If you live in the Lubbock area and you’re into photography, chances are you’ve heard of Armadillo Camera – a local camera shop with expert staff and a wide variety of photography equipment. What you may not have heard, though, is the story of owner Steve Smith. Whether photography is your hobby of choice or not, it’s always refreshing to learn about the business owners in the Lubbock community who are committed to their work and to the people they serve.
How did you get into photography?
I first got into photography when I was in the Navy. I was traveling all over the world, and I thought it would be a good idea to document my travels. I’m 70 years old now, but back when I was 19 or 20 and in the Navy, I got my first camera overseas in Hong Kong. That’s when I started taking pictures and I just continued from there. When I got back home to Texas, I went to college for a while, and then at some point, I decided that I wanted to be a professional photographer.
I applied to a photography school, Brooks Institute of Photography, out in California. I was accepted but knew it would be awhile before I could go out there. In the meantime, I started working at the camera store here – it was called The Photo Shoppe. This was in 1973 and the store was just starting. I ended up working for the owner, and I learned so much about photography to the point where I decided not to go out to California. I worked at that store for several years!
What do you like about photography?
The kind of photography I really like is nature and landscape photography. When I was young, all of our vacations were camping and going to the mountains and natural places. Places that weren't very populated. That’s kind of always stuck with me. I like to record Mother Nature in her rawest form, which is getting harder and harder to do as the population grows.
I ended up moving out to Colorado to photograph nature for a while and then moved back to Lubbock and started going to Texas Tech. I worked at the store part-time. It wasn’t too long after that when the owner wanted to sell it, so I ended up buying the store from him in 1980. I’ve had the store ever since – about 37 years now.
Where did the name Armadillo Camera come from?
When the store was called The Photo Shoppe, a lot of people thought that we took pictures and we never have actually taken pictures for people. We’ve always focused on selling photo equipment, photo finishing, and printmaking. We do, probably, the best printing of pictures in this part of the country. So when I was considering a name, I wanted to get away from the perception that many people had that we were a business that takes pictures.
Back in 1980, the armadillo was kind of a symbol of Texas, and so I had a graphic arts friend of mine draw up a logo for us and we just went with it. You generally don’t forget the name Armadillo Camera. We’ve had fun with it over the years.
What have you loved about running this business?
Our objective is not only to sell equipment but to help people learn how to use it. From the time I bought the store, one of the services we offer is a free six-hour photo class with anyone who buys a camera from us. I’ve loved offering that class. Everyone who works here is interested in photography, so we don’t just sell equipment but we help people understand how it works.
How has the business shifted over the years as people begin to use their phones for photography?
There definitely has been quite a shift in the last 12 or so years. However, the types of cameras we sell are loaded with different features that you just can’t put into a cell phone as far as quality and lens. You can’t work with a cell phone camera the way you can with an actual camera. There are still people who want to take their photography a step forward and do more than what can be done just with a cell phone.
What does the Lubbock community mean to you as a business owner?
I’m from the area. I was born in Amarillo and then moved to Clovis. I grew up in Clovis and graduated high school there, and then went to a little college in Portales. I moved to Lubbock in 1971, and I’ve lived here since then.
Having run this store in Lubbock for 37 years gives me a sense of satisfaction. We’ve sold products to multiple generations of families now, and the interaction of the Lubbock community and the small surrounding towns has been fantastic. Lubbock’s a great place to do business.
The story of Armadillo Camera and Steve Smith is a beautiful picture of someone who found a passion, turned that passion into a career, and then used that career to serve their community. There are several business owners right here in Lubbock, who have stories like Steve and are ready, like Steve, to serve you and the community. To find these businesses and free perks they offer you!, download Towny – the free app that connects you with the Lubbock businesses that truly care. Here ya go!