Turning your Craft into a Career with Don Bell
Happy 2022! As we ease into the new year, we want to help keep you motivated and inspired to reach your New Year's resolutions this year. Photographer, sports anchor, and journalist, Don Bell, shares his experience both behind the camera and in front of it, his journey to career success, and finding balance between work and play. His story will inspire, encourage, and motivate you to follow your dreams and set your goals high this year.
Pursue your Passion
Don Bell felt drawn to journalism since a young age. He says,“As a kid, I routinely stole my dad's newspaper on the way to the school bus in North Jersey. I always read the sports page first and worked my way back to the front page. I'm a journalism junkie and my first love is the written word.”
He combined his passion for writing and love for sports to create a career that he describes as a “supreme joy”. His role model is the late great ESPN SportsCenter pioneer, Stuart Scott, who is fortunate enough to not only be his idol but also his mentor. But anything worth having often comes with some sacrifice. The life of a sports news anchor is a busy one with a full schedule year-round. He says, “Just as the MLB season reaches its stretch run, the NFL is ready to kick off. Just as football gets into a grove, the NBA and NHL roll around with their storylines. There's no time to be bored. The constant turnover brings fresh energy and spurs motivation.”
Persistence Pays Off
Don got his first gig as a sportscaster in Sarasota, Florida within three months of earning his Master's from Northwestern. He says, "My education was great so I knew how to do the work. But I wasn't ready to ACTUALLY do the job. For the first few months, I refused to put any personal items in my cubicle because I didn't want to clean-out my desk if I got fired. I was a nervous wreck. However, I just kept showing up early and leaving late until I figured it out and gained confidence."
Several years later, Don has successfully anchored nationally at ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and currently runs the sports department for CBS 3 in Philly. His drive to succeed shines through in his career accomplishments, including being an Emmy-award-winning journalist. Don reminds us that career success does not happen overnight. When setting your career goals, have a long-term mindset, stay persistent, and enjoy the journey.
Perfect your Craft
While writing came naturally to him, Don's journey as photographer started out as a simple curiosity, but the more he dabbled with it the more he fell in love with it. After taking a photography class in his senior year at Boston University and acing it, he says, "the professor asked why I had not majored in it. I was about five months away from graduating with degrees in journalism and political science. But his question planted a seed that made me look at a hobby that could become a craft.”
Don continues to educate himself on current trends and techniques to perfect his photography skills. There is always room for improvement in whatever field we work in, and the progress comes from the willingness to learn. With an entire year ahead of us, just imagine the skills you can acquire if you worked at them everyday. Even as a professional photographer, Don continues to educate himself through something as simple as watching YouTube videos. He says, "As long as I'm breathing, I'm continuing my education."
Create + Collaborate
Don's photography is all about breaking the rules and allowing his creative side to shine through. He describes his photography process as a 'creative gumbo' as he works to conceptualize an idea and bring it to life in his photographs. He says, "I'll meet-up with a few creatives with very few guidelines and allow the shoot to flow organically in an uninhibited process blurring or breaking photographic rules along the way."
His work is inspired by Gordon Parks, Ming Smith, Andy Warhol, Vivian Maier, Dawoud Bey, and other creatives on Instagram. As with any creative field, it is filled with other aspiring artists. He reminds us to look at them as inspiration rather than competition.
“Photography has become a way of capturing and enhancing split second occurrences in time. I'm also a person that sees beauty in the seemingly mundane. I love finding sophistication in simplicity. And perhaps above all, I enjoy capturing images of people that reveal some sense of their organic selves. Photography allows me to experience all of the above.”
Social media has been a big benefactor to his career, and he says, “In so many ways, it feels like collaborations have become the lifeline of my work. Client based shoots can become monotonous - especially if you're beholden to the rigidity of someone else's vision. In my work, collabs have led to fresh techniques and fearlessly honest dialogue that promote adventurous exploration."
Progress over Perfection
Perfecting his craft took years of practice and patience. Don says, “When I was starting, someone told me to expect my first 10,000 shots to be horrible. In hindsight, that's a ridiculous number. But it definitely took the pressure off and encouraged me to be patient with myself.”
There's two things he tells aspiring photographers:
- "Shooters shoot. Kobe isn't the NBA's 4th all-time leading scorer because he was scared to shoot. Take your camera everywhere and shoot a wide array of subjects. Shoot everything! And if you don't have your camera, use your phone. Remember, you can't score if you don't shoot. #MamaMentality."
- "It's not you. It's me. That's one of the most famous break-up lines of all time. But this has nothing to do with your bae. It's about your relationship with your camera. Photographers are next level geeky about their gear. We all want that $10,000 Leica. However, your eye is the most important equipment you'll ever have or need. Try not to obsess over the camera you do or don't have. I've seen killer photos made with everything from a flip phone to a kids polaroid. The way you see and capture the world is the most important thing."
Even with all his career success, Don understands that these accomplishments would be nothing without having someone by his side to enjoy them with. With a busy career, it can be easy to get burned out or to lose track of what truly matters. He reminds us to prioritize spending time with loved ones, detox from social media every once in a while, and enjoy the little things in life.
“It's a work in progress. Striking a balance is a challenge because I'm passionate about sports journalism and photography. When I'm not on TV, I'm fully immersed in art and trying to conceptualize ways to make my own. It's a love affair that I feel in my bones. When you find what you're truly passionate about and can make a living off it, that is when you know you are truly winning in life."
Eliminating unnecessary distractions and prioritizing what truly matters can help you create a balance between work and play. Don recently took a six week social media detox to create more space for enjoying moments with friends and family. He says, "I was shocked by how much more quality time I had on my hands and how much I didn't miss Instagram.”
When Don is not talking sports or working on his photography, he loves trying new restaurants with his wife, getting lost on the Netflix navigation screen, and working out. He is also hoping for a vacation in the New Year. He says, "In August I spent 7 days in The Maldives in 2021 and I'm trying to find ways to top it in 2022.”
Dress the Part
Both on and off screen, Don's dapper fashion sense exudes class and professionalism, and he truly knows how to rock a wide brim. Named 'Master of Hats' by his podcast co-star, Don knows a thing or two about styling hats. Don believes that no hat is complete without adding your own personal touches.
"I add feathers with an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors. I also add an enamel pin or two that have some type of personal meaning. I have a pin of Rosa Parks, a vintage camera, a french press (I'm a serious coffee lover). Recently, I've inserted miniature polaroid photos into the right side of my band; memories from The Maldives, a solo photo exhibit and more. I'll try just about anything that makes the piece personal."
Wide brims are a staple in Dons wardrobe, so much so that he wore one on his Wedding Day. He says, "I wanted to start our new beginning by continuing to be my most authentic self. I don't own a tuxedo, so why rent one? I went in a double-breasted navy suit and a white shirt. No tie. I opted for a cognac-colored wide brim fedora with two multi-colored feathers. I thought about taking the hat off for the pictures, but the pastor said, "You gotta keep the hat! That's you!"
For more Don Bell, listen to the Zero F’s Given podcast on Facebook live, follow him on Instagram @donbellphotography, or tune in to Channel 3 CBS. His style, knowledge, and career success will help inspire and motivate you to set your goals high and pursue your passions this new year. If you have set personal, career, and lifestyle goals to accomplish in the new year, be sure to share them with us on Instagram @Wanderhatco!