high-level meetings in the Oval Office. Everybody’s sitting on a couch. There’s a couple of couches and a chair where the President sat. 

Every once in a while, Brent would nod off and go to sleep. He’d just be sitting there and they’re talking about major things going on in the world, and there’s Brent just dozing off. The president would see that and he kind of winked at me like, “Get a picture.” We took a picture. Then it kind of became—over a couple of years—who else is going to fall asleep in the Oval Office during a meeting?

Now, there’s another time Queen Elizabeth came to visit the White House and set a big formal state arrival ceremony with the marching of the troops on the south lawn, some music, and state dinner. Then the next day, we took Queen Elizabeth to Baltimore to see a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. One of the guys in one of the box seat places was working there and handed Queen Elizabeth the hotdog with mustard on it. She has her white gloves on. Of course, she was horrified. Here’s this hotdog, she didn’t know, I think, what it was. She has a tour aid and probably I took a bunch of pictures. We sent some to Buckingham Palace. 

A few months later, we wound up going to London and going to see the queen at Buckingham Palace. Everywhere we went, I jumped out of the motorcade, and I was always two or three cars just behind the president’s limousine. I went running into Buckingham Palace to photograph the queen greeting the president. I took those photos of them greeting. And then one of the butlers there at Buckingham Palace pats me on the shoulder, and he says, “May I invite you outside?” In other words, I was getting kicked out of Buckingham Palace. Whenever I get thrown out of someplace, I can always say, “Well, I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.” That was a lot of fun. 

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It’s kind of like going to the Vatican. I remember going there and the very first time I went, pull up and the Pope came out. This was John Paul. I go racing in and there’s a little tiny elevator for two people. That’s the Pope and the president. Everybody else had to go upstairs. I was trying to get on the elevator and a nun grabs me by the arm and she said, “No. You cannot go there.” She says, “You have to go with me.” We’re in the Vatican. It’s kind of hard to argue with a nun, and especially a nun in the Vatican. She said, “You’ll go with me.” 

We go around through all these hallways and stairways. We get to this one place and she said, “You stand right here and you wait,” and she leaves. I’m like, I don’t even know where I am. She comes back about 30 minutes later saying, “Are you ready to take pictures now?” I said, “Yes.” She opens these two big doors. We stepped in and there’s the Pope and the president. It’s perfect.

What was your thought about the Vatican as a photographer, just having the opportunity to walk through it?

Well, you know that the Pope has a photographer? It’s a family that’s done it for decades, the grandfather, the father, son, and on and on. It was pretty interesting. The pope gave us a tour of the Sistine Chapel. You look up and there’s Michelangelo and famous paintings. When the Pope speaks to the public, there’s a window that opens up and he’s out on his little balcony. On the inside, it’s just a hallway. We were walking down the hallway and the president saw that. He just kind of wanted to peek out the window just to see the view. They said, “No, no, no. Don’t go there. Only the Pope can go there.” When those doors open, everybody knows that the pope is going to come out and speak. 

A whole new different but kind of similar story in the Kremlin. The Kremlin was the Czar’s Palace. When the Soviets took over, it became the Soviet headquarters, kind of their White House. We were in there one time with President Gorbachev and they were signing a nuclear arms agreement and we’re walking out. When you move around with the president, there’s a lot of people, and here we are with two presidents. Trailing behind are the doctors, and the military aid, the Secret Service, and press people. We walked down and President Gorbachev stops and he says, “Wait a minute, let’s go over down this other hallway.” We all have to back up and go around, go down the side hallway.

We get to this room. There are these big giant gold doors. President Gorbachev says, “Look at this,” and he pushes the two doors open. It’s the Czar’s chapel. After 70 plus years of communism and atheist belief, they never touched or tore down the chapel that the Czar had in the Kremlin.

Another time when George Bush was Vice-President, there was a period in the late 80s where just about every year, one of the Soviet leaders would pass away and we would go to the funeral. We were there and I think it was Leonid Brezhnev. They don’t have a religious funeral service; it’s a military thing. We were all standing there in Red Square. We’re standing there with Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, Margaret Thatcher, President Mitterrand of France, and everybody. Here’s the military processional going down, open casket on the tank, and they bury their leader right there on this wall at the Kremlin. We’re all standing there and it’s just seconds before they close the casket, and Brezhnev’s wife makes the sign of the cross. We all saw this and I was able to get a picture of her doing that. 

