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Closing 2015 on a High Note | Corporate Photography for Oak Street Health

Closing 2015 on a High Note | Corporate Photography for Oak Street Health

The last few weeks have been very busy tracking down those straggling invoices that are still out, prepping for the beginning of 2016 and wrapping up the final assignments for the year.  So, I was really happy to end the year on a high note when I headed over to the west side of Chicago to work with my client Oak Street Health.

Looking to create new photos to refresh their website and print collateral, we had scouted out the location the week prior and working with Amanda, were able to pull together a shot list of must-have photos including portraits and lifestyle images that we would be working on throughout the day along with a schedule that we would try to stick with.

Getting close to our shoot date, Oak Street was having a tough time pulling in all of the clients that we would need to participate in our shoot and were close to pushing for a reschedule but chose to just wing it at the last minute.  And it worked.  Normally, we would try to plan down to the minute but this fly by the seat of our pants situation we were in turned out to be incredibly productive and a ton of fun.

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The staff at this facility were an absolute pleasure to work with and the clients that they serve were so accommodating with their time and willingness to help out.  A big shout out to Whitney, my trusted Assistant and to Amanda and Caroline for making the day a great end to 2015!

Playing with Lighting for Environmental Portraits

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.

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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!


Working from Home: The Good, The Bad, The Ambivalent – Part 2

Working from Home: The Good, The Bad, The Ambivalent – Part 2

In the last post, I covered the joys of working from home alongside a few of the issues that actually get in the way of getting your work done.  Yes, the convenience and flexibility is a treat however it can be a slippery slope as it is even easier to relish an incredibly immaculate house whilst in one’s sweatpants all day developing an increasing waist line and a slowly degenerating control of one’s social habits.

But even the rockstars of time-management have had to train themselves to resist the temptations of online shopping (that means you Amazon Prime) and the endless pit of non-information that is called the Huffington Post.  Granted this may not work for everyone and I have been down many paths, trying out different strategies in hopes that I might get to my home-office and knock out a blog post, finish processing an assignment, tweak my SEO,  follow-up on phone-calls and update my social media all in one eight hour stretch.   But it doesn’t work that way.  At least not for me.

So, being that 20% of what I do is actually behind the camera and the remainder of my work is in my office, I had to figure out a system that helps me to accomplish something without being overwhelmed and I think I finally nailed it.

1. Quit Fibbing

Last time I mentioned that I have a super-fast commute.  Bed to the kitchen for coffee and make my way to the office.  Years ago, as soon as I woke up and tamed my caffeine fix, I was working.  Or so I told myself.

Think about it.  In the 8 or 9 hours that we are at work how much time are we actually doing something that is productive?  According to Forbes, 46% of us spend time at work looking for a new job.    Seriously?  Kinda bold but ok.  And how much time is wasted on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter?  CNBC says that we spend 230,060 years on social media in a month….10 bucks says that the majority of this is while on the job.

So, those of us working from home have those same distractions and no one but ourselves are policing us.  What is a girl to do?

Well, this girl has found that the best way to avoid the traps of the endless chasm known as the internet is to give in.  Yes, that is my strategy.  Alarm goes off, take my dog Charlie out, hook him up with some kibble, get my coffee and go immerse myself in the trappings of all things social media related and the latest news  until I can take no more.  This process usually lasts midway through my second cup of coffee when I am finding that what should be making me feel intellectually superior has made me into somewhat of a schlub.  My brain feels lazy as it maneuvers between the hot topics in Washington D.C. to the latest celeb baby-bump photos as one can only read so much of The New York Times.  And then, I am done.  Yep. Put the kabbosh on that as I am thoroughly over it and am now mildly depressed that I cannot get that 3 minutes and 7 seconds back that I spent on YouTube learning how to open a can of tuna sans can-opener.

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The key is I just don’t try to fool myself anymore.  I do my splurge and then once I get this out of my system it is go time.  I close all of the programs that are unrelated to the work I have previously laid out for myself the night before this includes FaceTime, e-mail, Skype, my internet browser and finally turn my phone to mute.  Works like a charm for at least two hours of solid, impress myself, productivity.

2. Put On Pants

This brings me to point number 2 from the last post regarding distractions in general.  So, once you get the compulsive surfing out of your system, how do you keep from succumbing to the treat that is Target on a Tuesday?  And what about the fact that your kitchen floor hasn’t seen a mop in two weeks, you haven’t returned your mothers’ phone calls and you’re down to the last roll of toilet paper?

