Wyoming Camera Outfitters opened in downtown Casper in an age when nearly everyone has a cell phone they can use to take photos or to buy products online with only a click. Now beginning its 10th year, the store survives by competing with online prices and providing service that online outlets can’t offer, owner Dinty Miller said.
The shop’s walls are a gallery showcasing Wyoming photographers. Visitors will find expertise in buying and using photo equipment as well as workshops and events to draw those interested in the art, Miller said.
One of those events is this weekend’s 10th annual Wyoming Photo Fest.
“This would be an exceptionally difficult business if you were building a retirement, because the margins are so thin and because we compete with the internet and internet pricing,” Miller said. “That brings our margins down to just very thin. We offset that by keeping low overhead and giving exceptional service.”
Full-time Photographer Cari Faye needed to replace a battery and charger last Saturday morning. She needed the battery that day and bought it at Wyoming Camera Outfitters, where she purchases all her camera gear, she said.
“So it was nice to be able to go there, get it and have it in my hand and not have to wait for it,” she said.
She’s been friends with store manager Chris Luse since they studied photography at Casper College. Though she’s well-versed in what she wants, the store’s staff helps her get exactly what she needs. She rents lenses from the shop and uses its photography studio for her work and personal projects. They provide a community for photographers, and Dinty always has coffee brewing for people.
“They’re not just a camera shop,” Faye said. “They’re a hub for photographers.”
For the same price they’d pay online, people at Wyoming Camera Outfitters can get help finding the right camera, Miller said. Knowledgeable photographers behind the counter give free tutorials with equipment purchases and after-purchase assistance as well as letting them know when to find the best deals. As a Canon sales and service center, the shop manages the brand’s camera warranties in store and offers factory insurance. The shop brings what Miller calls, “just old fashioned service.”
“So really, you’d have to be just foolish to shop the internet,” he said.
The store has made a name for itself around the region and even has customers from all over the country, Miller said. The business has received many five-star ratings and positive reviews online, but it doesn’t do online retail, he said.
“We don’t have a click and buy,” Miller said, “because we want to talk to our customers.”
The shop carries one of the largest inventories of Canon products in the U.S. aside from the superstores on the East Coast as well as a large selection of other brands, Miller said. That support also led to sponsorships with the CNFR, workshops and presentations from world-class photographers and boosting the Wyoming Photo Fest. For the 2017 eclipse, Canon brought millions of dollars of equipment and a high-level team to Casper.
One reason is it’s “this cool little Western shop out in the middle of nowhere” that’s broken all the sales records for professional printers, he said.
It’s one of only a couple of stores that’s the head of Canon Japan has visited, he said.
“But they come in here and go down and buy cowboy hats and boots at Lou Taubert’s and they just think this place is awesome,” he said. “As a result, we get very good support from the higher ups at Canon. So there’s been times when we’ve gotten super high-end big lenses that no one else in the country can get, and oftentimes we get to debut their new gear.”
The shop offers printing, digitizes old photo prints and film and has a new kiosk for 4-by-6-inch prints. The shop rents cameras, lenses and other equipment as well as a photography studio downstairs. Wyoming Camera Outfitters manager and certified Canon instructor Chris Luse teaches weekly classes on a variety of topics including nighttime photography, portrait photography, landscapes with people individually and in small groups.
“We like to at least send people out in the field to learn and to be able to use it in their own practice,” he said. “But we really want to make sure that we’re catering to people that want to learn and just giving them the right information.”
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The staff helps with equipment problems or offers advice on techniques for various kinds of photography, Miller said.
“But the nicest thing is, you have, no matter what, a face to come in to and is anxious to help you out with any issues you got,” Miller said.
About two years ago, his shop took over the Wyoming’s oldest camera store in Jackson. The store was slowly closing as its owners prepared to retire, and they asked him if he’d be interested, Miller said. It seemed a terrible thing that Jackson Hole, of all places, wouldn’t have a camera store, he said.
“Now, that store is packed with high-end gear,” he said, “and people like Harrison Ford are back to shopping with us.”
Wyoming Photo Fest
The Wyoming Photo Fest has been an annual tradition in the shop since it opened. The event returns this weekend with free lectures and classes meeting at Wyoming Camera Outfitters. The annual photography contest shows open at Art 321 with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday during the Casper Art Walk.
The 2018 Winners Group Show features work by Greg Bergquist, Susan Nelson, Shaun Peterson and Sam Sherman. The top 120 photos in this year’s contest are also on display for September. The winners are determined by public vote and will be announced at the end of the month.
“Photo Fest has become one of the largest photo contests in the state of Wyoming,” Luse said. He’ll teach a long exposure class at Wyoming Photo Fest.
Faye returns as a teacher for the festival with her nude portrait class on Friday. The class doesn’t require experience and covers lighting and photography technique as well as skills like how to make models feel comfortable in front of the camera, she said.
The guest speaker is Isaac Spotts, who was named the Youth Photographer of the Year for the 2018 Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice Awards. He works in the Jackson branch of Wyoming Camera Outfitters and recently won the silver award for Best Photographer in Jackson Hole. His talk is 6:30 p.m. Friday at Art 321.
The Canon vice president is slated to return to this year’s Wyoming Photo Fest along with a few other Canon representatives who help put on workshops, Miller said. The event features sales and a strong gathering of vendors, he said.
‘A fun place to shop’
Miller opened Wyoming Camera Outfitters downtown when longtime shop Saunder’s Camera Supply was closing with the owner retiring.
“And they said, “We need a camera store, so I bankrolled it,” he said. “And in order to ensure it was a success, I worked seven days a week down here. But it’s a fun business, it’s a fun community, it’s a fun art form.”
He found a spot for the shop on downtown Second Street in the 1924 TC building, which has added to the shop’s success, he said. The walls are a gallery of local and Wyoming photographers who receive 100 percent of the sales, he said. Among the assortment of art and history in the shop is a desk near the front that was reportedly used by John Wayne when he was filming in Casper.
Miller’s golden retriever, Duke, worked as the shop’s greeter for the first nine years. Luse’s black lab, Bridger, these days does a good job as the shop dog, he said.
The front window houses a metal dinosaur skeleton with a human skeleton sculpture, and they have customers guess which is Hector and which is Jack, Miller said.
“It’s a fun place to shop,” he said. “But I’ve shopped all around the world, and I know what I like when I go into a store. So I try to incorporate that into this place.”