George Bush, with his years in the diplomatic corp, especially working at the United Nations, has to know a lot of world leaders on a personal level. He made a real strong effort to pick up the phone even when he was president. He just called up world leaders to just say, hi, how are you doing? What’s going on? When Iraq invaded Kuwait, and he had to pull together a world coalition, it was really easy for him to do because the people that he was calling were people that he knew and knew on a personal level. That was what was really important.

It all goes back to his family. When George Bush was a little boy, he used to play Little League Baseball. They would win a game and he’d go home. His mother would say, “Well, did you congratulate the other team for a game well-played?” He learned to do that. When he was President of the United States and the Berlin Wall came down, all the political people said, “Well, you need to go over there and stand on the wall and wave the American flag.” He said, “No. It’s not our victory, it’s their victory. Let them celebrate.” 

Twenty plus years later on in Georgetown, Texas, I hear this Christian missionary speak. This guy was a former Soviet military person during the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He said, “Had President Bush gone and stood on the Berlin Wall after it fell, a rogue Soviet general may have launched a missile and said, ‘Oh yeah? Watch this.’” Well, we had that exact same conversation in the Oval Office saying, “Look, if we go, those soviet military people still have access to all their nuclear weapons even though communism has fallen. All that stuff is still there. Maybe somebody will launch a missile.”

That’s powerful. If you haven’t had the pleasure of knowing who David Valdez is, you are beginning to see the scope of how you had complete access to everything that was happening at the time, and you were literally by his side, by the President’s side, Vice-President’s side before he became President. You were part of these conversations. You were there with all of these people. There is a complete level of trust that you and the President had developed. It would be great if you could give some guidance to people that are looking to understand how do you develop that type of trust with anything, with a business relationship, or looking to do that in a personal life? Is there any advice that you can give?

You treat other people like you want to be treated. I always believed in any job I had. When I hire people, I hire people that are actually better than me. I always treated everybody like I would want to be treated, and the President was that way. He was excellent about writing notes, thanking people, and I do that to this day. You just never know along the way who you’re going to meet and who you’re going to influence. 

Be polite to people, be kind, and grateful. To this day, I participate in a weekly Zoom photography meeting with mostly amateur photographers. But it’s really interesting because I still learn. I’m just an old guy, but I’m not ashamed to not learn from somebody else.

Giving back and being able to continue to give back all these years later is truly a measure of success.
Giving back and being able to continue to give back all these years later is truly a measure of success.

Speaking of other presidents, you actually photographed President Ford, Nixon, President Bush, President Reagan, and President Carter. What were they all like differently just from your own observations?

It’s kind of a unique club, former presidents and the president get together. It’s funny, you always still call them “Mr. President.” We were at the opening of the Reagan Presidential Library. There’s a mock up for the Oval Office and they were using that as a holding room. They were just kind of standing around and I said to George Bush—who was president at the time—”Mr. President, could you turn around for a photo?” And when I said that, they all turned. I got this photo of the five presidents and I was like, “Wow. That doesn’t happen very often.” It was funny. I talked to President Carter years later and he said, George Bush was the kindest person to me, and always treated me with respect, and even though we didn’t agree politically, I can never say how much I really respect him. I saw that kind of thing constantly.

National Geographic created this documentary, as you know, The President’s Photographer. After watching it, I thought, if you could have added anything to it, is there anything that you felt that maybe they didn’t have the opportunity to share? If you had to pick one thing that you wished could be included, what would that have been?

It’s kind of funny. I got invited to the premiere of that film at the National Geographic headquarters—myself, David Kennerly who was President Ford’s photographer, Eric Draper who is George W‘s, and Bob McNeely who was Bill Clinton‘s photographer. We hadn’t seen the film. We saw the film for the first time in an audience there at the National Geographic Society. 

It was kind of a Pete Souza film, because they filmed Pete Souza. He was President Obama’s photographer and the rest of us were all these little boxes that came up. We all kind of looked at each other and was like, “Wow, that’s kind of interesting.” I could see how they would do that because Pete was the President’s photographer at the time, and we were all old guys that had our turn. We were all thinking that it would be more evenly split.

I had heard a story of you having President Bush sign the cover of I think it was Newsweek magazine. I would love it if you could share with everybody because I thought it was a really humorous story of how you actually got him to autograph the cover.

