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Merry Christmas from Black Studios – Rutland South Dakota

12-24-09 Kids w truck

We are taking a break from the photography studio and spending time with family. It looks as if we are staying home this Christmas because of the impending snow storm that is forecast to drop up to a foot and a half of the white stuff on Sioux Falls SD and surrounding area. We finished delivery of wedding pictures on Tuesday and senior rave books on Wednesday.

We picked up the last presents yesterday while shopping in Madison and visiting family. Getting around is a little easier this winter with our very used 1988 Ford F250 4 wheel drive pickup. The first thing we did yesterday was to lock in the front hubs and put it into 4 wheel drive. The 460 cu. in. engine eats gas but we had no trouble on the icy roads. We refilled one of the gas tanks this morning. Seven miles to the gallon was the result. I hope we don’t have to use it too often.

The kids were out playing in the snow already. I didn’t know that shoveling snow could be so much fun.

Merry Christmas!

The studio in Fall color

The Church where Black Studios is located

We love the Fall with the changing leaves and the golden hues of Harvest.  Here is an image of our studio taken from just NW of Rutland. Yes, the church is our studio. Where is the rest of Rutland? Behind those trees.

Playing in the DIRT

Today Brandon Sievers of Dakota Plumbing came out to play in the dirt.

When we replaced the front door of the studio, we found rot on the sill plate. When the church was moved in, they poured concrete to form the step right against the wooden sill. Over the years, rain seeped through the crack and let water in. We spent three days putting in the new door and repairing the sill. Johnson Brothers Construction of Madison hauled away the concrete steps several years ago along with several semi loads of dead trees.

We didn’t replace the steps right away because we need to finish the restoration of the bell tower. That happened two years ago. Dalton Williams braved the heights on a 50 ft lift. Last Fall we had the studio insulated including the space under the entry of the church.

We haven’t used the front door for over 5 years. We’ve had our customers come in the front side door that takes you into a short stairway. We wanted to be able to hold the dirt back from the mound by the front door so we could continue to use the side door during the winter.

Branden came up with some field stone to stabilize the side.

Branden finally did get tired of playing in the dirt by late afternoon. We have quite a ways to go yet, but the initial dirt work is done. We have to plant grass sometime next week.

This was one of those projects that came together on short notice. We’ve been waiting to do this for a very long time and when Branden said tomorrow, I jumped at the chance. A few hours later, Rick brought out the first load of clay from the Gravel Pit in Madison. Thanks to Donna, Rick and Lee for getting the clay, topsoil and gravel out to us so fast. I really appreciate it.




So who does all this work anyway?

Melissa is our studio coordinator. It’s her job to keep us organized and on task.

Melissa does way more than answer the phone and keep track of orders. She makes sense out of the chaos, freeing us up to do our jobs.

You can see Melissa’s talent in the recent senior video slideshows. She does a great job of putting them together and makes us look good.

So many times in life we rush about and don’t take the time to voice our appreciation for others as much as we should. Thanks Melissa for all you do for us.

Here is Melissa with Chad and their little guy Wyatt.


Madison Daily Leader front page picture


Tuesday night’s Madison Daily Leader had this image on the front page. It’s still exciting getting pictures published in the paper even though I’ve had many, many images in the paper before.

This image is straight out of the camera except for a curves adjustment in Adobe Photoshop.

Here’s Melissa!


A new voice is answering the phone these days.

Melissa started yesterday as our new studio coordinator. She’ll be in training over the next few months as we gear up for another busy senior season. We want to dramatically increase the number of senior sessions available this summer so that means getting more efficient – that’s Melissa’s part: keeping us organized so that we can reach our goal and deliver better personal service than ever before.

Mike’s little art project


PPA (Professional Photographers of America) affiliated print judged was held at the Northern Light Convention in Fargo on Sunday.

I entered 4 prints (which is known as a print case). Due to the weather, just getting the prints to Fargo was frustrating…the actual judging just added to it.

Print competition brings out the worst in emotions of photographers. You can pour your heart and soul into what you think is a great image only to have your hopes dashed by a print judge. Emotional attachment to an image can skew your vision.


The PPA has several “degrees” that you can earn through classes, teaching, volunteer service and print competition. To qualify for your “Master of Photography” degree, you must get a merit on a dozen or more images in print competition. To get a merit, you must score an 80 or above. You can enter 4 prints per year.

Now getting an 80 is not an easy thing.

