Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I found out very early in my business career that business, like everything else in life, is all about relationships. When I first started in the photography business in 1973, an older gentleman named Elgin Smith took me under his wing and introduced me to people I needed to know.

Since that day I have seldom done business with anyone other than friends. I believe that friendship, or the potential for friendship, is the first priority. It is all about whom you know and who knows you.

I am a member of the Overland Park and Leawood Chambers of Commerce and other organizations primarily to meet new people and figure out who I want to do business with and count as my friends.

It has been said that your best friends are those that bring out the best in you. Looking for people who can encourage me, who I can learn from, and want the best for themselves and those around them are pretty good criteria for new relationships.

I have learned that being a person that people want to hang out with is far more important than specific skills. In music, the musicians that get the best jobs are not necessarily the ones with the best chops, but rather, the ones that other people want to be with. The same is true to varying degrees in other professions as well.

I send out a weekly newsletter via email. I think it is good marketing, but more importantly, the responses tell me who I might want to do business with. If somebody isn’t interested in what I am doing, I probably won’t be interested in doing business with them either. That seems pretty straight forward to me.

If you want friends, be a friend. If you want people to be interested in you, be interested in them.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Eight years and three crises ago

With the election looming, I thought I would give a little bit of perspective on the past eight years without endorsing either candidate.

When George W. Bush came to office he faced at least three major issues. First there was a small bunch of terrorists living in the mountains 10,000 miles away that wanted to kill Americans. Second, there was an education crisis looming with an increasing number of people dropping out of high school. Very soon large percentages of the population would be unemployable and on welfare. Third, there was a debt crisis. Millions of people were in debt up to their eyeballs with overextended mortgages and credit cards. This would sooner or later cause a credit crash, causing many banks and financial institutions to fail, resulting in economic disaster.

September 11, 2001 proved that the terrorist had the will and ability to carry out their threats. The Clinton administration had already identified Bin Laden as the leader but failed to act on his threats. Out of retaliation as much as anything, we are now involved in two expensive and drawn out wars.

“No child Left Behind” was enacted to try to stem the tide of high school dropouts, but has had questionable success because the problem is a culture issue not lack of money or testing.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to regulate the mortgage industry fearing massive bank failures if subprime and freewheeling mortgage markets continued unabated, but the Democratic congress didn’t want anything that would making it harder for low or middle income people to buy a house or have easy access to credit, so nothing was done.

Here we are: the credit crisis happened, largely due to a Democratic Congress, but the Republicans didn’t really help either. The high school dropout rate is higher than ever which nobody seems to have any good answers or is even addressing. Wars continue that we should have never been involved with in the first place and we have done nothing to try to convince the terrorists that they need to reconsider their agenda.

I don’t see a lot of answer for these questions from either party. Just my opinion.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Learners vs learned

Photokina was last week. Photokina is the gigantic world’s fair of imaging held every other year in Cologne, Germany. In 2006, 162,000 people attended from 152 different countries. When my wife and I attended Photokina twenty years ago, there was no hint that the future of photography was anything but film and chemistry.

At the time, I was one of the country’s experts on what is now an archaic technology, black and white film and black and white printing. But things change. The news out of Cologne is the reinvention of photography. Everything is different.

The reason I am back in photography after a twelve year hiatus is that everything is new and exciting. The quality and versatility we are getting from digital photography makes film and chemistry seem like ancient times, yet there are always those that hang onto the past. These are the learned people, the experts on the old ways of doing things.

“Learned” people are perfectly suited for the last generation. “Learners” are the ones ready to move ahead with the next generation. This has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible says that it is foolish to long for the old days. The wise look to the future.

I find myself getting excited on Sunday nights because I realize I get to go to work the next day and do some cool stuff. This may not mean I am wise, but I think it does put me in the minority. It seems like a majority of people are just putting in their time waiting for Social Security to kick in. Their creativity was squeezed out of them in grade school and then the corporation put them in a box. The next step is for the undertaker to drive the nails in the box.