As a photographer, it’s great to get a cover of a national news magazine. That actually happened with Newsweek one time. It was my photo and it was him in this yellow rain slicker driving his cigarette race boat, and looked very powerful. The caption of the story was, “George Bush, Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.’” I was like, what? You forget that he is one of the youngest Navy fighter pilots in World War II and he’s shot down. Even when he was shot, he continued on his mission, and it’s like, how do you come up with that? 

This never happened. This particular cover of the magazine also ran in Asia. Here’s my photo and the headline was, “George Bush, Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.’” in Japanese, because I’m so excited that I have the cover of Newsweek magazine rather than going with the English version that says George Bush fighting the wimp factor, I go with the Japanese version, so he can’t read it. He signed it and I was real happy that he was able to do that for me without me having to go through with it. It had nothing to do with the headline, but it was my photo.

I thought that was a great story. Speaking of Disney, I know that you started working for them in 93–94. What was fascinating is you sent a cold letter to start working at the White House and then you also sent that cold letter to Disney. It shows you that cold letters can work out, correct?

 always tell people, you just never know. You never know who’s going to get your letter. At the White House, I heard that there was a position. I didn’t even know how to apply, so I just said, well, who does the photographer report to? That was Shirley Green, the press secretary. I wrote her a letter, and she calls me in, which was really shocking to me. 

When I left the White House after we lost the reelection, one of the White House staff people, Gregg Petersmeyer drafted a letter for me to the president of marketing at Walt Disney. I got a letter back from them saying, “We don’t have a position for you, but we’re a creative company and we’ll create a position for you.” I got there and what was really interesting is digital photography started about 1990. The Eastman Kodak company took me up to New York and introduced me to the Kodak photo CD technology that they had invented.

You people don’t know this, but Kodak invented digital photography. But they didn’t want to pursue it because they didn’t want to take away from their film business. They let the path go by the wayside which is just crazy. I was presented with the whole thing of digital photography. My plan was to get re-elected. I said, “I’m going to maybe do some digital photography at the White House,” and we started transmitting photos. I was actually the first presidential photographer to actually take film, scan it, and transmit it to the wire services. 

When I got to Disney, they were shooting film. We would have to create images of things that didn’t exist and so we have to photograph a piece of this, a piece of that, and a piece of that, then send that film to a vendor, have it scanned and put together, and you’d come back. We would look at it and say, “Well, we want to change this out and do this,” and it would go back. $10,000–$12,000 later worth of scanning, and you get an image. 

Then Disney partnered with Pixar and they came out with Toy Story. Photoshop was just coming out and I was saying, “gee, I think we in the photography department can do this,” that I was kind of in my hierarchy. I was in marketing, and then I was in advertising, and then in the creative group that created the ads of the graphics people and the photography people.

I had to get a hand-me-down old Mac computer from the graphics people and a scanner. I made sure everybody got training in Photoshop and we started doing that. I always tell people, even if you don’t know how to do a job, volunteer and go do it. You’ll just figure out how to do it. People think you’re this great thing. My first real assignment with a digital job at Disney was in Boardwalk Resort. I pulled together a small team and we went off and did it. I never forget my boss told me, “Give me an image or give me your job.” It was like, no pressure here. 

But The Walt Disney Company was amazing. It was an amazing experience and it was the time of my life. It was not easy. But having come out of the White House where a normal day was 15 hours. It was 15 hours but there’s only seven days a week. At Disney, you get a call from a marketing person at nine to ten at night saying, “I was thinking about blah-blah-blah, what are your thoughts?” It’s like, you’ve never even thought of it. They wanted that stream of conscious thought and you just say anything. They say oh, yeah, that’s a good idea and hang up. 

That just wore me out. They’re just trying to fire up your brain. But it was a great, great, great experience. There again, I had people that were just phenomenal that worked for me. I just kind of had to ride along and say, we’re going to switch from film to digital and—

What equipment were you using, David?

Well, this is funny. When I went into the Air Force at 18 years old, we started with 4×5 speed Graflex cameras. It was a 4×5 inch negative, but we quickly switched to Nikon 35mm cameras. All through the time even when I was at the White House, I was using Nikon film cameras. I show up at Disney, and what are they using, Nikon film cameras. It was like, okay, and then Nikon came out with the Nikon, I think it was D1, which was their first digital camera. We got a couple of those, had incredible leaps and bounds. 

