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Fire Photographer Runs Bergenfield Camera Shop

Bill Tompkins of Peters Camera in Bergenfield. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
A six-alarm fire. Photo Credit: Bill Tompkins
Tompkins readies his camera for the shot. Photo Credit: Chris Tompkins

BERGENFIELD, N.J. — Bill Tompkins is among the first to admit it: business is slow at Peters Camera in Bergenfield.

There was a time when there were several camera shops in every downtown district, but now only three remain in Bergen County.

Peters Camera, Bergen County Camera in Westwood and Wholesale Photo in Midland Park.

"Being one of three is something I hold on to," said Tompkins of Maywood, who mans the Bergenfield shop.

"But it's nothing like it used to be."

Tompkins blames the digital era.

Cameras on smartphones, for example, are becoming increasingly more high quality.

So, what keeps Peters Camera in business?

"Little niche things," Tompkins said. "People come quite a distance to check out our used equipment. We do framing and repair service.

"A little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything."

Tompkins himself uses a 6-megapixel Nikon almost regularly. He's a fire photographer, along with his son Chris, and has long been freelancing for The Record and other publications.

His grandfather was a fire captain in Paterson and his father was a photographer.

They seemed to go hand-in-hand for him.

"I zone in and forget everything else," Tompkins said. "It's almost like therapy."

He'll go almost anywhere for a good fire photo, and he likes the challenge of getting the shot.

"Every fire is different," Tompkins said. "The lighting, the time of day.

"You can't just put it on automatic and go click."

He gives his photos back to firefighters and police for critique and training, too.

"I have a hobby that I don't lose money on," Tompkins said. "I'm already way ahead of the game."

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