Those who are learners are always looking for new ideas, and new ways of doing things. They are excited about the prospects of the future. They read, look around, and listen to what others are saying. That’s the group I want to be part of. I think Photokina 2010 is calling me.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Six Blocks

For several years my wife and I lived near 47th and Oak in Kansas City, Missouri. I would often go out for walks. If I walked three blocks to the west I would pass Mercedes and Porches along the curb. If I walked three blocks east, I would pass old sofas and refrigerators along the curb.

The contrast could not be more startling. Without leaving my zip code, I could see people in the highest social-economic and the lowest social-economic situations. Within in a few blocks there were people who appeared to be completely oblivious to the other group’s situation; and they certainly didn’t understand each other.

To the impartial observer like me, who cannot really relate to either group, it is clearly not a matter of opportunity in the geographical sense, but possibly lack of opportunity in the culture sense.

If your culture says that talking to the police makes you a snitch, you will live in a high crime neighborhood. If your culture tells you that excelling in school makes you uncool, you will have no education. If your culture tells you that having to be at work at 8:00 takes away your freedom, you will not have job.

If your culture tells you that dropping 100 grand on a car makes you important, you will do whatever it takes to get the wheels. If your culture tells you that a 10,000 square foot house is the definition of success, you will sacrifice your friends to get it.

Jesus came to free the captives from this culture of poverty and also from the culture of more is better. As Christians we need to find ways to point people to the truth that there is a better way to live.

To change the culture, don’t write laws – write songs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Handing off the baton

I enjoyed watching the Olympics this year. One of the tragedies was watching both the men and women’s 4X100 relay teams drop the baton.

Anybody who has ever participated in a track meet in high school knows that handing off the baton is the most basic and fundamental skill in relay running. How could Olympic level runners drop the baton – twice.

The answer is actually pretty simple, they didn’t practice. The relay teams were all-star teams, meaning they were all the best in their category, but had never really worked together. Just because you put the best people together does not mean that you are going to have a smooth-running team. You see this all the time. Top executives that drive the business in the ground, good politicians that do dumb things, and so-called super-groups made up of great musicians that can’t play together.

Team work is very underrated as we saw on the USA relay teams. Working well with others, understanding your role, and letting others do theirs is fundamental. In more ways than one we drop the baton. We fail to communicate, and we fail to see how we fit in.

We are all given different gifts, different personalities, and different opportunities. Understanding how we fit and handing off the baton at the right time without dropping it is a key to successful living.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Architecture Photography

Back in the Golden Age of rock & roll, when gas was cheap and phones were hard-wired, I roomed with a couple of architectural students. We were all photographers too, so naturally our late night bull-sessions centered around architecture and photography. Of course I became interested in architecture as well, as we made road trips to photography historical and significant buildings. I even took some History of Architecture classes and collected books on architecture. I have since seen and photographed even more famous buildings in Europe and the U.S. of A.

My friends went on to have successful careers as architects and designers while I stayed with photography.

Now days, when I am not photographing business people and performers, I am usually out photographing buildings.

The difference between photographing people and buildings is that with people portraiture, you move the people and the lights until you get the picture you want. In building portraiture, neither the buildings nor the sun are easily moveable, so we have to go when the sun and the building are where we want them to be. This is usually the first few hours after sunrise or the last few hours before sunset, depending upon the orientation of the building and the time of year.
The other rule of architectural photography is no converging vertical lines. The edges of the building and all vertical features should be parallel to each other and to the edge of the photo.

Do you need architectural photography? Give me a call. If you want to photograph some buildings yourself, I hope these tips are useful. Jim Mathis 913 269-6709

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dragon Eyes

Everybody has seen the bright red eyes that sometime show up in flash pictures. Red-eye first reared its ugly head with the Kodak Pocket Instamatic of 1973. Poor design put the flash directly over the lens where the flash could reflect directly off the subject’s retina and back to the film.
Red-eye is now more common than ever as camera manufactures keep putting the flash head too close to the lens. Often the size of the camera gives them little choice. The problem can be solved in several ways.

1. Don’t use on-camera flash. Use natural light or off-camera flash.
2. Make sure there is enough room light that the subject’s pupils are not wide open.
3. Pre-fire the flash so that the subject’s pupils close before the actually picture is taken (this is a very-odd but common solution provided by many camera manufactures.)
4. Retouch out the red later. (This is far easier with digital than with film.)

