Competition Season with C-CAP

Competition Season with C-CAP

Every spring since 2009 I’ve been working with the Chicago team at C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program) to cover the their competition season events.  After so many years, it still proves to be one of the highlights of the spring for me in that I get to see all of the familiar faces and am continually impressed with their students’ commitment to developing their skills in the kitchen.

C-CAP has been around since 1990 and is the idea of cookbook author Richard Grausman, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris,  who was teaching Home Economics classes in New York with a focus on home cooked meals.  The school system he worked in was in the inner-city with many of the students being underserved and consequently their college prospects and job skills were at a minimum.  To address this, Grausman founded C-CAP with the intention of providing the culinary and career skills needed for a future in the hospitality industry.

Over 25 years later, C-CAP operates culinary skills programs in several public school systems throughout the country including Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.  The program goes beyond offering skills in the kitchen.  A few of the benefits they offer in addition to job training are paid internships, college advising, donations to classrooms, career guidance and a whole ton of scholarships to some of the best culinary programs throughout the country.

 

A few highlights from this years’ benefit included the silent auction, a sampling of deliciousness prepared by the C-CAP students and admittedly my favorite part, the dancing.  

 

 

I do think I am a bad-ass in the kitchen and can whip up some delicious vittles but these students humble me.  For the competition, they have a timeline of 2 hours to pull together a main course and a dessert of crepes with homemade chocolate sauce and strawberry garnish. All while being observed by several top chefs in Chicago who serve as the judges for the competition and having me with my cameras consistently invading their space.  And still, they pull it off.   

 

 

When I first stared covering the C-CAP events years ago, the awards breakfast, specifically when the scholarships were presented, always made me incredibly sappy and needless to say, it is a challenge to shoot through the tears.  I have learned to keep it together over the past few years but still am always so impressed with the encouragement and opportunities that C-CAP brings to their students.  

 

 

Each year, C-CAP serves over 17,000 public school students across the nation and has raised over $50,000,000 (yes, that’s million) in scholarships since it’s founding.  They also place the majority of their students into internships that are paid.  To that I say…Bravo!  Their alumni have gone on to become Sommeliers, Executive Chefs at some of the countries’ finest hotels and resorts and have been featured on the Food Networks’ Chopped and Top Chef.  

From the Founder to the President, Chicago’s Coordinator Nicola who may have the best laugh ever, to the teachers who work tirelessly for their students and of course the students themselves who completely commit to the program and a promising future.  C-CAP is a fine tuned machine with a whole lot of heart. 

Spring Marketing Campaign | Portraits for COD

Spring Marketing Campaign | Portraits for COD

It has been way too long since I’ve had a chance to swing by the blog to do some updates.  Lucky me, I was asked by a client to do some traveling to various cities south and east of Chicago to shoot corporate lifestyle in the last months of 2016 so that kept me super busy though December (fill you in on those travels on a blurb to come). By the time I came up for a little air, I needed some time to binge on Netflix and check off some novels on my Good Reads list.  But now it’s time to get to it.

The last thing I shot prior to this travel assignment was for the College of DuPage, which is the largest community college in the state.  I’ve been working regularly with their marketing and communications team for the last 2 years or so and am always happy to get their call.  The assignments normally revolve around a series of environmental portraits of students who have made the most of their time at COD and then we catch them doing what they do.  We’ve worked in the computer labs, architecture classrooms, welding facilities, professional kitchens, hospitals and local fire departments.  Incorporating the students’ work space into the shots helps to tell their success stories more than a standard headshot and a few lines of text. 

It’s always a pleasure to meet with the students and talk to them about their plans, especially those who are returning to school in hopes of making a career change as I can relate.  After years of working at a staffing agency, I decided it was time to try to do my own thing and I thought photography would be a challenge and continually keep my interest.  I was enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago for a few studio lighting classes, learned as much as I could and started assisting around town.  Getting myself back into school was the first step in making the big change and kudos to anyone who takes those same chances.