A nice smiling portrait for Grandma isn’t going to cut it. You almost have to photograph with competition in mind. The goal is to hone your skills and become a better photographer.


The point system is used with scores from 100 to 0 as follows:

Exceptional: . . . . . . . . . . .100-95

Superior: . . . . . . . . . . . . . .94-90

Excellent: . . . . . . . . . . . . . .89-85

Deserving of a Merit: . . . . .84-80

Above average: . . . . . . . . .79-76

Average: . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75-74

Acceptable: . . . . . . . . . . . .73-70

Unacceptable . . . . . . . . . . . .69-0

You don’t see very many prints get into the 90’s. It does happen, but not very often. Even more elusive is the perfect 100 score.


Images in competition are judged using the twelve (12) elements of a merit image:

1. Impact

2. Creativity

3. Style

4. Composition

5. Print Presentation

6. Center of Interest

7. Lighting

8. Subject Matter

9. Color Balance and Harmony

10. Technical Excellence / Print Quality

11. Technique

12. Story Telling

Now I wish I could say that I had all four images receive merits. Going “4 for 4” is great, but it didn’t happen this time. What I do have is four very nice 16×20 display prints.

Print competition is expensive and ultimately frustrating. It’s a process of growth. Like God, the print judge polishes our rough edges through trial and fire and gives us correction in our ways.

I will continue my journey of growth. Wisdom comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from bad experience.

More snow!


I am really trying to stay positive this year but…


This morning I was one of the speakers giving programs at the Smith/Zimmermann Museum in Madison for the Madison elementary students. I drove into Madison on icy roads. By the time the kids left at 11:30, we had major snow coming down. After a stop at the grocery store, I drove 20-25 mph all the way home to Rutland.

I made it home safe and sound but I did drag bottom most of the way home. All of our sessions have cancelled for today and tomorrow’s activities are in doubt. I have several competition prints that need to be delivered to Fargo by tomorrow afternoon for the affiliated judging at the Northern Light Convention. The interstate closed mid-afternoon today from Brookings to the ND border.

Here’s what our van looked like earlier today with the studio in the background.

Didn’t that groundhog promise 6 more weeks of winter?

Good bye Ralph


Today, photographers, friends and family gathered to say good bye to Ralph Richter in Watertown.

Ralph was a mentor and friend to so many of us professional photographers. We owe him a debt of gratitude because he raised the standard.

Last year, Ralph was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the SDPPA.

At his retirement party held on March 1st of this year, Ralph held court one last time and blessed us with one last slideshow.

Good bye my friend.

Down the road


We went to Albert Lea, MN this week and gave a program about our studio and projection sales to the Cornbelt PPA Guild.

It was fun showing other photographers some of fix up project that we’ve done to the studio the past few years…like the removal of the old cement steps and the replacement of the front door.

Again, it seems that winter will never leave: we drove most of the way home from Albert Lea in snow.

The dumpster came!



We’ve been wanting to redo/cleanup the basement for a very long time, but it’s one of those projects that gets put off until you have no choice. Justin has been pushing us to get a dumpster all winter so he could start at it.

OK Justin, it’s here. Go for it.

Unfortunely we can’t turn Justin loose without a little direction. Everything that we didn’t have a place for upstairs, went into the basement…for the last 13 years. We have a few things to go through.

Justin made significant headway on Saturday afternoon, knocking down the old wallboard. All of this has to go up the steps and out the back door to the dumpster. This is where the old stove sat. It was huge: two full-size ovens, 6 burners and a griddle on top.

After Justin clears out everything, we’ll have another 1400-1500 square feet to play with. We will be building a few sets with a warehouse feel to it for seniors.

The stove in the basement


It only took us 13 years, but we finally removed the old church stove from the basement. Today we realized why we had not taken it out sooner.

Justin and Hailey came this afternoon to help Mike with the great basement cleanup project. We got rid of old cupboards first. The stove was next. It was HEAVY…really heavy. The stove made it halfway up the stairway before getting stuck. We finally loaded it on the trailer for the trip to the recycler. Note the cool rust textures.

The old fuel oil tank went away too.

So we will be working off and on over the next few weeks to finish cleaning the basement and start on building our new sets for senior sessions this summer.

Pat Prostrollo honored


Tonight’s edition of the Madison Daily Leader had the back page honoring Pat Prostrollo of Madison as Dealer of the Year by Time magazine. Pat came to our studio a while back for a business portrait – the same image that was used in the Madison paper.

Congratulation’s Pat.

