A promotion angle from large outdoor stores such as L.L. Bean began catching my attention during the 1970s. These companies offered topnotch fishing and hunting gear, attractive, practical, durable clothing for a day afield, snazzy “outdoorsy” outfits for socializing, and the list continued – camping, watercraft (often self-propelled), optics, cutlery, reflector ovens, cast-iron Dutch ovens, culinary utensils, dishes, cups, glasses, etc.

That angle proved successful, and 25 years ago during a casual conversation, a middle manager at the Freeport store said six words to me that sums up the philosophy: “Bean’s sells a way of life.” Indeed, the Orvis company in nearby Vermont pushed the same buttons for customers.

Promoting a way of life spilled over into the art side of outdoor writing decades ago. National magazines wouldn’t use images of folks participating in a sport unless the models were wearing attractive, clean garb. Before digital photography, this rule of tidy proved ultra-important for me to sell color transparencies in national markets.

Here’s a perfect example: In the early 1990s, I was fly-fishing with a fellow who wrote for small regional magazines, and the first day we fly-fished together, much to my dismay, he looked as if he had crawled out of a dumpster. Two large stains marred the front of his vest, and his hat looked filthy and smelled like unwashed hair. But I worked around his attire with my camera and enjoyed a fun day.

The outing highlighted a point about computers. This fellow caught a large brown trout, and despite his clothing, I shot a few photos for his personal use. When the images came back from the developer, the hat and stains stuck out like a cow flap in the fog.

A few years later, after computers dominated the industry, an editor was telling me about a new digital photography program at his publication, which allowed him to dress up ratty photos that writers were sending him.

The editor listened to my story about the stained-vest photo and asked me to send it. On the computer he removed the large spots, added a new hat and bought it for a full-page spread – a three-digit check for me.

Years later my companion with the dirty vest attended a day-long writing seminar that I conducted and listened to my presentation about the importance of clean clothing. Days later in a telephone conversation he said that dirty clothing should be fine in a fishing photo because that was the real world. However, I do not make the rule – just observe them to make a living.

Here’s another old rule for outdoor photography that has become less important now that camouflage clothing has become so widespread. Years ago, editors complained if my fishing photos lacked a red shirt or hat to liven a photo. Red might appease the editors paying me, but drab clothing ensured angling success for folks wading or walking banks.

About 20 years ago, a high school friend ran into me while we were fishing a river and criticized my bright red shirt. At first my explanation for wearing the color fell on deaf ears because I was fishing alone. He reasoned that I could not shoot images of myself, which made me chuckle.

Without saying a word, I unzipped a vest pocket and produced a small tripod wrapped with a Velcro strap, enabling me to set a camera on a stump, knoll or rock, or wrap it to a small tree trunk or fence post. I have another camera mount for hooking onto a vehicle window, partially rolled down. In short, of course I can shoot photos of myself. I must rely on those tools because unfortunately, most outdoor types with traditional day jobs cannot fish with me on weekdays. I often fish or hunt alone.

These days we’re lucky. Outdoor folks have an incredible array of things to buy for days afield, and for nights at home for cooking the spoils. Which reminds me of an anecdote about supply and demand.

Many years ago a Maine writer discovered that an outdoor company in this state had stopped carrying reflector ovens, so he lambasted the business in an article, claiming they were catering to yuppies. If I were his editor, I would have rejected the article for a rewrite that included a blurb as to why the company no longer carried the product. I actually knew the answer – sales of this product were dismally low. Years later, reflector-oven articles began popping up in the outdoor media and the company started carrying this product again to meet the new demand.

The moral: When top companies drop a product, they often do it because few to no customers are buying it. It’s capitalism.

I love reflector ovens, an ancient cooking tool, which reminds me of a quick story. At a campsite on the Big Eddy on the Penobscot’s West Branch, I was once baking pizza. Two little boys were watching the cheese bubble and the crust brown and one exclaimed, “It’s like magic!”

Indeed, it is like magic – even for adults.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

[email protected]