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by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

The bulletin board in Jim Lersch's home studio is covered with Polaroid photos. Snapshots of Andy Williams, Tony Orlando, Mel Tillis, Jim Stafford, Mickey Gilley and other performers in Branson are tacked to the board haphazardly. They overlap each other to form a strikingly colorful collage.

Lersch's images of Branson, which can be found in brochures, ads and national magazines, are well-known. What many people don't know, however, is that Lersch is an accomplished commercial photographer.

Lersch and his wife Carol, a set designer and food stylist, worked in ad agencies stretching from Chicago to St. Joseph, Mich., for more than 20 years. Then, one day in 1992, they made a spur-of-the-moment decision that changed their lives.

One snowy January day, the Lersches' teenage son refused to shovel the driveway of their home in Michigan. Fed up with the weather and in need of a break, the Lersches packed up the car and headed to Branson, which had been featured a few months earlier on the TV show "60 Minutes."

What started out as a short vacation soon turned into much more. By the time the Lersches left a week later, they had decided to quit their jobs, start their own business and move to Branson.

Lersch said one of the bigger challenges they initially faced was coming up with the money to buy photography equipment. To finance the purchase, the couple cashed in their profit-sharing accounts.

The next challenge Jim Lersch faced was marketing himself shortly after they moved, he volunteered to shoot Branson's 20-hour muscular dystrophy telethon for free. By the time the event ended, he had met most of Branson's entertainers, taken their pictures and provided them with samples of his work.

Lersch quickly found himself in demand. While the number of photographers in Branson has increased in the past seven years, Lersch said he still commands a good share of work among the area's entertainers.

"The stars use me because I'm quick, convenient, and I always give them an image they can use," Lersch said. "They don't have time for a reshoot."

Although Lersch said he is dedicated to his clients in Branson many of whom he considers friends he is branching out to do more advertising and catalog work. Two years ago, the Lersches relocated to Nixa because it's close to both Branson and Springfield. He also bought a trailer so he could shoot on location in either city.

Lersch said he's now working to change his image as a Branson photographer and make a name for himself in Springfield. Recently, his work was recognized during the Springfield Advertising Association's Addy Awards ceremony.

"Lighting is the key to good photography," Lersch said. "It has to look better than real. I like to take a roll of film, load it in the camera and see what I can make."

To make a good photo, Lersch first finds out how the image will be used. Armed with this information, he chooses the equipment and film which ranges from 35mm to 8-by-10-inch needed to compose the shot.

For example, when doing catalog work, Lersch often uses 8-by-10-inch film. This allows him to shoot a small object at its actual size. When the image is printed later, details such as texture are maintained because the photo is not enlarged, which can make it fuzzy. Lersch used this technique in a photo that won an Eastman Kodak Gallery Award in 1985.

Occasionally, Lersch will transfer an image to his computer, where he uses one of several software programs to retouch it or to add some special effects. Some of his handiwork can be found on his Web site

www.lerschphoto.com.

In the next few years, Lersch said, he plans on doing more catalog and ad work. However, expanding the scope of his operations also has its drawbacks.

"What I don't want to do is give the appearance that I'm so busy that I'm not available," Lersch said. "I'd never give up my clients in Branson. I've worked too hard to establish a good reputation there."

LERSCH PHOTOGRAPHY:

Business philosophy: "Give a client the best quality photo I can in the time frame they need it."

Year founded: 1992

Address and phone number: 312 Somerset, Nixa 65714; 724-8637

Owners: Jim and Carol Lersch

PHOTO CAPTION:

Jim Lersch's images of Branson can be found in brochures, ads and national magazines.

PHOTO CAPTION:

After making his mark in Branson, Jim Lersch, owner of Lersch Photography, is expanding the focus of his business, branching out with advertising and catalog work in Springfield and the area. [[In-content Ad]]

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