I recently had a very enjoyable phone conversation with pool cue photographer, Dick Abbott at his home in Virginia. I hesitate to label him as a pool cue photographer because he is so much more than that; entrepreneur, trendsetter, maverick, and visionary are all words that could be used to describe him. In addition to his cue photography page CuePics.com page he also runs BilliardCue.com focusing on custom and collectible billiard instruments.
With 28 years of experience in custom and collectible cues, 44 years of experience in photography, and 19 years of experience in digitally photographing cues he is not only a leader is his field but a wealth of information on the history and current state of the pool industry. During the interview he described how he got started in the billiards industry, how he became a pool cue photographer, some of the challenges involved in photographing cues and how he overcame them, and some other interesting observations about the past and present pool industry.
SPM: When did you start playing pool and what inspired you to have a career in the billiards industry?
Dick: I started playing pool at age 15 or 16 at a pool hall in New Jersey with my father. I manufactured acrylic aquariums, and in 1987 I began manufacturing high end acrylic products for pool rooms and home use. Sammy Jones (pro pool player and former husband of Lori John) and I would go to major open pool tournaments, pool rooms and the BCA trade show to sell cues and acrylic billiard accessories such as cue displays, cue lockers, etc. John Oganowski (father of WPBA pro Lori John Oganowski Jones Hassan) first introduced me to custom cues in the mid 1980s, I was immediately attracted to the playability, the feel and audible tone of the finest instruments and I still am. I was playing with a Gus Szamboti Titlist conversion at that time.
SPM: The acrylic accessories manufacturing is really interesting. What is your favorite item?
Dick: I made a $25,000 acrylic pool table for comedian David Brenner when he opened Amsterdam Billiards in New York. It was featured in the June, 1990 issue of ‘Billiards Digest’ magazine.
SPM: You started BillardCue.com in 1997. At that time it wasn’t so common for businesses to have web pages and there were not so many people who knew how to make them. What made you realize that the internet would be the future of how your business would be conducted? Did you program the page yourself?
Dick: Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I would visit four or five pool rooms per week where I would buy and sell cues, pick up cues for repairs, and return them the next week. It got to be a hassle and I actually left the pool industry for a few years. By that time I had a collection of cues. A friend had some Paradise cues and asked me what I thought they were worth. I got curious about it so I looked on the Rec.Sport.Billiards newsgroup and started communicating with Allen Hopkins and some others in the industry. I realized the internet was starting to become the way people were looking for information and doing business. I went to 1997 Super Billiards Expo and sold $5000 worth of cues and used the money to buy a computer and a 1.8 megapixel camera (in 1997 this was a very high end camera). Initially I had a guy in California build the website and I sold a few cues but he wasn’t very good about keeping the page updated. Finally I broke down and bought Microsoft Frontpage and taught myself how to program it.
SPM: So initially photographing cues started out was a means to an end for selling cues online?
Dick: Yes, I realized that in order to sell cues online really good pictures would need to be taken. I had studied photography in the army and at Virginia Commonwealth University in the 1970’s so I knew how to take pictures but I didn’t know about digital cameras. Nobody at the time did. I learned as I went along.
SPM: I see a lot of poorly taken pictures of cues online. What are some of the challenges in photographing a cue and how did you find solutions for them?
Dick: Cues are really hard to photograph because they are long and skinny. Glare is a big problem because of the finish on the cues. Older cues with a lacquer finish are usually easier to work with as the finish is old and not so shiny. When taking pictures lighting is extremely important. You can never have too much light. You can have the best camera out there, and I’ve gone through many cameras over the years and my current one is 25 megapixels, but the camera can’t make light. I did all kinds of experiments with tents and bulbs. Sometimes I would work all night long with Jim Stadum at Samsara cues. We’d send pictures back and forth to each other trying to figure out the best way to do it.
SPM: What is your opinion about using editing software like Photoshop to make the cues look better?
Dick: Photoshop is a necessity, I actually spend more time editing the pictures than I do taking them, and have gone through several versions of Photoshop, but you have to be really careful with that. Photoshop should only be used to enhance the pictures to make the cues look their best. I remove the original background, eliminate dust spots, correct the color so the cue that is in my hand matches the image on the computer screen, add shadowing to give the cue depth and select a background color that most enhances each particular stick. I do not correct flaws like dings or scratches in the cues. The high resolution camera actually reveals more than the human eye sees when the pic is viewed at full resolution.
SPM: Please tell us a little about the CuePics.com web page.
Dick: CuePics.com was a natural offshoot to BilliardCue.com. It is a photography business photographing cues for cue makers, collectors, my websites, insurance identification, the Blue Book of Pool Cues, web and print advertising, etc.
SPM: Do you see the changes the internet has brought to the industry over the years as generally being positive? Do you miss the way things used to be back?
Dick: The internet is a double-edged sword for me. Without out it there would never have been a BilliardCue.com or any of my subsequent sites. But at the same time anyone who can sell a few cues as a hobby can call themselves a dealer and anyone with some woodworking tools who makes a cue or two here and there can call themselves a cue maker. This is my business and now I’m competing against people who sell a few cues as a hobby for very little, if any profit. I couldn’t make a living that way. The cue making and collectibles industry has changed so much in such a short period of time. I came up with a list of cue makers from the 1960’s and had maybe 37 names. I used to be able to walk into a room and by sight know what cues everyone was shooting with. Now the last time I checked online there were over 500 cue makers. That’s ridiculous. People put cues in my hands and tell me what they are and I’ve never heard of the maker. It used to be that even players who couldn’t run three balls would spend money to buy a good quality cue. Now a lot of these players are buying cheap cues mass produced in China. I don’t sell cues to pool players; I sell cues to people who play pool that like nice things.
In addition to be being a pool cue photographer and salesman Dick has written articles for most major pool publications regarding collectible cues, is an editor for the Blue Book of Pool Cues, served on the board of directors of the Academy of American Cue Art, is an associate member of the American Cuemakers Association, is a co-originator and major contributor to CueZilla.com, is a member of the Mensa Society, was the crew chief of a top fuel funny car from 1967 to 1969, and served in the US Army.
Sponsored by POV Pool and Jacoby Custom Cues
Photo Credit: Provided by the author
Katie Fiorilla started playing pool in September 2000 when her sister begged her to take her spot on her APA 8-Ball team while on maternity leave. Never having played pool before, Katie was arguably the worst skill level 2 player in the history of the league and primarily functioned as a body on the team to keep them from disbanding. Being forced to compete every week when just hitting the cue ball into the object ball was challenging was enormous motivation to learn, practice, and get better. Katie was extremely shy and never went out much and pool became her primary social activity and helped build her confidence when interacting with other people. When she first started practicing people would stop by to offer advice and lessons, but eventually people were stopping by to ask her for advice and lessons.
After thousands of hours of practice Katie eventually became a skill level 7 in APA and was given the nickname ‘The Tiny Titan’. Katie also plays in the VNEA pool league, competes as a B- on the New England 9 Ball Series tour, placed 5th in the 2014 APA Jack and Jill tournament in Las Vegas, was a member of the NH Masters team at the 2015 APA National Championships in Las Vegas, and was runner-up at the 2015 Super Billiards Expo Women’s Amateur Open. Katie is sponsored by Grand China Billiards in Salem, NH and the NH VNEA pool league. Katie has an M.S. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology from UMass Amherst and currently works in the Oncology Department at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research where she plays with robots and does research on cancer cells. [Photo credit for Katie’s bio pic goes to Steve Booth Photography]
Photo: Alison Chang [provided by pictured]
Editor: Shaylyn Troop