I’ve always been a Nikon guy. There was a period of time in my career where I was the vice-president of a company called Blue Pixel – Digital Experts and our team wrote the curriculum for the Nikon Digital School of Photography when digital photography was just coming out. Our team also wrote the digital photography website for Microsoft.com. It seems like I’ve always been a Nikon guy. 

These days, Sony cameras seem to be the ones that have kind of stepped up to the plate. It is kind of funny. I always thought, here are these high-end Sony television cameras that are just amazing. Why don’t they invent a digital camera for still photography? They ultimately did do that and now Sony seems to be the number one digital camera. 

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As a sidebar, I do some freelance work now in Central Texas. I’ve shot some paid gigs on my iPhone and had them published, so iPhones are phenomenal. I was doing work for Amtrak and riding the Amtrak trains, doing stuff for their social media. I can’t tell you how many images I shot with my iPhone. It just kind of worked for that situation. Sometimes, breaking out a digital SLR kind of changes things and you do an iPhone. I can’t wait for the iPhone 12 to come out. I’m going to be all over that. Sign me up.

If it’s possible, I’d love to ask you a handful more questions and these are probably shorter questions, but more about you, your work, and your methods. Just before you shoot something, do you ever ask yourself anything before you take the photo? Are you ever thinking of anything, just before you push?

Before I do any assignment, I like to go and plan ahead. I’ve actually had clients come back to me and say, I like to use you because you’ve worked everything out. There was a guy here in Georgetown, he needed some photos done and we’re going to do different places around town. I went beforehand and scouted out the locations, and knew I need to be at this location at this time of day; the light is just right. I need to be at this location at this time, and I need to be at this other location. At this third location I need a riser and I need to get that preposition, so when we get there, it’s already there.

When I worked at Nation’s Business, I have to go in photograph these high-profile people. It’s taken all these lights, so rather than walking into their office—they’re busy people and they give you 10 minutes—you don’t want to spend 9 of those minutes setting up lights and where’s the plug to plug the light in. Pre-plan everything and set everything up outside the office, so when you walk in, you just need to place a light here and place a light there and have that.

It was the same way at The Walt Disney Company. We would have meetings for weeks about an image and what it was going to look like so that when it came time to take the photo, we knew exactly what it was going to be. 

Also know your equipment, so you know kind of blindfolded what every dial and switch does so that you don’t have to think about the equipment. Then the most important thing is after you’ve captured that image, where do you store it. You got to find storage, something that’s compatible with a company like OWC that will make a product that you can depend on, and you don’t have to worry that I’m going to be in this extreme environment where I know that the OWC hard drives are going to be there for me, and I know that that’s money.

It’s interesting to see Disney from when you were working there to where it’s now. In your opinion, how is it different?

I was there at the end of every cast member. Every employee was kind of a family and somewhere along the line switched to a corporation, and that seemed to change things. I knew some of the folks I work with started at the very beginning, and it was what we would want to, what we’d like to say. That kind of went away, but the enthusiasm and the excitement of the product were always at the forefront. We used to say you want to exceed the guest experience. I took that through everything I do. With your client, you want to exceed your client’s expectations. Take it a step further and seems to really work.

You’ve had so many additional projects that we haven’t even touched on, and I would love to have us do another interview at a later time to speak more about how you’ve been working on Habitat for Humanity for over 40 years and donated your photography to them, and how you’ve worked with Formula One for the last seven years. If you could share something from Habitat for Humanity that you could share with the audience?

I got involved with Habitat 40-some years ago, but my big habitat story was on 9/11. I was in Washington, D.C. and that day I was going to work on a habitat build on a house behind the US Capitol just a couple of blocks. I was driving up there with two other photographers in my car and we had the radio off that morning because we were talking about the day and what we’re going to take pictures of. 

We got to the site and everybody was in a panic. They said, did you hear? I said, what? They said, well, a plane crash in the World Trade Center and there’s another one headed our way. Twenty or 30 people at this habitat building site surrounded my car. We rolled down the windows, turned the radio up, and we were listening to the news reports. We heard an explosion and it was a plane crashing into the Pentagon. Everybody panicked and spread out. I said, “Well, we need to drive back downtown,” because I had these two guys with me and I need to get them back so they can get to their cars. 

