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. 

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.

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.

Corporate Event Photography for Combined Insurance in Chicago

Corporate Event Photography for Combined Insurance in Chicago

This past week, I had the chance to work with Combined Insurance doing their event photography as they celebrated the second year in a row voted as the United States’ most friendly employer of military personnel.  They had selected to stage the event at one of the most visited attractions in the city, The Chicago Cultural Center in the Grand Army of the Republic Hall.  With representatives from Combined Insurance, state and local government as well as military personnel, the hall made for a wonderful background of marble and arched windows to host the ceremony in.

Combined Insurance is the only Illinois-based company to be ranked number one on the Top 100 list, and 2016 marks the second consecutive year that the company finished in first place on the list of Military Friendly Employers. Competition for inclusion on the Top 100 list is strong, as more than 5,000 eligible companies with military recruitment programs are considered every year.

 

 

 

Handling “No” Like a Pro

Handling “No” Like a Pro

Sounds exciting, right?  Working for yourself.  Setting your own hours, rates, vacation schedule and of course all of the fantastic assignments that come along as a freelance commercial Photographer.  True, it has been an incredible ride and I can’t imagine doing anything other than this.  However, as many opportunities as this career brings, it also has it’s share of stressful and unpredictable moments.  With so many Photographers trying to make their way into the business, competing for the handful of challenging assignments requires a lot of risk, resourcefulness and of course, there is the rejection.

Over the years, I have put together hundreds of estimates and responded to as many RFP’s that require a dissertation on my skill level, shoe size, favorite color and lists of references that would make the FBI blush.  And maybe, if I am in a groove of sheer luck, I land 50% of what I bid on, but in reality, I would bet it’s more like one out of five.  The loud, resounding “No” that I hear in the virtual world which typically reads “thanks for your time but we have decided to go in another direction” or even worse, complete silence, can be overwhelming but with time and plenty of chances to practice, all of us freelancers that just keep going have learned to constructively deal with rejection by focusing on a few key ideas.

1. Be Gracious and Accomodating

Nobody likes to be the person who has to come back to us with “thanks, but no thanks.”  This certainly can’t be too pleasant of an experience especially when it’s already difficult to choose between a pool of talent that could all most likely exceed expectations.  So, be gracious and accommodating.  Respond in kindness and always let them know that if they need anything in the future, to keep you in mind.  I have had bids rejected only to get a call later that the Photographer they initially hired had dropped out and I was their next choice.  A little karmic kindness goes a long way.

2. Don’t Take it Personally 

Rejection is probably one of the most common things we have to deal with in the Photography industry but the fact that we have been turned down certainly does not mean that our work is lacking.  Probably the easiest way to take it the hardest is when we try to overanalyze.  Most of the reasons as to why our proposals are rejected have nothing to do with us and everything to do with what our clients are looking for.  It could be a budget issue or maybe the style of another Photographer resonated more with the buyer.  It could be any number of reasons as to why we were passed over and typically we never found out exactly why.  Just keep in mind, if you’re not being rejected you’re simply not putting yourself out there enough.

3. Cultivate Your Relationships with Clients

Over the past 15 years I have developed a very solid base of repeat clients who make up the majority of my business, close to 70%.  They are extremely happy with the images produced and comfortable with the rates I offer and I am certainly not the cheapest commercial Photographer in Chicago.  For the new clients, I receive maybe 30-50% of what I bid on and I’m good with that because if I were to be awarded every assignment I ever sent in a proposal for, I’m either too cheap or too charming and most likely it’s not the latter.  So, I make sure to maintain long-term relationships with my repeat clients and always over-deliver on each project, keep them in the loop about the recent assignments I have worked on and drop them a note once in awhile just to say hello.

4. Know that Everyone Gets Rejected and Keep Going

Anytime you put yourself and you’re work out there, you’ll be faced with the risk of rejection.  I can’t think of one person that I admire who hasn’t been in the same boat.  After performing at The Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told he would be better off going back to his career in Memphis where he was a truck driver.  Albert Einstein was expelled from school.  Socrates was considered an “immoral corrupter of youth” which brought with it his death sentence.  And let’s not forget the first Queen, pre-Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey.  Even she got the boot.  Unable to keep it together as a news reporter when presenting human interest stories, she was eventually fired.

Take a moment, take many moments if needed, breath, and move on because that rejection just brings us closer to where we need to be.

One of my favorite editorial Photographers, Joe McNally who works with top brands such as Nikon and Epson, shared his insightful and encouraging advice:

This is a long and winding road, filled with far more valleys than peaks. One of the greatest talents one can have in this business has nothing to do with visual acumen at the lens. It is about the ability to sustain, to weather the storms, to shoot poorly and still survive a job, to fight out of inevitable creative slumps, to live with all manner of risk that lots of folks would find uncomfortable, to make uncertainty your friend, and to thrive despite sudden curves and happenstance. I guess what I’m describing is tenacity. To love doing this so much that you’ll go through 1000 “no’s” just to hear the one ‘yes.’”