Chicago-Portrait-Photographer

Here we are working in the nursing lab at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.  Every day, every location, every subject looks a little different than the one that came before it which definitely keeps us on our toes. This project took us from the COD campus in Glen Ellyn to Elmhurst Hospital, over to Old Orchard Mall where we were treated to a fantastic lunch at Roka Akor and back to the campus library.   Looking forward to more of these kind of assignments in 2017 for sure.

Corporate Lifestyle Photography for Convergint Technologies

Corporate Lifestyle Photography for Convergint Technologies

We had several shoots over the past week and my favorite was a corporate lifestyle assignment for SSI Magazine featuring Convergint Technologies, a Chicago-based security firm that designs, installs and services life safety systems for commercial properties.  The plan was to do a cover photo for the magazines’ upcoming issue of the three top executives as well as several interior shots that featured day-in-the life portraits and lifestyle images featuring the employees doing what they do best.

I love assignments like this because every scenario is very different, our timeline for this assignment required us to move quickly and every scenario we were working in, from the outdoor shot to the warehouse, required us to play around with the lighting quite a bit which for me with the time constraint is a fun challenge.

There was an opportunity to use just about every light in our arsenal along with each modifier and a variety of lenses, including the 70-200mm which I love for the compression effect and the 85mm prime which when shooting wide open produces a beautifully soft background.

Even better, the executives and staff at Convergint were a pleasure to work with.  Gotta love people with a great sense of humor who decorate their office with silkscreens of the characters from Caddy Shack and whose corporate mascot is Bill Murrays’ nemesis in the movie.  As an added bonus maybe as much for me as for them, they asked us to incorporate their life-size stuffed gopher in the shots which we did happily.

It’s a beautiful thing when everything goes smoothly and we have the chance to work with incredibly fun people who are also fantastic collaborators.  A big shout out to Marie and Tony who wrangled staff members, brought us lunch even though we were prepared to work right through and kept us smiling with plenty of humor and a few quotable moments.

And of course, hats off to this guy whose homework assignment is to watch Caddy Shack as he’s never seen it before. Something is missing from life when you haven’t had the chance to appreciate Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray in the same sitting.

On the Road for Manheim Auto Auctions

On the Road for Manheim Auto Auctions

Recently, I wrapped up a multi-day assignment for Manheim Auto, photographing several locations in the Chicago area as well as Milwaukee.  Working with our Art Director, the goal was to illustrate a day in the life on the auction floor as well as the fast-paced action that happens during each sale day.  Manheim has locations throughout the North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and is the largest wholesale auto auction in the world.  Each location differs from the next and the goal of this shoot was to emphasize their innumerable offerings and personable customer service that is available at each auction.

There is so much going on once on the auction floor, from the drivers making their way into the lanes, auctioneers talking a mile a minute,  buyers competing for the best deal, the middle men and women mediating each sale.  It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s totally entertaining and the personalities are as big as the sale itself.

Photographing these assignments for Manheim is a contrast to any event I have ever covered and the corporate marketing materials I have worked on but the end game is similar.  Capture the overall vibe including the non-stop action and collaboration.

Next round, Houston, Texas.  3 locations in 2 days with 95 degree heat in August.  Bring it!

Covering Events From Every Angle | NACS State of the Industry Summit

Covering Events From Every Angle | NACS State of the Industry Summit

I photograph a considerable amount of corporate events annually and in each case there are a variety of critical moments that need to be covered, from break-out sessions to networking, awards presentations to keynote speakers.  In some cases, the event is arranged so that there are several speakers in a row and from an event photographers’ viewpoint, the key to making the images memorable and compelling as opposed to repetitive and uninteresting, is to cover the speakers from every angle and perspective.

Larger events have more allowance where I can cover the room from one side to the next and front to back while being unobtrusive whereas with smaller events it’s imperative to get the photographic coverage keeping in mind never to draw attention to yourself.  The idea is to simply blend in and be stealth.