We turned around and we drove back and we’re driving down Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the Capitol building. The Capitol police were running out. They’re out on the street and they were screaming over saying, turn around, turn around. There’s a plane headed to the Capitol. Cars were turning around and driving on the sidewalks, knocking over the dining tables which was crazy. 

Normally, it took me 45 minutes to drive home and that day, it took me nine hours because they told everybody in Washington, D.C. to go home. All those tens of thousands of people hit the streets at the same time. When the plane crashed into the Pentagon, the bridge over there was just jammed. Washington, there’s almost everywhere except north. You have to cross over a bridge and it was just insane. That was just going to our Habitat for Humanity. 

When I moved back to Texas, I got involved with Habitat for Humanity, Williamson County. I just went over there, knocked on the door, and said, “Hey this is who I am. I’ve been doing work with Habitat for decades and I’d love to participate.” 

I go out every so often. I was just talking to them yesterday, I think it was with the COVID thing. It’s kind of messed things up a little bit, but people are starting to get together and just to wear your mask and I use maybe a little longer lens. I have to get as close and it still works. I love doing that work and this actually can be creative because you’re shooting through unfinished walls, boards, or different things and different hard hats. You can still be creative even though it’s just a construction site. It’s a way to kind of give back in a great way that is helping somebody else who’s less fortunate.

I still learn. I'm just an old guy but I'm not ashamed to learn from somebody else.
I still learn. I’m just an old guy but I’m not ashamed to learn from somebody else.

What is one of your favorite photographs that you’ve ever shot that you can think of to this date? My second question for you is, what is success for you?

The favorite photograph has to be the one with George and Barbara Bush in bed with the grandchildren. I’m proud of that and the life that photo has taken on. 

Success is just being happy with what you’ve accomplished and been able to give back and share with people. If you can make somebody else successful, I think that’s a real success story. In my career, I’ve been able to touch a lot of people. Given them a little bit of a nudge and they’ve gone on to be very successful in their own right. I am proud of that.

I know when I think about having worked with George Herbert Walker Bush, him giving me that opportunity to work with him changed my life in such a positive way and I have lifelong friends. I truly think giving back and being able to continue to give back all these years later is truly a measure of success. It’s not so much about me but what I can do for others.

I just want to thank you for all the time and for the support.

Sure. This was a lot of fun.

It was very eye-opening, especially being able to look at these presidents, look at Disney, Amtrak, look at all these things that you have been part of and done, and how you’ve helped change the course and things or capture the moments. I deeply appreciate your time, so thank you. Where can people learn more about you, David?

Follow me on Instagram, @davidvaldezusa. I share stuff out there all the time. If you want to follow me on Facebook, I’m David Valdez on Facebook. I have davidvaldezphotography.com. Kind of in my spare time, I host the Georgetown Texas Photography Festival. It’s an annual event that’s in Georgetown, Texas and our next one is going to hopefully be in March of 2021. We have an Instagram @gtx_photofest and a Georgetown Texas Photography Festival Facebook page. That’s in my spare time.

Thank you so much for making this time. Everybody, please check out David’s work. His work is phenomenal and again, we will be able to get into more of the stories behind the man that made all that magic happen. Thank you, David, again for your time. Everybody, please subscribe, like, and share our podcast. Thank you so much. Bye-bye, David.

Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Thank you.



Checklist

  1. Plan ahead for photoshoots. Always make a list of what you need to do, pack, and remember before the shoot.
  2. Charge everything. Before the shoot, always charge the batteries for everything you plan to use. This includes your camera batteries, laptop, phones, two-way radios, and power packs.
  3. Know your equipment. Before you use any of your camera equipment, you should know what every lens, dial, and switch does. 
  4. Always clean your equipment. Make sure that your lenses and camera sensors are all in good order.
  5. Invest in reliable hard drives for storage. The most important thing after you capture an image is where to store it. Find a product you can depend on that can weather extreme environments.
  6. Don’t be afraid of any job. Even if you don’t know how to do it, just go ahead and do it; you will figure everything out along the way.
  7. Hire people that are better than you. Ensure you have the right mix of talents and characters. A successful team has people from a variety of disciplines with different approaches to problems all working towards one shared goal.
  8. Don’t stop learning. You should constantly be looking to improve yourself. Remaining stuck in your ways isn’t an option.
  9. Always give back. By giving back, you can touch a lot of people and nudge them into their own success.
  10. Check out David’s website or his social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) for his work.

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