Professional photographers seldom have problem with red-eye because we seldom use on-camera flash except as a fill. And red-eye was not an issue before 1973 because until then it was not possible to get the flash so close to the lens axis that it would cause a problem.

So that’s the story on red-eye. I hope this will help you tame this ugly dragon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


We have become so accustomed to seeing the world through predetermined shapes that we forget that there are no preset shapes in art. We are used to the format of a television set or a magazine page and assume that our photographs should be 8X10 or 4x6 inches or whatever.

Photographs can be round, oval, or about any shape you like. I have always been drawn to long skinny pictures myself, and began using extreme wide-angle cameras about thirty years ago.
The next time you are trying to see something in a new way, forget about the 3:4 ratio box and think about a long box.

My primary business is people pictures, but I am also one of the few photographers with a lot of experience and affinity for panoramics. My definition of panoramic is a view greater than what the human eye can see, which is about 90 degrees.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Last roll

While sorting through some old files last night I came across some negatives and a contact sheet dated April 2003. I believe that is the last roll of film I shot. I had been alternating between film and digital depending upon the situation, but that was the last roll of 120 Vericolor. Just this morning I dropped 10 rolls of Kodak Professional film and a roll of Fuji in the trash. The film era is officially over as far as I am concerned.

The photographs I am making now are the best I have ever done and I am enjoying it more. The newest digital cameras are amazing. The prices range from $19.95 to over $33,000 which means there is a pretty good variety of cameras out there – just like there has always been.

I’ve heard a few people lament about how much time it takes to correct and print digital images using a computer, but these people obviously never worked in a darkroom. Having owned a custom photo lab for 23 years, I am sure that the vast majority of people had no idea of the work the photo lab put into making their photos look good - or more correctly, how easy it was to make them look bad.

Photoshop has dramatically changed the way I work, but it has not changed the way I see. That is the secret of photography. Ansel Adams said, “The sheer ease of making an image often leads to creative disaster.” That is more true than ever.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ted Hubbard

A good friend died and went to be with the Lord this week. Ted Hubbard was an attorney and judge in London, England and quite possibly the wisest person I’ve ever known.

I met Ted and his wife, Gladys, through CBMC (Christian Business Men’s Committee.) When I joined the staff of CBMC in 1996, Ted held the title of “Staff Chaplain.” Four times a year Ted and Gladys would come to the United States at their own expense. They would go wherever in the U.S. they were invited and counsel , advice, hang-out, befriend, and whatever seemed appropriate at the time. The first time we got to know the Hubbards was when they road with us back from Colorado Springs to Kansas City. At the time they were in their upper seventies, British proper, and quite content to ride in the back of our GMC Jimmy the 600+ miles across Kansas. We all had a wonderful time.

It was Ted that advised us to take a long view and not make any major changes in the ministry for at least five years. That five years of talking to people, research, and planning eventually led to the opening of Homer’s Coffee House which has been a life-changing adventure for many people.

We were never able to visit Ted and Gladys in England, but saw pictures of their house in Kent and the one near the English shore. We heard about his Austin Princess and their lovely daughters.

I can’t imagine how many lives have been touched and people encouraged by this great man of God.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


My Dad used to accuse my Mother and me of having the “Go Bug.” That is one of the things that drew my wife and I together. We both have a strong desire to see the world. We decided early in our married life that we would spend our money on travel and not on houses or other expensive hobbies.

The result is that after 37 years of marriage we have been to many interesting places and have closets full of pictures and our minds full of memories to prove it.

The seven years that we spent running Homer’s Coffee House were wonderful but confining. We can’t wait to hit the road to see what is out there to see.

One of the benefits of travel is that we develop a different view of the world. Confined to our own limited culture we begin to think that what is around us is normal. For example, many Americans are unaware that even though the pursuit of happiness is written into our Declaration of Independence, we are only average among the world’s nations in “happiness” surveys. According to a recent article on “60 Minutes” that very pursuit may make us unhappy. Lack of contentment is a very real cause of misery. The “happiest” people in the world are Danes even though their taxes are high by U.S. standards and they pay about $10 per gallon for gas. They drive less, drive smaller cars, and many things that are very expensive here such as health care and college are free in Denmark. But most of all, the Danes are a contented lot. They are very happy with who they are.

