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justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Holly Zins has returned to Fulda after several years up north to open Studio Z Photography on St. Paul Avenue.

Zins: Picture perfect at Studio Z Photography

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FULDA -- When she was younger, she took pictures of everything that moved. There were other things she thought about doing, mostly because she didn't think people made a living framing and focusing.

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"That's not a real job!" Holly Zins used to think. By the time she graduated from Fulda High School in 2006, she knew different. And she couldn't imagine doing anything else.

On April 2, Studio Z Photography will open on St. Paul Avenue in Fulda. Senior photos, weddings, families, commercial jobs, babies -- she does it all, and loves coming up with creative ways to do it better.

After earning an AAS degree at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Zins started a two-week internship at a photography studio in Thief River Falls. That short internship turned into four years of employment. As much as she loved her job, making the six-hour drive to visit her family in Fulda a couple of times a month was hard.

"I'm very family-oriented," she admitted.

Even though she had thought about starting her own studio, it wasn't until a building came up for sale in Fulda that she gave it serious consideration. The daughter of Jeff and Susan Zins, she said father encouraged her. Just like making a career in photography, he "pushed me into it," Holly admitted with a smile.

An agreement to buy the old variety store building was made in October, and Zins originally thought she wouldn't be ready to open until May. It isn't often construction goes ahead of schedule, but in her case, that is what happened.

"People opened me and the idea with open arms," she said. "They came up asking what they could do to help. They were willing to set aside their own busy schedules to help me."

She had been away six years, but people she sometimes barely remembered were offering help and encouragement. Coming back to Fulda is the best decision she could have ever made, Zins believes. Many people have helped, and she gives special credit to several businessmen who she said went out of their way to accommodate her needs. Jerry Steiner at Fulda Lumber, Gary Sandhurst with his mudding and taping skills, Dave Thiner with his help with the electrical system and Gene Winter's assistance in getting heat in the back room have been invaluable, she admitted.

"My dad has done a lot of stuff himself, but any time we had a question we could go to one of those guys," Zins said. "We just wouldn't have been able to do it without them."

When the building was purchased, a lot of the inside work had been done by Tim Wildfeuer and his family. But turning the rooms into what she needed took more work. There is a front reception room filled with portraits Zins has photographed and framed. A sales room showing sizes and frame examples is next down the hallway, followed by a production room, where she will put together orders, pick out the perfect photos and do the custom framing. A bathroom with changing table comes next, followed by a dressing room with mirrors, countertops and plenty of places to hang clothing and outfits.

In the very back of the building is the camera room -- a whopping 24 feet by 40 feet, Zins describes the room as "huge." The four walls will have different backgrounds, paint schemes and flooring -- enough options to satisfy any customer's desires.

"When I worked in Thief River Falls, we had small sets everywhere," Zins said. "Here we have four big sections of wall. One white with white trim, a brown wall with wood trim, maybe another neutral gray -- simple, yet big enough to shoot a large family."

Eventually she hopes to have dropdown backdrops, and plans to have sections of flooring that can be laid down in front of the different walls.

Then there are the props. A room in the basement is packed with props, large and small, to give customers exactly what they're looking for, including wooden chairs, baskets, and items she found at garage and estate sales or just happened across.

"Some families don't want a lot of props, some things just call for a few," Zins explained. "I try to find a nice balance to add to a photograph, but not take it over."

Baskets are a favorite when it comes to taking photos of babies. And Zins just loves the babies.

"Up north, I did all the babies," she said. "Newborns from six pounds to 10 pounds. A few months old, when they couldn't sit up, but could be propped. They are so cute -- so fun."

Because she knows professional photos aren't always within a family's budget, she plans to offer children's specials and other incentives throughout the year.

With a somewhat quirky sense of humor and adventure, Zins also loves the photos that a family may make a family blink at first, but quickly fall in love -- the ones that have an entire family looking at the camera, except for the 3-year-old, who is oblivious to everything but the finger up their nose.

"Capturing that moment is so much fun," she laughed.

Eventually she'd like to be hired by schools for class, head-shot and sports photos. Starting simple with the portrait realm, she's open to any suggestions. Some customers are more conservative, and most are willing to try a few interesting suggestions. Families, especially those with babies, who come in with an open mind generally end up having a great photo experience, Zins said.

"I respect the ones who are more conservative, but trying things to fit a family or person's personalities is a lot of fun," she explained.

She also has interesting ideas for groups such as fire departments, ambulance crews and other service groups.

Studio Z Photography will keep storefront hours from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Zins said she will be prepared for walk-ins, but most photography work tends to happen by appointment. For viewing orders, she encourages appointments in case she is occupied with a photo shoot.

Depending on outfit changes, a shoot for senior photos can take up to two hours in the studio, and many people request on-site work at their home or outdoors. During a recent wedding photo shoot, Zins had the couple down by the beach in Fulda, and eventually up to their knees in the water.

"It was so cute," she laughed. "They were a little shy at first, and then they got into it and we got some great shots."

In one of her favorites, she asked the couple to walk away from her on a gravel road, then asked them to stop and smooch. The result is a beautiful, poignant picture of a couple with hands clasped behind the bride's back, sharing a gentle kiss.

Looking over that photo, or the one with a tiny baby sleeping in a tutu, or the one of a smiling family shining with personality, Zins smiled.

"I love this," she exclaimed. "I couldn't do anything different."

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