Trade Show


One of the best parts of photography seminars and conventions is the trade show.

Vendors show off the lastest products from labs, sotware companies, camera makers and background designers.

We made some acquisitions that will make us much more efficient this year.

NL Winter Seminar


The NL Winter Seminar started out today.

Mike Fulton taught us the basics of high speed sync, infrared triggered, off camera flash with Nikon and Canon camera systems.

Chad Phillips and I played around during Ron Jacobson’s program on creativity.

Selling by projection


Selling by projection is a hot-button topic among photographers.

Traditionally, photographers have used proofs to sell their images to customers. The era of the film photographer is mostly dead and gone. We don’t have to wait any more for the film to be developed and the proofs to come back from the lab. Digital capture has changed everything and has added new options.

We’ve been selling by projection only for 4 years for everything except weddings. Most sales occur right after we finish taking pictures. We shoot, download and sell all in one session. This allows us for you to pick out your images right away saving you valuable time. With children’s sessions, we let the kids play with the toys while Mom and Dad review the images. Many times we do a second set of images as the kids relax and become more comfortable. For reunions, everyone can pick out their favorites right away, order their prints and write the check. We regularly to our projector and laptop out of the studio for onlocation family reunions.

With seniors, we pretouch all of the images before the sale so we do schedule a separate session for viewing the images.

The actual process is simple. We go through the images and get rid of the obvious bad pictures and then we put them up side by side to compare. In very little time, we help you get it down to the very best of each pose. We also can create composite images for wall portraits right away.


One week to Mike Fulton!


I just wanted to remind all the photographers that read the blog that we are only one week away from the NL Winter Seminar hosted by the SDPPA. I’ll be there organizing everything for the speaker and handling A/V needs.

Besides Mike Fulton, we have Ron Jacobson with a program on creativity.

You’ll find the registration form on the SDPPA website.

Trade show and registration start next sunday March 9th at 10 am at the Sioux Falls Downtown Holiday Inn. THe seminar contiues all day sunday and ends monday afternoon at 3 pm.

Happy Leap Day!


Happy Leap Day everyone!

We spent the day moving furniture for family for an auction sale. So much stuff in such a small house.

We have a small addition to announce.

Melissa will be joining our studio crew next week. She’s going to keep us organized, focused and allow us to spend more time with the kids. Work smarter not harder.

You might have seen Melissa behind the counter at Campbell Supply. We are excited to have her work for us.

Education…it never ends


As photographers, education never ends. We are always trying to learn something new. We go to seminars, workshops and conventions. We share with our peers.

Last week, Mike was in Sioux Falls at Bruce Hudson’s New Directions Tour seminar on Tuesday night. Wednesday noon found him again at the Downtown Holiday Inn dor a SDPPA board meeting planning out next month’s Northern Light Winter Seminar.

Today’s adventure took us to National Camera in Golden Valley, MN. The Twin Cities seems like a long ways to go shopping for camera equipment, but local camera and consumer electronic stores don’t carry the high-end pro equipment that we use. Now we could just order over the phone, but then we would not be able to get a hands on look and get first hand expertise in the pro equipment that National Camera is famous for.

Our favorite camera salesman, Dave Johnson, was at a photoshop seminar so Brandon stepped in. So many times at local camera shops, we end up talking to someone who just isn’t up on digital cameras. This was not the case with Brandon. He really knew his stuff.

Did we buy anything?

No, we did not…not yet anyway. We will soon enough. Now that the research is done, we can just make a phone call to Dave or Brandon at National Camera and wait patiently for the UPS truck.

South Dakota Sports Photography: Madison Girls’ Basketball


We headed to Madison tonight for a Lady Bulldogs game in the Madison Middle School gym.

I met Madison Daily Leader sports editor Dan Hollsworth on the way into the gym. Dan and I’ve been friends for a very long time. I volunteered to cover the game for him. Dan has a full plate ahead of him on Friday with gymnastics. Madison is poised to set a national record if they can add yet one more state title to their collection of 13 in a row.

The Lady Bulldogs took on a very tough Dell Rapids team, but never gave up.

Breanne was one of our seniors from last summer.

We’ve known Marti forever. You can see her on the front cover on this year’s senior brochure.


Madison South Dakota Senior Photography: 2nd Street Girls



We receive many comments about our display prints that we have in the 2nd Street Diner in Madison.

Marti is a waitress at 2nd Street (and Skippers), plays basketball and is on the school’s powerlifting team. Busy girl for sure.