Might I suggest putting on pants?  Yes, sweats are God’s gift to comfort however they are more conducive to binge watching the entire first season of Orange is the New Black accompanied by a Costco-sized box of Raisinets and Jimmy John’s on speed-dial.  Even better, before you put on said pants, get moving.  Yes, get-up and get out.  Your gym misses you.  The out of doors misses you.  There is nothing like 45 minutes on the Gazelle to make one ultra-focused and able to sit in one place for as long as it takes to finally get something that matters done.  Finally, when there is little energy left for anything that requires more than lifting a finger, get yourself into something that is less than embarrassing for public and you might find that the focus comes a little easier.

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3. Clock-Out

When there is no difference between being at home and being at work, it is beyond easy to allow the two mindsets  mold into one.  The only thing that has prevented this for me is making a schedule, actually more like a list of what needs to be done that following day…and stick to it.  It’s one thing to be constantly working, thinking I can get to things later since I am always in the office…nope, that is called procrastination.   Once it’s all done, step away slowly, take pause and decide to be done.  Seriously, unless you are searching for the Higgs-Boson particle, the work day does need to have an ending.

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4. English as a Second Language

This is the toughest one.  I can go for hours without talking to anyone and it gets super easy to make it in a 24-hour habit.  Having said close to nothing all day besides “sit, stay and good boy,”  English starts to feel like a second language.  But there is hope, not a cure but at least a buffer.  Maybe we don’t actually have to talk to anyone but if we are in the vicinity of a live-conversation, it can be contagious.

Pack  up your things and head-out to a coffee-shop, cafe, diner, your call.  Initially, the chatter can be slightly distracting but in some cases listening in on another conversation can  do wonders for your self-esteem especially when you are audience to a first-date over raspberry scones and an extra-hot caramel macchiato.   Really, just being in the company of others is an excellent deterrent for denigrating social skills.

And if eaves dropping doesn’t appeal to you as a remedy, you might consider any of the kazillion networking groups that are available, especially those geared towards the self-employed.  Check out your local Chamber of Commerce or visit Meet-Up which has a host of offerings for just about everyone.  Best yet, start your own show….yes, a weekly get-together with that one friend you have that is in the same boat and can relate to the beauty and the challenges of being your own boss, administrative assistant, janitor and IT Department.

Granted there is a never-ending list of ideas to combat the challenges that working from home brings with it but now it is time to follow my own advice as I have yet to entertain to my online “news” obsession, am still milking that second cup of coffee and am feeling a bout of restless leg-syndrome coming on as all of the above is easier said than done!

Working from Home: The Good, The Bad, The Ambivalent -Part 1

Working from Home: The Good, The Bad, The Ambivalent -Part 1

You know how it goes, you introduce yourself to someone new and of course the conversation always moves to what you do for a living.  Replying with “I’m  a commercial Photographer” always brings with it a list of questions as most people outside of the field have no idea what this means.  So, the talk moves to me explaining this in a little more detail along with the part where I mention that I am self-employed, freelance, work from home, no I do not have a studio and weddings are not a specialty of mine.  Now, the photographer part does seem to catch peoples’ attention but what keeps them even more interested is the part about working from home.  Do I love it?  Yes.  Is it easy?  Nope.

Of course, there are the obvious perks.  I have the shortest commute ever, the fridge is just a few steps away, there is no uptight dress-code and I am my own boss.  The flexibility and convenience are a definite perk.  But trust me, although it may seem ideal, think twice before you decide to splurge on the sleazy internet ads claiming you can make big bucks by stuffing envelopes from home.

So, in honor of all of those who curse the traffic of Chicago on a daily basis on their way to and from work, participate in the anticipation and ultimate hopelessness of getting a seat on public transportation, experience a fashion crisis nearly every morning just as they need to head out the door, and find lunch to be one of the more exciting aspects of the day, let’s break it down.

1. The Commute

My morning commute is about 30 feet and this includes a walk past my office to the coffee pot and back to my office.  Kind of awesome, isn’t it?  That’s the upside and I’m not gonna lie….it’s way up there.

But even as a glass half-full kinda gal, I have to say that not having a place to be beyond shuffling my feet down the hallway, makes it really difficult to create a routine.  It can be super easy to lounge in my sweats, poke around on the inter web and convince myself I am “working” simply because I am in my office.

Though I am proud to say  I can tell you everything you need to know about Chris Christie and his “bridge-gate scandal”, why Cate Blanchett is the classiest actress ever and what is meant by “twerking,” this useless information has yet to help me pay any of my bills.

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2. Oh Look a Squirrel!

I was under the impression that my dog Charlie had the shortest attention span ever but I confess that I am currently in the running.  Have you ever been to Target on a Tuesday?  It is surreal.  Parking is a no-brainer.  The lines?  What lines?  And having the intention of sticking to my shopping list certainly does not mean that I can’t waste another 10 minutes searching for the most perfectly scented candle.