Seeing other parts of the world, and getting to know people from different countries is very enlightening. People who go on mission trips, student exchange programs, or otherwise develop friendships across continents, are never the same.

With airlines getting more difficult to deal with and gasoline over the $4 mark, many people are cutting back their travel plans. Don’t do it. Get out there and see America and the world. Higher cost might affect your style. We will probably find cheaper hotels, shop for airfare deals, or rent a smaller car. I expect that higher costs will cause us to have more road side picnics and fewer gourmet meals. But they won’t cause us to stay home.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Big Changes

This has been a month of big changes. My last official day at Homer’s Coffee House will be June 13. I have opened a photography studio at 10851 Mastin Suite 130, Overland Park, KS 66210. This is in Corporate Woods – the most prestigious office park in Kansas City.

I have been a photographer since I was in the fourth grade and it is really the only thing I ever made any money at, although I did work my way through college playing music. I came out of college debt free due to my ability to play the bass guitar, so that makes me a certified professional musician and a professional photographer.

As I approach sixty, I decided it was time to open my “dream” studio, and this may be it. I have been photographing my favorite people – musicians – since I first picked up a camera. I have photographed Sonny & Cher and Harry Chapin if that gives you an idea of how long I have been doing this. It is still fun and I intend to establish myself in the coming months in the Corporate Woods as a people photographer for executives, businesses, as well as performers.

I will be posting recent photos on, so take a look and give me a call.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friendships. The problem is that there are not enough good words to describe the range of positive relationships. The two most common are “friends” and “acquaintances.”

There are people I have known for many years, that I have a great deal of respect for, that are much for than acquaintances, but if I call them “friends,” what do I call the people that I see often and have many shared experiences and shared interests? Best friends or BFFL (best friend for life) seems sort of trite.

The basic building blocks of relationships are shared experiences and shared interests. Obviously, these vary a lot from relationship to relationship. My closest friends are the people I play music with. Music speaks directly to the heart, so playing music together builds strong relationships through shared experiences, shared passions, and strong emotions. Other musicians are also among my good friends because we have a common language and shared interest. I presume people who play golf together, go hunting together, or ride motorcycles together have similar relationships.

I once asked a fellow musician if she had any good friends that had never heard her play. Her answer was one that that I have not recovered from yet. She said, “I have chosen to give my life to making music, if a friend has never even bothered to come hear me play, they wouldn’t be much of a friend.”

Along those lines, if someone showed open disdain for the things you love, whether it is music, photography, or fishing, it would be hard to maintain much of a friendship. Two of my passions in life are music and photography. For me, photography is an individual pursuit, while music is a team sport. Therefore I don’t have as many photographer friends as musician friends. But if you have spent fifty years trying to make beautiful pictures and someone says to you, “How can you enjoy life with that thing (camera) in front of your face?” It becomes hard to call that person a friend. That doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally hurt the people we are close to, often just trying to be funny, but we do have to know when to apologize and when to be sincere. The old movie said, “Love is never having to say you are sorry.” Actually, love is saying you are sorry a lot.

In a marriage relationship, we have to plan for shared experiences and shared interests. That is what makes a long term relationship possible. Other relationships are the same way. For friendships to be real, we have to share interests, share passions, and share experiences.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Watch your heart - and the press.

Presidential candidate John McCain drew some flack this week from The New York Times for a presumed impropriety with a female lobbyist. I don’t know anything about John McCain’s personal life, but I do know that a person has to very careful with how things might look to others.

Thirty years ago my wife and I agreed that we would never be alone with a person of the opposite sex. This has been a good rule if at times a little difficult to maintain. This means that when meeting with friends, clients, or associates there may need to be three people there. If meeting with a female salesperson or associate, I always ask somebody else to come along, or else we meet in a very public place, such as a coffeehouse.

