Environmental Portraits for Velocity Magazine

Environmental Portraits for Velocity Magazine

Today I received the most recent issue of Velocity magazine, the semi-annual publication from the Maryland Institute College of Arts that highlights the latest ideas on campus and about the students, faculty, staff and alumnus. The feature story of this edition focuses on five Chicago-based alumni who have have excelled in their perspective industries and I was proud to be invited to collaborate with MICA in producing the accompanying environmental portraits for their stories.

For our first set of portraits, we headed over to meet Rebecca George, the founder of the Art House Gallery. She’s a painter with exhibition space and a studio practice whose works are in collections around the world. Alex Fuller is the Senior VP of Design at Leo Burnett and is also the co-founder of the Post Family, a creative firm whose members are designers, artists, technologists, teachers, and entrepreneurs. Kelly Leigh Miller is an illustrator whose debut children’s book, I am a Wolf, is being published by Penguin. 

Below are Rebecca George ’93 (General Fine Arts BFA), Alex Fuller ’03 (Graphic Design BFA), Kelly Leigh Miller (11 ’14 Illustration B.F.A., Business of Art & Design M.P.S.)

I’m often asked what kind of projects I like to work on most and editorial assignments, specifically portraits, always rank up pretty high. Typically, with these kind of projects, I’m given a photo brief with specific needs such as dimensions, number of images needed and the licensing required. When it comes to style, composition and demeanor, this can be flexible and I prefer to meet my subjects where they’re at and let them determine what they want to show and express.

The purpose of environmental portraits is to use the places where the subjects work, play and live to tell a part of their story. Photographing portraits of artists in their element leaves plenty of room for playing with light, color, expression and in the case of Aram below…props, lots of props. With the images for Velocity, we did some staging to frame the subject within their work, and used additional lighting to intensify the colors and contrasts within the spaces.

Above  are Sergio Salgado ’07 (Digital Arts MA), Madeline Murphy Rabb ’66 (General Fine Arts BFA) and Aram Han Sifuentes ’11 ( Fine Arts Post-Bacc)

Sergio Salgado is the founder of Furnace FPS as well as the lead director and cinematographer. His firm specializes in visual storytelling through commercial films and branded content. Madeleine Murphy Rabb is renowned for her expertise in identifying and showcasing artwork created by established, mid-career, and emerging African-American artists including photojournalist Gordon Parks. Aram Han Sifuentes is a fiber, social practice, and performance artist who works to claim spaces for marginalized communities. 

This was a fantastic project to be invited to work on. One that offered so much creative freedom to produce environmental portraits that helped to tell the story behind several accomplished artists. Looking forward to the next round!

What’s In My Bag | Essential Photo Equipment for Event Photography

What’s In My Bag | Essential Photo Equipment for Event Photography

It’s taken some time to decide on and settle in to the essential photo equipment I carry for event photography assignments.  The fun part is, with the consistent evolution of technology, I’ve got to stay on my game and always up to date so the challenge to keep ahead of the curve can be constant.  I have bought and returned backpacks, belts, flash modifiers, tripods, ball heads, bags…you name it, I feel like I’ve tried it.  So, when I do come across the equipment that does exactly what I need it to do without sacrificing comfort or compromising the quality of images I produce for events, I’m totally in.  Here’s a few of the essential event photography tools I would never leave home without.
  1. Canon 5D Mark IV w/ battery grip
  2. Canon 5D Mark III w/battery grip
  3. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM: a great standard zoom, all around lens
  4. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM: I love using this lens when I’m in tight quarters and need to capture all of the action or I’m looking for wide shots of the room with a full audience
  5. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: I get asked to capture portraits on the go, no lighting, just available and this lens, with it’s 1.2 f stop allows me to capture beautiful headshots even when the lighting is not so beautiful
  6. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM: if I was on a deserted island and could only bring one lens with me, this is the one
  7. Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II USM: it’s very rare that I use this telephone on events however it has bailed me out on a few occasions when I could not get as close as I wanted for those tight speaker shots.  So, if there’s a nice light wash over the stage and I need to get tighter on the presenter, this lens does the job
  8. Lens Shades
  9. Canon 600 EX-RT Speedlite Flashes with omni bounce flash modifiers
  10. Rogue Flash Gels Lighting Kit for white balancing 
  11. Remote flash triggers cause you never know
  12. Eneloop Pro Batteries: serious powerhouses.  I used to use external battery packs to speed up the flash recycle times but these batteries have lightened the load as I can ditch the Quantums
  13. SD Card Reader: When I need to review images.  Yes, the Canon 5D Mark IV has wireless capabilities but this works so much faster for me
  14. Extra Canon batteries 
  15. Swivel Flash Mount cause you never know
  16. Lexar CF cards ranging in size from 64gb to 8gb.  I also shoot to 2 cards simultaneously so underneath the CF cards are SD cards.  Backup, backup, backup!!!!
  17. Spider Pro Dual Camera System with Spider Pro Handstrap: moving from shoulder straps to a waist belt has not only saved my back but made it easier and faster to access my cameras, ensuring I never miss a shot
  18. GLocalMe Mi-Fi: I don’t have to use it very much but it has come in handy when I can’t access the internet or need my own, secure connection.  Awesome for travel assignments
  19. Gaffers Tape: because if I was on a deserted island and could have one tool……
  20. Mints: because everyone should always have mints
  21. Think Tank Airport Security:  for local assignments when I can bring everything I need with me to the event
  22. Think Tank Airport International: for travel assignments this case is just a little smaller than the international which may OR may not be allowed onboard with you.  I’ve heard various stories so why take the chance?
  23. Induro CLT 203 with BHL2S Ballhead: Love this pairing especially for events when you may or may not need a tripod and if you do, you’ve got to move super-fast (not pictured here)



If I could pack more, I probably would.  Because if you have it, you use it.  I would not describe myself as a gear head however I do get a little giddy when shopping online or even more so when I’m in a well stocked camera store.  But truth be known, no matter how much gear you carry, it certainly can’t make a pretty photo by itself so my motto is shoot, shoot and shoot some more since practice makes, if not perfect then certainly pretty fantastic.

