Photographer takes a walk down memory lane

As photographers we all start somewhere and we all have to have a first camera. Mine was a Yashicha 35GSN which I bought at the PX at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma during an army reserve summer camp.

Yashica Electro GSN

Yashica Electro GSN

This camera was extremely popular at the time. Yashica sold millions of them. If I remember correctly I paid somewhere around $80 for the camera in 1973. Being used to photographs taken by an instamatic I was blown away by the sharpness of the GSN. I had to dig deep into the archives but I found several images I know for sure was taken with the GSN.

images captured with Yashica 35 GSN

images captured with Yashica 35 GSN

images captured with Yashica 35 GSN

images captured with Yashica 35 GSN

The GSN was fairly automated for its day. You selected the aperture and the camera selected the shutter speed. There was no manual mode and no shutter speed control. The lens was fairly sharp on this camera and if used properly one could get good photos. I lived in a community of 500 in rural Nebraska at the time so I was pretty limited on subjects for my photography. I set up a darkroom in my bathroom and experienced the magic of a photograph coming up before my very eyes in the darkroom. I was hooked. I carried my camera everywhere. Within a year I had a chance to buy a Minolta SR1 from a colleague of mine. He had purchased it while in Viet Nam. I had an SLR and I was in hog heaven. Looking through a lens and taking a photo was so much cooler. The SR1 did not have an internal meter. One was attached to the outside of the camera.  I joined the Columbus Camera Club and learned a little more about photography until I moved in 1974.

Minolta SR1

Minolta SR1

I moved to Minnesota looking for a teaching job in the Twin Cities where I had student taught. The timing was poor. There had been a big layoff of teachers in the Metro and there were many experienced teachers looking for work. During the summer of 1974 I purchased a Rollei twin lens reflex and I entered the word of medium format photography. I still have this camera today and it takes excellent photos.

Rolleiiflex twin lens

Rolleiiflex twin lens

I moved back to Nebraska that same year and took a teaching job in a small town 20 miles out of Omaha. I lived in Fremont Nebraska a town of around 22,000 at the time. I used my twin lens a lot and set up a darkroom in a closet. I shot my first wedding in 1975. The photos were taken with a 35mm and the Rollei. I didn’t have a flash so I used flashbulbs. To top that off I processed all the color film myself as well as printing all the images. All the film came out OK but I never realized how foolish that was until I had more experience. In 1976  we finally bought a home for around $17,500. The first thing I did is had my father-in-law build a darkroom for me. The darkroom had a light trap and I built a nice size wood sink which I fiberglassed to waterproof it. I had a carrier I built for my enlarger that would allow me to print up to 20×24’s by just dropping the print surface to a lower level. I joined the Omaha Camera Club and I was close to the start of a photographic career.

Below are several photos taken with the Rollei in those early years.

Images taken with Rollei twin lens

Images taken with Rollei twin lens

Images taken with Rollei twin lens

Images taken with Rollei twin lens

Images taken with Rollei twin lens

Images taken with Rollei twin lens

 

Photo from Rollei twin lens

Photo from Rollei twin lens

Photo from Rollei twin lens

Photo from Rollei twin lens

The rollei always produced a good image. It was probably one of the best built cameras I ever owned and it could take a real beating. I dropped it several times over the years with no damage. Try that with the new digital cameras.I purchased a Minolta SRT 101 in 1976.

Minolta srt101

Minolta srt101

It was my favorite 35mm camera. The metering system was match needle and it was pretty accurate. The Minolta has a special place in my heart because it is the camera I used to make my first dollars with a camera. In 1976 during the summer I was driving out in the country around Columbus Nebraska and I came upon a sign that said “Black Powder Shoot” I drove down into the clearing where the encampment was and got out and started taking pictures of all the participants which were dressed up in buckskins and various blackpowder  paraphernalia. I returned to my darkroom where I processed the film a printed a number of 8×10’s on GAF Indiatone paper. I returned the following week to another blackpowder shoot and sold enough photos to buy myself a blackpowder Mississsippi rifle. I still own that gun and I shot a deer with it. Below are several photos taken with the SRT 101.

photograph taken with a Minolta srt101

photograph taken with a Minolta srt101

A picture similar to this was entered in the Omaha World Herald weekly photo contest and it won.

photograph taken with a Minolta srt101

photograph taken with a Minolta srt101

The image of the skier was entered in N4C a council of camera clubs where it won an award. That fall I entered a number of images at the Nebraska State fair and took home 3 trophies. I knew what I wanted to be and I was on my way. In 1977 I made the big leap. I bought a Mamiya RB67 with a 127 mm lens. It cost me $560 which at that time was a lot of money.

