Get Out There and Play!

Get Out There and Play!

Growing up on a farm in the far northwest burbs of Chicago, I was super lucky to have a handful of brothers and sisters to torment me not to mention plenty of room to play and I also lived close to some of the coolest parks ever.  Not everyone is so fortunate though as places to play are disappearing especially for the 16 million kids living in impoverished communities.

KaBOOM! a national non-profit is doing something about it by working to make sure all kids have access to “the balanced and active play needed to thrive.”  Think about it.  Consider the school districts that suffer budget cuts and the first thing to go is gym and recess.  Yet study after study shows that play deficits create behavioral issues including increased problems with social integration, conflict resolution, obesity and oftentimes violence.  For example, in neighborhoods where there is a “play desert”, the incidence of childhood obesity increases 29%.  And it’s a vicious cycle.  Cut one program and then you see the need to compensate by treating the affects as opposed to working to prevent the issues in the first place.

For their Leaders Summit, KaBOOM! made its’ way to Chicago where they pulled together 12 Team Cities from across the country who are doing the most ground-breaking work in play advocacy within their respective communities.  Over two days, the participants worked together with experts and facilitators to develop, critique and refine each teams’ ideas for making their cities and towns more playable and I was happy to be there, camera in hand.

KaBOOM! could have easily hosted their summit in the heart of Chicago at one of the many posh hotels but chose to go over to the Pilsen neighborhood and worked with the people at Blue|1647 who gave them free reign to create a playground of their own which included balloons, castles, bike paths, excessively large playing cards and a ton of color.  Needless to say, this was a departure from the feel of the majority of corporate events I have photographed.  If only there was room for a tornado slide!

Following the introductions, a panel of experts discussed how just as cities have made walkability and bikeability a priority, playability should also be examined as many cities are competing for residents.  This was followed by a presentation by each city who shared their ideas and addressed their city’s biggest challenges.  And the presentations were not limited to Power-Points.  Instead, there were game show scenarios and a few beach balls involved.

I thought this was pretty brilliant.  After their presentations, each team city gathered together with an expert from the panel and a moderator from the KaBOOM! staff who made notes from their discussion on a whiteboard, detailing the advice and critique each expert had to offer in an effort to realize their cities’ ambitions for playability.

Even more brilliant, as all of these ideas were being bounced around there was an illustrator onsite who was also making notes but via hand drawings.  He was using white boards, 9 foot tall cardboard walls and plenty of imagination to put a spotlight on the concepts and objectives shared by each group.

There was so much to cover during these two days that I do believe I beat my own record for the number of images captured.  It was something close to 3500 but of course, with an edit of the blinks and not so flattering expressions, I narrowed it down to close to 1700, super awesome images that capture the story of the Summit (if I do say so myself).

Chicago Event Photographer

A very BIG! thanks to the KaBOOM! staff for putting on such an original, innovative and informative event and inviting me to cover it!


Funk It Up: Playing with Lighting for Environmental Portraits

Funk It Up: Playing with Lighting for Environmental Portraits

I love it when I have the chance to do a shoot where we have creative control.  We were able to make this happen on  a recent portrait photography assignment when we headed over to the Gatorade Corporate Offices in Chicago for a photo session with the former NFL wide-receiver, Martin Nance. The University of Michigans’ Ross School of Business was looking for final images that were a little more gritty and high-contrast. In order to achieve this, we departed from the cross lighting that I often use in my corporate lifestyle and portrait photography and played with side and key lighting, emphasizing harder shadows in-camera and high-grain achieved through post-production.

We started with full body shots of Martin and modified the lighting as we pulled in closer for 3/4 and tighter head shots. Using 2 soft boxes with grids (to prevent spill) on each side, we created a frame of light around the edges of his face with a strong shadow featured in the center. To illuminate the paneled wall behind him, we had two reflectors with 20-degree grids and barn doors powered down by about 3 stops on camera left and 1.5 stops on the camera right. Finally, on a floor stand to camera right and behind our subject was a reflector with a 30-degree grid and barn doors, powered down by one-stop, illuminating both the floor and the right side of Martins’ jeans.

I’m a big fan of lighting diagrams and you can make your own here.


Chicago Commercial Photographer


The modification we made here was to move the backlight that was being used as a skim to the front of the set and to the right of the camera in order to illuminate the Gatorade cooler while also lowering the backlights on their stands.  This is the shot that was approved as the Hero image for The University of Michigan.

And coming in closer, these were my personal favorites.  We toned down the back lighting by both powering down the strobes to the lowest settings and moving to a higher speed on the camera.   And yes, that’s a SuperBowl ring, Steeler’s 2009!



Mistakes can also prove to be valuable.  As I was playing with the dials on my camera, I accidentally set the speed to 1/300th of a second which is the point where the mirror on the camera no longer syncs with the strobes but in this case it created a cool vignette.  I caught Martin while he wasn’t posing and it proved to be my favorite image from the entire photo shoot.

In post-processing, I pulled my favorite RAW selects from the session and enhanced the vibrance and clarity along with contrast in Photoshop.  Following this, I used the Topaz Labs Adjust 5.0 plug-in which has a variety of pre-set filters ranging from classic, stylized and HDR modifications which allowed me to make local and global adjustments to the images.  For this, I went with a lighter detailing filter which enhances the shadows and highlights, creating more contrast while giving a bit of a boost to the details…i.e. grain.

It’s always a pleasure to have the assignments that come through with so much creative control and a subject who is incredibly generous with their time.  Thanks to The University of Michigan and of course, Martin Nance.  Stay hydrated!