Hobbies and interests have defining qualities along with chosen professions. For Craig Underwood, president of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers, photography has gone from a hobby in his late teens to professional, gallery-worthy images today.
In November, Craig’s landscape photography was part of a local artists’ exhibit at a regionally renowned art gallery near his home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Alongside the works of other photographers and local artists, Craig exhibited 15 of what he considered his best Arkansas landscape photographs on November 10, at the 12 Pedal Junction Art Gallery in nearby Springdale.
“Prior to 12 Pedal Junction Gallery I have only participated in two other art exhibits, one in 2022 and in 2018,” says Craig. “These showings helped to promote local artists. Through these two previous shows I have earned some followership among art enthusiasts that led to this most recent show at 12 Pedal Junction Gallery, a relatively new gallery with a large regional presence.”
Craig’s evolution as a photographer started in the late 1970s when he was gifted with a Pentax K1000 by his father. Produced from 1976 to 1996 by the Asahai Optical Co. LTD., of Japan, the nearly all-metal SLR (single lens reflex) camera was an affordable entry-level camera. In its day, the K1000 was an inexpensive work horse model that allowed Asahai to compete with Canon’s and Nikon’s F-series SLRs – cameras used almost exclusively by serious hobbyists and professionals.
Exceptional optics, however, came with a catch. All of these cameras were fully manual. The user had to adjust the shutter speed and aperture (lens opening) with every shot or even with subtle changes in lighting conditions.
Craig disliked fidgeting with these vital settings for correctly capturing light and images. But like most enthusiasts and hobbyists of the day the extra effort turned the essential skills of photography into second-nature abilities. Before he knew it Craig was the photographer on hand for family gatherings, fun times with friends, and capturing “Kodak moments” with his wife and children later in life.
In the mid-1990s, Craig thought he’d put his photography skills to the test during a family trip to Yosemite National Park. Craig familiarized himself with the works of famous photographer Ansel Adams (1902 to 1984). The naturalist photographer was well known for his breathtaking images taken at Yosemite. Given Craig’s meticulous nature and high standards, he set the family vacation image taking bar pretty high.
“As I flipped through the developed photos I became more and more disheartened as I realized they were all terrible,” says Craig. “My efforts were nothing more than a dismal failure! None of the photographs looked even remotely like the beautiful photos I had seen prior to taking the trip. I was so frustrated I put away any thoughts of shooting landscapes and for the next several years only used my camera for family photos of my children growing up.”
This routine satisfied Craig’s photography bug for a number of years until taking kid shots reached the “not cool” phase with his then teenaged children. Back to square one.
During that span of time the photo world transitioned from negative film, chemical processes and prints to all digital. And, along with the image evolution the technology to refine and define images (Photoshop and computers geared toward image production and publishing – namely Apple desktops) changed in tandem. With the advent of the internet and social media came the ability to “share” or publish digital images on multiple formats.
To continue his photography interests and refine his craft Craig decided to invest heavily in digital equipment and the computing power and necessary software to support it. And, in the spring of 2012 he also decided to take some landscaping photography classes from locally-renowned landscape photographer Tim Ernst.
“The photography workshop was an eye-opening and inspiring experience,” says Craig. “While I knew my way around a camera, I didn’t know the techniques necessary to capture beautiful landscape photographs. I learned all about lighting and what time of day is the best for shooting, the importance of a heavyweight tripod, using a cable release, mirror lock-up, time exposure and of course, composition. Landscape photography soon became my favorite hobby and I loved learning all I could about this new and exciting world.”
Fortunately for Craig the Ozarks are very accessible. It’s roughly two hours from Craig’s driveway to scenic Ozark landscapes. And, as a student of Tim Ernst, Craig also favors his mentor’s favorite spots for shooting.
“I live in Fayetteville, which is located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. There are so many wonderful places to photograph in this region,” says Craig. “Two of my favorite places are the Buffalo National River as well as the Richland Creek Wilderness Area. I try to visit each of these areas each spring and fall. And while I have been to the same area numerous times, each visit shows me something new.”
Refining and defining a craft isn’t just about skills and an eye for a good image. It’s also about a frame of mind. That too for Craig has evolved over time to that of an artist – a level he has earned with three gallery exhibits under his belt.
“When shooting, whether it is a planned or unplanned destination, I look for scenes that speak to me about the beauty of being outside,” says Craig. “My desire is to capture an image that evokes a feeling of discovery while being immersed in an outdoor experience. I have done my job as an artist if my photo makes you ponder, even for a moment, and wish you were there.”
And, as a small business owner where it’s vital to make high end jewelry look good in promotional material, Craig’s photography work has had an impact there too.
“At the end of the day, Underwood’s Fine Jewelers is my primary focus,” says Craig. “Virtually everything I do is geared to trying to make Underwood’s more successful. That being said, I do use my passion for photography to promote my store. There is an artistic overlap between the custom jewelry I design and the photography I shoot. Having multiple artistic avenues to reach my potential customer base has proven very beneficial.”