Covering speaker sessions, I mostly rely on a longer telephoto, 70-200mm for tighter audience and speaker photos and move to the 24-70 for full-room shots.  In order not miss a beat, I carry two camera bodies with lenses attached using the Spider Pro camera holster which may be the best purchase I’ve made this year to date.  The cameras with attached lenses and battery grips can begin to feel excessively heavy during a 10 hour day but with the holster balancing the weight on both hips, I can last so much longer and without the strain of carrying gear via shoulder straps.  Changing between bodies is super fast and much preferred to swapping lenses using one camera body, not to mention so much safer as I can attest to dropping at least one lens on the ground at a conference when trying to do a lens swap.  Sure, it’s a little lighter but after ponying up the $600 to repair that lens, the dual system is now my go to method.

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I also play around quite a bit with apertures while covering an event.  First, I’ll adjust the exposure settings for a normal depth of field at f/5.6 and move between this number and f/2.8 depending on my subject.  If I’m highlighting the full audience, I’m at 5.6, for an individual audience member, I’m at f/2.8.  That full-stop shift can create a frame around the individual audience member and when I can catch them at the right moment, it makes for an impactful image.

As for on-camera flash, I do carry this on my camera, typically on the shorter lens but rarely have I ever used this in a meeting as it’s distracting and doesn’t give me the reach I need when shooting further into a crowd.  With most corporate events, there is ample available light to simply bump up the ISO, engage the lens’ image stabilizer and play with the depth of field.

Once I get an overall feel for where the camera settings need to be and where I can take them, I start to move around the room so as to photograph the event from every angle.  I’ll move to the front, both middle, right and left sides.  I’ll go directly parallel with the speaker to photograph them from the side.  In some cases, I may be able to move behind the stage and shoot through the stage paneling for a silhouette.  And then it’s on to the middle of the room where if a seat is available, I’ll shoot through the audience members, using their heads and shoulders to frame the speaker….a look I’m very fond of as it captures the speaker from the audiences’ perspective.

And last but not least, the full room shots covered from the front of the stage and also photographed from the back of the audience.  Every detail that goes into these presentations needs to be covered including the powerpoint and graphs displayed on the stage screening.  Capturing the speaker with the stage displays puts the images into context that highlights the messages of the conference.

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The images that I supply from each corporate event are used to engage followers in social media during the event as well as to promote these conferences and conventions for the upcoming years.  With as much planning that takes part before I even enter the scene, it’s essential to appreciate the details and supply event coverage that reflects continuous audience engagement and speakers that are captivating.  Granted, this may not always be the case as there have been plenty of assignments I have taken on that are a little less exciting and very low-key.  So, I keep shooting, wait patiently, play with angles, change my settings and offer a variety of images that are both compelling and illustrate the essentials of each corporate event.

On Assignment: Commercial Photography for Cox Automotive

On Assignment: Commercial Photography for Cox Automotive

It’s a rare occasion when I head off to a commercial assignment without several cases of lighting gear and my Assistants in tow.  But when Cox Automotive asked me to head out to the Mannheim Auto Auction just south of Chicago to shoot their facilities, they were looking for a more editorial photography feel that comes with available light and I was all in.

 

Manheim is the highest volume operator of wholesale auto auctions in the world with 130 locations in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Cox Enterprises purchased Mannheim in 1968 and also owns a majority share of Auto Trader which is one of the world’s leading providers of online and print automotive consumer information.

 

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The plan was to focus on different areas within the facility that focus on preparing cars that have just been sold in the auction for consumer use.  From under the hood inspections to brake repairs and detailing, Cox Auto covers it all.

From a lighting standpoint, I got lucky.  The facility was in a huge warehouse with plenty of windows to pull in a good amount of daylight and though the lighting was primarily fluorescents, between the daylight balancing and the white walls, any interference from the typical muddy green cast of the fluorescents was cancelled out.

 

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To simulate the look that the creative team was going for in post-production, I applied some desaturation and bumped up the details using a few filters found in the Photoshop plug-in offered by Topaz Labs called Topaz Adjust which is worth checking out.  There are so many options from color casts to alternative film processing filters that you could easily spend an excess amount of time playing around with each image.

I’ll be looking forward to the next round with Cox Automotive when I’ll be heading to Indianapolis and Cincinnati to produce more editorial photography with a focus on the Auction floor.