The perfect shot

Sunday, July 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:47 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The entire room is trying to get Distany to smile for the camera. Four adults, including her parents, Marlana and Adam Smith, whoop and clap their hands in hope of eliciting a moment worth remembering.

However, the 7-month-old baby, clad in a fuschia jumper and frilly headband, seems more interested in chewing on a set of fat building blocks than she is in posing under the studio lights. She unassumingly gums a green block until her attention is captured by a small Barney doll being shaken above the camera. Distany looks up, head slightly turned and a smile gleaming in her blue eyes.

Randy Pauley has his shot.

“Got it!” he says, jumping up from the floor, where he has been laying to be eye-level with Distany.

Everyone cheers, and Distany goes back to chewing. While Randy checks the results on the back of his digital camera, Marlana and Adam ready Distany and her twin sister, Krystal, in matching sparkling bathing suits for their next pose.

Today is actually the payoff for the twins’ big victory as first- and second-place winners at the Centralia Fair baby contest. In addition to a $50 savings bond, they won a gift certificate to have their portraits made by Randy. It’s the first time the twins have been professionally photographed, and Marlana couldn’t pick just one clothing choice.

“I was just too excited,” she says.

For the past seven years, Randy and his wife, Sheila, have been capturing these moments in their photography studio, Mirror Images Photography. It’s a small studio that has a definite family focus. In addition to Randy and Sheila, the shop employs Sheila’s cousin, Kristina King, and the Pauleys’ 16-year-old son, Roman.

Randy, who has been taking pictures since he was 11 years old, is in charge of the photography. He left his job at 3M three years ago to focus full time on Mirror Images. Sheila and Kristina run the business side of the studio, which allows Randy to be, as he puts it, “the artist.”

“You don’t want an artist to do the bookkeeping,” Randy says. “You’ll go broke.”

The arrangement seems to work, because the Pauleys’ shop continues to grow. They take pictures of young children, families and weddings, although the fastest-growing segment of their business is high school portraits. Each year, Randy snaps about 200 seniors from throughout mid-Missouri, intent on capturing their personality and interests. If a sky-diving high school senior ever wanted a portrait, Randy says he would parachute along with him to get the shot.

“The sky is the limit,” he says.

A sampling of portraits cover the wood-paneled walls of Mirror Images. Some are black and white and taken outdoors; others are carefully posed, perfectly lit studio shots. Many of the photographs were taken on a section of the railroad tracks that run next to the studio.

After five years in the business, Randy thinks he has really connected with the people of Centralia. He recognizes that he is capturing the town’s rites of passage with his photography — senior portraits, followed a few years later by wedding pictures, and before long, a smiling couple with a new baby.

“I can see them as they grow,” he says.

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