When my wife was on staff with a church, she never had one-on-one meetings except with other women. I have female friends, but I always make sure that either their husbands, my wife, or a third party is present when we talk.

I believe this plan came originally from Billy Graham. Billy and his wife have the same rule and it has served them well for decades.

This rule has served us well as well. Not only does this system prevent any appearance of impropriety, it also goes a long way in keeping our lives pure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Big Ears

My definition of a good musician is one that can play a wide variety of styles and genres. A person who likes a wide range of music we say has “big ears.” As musicians the best thing we can do is listen to all kinds of music.

My heroes are the people who can play in a blues band on Friday, sing a contemporary song at a wedding Saturday afternoon, play in a country band on Saturday night, and lead worship on Sunday morning.

The worst thing we can do is be publicly critical or condescending of a style of music that is not our favorite. I remember when the jazz musician, Stan Kenton, criticized country music. His stature as a musician dropped many points in many people’s eyes. I’ve heard country musicians make fun of hip-hop and vice versa. Please resist this temptation. It only makes you look uninformed or worse.

I was thinking of this while watching a little bit of the Grammy’s the other night. There were 110 Grammy’s given. Only a handful were presented on air, but the Grammy for best polka album or the best traditional folk album is just as important Song of the Year. And I didn’t hear anybody making fun of another genre. We are all in this together.

Friday, February 08, 2008


Louise and I were out of town for a few days. When we returned, I noticed a bar stool sitting in the back room. I was told that there were some screws loose. I quickly grabbed a screwdriver, tightened the screws and returned the stool to the counter.

It wasn’t until several minutes later that I realized that there is not one of our fifteen employees who are not capable of turning a screwdriver. When I related this incident to other small business owners, they all agreed that this is a common problem among entrepreneurs. We are so use to quickly solving problems that we have inadvertently trained our people to wait for us to solve their problems, no matter how small.

I realized that by not allowing, in fact insisting, that problems be solved by those present, I have made much more work for myself and stunted the growth of the business. This is probably why most start-ups need a new person to take the business to the next level. The entrepreneur is just not willing or able to hand over responsibility to others.

I would like to think that I have learned my lesson, but the truth is doing things myself is part of my make-up. “Empowering” others does not come easy.

There seem to be two types of people. Corporate types who can easily say, “That’s not MY job.” And entrepreneurs types who think everything is their job. It is hard to find a middle ground.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Music and Food

Wake up in the middle of the night in a truck stop,
Stumble in the restaurant, wonderin’ why I don’t stop.
Steve Earle – Guitar Town

I don’t know about Earle, but I do it for the food. Jennifer Lynn Smith played Homer’s last weekend. After the gig, the inevitable question came up. What’s for breakfast? Even though Jennifer is a Prius driving folkie, I recommended Village Inn – the skillet breakfast with sausage and some Tabasco. It seemed like the perfect ending to a great night of good music. She agreed and off they went for a post gig feast.

Which brings up the question, does different genres require different food. We usually think of blues and barbeque, country and fried chicken, and folk and tofu. During my early rock and roll days, every gig was finished off with two eggs over easy, hash browns with ketchup, and toast. But I don’t know if the definitive study has been made. If anybody has a clear opinion on this let me know.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Artists and athletes

I have always been a little concerned about calling a musician or a singer an artist as is the norm in the music business. But lately the term is beginning to make more sense. A performer is as much an artist as a painter or sculptor is in that sense that it is a form of creative self-expression and requires both skill and heart.

But singers, musicians, dancers, and actors are more than artists, they are also athletes. As athletes, they must train, practice, and rehearse to train their muscles to react instantly without thought. Also like athletes they may face injuries, health, and just plain getting old. But unlike in athletics, the creative side does not diminish with age. As we get older, we may not be able to play as fast, or hit the highest notes, but we can certainly play with more expression and passion as we have the gift of time behind us.

In the past it seemed like musical history was made by young people, but I am not sure that is the case now or will it be in the future. Creativity does not rely solely on flexible fingers and vocal cords. It takes clear thinking, a passion for life, and time and skill to get the art recorded in a form that others can enjoy it.