From darkroom to church, Mike Black says 'Smile!'
By GALE PIFER, Contributing Reporter
Mike Black never dreamed 18 years ago that one day he'd have one of the busiest photography studios in the country.|
Black Studios is virtually in the country. Located in the old Lake Park Lutheran Church building in Rutland, Mike and ElizaBeth Black spend every day -- and many nights plus most weekends -- taking photos at weddings, family reunions, athletic contests and other activities.
It all started when Black worked in the camera room and on the press crew at The Madison Daily Leader. Then publisher Merrill Hunter took Black under his wing and showed him how to work in the darkroom developing pictures. It just mushroomed from there.
Soon Black, armed with a camera, was a fixture at basketball, football and local baseball games. One year his photos grazed the covers of six East River Electric Guardians and three Sioux Valley Electric Magazines. He also shot news events for the newspaper. In 1984 he began working at the college newspaper, then called "The Eastern." Along with it he began taking sports photos for the university.
When a disastrous flood hit Madison in 1993, the home where the Blacks lived was flooded. They wanted to rent a house. One was available in Rutland, so they moved the family to the little community northeast of Madison. ElizaBeth was then teaching school at Tri-Valley south of Colton.
Just a stone's throw away from the rental in Rutland sat the old church building. Originally the home of Bethel Lutheran Church, the building had been used for band, chorus and kindergarten classes from the nearby Rutland School. Then Orval VanDeest, who was in the drama department at Dakota State University, used it to store props and stage backdrops but the building sat unused for many years.
It was in tough shape, remembered Black.
In the spring of 1995, the Blacks obtained the property and began remodeling it into a photography studio. Black Studios was born.
"The building was really unique in that it had tall ceilings and lots of room," said Black. "That enabled us to do groups of 40 people or more, not usually possible in a regular photographic studio setting. Because of the size of the old church building, we can handle virtually any size of group, an especially attractive feature for large family gatherings."
About 10 years ago, the Blacks expanded their business by installing a large screen.
"With the equipment we have in house, we can take a photo, then immediately show it to our customers. The digital age changed photography forever," Black said. "It has been the greatest thing for photography. Because of computers, we can quickly make changes to photos, where in the old days it would take hours and hours of expensive retouching to accomplish the same task. People today expect to see their photos, retouched and ready almost instantly."
Another advantage of having a studio in the church is almost unlimited space.
"You know, lots of photographers like to take pictures outdoors. That's OK; we do, too. But we have a thing called winter in South Dakota," Black said.
The couple recently bought out another photographic studio, and with that purchase came between 80 and 100 backdrops.
"That means we have almost an unlimited choice of backdrops which we can use to satisfy every situation," he said.
With an extensive background in sports photography, Black today takes photos of most area prep and college athletic teams. He also shoots prom pictures and other school activities. In 2010-11, Black was president of the South Dakota Professional Photographers Association.
"You know, photography used to be a hobby," smiled Black, "but today it is so much more."
The workload at Black Studios has gotten so large that they've hired BreeAna Olson as a studio coordinator.
"Everything we do is by appointment," said Black, "and BreeAna will help us with that."
Mike, ElizaBeth and their son Dacey, who will be a freshman at Dakota State University this fall, all take pictures.
"ElizaBeth is a master at getting little kids to pose for pictures," said Black. "One time she had 10 little ones at a wedding, all under the age of 10. She somehow got them to pose and the pictures turned out wonderful. She just loves working with children.
``She is the organized one. I just take pictures," Black said.
It looks like the Blacks may be taking pictures for a long time to come. The little church studio in Rutland has never been busier.
©Madison Daily Leader 2013
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