Kickstarting 2018 | Event Photography for Hyatt Corporate

Kickstarting 2018 | Event Photography for Hyatt Corporate

Wrapping up 2017 entailed some time off with friends, family and plenty of well-earned downtime.  I had a chance to catch up on some reading (I recommend Quiet by Susan Cain) and throw myself into a Netflix binge of which I refuse to divulge the shows I was watching due to potential embarrassment.  Before you think less of me, it was not Fuller House.  

A week into an incredibly frigid January, where I had not left the house for several days due to the 10 below temps and accompanying windchills that pushed me and my puppy into hermit status, I was happy to dress myself in the appropriate ensemble of black shirt, black jacket, black pants, black shoes and make my way to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago for two challenging and fun days of event photography for their corporate sales and event managers’ meeting.  

As a Chicago event photographer, I have covered many meetings at the Hyatt and also photographed a few environmental portraits for various hospitality magazines in their beautiful, skylit lobby so it’s one of my favorite hotels in the city to shoot in.  So, I was excited to be called in by their event manager to cover their annual meeting where the focus would be on not only the speakers, attendees and candid images but also highlighting the room set-ups, food, beverages and in general wonderful spreads that the Hyatt Regency Chicago consistently delivers.  And they surely did not disappoint.

 

 

Above: The theme of the meeting focused on the Chicago seasons, history and fun things the city has to offer.  In the morning meeting, the color scheme reflected our wintry season complete with couches and blankets.  The evening reception hosted in the lobby restaurant was based on a Zoo theme (think Lincoln Park Zoo-one of the oldest zoos in North America and also free admission).  The tables were dressed with various animals made of stretched bamboo and gigantic trees walked their way through the reception.  Click on any image for a larger preview.

 

 

Above: The breakfast selection that was offered made me want to be an attendee at this meeting as breakfast is simply the best meal of the day.  The chefs had pulled together everything from fresh smoothies, to lox and bagels, breakfast sandwiches, beautiful fruit and nut selections as well as a variety of incredible looking pastries and homemade granola.  The morning meeting included a presentation from former NFL quarterback Tom Flick who kept the audience engaged with his thoughtful and often pretty funny presentation.  Lunch was all Chicago.  The cities’ neighborhoods and their foods were represented including Greektown, Chinatown, Pilsen and Devon Avenue.  Then it was off to the afternoon sessions where smaller groups got together to dive deeper into discussions.  Click on any image for a larger preview.

 

 

Above: The last night wrapped up with an evening reception that was a throwback to the Chicago that most everyone is familiar with through movies and historical figures.  Think Blues Brothers, prohibition and flapper girls who loved their boas and their jazz.  The set-up was beautifully lit, the food looked fantastic and the entertainment was certainly amusing with a Blues Brothers tribute band who played like they were on a mission from God and vaudevillian dancers from the musical Chicago.  And of course, there is always dancing when a cover from Wild Cherry comes on.  Click on any image for a larger preview.

A great introduction to 2018!  A new client.  Fantastic people to work with.  A beautiful event. And awesome images as a result (said humbly).  Here’s to the new year!

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.