My Story

My Story

I was born in Southern California and moved around a lot when I was young. We finally settled down in Manhattan Beach, CA. when I was about 8 years old. I attended elementary school at Meadows Elementary (Go Mustangs!) and middle school at the former Manhattan Beach Intermediate (MBI) when it was West of Polliwog Park! 

FUN FACT: I was one of the last newspaper delivery boys for the Daily Breeze in Manhattan Beach! My paper route covered the area directly North of MBI and the Manhattan Village. 🙂

I attended Mira Costa High School (Go Mustangs!) and excelled on the football field and on the track as a multi event athlete. My Junior Year we won the first ever C.I.F. Championship at Costa and our class would only lose 5 games in 4 years! 

After High School I moved to Northern California where I attended Chico State University with a good friend. Not clear on what I wanted to be when I grew up - I dropped out of school and joined the work force to figure some things out. The next year I was accepted into the Butte College Fire Academy. I was told I was the youngest cadet in the history of the academy at that time.

My life goal at that point was to be a Smoke Jumper. I was always captivated by the wild and jumping out of airplanes into forest fires seemed to be my calling. I had grandiose visions of low altitude jumps into remote areas, fighting massive forest fires with a small team of close knit men and women. As luck would have it I suffered a freak accident that required reconstructive surgery and my firefighting dreams were over in an instant. After that I moved around a bit and held lots of different jobs until I settled in a corporate 9-5 job working as an Underwriter in Los Angeles. In roughly 2000 my mother became ill and after we stabilized her, I had been serving as her care giver off and on as her health teetered. She was suffering from end stage liver disease and needed a liver transplant. It was a deadly waiting game that we unfortunately had no control over. Her health worsened each year and it was a excruciating for both of us. 

In 2005 my mother slipped into a coma..

I thought that was it. I was devastated. After pleading to the transplant coordinator at UCLA, my mother was given a second chance. She had been on the liver transplant list for 5 years and her number was finally called.


She awoke the next day after the 10+ hour surgery..

My mom’s body was taking the new liver well and she seemed to be on a speedy road to recovery but something just wasn’t right. The doctors were combating a pesky lung infection that was seriously hampering her ability to breath on her own.

For 31 days I communicated on a white board with my mother who was unable to speak due to being ventilated. She would point out letters and I would arrange them on the white board to form sentences..

I visited her almost every day..

The ICU doctor in charge of my mother’s care even highlighted the fact that I was there more than she was. Even still, I felt helpless and I guess being there gave me a sense of control.

Sadly, my mother lost her battle and passed away in ICU, 31 days post transplant.

After I sent her off in style I had the unfortunate task of going through her belongings. To make things worse, I had to do this in two different states.

Needless to say, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I donated virtually everything to charity and kept some personal items that belonged to my mom, along with some of my own childhood mementos.

You know what else I kept?

Our family photos..


My mother was my only active parent and my only immediate family. I have no brothers and sisters and my grandparents passed away when I was in high school. In an instant, I realized that the only tangible memories I had of my family were in those albums and photographs my mom had taken, printed, and archived through the years. It was then that I realized the importance and the power of a photograph. My future became crystal clear..

Photography is all I have left of my family aside from my memories..

That's a hard thing to say. It's probably impossible to grasp unless you've lived it. Photography is all I have left. I truly understand the importance of the medium and am honored to capture moments and landmarks for others. This is why I have committed my life to being a photographer. It's not my hobby and I don’t just shoot for extra cash. It is my career and it is my passion. I am deeply connected to what I do.

Dealing with loss..

After I squared away my mom's affairs and put the albums and mementos in storage, I was a bit lost. I was hurting, scared, angry, and I was at a tipping point. I could play victim or I could rise up and use the pain as inspiration. Upon having this realization, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn't allow this tragedy to ruin me. Shortly after, I quit my 9-5 job and set off to..

Finish what I had started.


I moved down to San Diego and enrolled in the local community college. I banged through my transfer credits and took a semester to travel while I awaited my transfer to CSU San Marcos in North County San Diego. A fews years later, I proudly graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in Accounting. 

Yep. That's right. Accounting.