Beside the three 16×20’s of the girls, 2nd Street also commissioned us to provide images in their Party Room. There are 8 – 20×24 framed black and white art prints of the Madison area.

Chantel is one of our “Prom Girls” from last spring’s Playtime sessions.


Senior Photography: Rave Books


We ordered a few extra of our Rave Books as studio samples.

We’ve done a bunch of these books for seniors this year. We include them in our Adventure Sessions.

South Dakota Sports Photography: Raider basketball


What a game!

South Dakota Sports Photography: DSU Lady T’s


The DSU Lady T’s have become a dominant force in college women’s basketball. Coach Jeff Dittman continues to lead a successful program year after year.

You can see how the edge in technology that DSU possesses has affected how sports are broadcast. A series of cameras covers the action for the webcast on the internet as well as the Daktronics scoreboard.

South Dakota Sports Photography: DSU Basketball


Black Studios doesn’t just do sports memory mates. We do action pictures as well. Mike started photographing DSU sports in the late 1980’s when he was a student.

Commercial job!


We do quite a few commercial jobs these days. Now we aren’t going to post most of them, but sometimes one image comes along that’s a little more fun…like this one for a recent client.

South Dakota Sports Photography: More basketball!


Another home game in Rutland last night. It was a full house at the Rutland Gym as ORR took on Dell Rapids St. Mary’s.

Here’s a preview of what will probably be in the local paper come monday of one of our seniors. Chris (#41) loves basketball. His brother Cody is an assistant coach for the Raiders.

South Dakota Sports Photography: ORR Girls Basketball


Photography is a hobby for us as well. Whenever there is a home game at the Rutland Gym, we try to get over and have some fun taking sports pictures.

Lighting in small gyms and 9 man football fields is sometimes like shooting in a cave. It’s part of the challenge to adjust to the situation and still get the great shot. For basketball, we want to ball at the end of the fingertips, feet off the ground and a great expression.

Where is Rutland?


“Where is Rutland?” is a question we heard over and over today at the All Occasions Bridal Show in Sioux Falls.

Rutland is 45 minutes northwest of Sioux Falls, lying between Madison and Brookings.

It isn’t surprising that most people haven’t heard of Rutland.

Rutland is 2 blocks by 3 blocks…not counting the streets that were abandoned long ago. Population jumps when school is in session. Yes, we do have a K-12 school, but we are so small that we don’t have a bar.

We do have a convenience store that sells gas and diesel fuel. You can even get pizza and a pop there as well. The store serves as the gathering place for all of the locals: retired and just tired. It can get pretty deep in there at times and discussions about politics can be heated.

The store is run by the students of the school. A teacher serves as a parttime manager. Business students learn hands-on lessons in capitalism.

Rutland is really like stepping back in time. Green Acres and Red Green are not far off the mark. Kids here are more like kids were 30 or 40 years ago in behavior. If you haven’t lived here 4 generations, your are a newcomer. We’ve lived here almost 15 years and there are still people that walk into the store who are greeted by everyone else, yet we haven’t a clue who they are.

So how do you get to Rutland?

It’s not really that hard, but people who drive all over Sioux Falls without any problem seem to lose their sense of direction once they leave the interstate. Rule #1 – Mapquest is wrong. For whatever reason, Mapquest has Rutland a few miles off. Google Maps has Black Studios somewhere in Wentworth. We can’t figure out how to fix that one.

So to get to Rutland, you need to get off I-29 at the Flandreau exit. GO west 2 miles until you hit the stop sign. Turn right and go north 2 miles. Look for the little green sign that says “Rutland 9 miles”. Turn left and go west 9 miles. Here is where it gets tricky. You have to keep on your toes and look for Rutland after those 9 miles west because Rutalnd is still a right turn and half a mile up a county road. It’s small enough that you could easily drive by on the road half a mile to the south and nevery even know there was a Rutland to be seen. To make it easier to find, the county highway department posted signs “Rutland 1/2 mile”. Unfortunately the signage is so small you have to be looking for them to even notice.

Once you finally find Rutland, you’ll quickly notice that the Rambler Stop convenience store sits on one end of main street anf the school sits at the other end. Head toward the school and to the north just 1/2 a block up 2nd street sits the old Lake Park Church now home to Black Studios (for the last 13 years).

When you come into the studio, please park along the street to the west and enter into the west side door below the steeple.

We welcome visitors, but we are open by appointment only so please call before you come. We might be here and then we might not.