And speaking of Charlie, the little man needs his play-time, his walks, his cuddles and I do envy his naps which thankfully are not contagious.

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3. Clocking Out

I am a stickler for timeliness.  This applies to getting started in the morning, arriving to assignments at least 15 minutes early and setting 3 alarms during the work week to make sure I stay on schedule.  I run my morning like the military.  But…..

I am not sure if this is the result of working for myself or working from home but it seems the work day never ends.  There really is no clocking out.  The sense of urgency I have in regards to all things work-related rarely gives me a breather and finding the balance is an every-day challenge.

4.  I Heart Temple Grandin

Did you see that movie with Claire Danes?  Phenomenal.  If you haven’t seen it, here is the skinny.  Temple Grandin was diagnosed as autistic before autistic was in our every-day vocabulary and was almost institutionalized save for her mom’s efforts.  Despite this she managed to become a bestselling author, an advocate and is currently at Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University.  But she had a hell of a time getting there.

Socially awkward, she found it nearly impossible to identify with others.  To curb her anxiety, she would spend time in her hug machine,  a miniaturized version of a device that would hold down cattle as they were being vaccinated. Apparently, it calmed her down.

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Well, being alone all day with a few conversations and deferring to talking to my dog whose feedback is rather limited, can make for an isolating experience day in and day out.  Sure, once I am on a roll, it is fantastic not to have to deal with the distractions of other people but one can get a little rusty with their social skills.  Being quiet can become easy, not talking even easier.  And so sometimes, I have to prep myself and do my metaphorical hug machine to come back to the reality of the rest of the world that is called “socializing.”

So, before you hand-in your walking papers in an attempt to make a fortune selling on eBay what you have found by sifting through someone else’s trash (i.e. garage sale) or decide that telecommuting is the way to go….consider all of the factors and know that maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Freelancing and working from home in particular has its’ trade-offs though I admit, I sure don’t miss writing my name on my lunch.

But if you’re still convinced that a home office is a little piece of heaven, hang in there, in my next post I’ll share a few tips on how to deal with the downside.


Getting it Done: The Key is Speed

Getting it Done: The Key is Speed

I do love a challenge.  One of the more frequent questions I am asked when showing my portfolio to a potential client, scheduling a corporate photography shoot and often while setting up my lighting is “how much time do you need?”  The key is speed as the majority of the people I photograph have little time to spare for their portrait.  It is also not uncommon to walk into an assignment having been told prior that we have a half-hour with the CEO and just as we are about to start, the sky has fallen and the apocalypse is around the corner.   That precious half-hour can turn quickly into a matter of minutes and still we have to get it done.  It is not unlike being in the driver’s seat and hearing “are we there yet, are we there yet?”

If I have an hour to set-up, I will use it.  If I have 5 minutes to set-up, I will work it.  It’s a matter of planning, anticipating and more than anything…intuition which comes from plenty of experience.

There is that added plus of keeping one’s cool as well.  Personally, I am not a big fan of having my photograph taken which probably explains why I am happiest when behind the camera.  But really, I empathize.  When people are being photographed they are in the spotlight and not everyone is a fan of being the center of attention.  It is super important to be chill, to be comforting, to be confident as my subjects’ will always reflect where I am at.  Just like a party, when you meet that socially awkward guy that is hiding behind his Manhattan and a plate of sautéed  shrimp with a chile cilantro rub (or if you are at a gathering with me…it’s more likely a Heineken and pigs in a blanket), he makes you a little nervous, right?

We all feed off of one another and dispositions, even if they are momentary, they are still contagious.   In order to capture the real moments and make our clients not only act natural but feel natural, I consistently remind myself that that our subjects are not the only people featured in these portraits….we are in them, too.

Twinkie the Kid Makes a Comeback

Twinkie the Kid Makes a Comeback

Every day is a little different here at Tori Soper Photography.  One day I could be in the office all day catching up on administrative work, social media profiles, invoicing, estimates…the list goes on.  And the next I could be out on assignment which could mean anything from editorial portraits to corporate head shots to standing 40 feet above a factory floor on a cherry picker catching the action below. And I love it all.

Yesterday was especially fun.  I had been contacted awhile back by LAK PR based in New York to reserve the morning of  July 15 for what was to be a very big deal and equally as confidential.  It was not until a few days prior to the event that I found out I would be photographing the comeback of Twinkie the Kid.  After an 8 month reprieve from production, the little snack cake is back marking the 83rd year of the existence of the iconic Twinkie.

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And yes, I did come back to the office with a fresh box of Twinkies that already have a few takers.  Once you open the box, it is magic!

Did you know the first Twinkies were filled with bananas until World War II when bananas began to be rationed?  Yes, it is true and you can check out more fun Twinkie history here.