I figured if I was going to go back to college at 27 I may as well choose something challenging. My reasoning was simple actually, if I decided to go back to my previous job, my degree would allow me to make management and possibly run the company one day. Secondly, it would allow me to sit for the CPA exam if I ever needed or wanted. Most importantly, my degree would give me a further understanding of general business and accounting practices. Often referred to as, "The Language of Business," I knew that having a solid understanding of accounting would help me run my own business one day.

While I was attending college I sent out my portfolio to several studios and photographers in the area and only one responded. It was a painful process but it was a crucial one. As the saying goes, "You can't win if you don't play." In 2006 I ended up apprenticing with a young up and coming Lifestyle Photographer in North County San Diego. We shot a very full wedding season together and I went off on my own almost immediately after. Back then I had a home studio and would often shoot weddings and events on weekends while attending classes during the week.

In 2006, I launched John D. Russell Photography.

As a young adult my focus with my photography was primarily in Landscape and Nature Photography. After working a season with a busy wedding photographer my first year as a professional photographer, I primarily focused on engagement photography, wedding photography and event photography. As the years have passed project requests vary and broaden and I these days I enjoy the diversity in the subject matter. It's refreshing and allows me to showcase my wide range of talents behind the camera. One day I'll be shooting for a global brand like Toyota and the next day I'll be shooting a head shot for a local entrepreneur or working with a client who wants to secretly capture his proposal to his high school sweetheart. Aside from Lifestyle aka wedding, event and family photography, I also enjoy photographing travel, and commercial assignments.

Travel Photography

I've traveled all over the world on assignment and am internationally published. Every year the list grows and so far I've been on assignment in the following countries:

United States
French Polynesia

Hong Kong

Dominican Republic
St. Lucia

Commercial Photography

Commercial Photography clients whom I have had the absolute pleasure of working with include:

Toyota Ford Motor Co.
Ford Motor Co.
Skechers, Inc.
Integramed, Inc.
Mind Valley

Passback Sports
Flashpoint Communications
Portola Paints & Glazes

Amen Clinic
The Cor Co
Freedom Growth, LLC.
L.A. South REIA

 Bloume Baby, Quality Seafood, Inc., Baute, Tidus, & Maloney, The Maloney Firm, Manhattan Dental, RSC Business Group, Impact Power, Chef Meg Hall, Snooty Roots, Nicole Myden PR, Choura Events, Vox Djs, Mary Dann, Focus Entertainment, NanoH2O and many, many more.

Non-Profit Photography

Non Profit clients who I have worked with include:

Habitat for Humanity Los Angeles
Rotary International
The Giving Spirit
Grades of Green
Photographers Without Borders

Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach
Redondo Pier Association
King Harbor Association
Cal State Los Angeles
(310) Young Professionals
Redondo Beach Education Foundation

Celebrity Photography

Celebrities who I've had the pleasure of photographing include:

Bruno Mars
John Legend
Kaley Cuoco
William H. Macy

Earvin "Magic" Johnson
Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace
Tim Shaw
Johnnie Morton

Jennie Garth
Maria Sharapova
Kristen Bell
Many more..

I've recently launched my photography workshops and retreats under the name Perspective and I encourage you to visit the site and check it out. It's a high-end, exclusive adventure that will change the way participants see the world. So far I have trips lined up for Joshua Tree National Park and a wild 10 day African Safari in Tanzania, Africa!

I also am active in other organizations and currently (and proudly) serve in Leadership in South Bay BNI and Redondo Beach Rotary. I also led the Marketing Committee as the Marketing Chair for (310) Young Professionals in its first year of operations.  That's right!  I helped launch a non-profit!  (Pretty proud about that!)  Lastly but not least, I am currently in communications with Photographers Without Borders and Doctors Without Borders for upcoming relief missions (with my camera of course!).
Please contact me for all of your photographic needs. I have excellent references and a proven track record.  More importantly I'm fun and light and truly enjoy and am deeply connected to what I do.

I shoot for ME because it's what I was born to do and it's my gift.
I shoot for YOU because you value the high quality images I produce.
I shoot for US because together WE can create anything.

I look forward to meeting you! 

John D. Russell

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