My little box of inspiration

Reading USA Today  this morning I saw an article ( ) on the 50th birthday of the Kodak Instamatic camera. I imagine every photographer remembers their first camera. This one was mine.

It cost 16 dollar, or as the article said, about 120 in today’s dollars. My memory has proved a bit faulty. I remember getting it for my 10th birthday and I believed it came out that year. It actually came out two years before and was a game changer for Kodak. Back then Kodak was like Apple today, making innovative products everyone wanted. And everyone wanted this camera. It was the first to package the film into a drop-in cartridge, the 126, and the first to have a ‘built-in’ flash. They sold millions in that first year alone. It was like the precursor of the iPhone or iPod, a product that made everything that came before seem old and dated.

My first memory of using it was at the zoo in Fort Worth. That might have even been a birthday trip. With that great zoo and all the animals around me I remember shooting goldfish in a tiny pond outside one of the stone animal buildings. Maybe I chose them because I could get so close.  My two brothers have both told me they remember the camera going to the beach in Southern California on vacations, even using it themselves. I do remember shaking sand out of it a few times. That little camera must have been nearly indestructible. I still have it and mechanically it still works just fine. Now getting the flash bulbs or the 126 cartridge might be problematic.

I’m not sure I can say definitely that this camera started me on my photographic journey but if not it sure was a great little box of inspiration. Thank you Mom and Dad for the best birthday gift. You know me so well.

my first camera, the Kodak Instamatic 100

my first camera, the Kodak Instamatic 100

A day of firsts and a mystery shoot.

A day of firsts and a mystery shoot.

Friday I shot my first freelance job since leaving Southern Living at the end of January. That was 8 weeks and one day without taking out my cameras, the longest I’ve gone since high school. It was also my first automotive shoot and my first major studio shoot. I have always been a location specialist rather than a studio stud.

The shoot was for a friend so I didn’t charge him anything like ‘the going rate’. In fact, after the shoot time and the post-production editing I may just clear minimum wage. But I would do it all over again just the same. I had a blast, exhausting though it was.

The project was/is … embargoed. It’s going to remain a mystery until he can get the project out in the public how he wants. My friend restored a historic one-of-a-kind car. He has his heart tied into this as well as his financial investment.

My friend rented a video/soundstage production studio here in town and I talked him into hiring their lighting equipment as well. Nothing like a 10X20 F2 Chimera light bank to make me and the car look good

I’m extremely happy with the images we did over the 10 shooting hours. I cannot wait to share them. But for now I’m committed to the embargo on the story. I’ll post the images and the story behind the embargo as soon as I can.

Returning to the Natural State-eyePhone Tips too

Returning to the Natural State-eyePhone Tips too

Twin Falls in the Arkansas Ozarks.

A few months ago when my friends at Arkansas Parks and Tourism asked me to be a speaker at this years annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism I was thrilled…frightened a bit, but thrilled. As comfortable as I am with a camera in front of me I’m equally uncomfortable in front of a mic. I’m good one-on-one but nervous in front of groups. I have spoken a few times and fortunately my knowledge of and passion for photography gets me through.

Then my recent job change happened and I wasn’t sure I should talk since I no longer had the crowd-drawing name of Southern Living behind me. I let the Tourism folks know immediately and their kindness and encouragement to come just the same was very heartening. They wanted me as someone who knows the state and the South and has the photo skills to be a knowledgeable speaker. And they wanted me because I’m a proud native son.

What they might not know is just how proud a native son. I wasn’t born in Arkansas but adopted the state and love it as only someone who had a chance to choose what they claim as home state could. I lived in California and Texas before Arkansas but never would have had the opportunities to become who I am if I hadn’t ended up in Arkansas. Within days of moving to the state I had my first camera and first photo responsibilities. I ended up at Fayetteville High School nearing the end of my junior year. When I came in as the ‘new kid’ and registered for classes mid-spring I saw that Yearbook was offered. I signed up and Ferrell Ervin, the advisor, put the camera in my hand and said go forth and document. I’ve never stopped.

Even before graduating from the University of Arkansas I was shooting full time for the Northwest Arkansas Times and eventually worked at four different newspapers in Arkansas.

I explored every byway and corner of the state in those jobs. After moving to Birmingham to work for Southern Living I became the staff ‘expert’ on Arkansas and ended up going back often for stories, working with the folks at Tourism, and learning to love the state all over again from the outside. It’s a beautiful place and the people are generous and caring. Like most any other place, the reality belies media stereotypes.

As for the conference, it was a blast. I ran into and caught up with friends from the past, friends from Facebook and made what I hope are many new friends. Best of all, I was able to reconnect in person with my friends in Parks and Tourism. In my years of travel around the South I discovered that Arkansas really does have the best system of State Parks in the South. There are magnificent parks in most every state but Arkansas consistently offers the most beauty, best experiences and programs. That happens only because of the passion and commitment of many dedicated people and the backing of the state government.

My talk went pretty well. I wasn’t as uncomfortable as I expected. I talked about my world of photography too much and not enough about how they could improve their own work. I think the biggest hit I made was offering three quick tips on how to instantly improve iPhone photos.

1. the photo is taken the moment you let off the button, not when you push it. So to better time a shot keep your finger on the button and let off at the best moment.

2. Before shooting gently touch your subject on the screen to focus and expose for that exact spot. You’ll see a quick pulsing box as you do that lets you know it’s done. Then let off the button.

3. You can ‘lock’ the focus and exposure for your subject and then recompose a shot. When you touch the area you want to be correctly exposed and focused, keep your finger on it a bit longer until you see a second larger ‘pulsing’ box. You can then move the camera around for better composition and keep focus and exposure where you want it.

Simple stuff that many discover on their own but something nobody tells you. And who reads the manual?

So deep thanks to Kerry, Marla, Kat, Joe David, Richard, Kim and all my friends at the Arkansas Department of Tourism. And thank you to all the people in Arkansas who helped, inspired and encouraged me. I hope one day to return home to live.