Mamiya RB67

Mamiya RB67

I had to convince my wife it was a good idea because it would make me money. This the common story with many photographers. Their hobby gets expensive so they have to do some business to pay for their toys. I advertized  a special in the local paper. 5 8×10’s for $25 bucks. Not exaclty a big money maker but it got me started. My first customer was a mother with her child. I did the session out at Fremont Lakes which was very colorful that autumn day. When I got the proofs back I found out I forgot to turn the revolving back and most of my images had a portion of the head cut off. I had to call the client up and do a second session. The early RB’s had no indicator in the viewfinder that would tell you whether you were shooting vertical or horizontal. It was a lesson I learned early and the mistake saved me from more serious mistakes in the future. My next gig was a wedding. My ex-wife’s sister was getting married in MInnesota. We used the RB and my Rollei to do the pictures. My results were pretty good considering how little experience I had. By then I had a Pentax potato masher strobe and at least a rudimentary idea of what to do. Being a teacher I managed to pick up a gig or two photographing seniors. I didn’t have the studio lighting down very well and preferred outdoor photography. Sounds a lot like today’s newbie photographers. Slowly I built clientele and by 1979 I was doing about $12,000 a year in sales. I bought a different house in 1979 and put a camera room in on the main level. That fall opened up my studio and to my surprise a couple of high school girls showed up at my door wanting senior pictures. Of course I was excited as all get out. My wedding business picked up enough to cover my expenses and I was making a small profit.  I went to a Donald Jack seminar the following year and put out a brochure mailer based on his ideas that next fall and my numbers started growing. I went to the bank and borrowed money for two photogenic studiomasters . (the only time i ever borrowed money for my business.) In 1982 my senior business exploded. I booked over half the senior class from Valley the school district I taught in. My sales reached $37,000 that year. I continued 2 more years running a studio while I was teaching. There were days I was so exhausted that I felt like crying. I finally hired a friend of my ex-wife’s to help out with orders and things got better.

In 1984 I resigned my teaching position and went full time. Little did I know that I would be filing for divorce by July of the following year. Suddenly I was down to one income instead of three which included my ex-wife’s. My back was against the wall. I had to make it work. I hired another young lady to help me in the studio that summer and we had a great business year in spite of the emotional upheaval caused by the divorce. I added some Mamiya M645’s to my business.

Mamiya 645's

Mamiya 645’s

The primary reason I purchased m645’s is that they were much better for wedding work and in the studio you got 15 photos per roll of film instead of 10 that you got from the RB. I was using a lot of film and this saved me some money. 1986 was a bad year for the farming community and sales dropped considerably. I barely photographed a 100 sessions,  down from 140 the previous year. It was then that I decided that I might want to prepare for the worst and work on another degree. I didn’t want to teach any more so I decided on a Masters in Agency Counseling. By 1986 I was dating my present wife and in September of 1987 we got married and we moved into Omaha. She worked in a nearby town and I continued the studio operation in Fremont. 1987 was a good business year as I cleared over $32,000 but driving expenses were eating me up. We decided to buy a house in Ralston and put a studio in the basement. Starting a photo studio is a new town turned out to be a lot tougher than I thought. Business was slow for several years until I built clientele. By 1992 business had slowed in both locations and I decided to do some telemarketing to improve the cash flow. The economy sucked at the time  but I knew my future was in the Omaha area not Fremont. It was a tough decision but i decided to add on to the building and put a new camera room on the lower level along with a new outside entrance. The addition had no windows and just a set of double doors. It measured 25′ by 15′ . The total addition ran a little over $20,,000 and I had to borrow $5,000. This was the best investment I ever made. By 1995 my numbers had grown enough in Omaha that I could close the Fremont studio. I sold the building and moved everyrthng to the Ralston Studio. I had duplicates of everything. The numbers kept jumping and by 1999 I sold close to a quarter million dollars of photos. I went digital that year. I purchased a Kodak dcs330 a 3 megapixel camera. With the lens I had over $4000 in the system. I was capable of 11×14’s and even 16×20’s as long as the head size was big. Then I took the big step. I bought a 6 megapixel Kodak 660 based on a Nikon F body. It cost me $12,000 used. I  was ready to go digital. The biggest problem not many labs were and the first year it was a struggle to find a reliable lab to print my images on a consistent basis.

Kodak DSCS 660

Kodak DSCS 660

I used the 660 for outdoor pictures and wedding group shots. Initially I used film for the large group shots and digital for closeups. As I developed more confidence in digital I dropped film all together.

Below are several examples of outdoor photos taken with the 660.

photographed with Kodak dcs660

photographed with Kodak dcs660

 

photographed with Kodak dcs660

photographed with Kodak dcs660

photographed with Kodak dcs660

photographed with Kodak dcs660

photographed with Kodak dcs660

photographed with Kodak dcs660

The 660 was as heavy as an RB67 and needed to be used with a tripod. Maximum ISO was 200 and it looked much better at ISO 80.It was like photographing with vericolor 100 outdoors.

From 1999 through 2001 things went very well until 911 hit. Competition was heating up as more people were going digital and by 2002 I saw the need for a boost in marketing so I signed up for “marketing bootcamp” which was held in Vegas that year. I did everything the instructor said and purchased all his marketing materials which set me back at least $3,000. Then I put together a $25,000 marketing campaign and my numbers jumped and my bottom line swelled with it. Things went real well in 2002 and 2003. In 2004 I went to “marketing bootcamp” again. People were catching on to this marketing stuff and numbers were starting to slip, yet I still did very well. Numbers were still pretty good in 2005 but by 2006 I saw big problems ahead for the industry as a whole. I began posting my concerns on a professional photo forum. Most pooh-poohed me and said that all you had to do is up your game. I predicted that if we had a recession many full time photographers would go belly up or switch to part time. I began planning for the inevitable and started planning for retirement. I cut out weddings in 2008 and cut back to 3/4 time in 2009. In 2010 I cut to half time and retired at the end of the year. During a 12 year period I had photographed over 3,000 seniors and 300 weddings along with families, pets, and special events. There were bad times during my career and there were good times. There were frustrating days and there were exhilarating ones. The 35 year trek was worth it.

 

 

 

 




 

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