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!

The Best-Ever CNA Textbook Photo Shoot

The Best-Ever CNA Textbook Photo Shoot

I know nothing about nursing.  Wait, not true.  My exposure to the medical field is limited to what I’ve learned from Grey’s Anatomy and my experience having surgery to remove some pieces and parts that weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing.  So, really, its a mixed bag of melodrama and what is probably most accurate: practical care.  I had a few overnights at the hospital and surprisingly, it was a very relaxing stay which may have been in part due to the morphine drip I was enjoying but for sure, it was the wonderful nursing staff that made sure I was comfortable, fully hydrated and they threw in the bonus of keeping me entertained when dropping in for a blood draw.  How fun!

 What I had imagined would be a few nights of impatiently waiting to get the hell out of there turned out to be a relatively decent mini-vacay from the world.  It’s really the nursing staff including CNA’s that can make or break patient care.  So, that much I knew when I was asked to jump on board as the photographer shooting a textbook written for high school and community college students about being a CNA.  

Chicago-based publisher Goodheart-Wilcox had been searching for stock-based images for the book and simply could not find the shots that accurately illustrated the techniques they needed to demonstrate and in some cases the available imagery was simply too generic for their purposes so they chose to take on quite the project and go with brand new photography. Not an easy task considering that we needed to shoot at a location that was or at least looked like a long-term care facility, required access to all of the equipment that CNA’s would use on a daily basis, would need to recruit and schedule the talent and of course, you’ve got to feed people.  Although this was their first time shooting custom photograph locally, GW pulled together the project like absolute pros as no detail was left to chance.  This kind of planning allows us to focus on doing what we do best and in turn the shoot turned out to be incredibly productive and an absolute pleasure to work on.



We covered everything possible.  How to make the bed.  How to turn a patient.  How to brush a patient’s teeth, wash their face, help them dress, the list goes on and on.  Of course, after a few days hanging out with people, you get pretty comfortable, ease up on the formalities and then the funnies start coming.  I love me a good out-take and my library is filled with many a classic moment.  For me, there’s nothing quite like knocking out hundreds of styled shots while giggling along the way.  



Many thanks to the team at Goodheart-Wilcox including Bob and Serg who brought me in on the project, Diane who managed the whole show and made it run smooth like butter, Mallory and Sue who know their miter corners like nobody’s business and my assistant Josh who handles all the other photo-related stuff which allows me to focus on taking pretty pictures.  

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.


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 | Integrity Payment Systems

Corporate Lifestyle Photography | Integrity Payment Systems

There is a lot of planning that goes in to a corporate lifestyle photography shoot.  When I received an inquiry from Integrity Payment Systems regarding a two-day location assignment just west of Chicago, the brainstorming began.

Claire, the Marketing Director was working closely with the design team to rollout a new website to replace the one that had been running as it heavily relied on stock photography and was becoming obsolete.  The plan was to design a more interactive and people-centric site that emphasized the role of the team behind the company, from the CEO to the customer service representatives.

By incorporating custom, corporate lifestyle photography, IPS would have the chance to show their clients not only who they are working with but how they work and the end result of their unique approach, thereby helping the company to stand out in an incredibly competitive market.

We would be concentrating on doing environmental portraits of the companies’ Principals in a variety of locations around the office as well as a few scenarios in the board room, customer service and fulfillment departments in order to paint a broad picture of the inner working of IPS.

A few things I have learned in doing assignments like this that requires us to move our lighting from one location to another is to always be prepared with external battery packs, remote controls for the lighting and always use at least two Assistants.  First, when we are working with a tight schedule, the last thing we need to be doing is hunting for power outlets or messing with extension cords.  A great remedy for this is the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Extreme which recycles the Einstein lights just as quickly as being connected to a wall outlet and they can last us through the day.  We always have 2 Extremes with us along with a Vagabond Mini to make sure the laptop has enough juice as shooting tethered to Lightroom drains the laptop battery incredibly quickly.


Another gear game changer for me has been the Cybersync Commander.  Rather than directing my Assistants to adjust the lighting, I can do this all from the camera, controlling up to 16 lights and all of their functions with this powerful, little tool.  This has saved so much time especially when our lighting is positioned higher on the stands.  Rather than having to lower the stand and put it back into position, I can control that channel while behind the camera.

You might think this leaves the Assistants with so much less to do but there are so many moving parts on our corporate lifestyle shoot that the more hands you have, the better.  Typically, I have an Assistant driving the laptop, checking focus and framing while the Second Assistant monitors the lighting to make sure all is working as it should.  Just another bit of insurance.

Over the two days on location, we managed to complete shooting scenarios in more than 12 locations and pulled off close to 20 individual, environmental portraits.  Not bad for two days of work and most importantly, our client was really pleased.