I sat down with Brad Baskin, Principal and Owner of Brad Baskin Photography, a leading photography studio based in Chicago specializing in corporate, industrial and commercial photography, to dispel some of the misconceptions in corporate photography and share an inside perspective on sharing a message, story and feeling with photography in Chicago.
In his 30+ years as a professional photographer, Brad has helped executives, lawyers, doctors, manufacturers, actors and others tell their compelling stories through photography. He also has extensive experience in advertising and PR, focusing on fashion, home décor and architectural photography.
Markus – I appreciate you spending time with our readers today. Tell us a little about the types of businesses and the clients you help and who you work with.
Brad – I work with all types of businesses, industrial, interior designers, shooting architectural photos, frequently I’ve been in law firm, photographing corporate executives, having their best foot forward on their website, so I go into their environment and look at the location and see what’s the best place to showcase them, sometimes it’s showing a city scape behind them, or in front of a piece of art work, or showing they’re have an attractive office, put the office behind them. Our job is to capture their commitment and the passion they bring to their job and have it show up on their photographs so we can portray it on the website and other print and marketing materials.
Markus – That’s fantastic. I’ve looked at a lot of the photographs that you have taken both in your website, your materials, and your portfolio and I’ve got to tell you they are amazing. What’s your secret? How do you capture that moment, that essence, whether it’s that CEO or the environment that you are shooting them in, or their corporate team, how do you grab that?
Brad – Our work is a lot of our life. A lot of our day is photographing professionals, people who have gone to law school or sometimes it’s doctors who have gone to medical school, and people who are really committed in being professional in what they do, and sometimes I’ll ask them what it is that brought them into the law or medicine or their profession. Sometimes I’m photographing the head of an insurance company and I ask them what is it that drives them, how they got started and they begin talking about that and then their passion starts to show up on their face. Also, drawing into my years of experience photographing people and knowing what’s the best angle, sometimes it’s just as simple as a slight movement of the head, sometimes it’s how they stand, or sit. In addition, during the process, we can edit as we go along and they can see our work in real time. And when they see a great picture of them which we just took, that helps a lot too as they actually see that they’re pulling it off and doing a good job. I might say, “I like that, that look is very interesting, I’m going to pose you in a similar fashion to that shot and let’s take a few more”. I’m kind of obsessive about getting the best photo I can. I think sometimes when people hire a photographer, I think they think, “well he has this equipment and this fancy camera, and soft box” and that’s what you’re hiring, but in reality you’re hiring their experience of what’s the best way to photograph this person, what’s the most appealing way, the most appealing angle, and you just know after doing it for a while. Then for me what’s next is having them emerge as a person… their commitment, their pride in their work, what they bring to the party so to speak in their profession.
Markus – That’s awesome, you definitely have eye for it. I think it takes a special talent and a special perspective to do that which is fantastic. So tell us, what lead you into this field, what got you started into photography and your business?
Brad – Certain faces are just very compelling. One of my favorite first photographs is of my grandfather Al Baskin I took when I was like 13 or 14. I’m one of these photographers who had a dark room since I was 13. My father built it for me in the basement and I started photographing people right away. My grandfather had a clothing business in Joliet, where I grew up, called Al Baskins. My father Shale Baskin, at a fairly young age, took over the business and expanded it to the suburbs. Mark Shale is what they named the business as my uncle’s name is Mark and my father’s name is Shale. My dad created this business, and so the first Mark Shale was at WoodField in the 70’s when I was in college.
Markus – I remember that. I actually purchased clothing from them. My dad took me there, the one in Northbrook Court and he got me one of my first real professional suits from there.
Brad – I think that was the late 70’s, maybe the early 80’s, the one at Northbrook court. It’s hard to believe that was all just corn fields before that was built. My father would say “As long as the people are happy, the clothes aren’t what’s really important. It’s matching the clothes with the person and the compliments they get. When they get complaints then they will come back to the store”. That kind of personal relationship is how we built the business, with very little advertising which was unfortunate me, his photographer son. But we did start doing some advertising and I took the pictures. We would hire models, and I would take pictures that would be in the Ravinia Guide, in the Symphony Program, once in a while in The Chicago Magazine. We would advertise a bit more once we opened stores in other cities: two in Dallas, one in Kansas City and one in Atlanta. We would go on location and I would photograph the models. Sometimes I’d take pictures on Wacker Avenue and Michigan Avenue, and eventually the city of Chicago became the back drop for my Mark Shale ads. This started in the late 70’s and continues well into the 80’s and 90’s and that’s how I got started shooting professionally.
I was a theater major in school, as well as a photography major, I loved being around actors. They are very much adventures in life… explorers in life and they are very passionate about having a wonderful picture about themselves because for them it is very important. I remember the young people coming to my studio and I probably photographed two a week for 25 years. They would always ask, “How much time do you get to spend with me” and in those days, “How much film are you going to shoot?” and I would tell them, “Relax; we will shoot as much as we need to”. The name of the game there was to conjure up this magical compelling image of this person that’s was going to draw a director or a casting director into trying them out for a part. I did that for a long time, and it was a wonderful time to do this in my studio, which was on the west side of Chicago. It was a loft at 850 North Milwaukee Avenue and we would shoot their pictures there. I probably photographed a thousand actors and I know at least two of them made it onto the big screen. One was Jamie Denton, who was in Desperate Housewives. He was 28 when I met him, and the agents were really hot on him, you could tell. Here’s this very handsome guy and he had this quality about him. There’s was just something about him, like he was the captain of the high school basketball team or the quarterback in college; he had this quality where you wanted to know this guy. Steve Carrell was another one, he was working at Second City then and he was just about to go to Las Vegas with their troop at that time. He was a sweet guy, like the parts he often is cast in. He was from a little town in Iowa, also about 28, 29 year old, and he was looking at his life at that time and he said, “I’m going to give it another five years, and we’ll see what happens, you know I’ll do something else if this doesn’t work out”. That’s how he was at that time in his life and then I saw him about ten or 15 years later in the movie 40 Year Old Virgin, and I said to myself “I know this face, I’ve seen this guy” and then I remembered, who he was from our photoshoots in Chicago.
Markus – That’s incredible history you have. It sounds like photography runs in your family blood. It’s so wonderful the impact you made for all those young actors and all those professionals and models, as you were building up your career, truly fantastic.
So Brad, tell us what’s one of the biggest misconceptions that business owners or CEO’s have about corporate photography and what that can really mean to a company.
Brad – I think it’s the approach. I would advise any business owner or corporate executive who is looking to tell story or convey a message, is first to talk to a designer or to talk to someone who’s going to build you more than just a template website and really get clear about what you’re going to convey about the company. I’d also suggest to have a writer and to work with a writer and decide what is it you really want to say about the company and then hire the photographer who can work with this writer or work with the designer or both, and look at what is it you want to say about the company and what images will put their best foot forward on the website because it’s the images that draw people into reading about the company and how your company separates itself from the other companies doing similar work. Let’s shoot photos that can tell people about your service.
I think some companies approach it as… “(Sigh…) We have to do this, we can’t have a blank face there, we have to do this and get through it” and they just call someone and have them come in and do it as quick as possible which is a mistake. I think they should give it some thought as to how they can, in the best light, show what services they provide, and who they want to photograph and the best manner to take their picture.
Markus – So the solution really is about planning. It’s about planning and really intentionally saying “we want to convey this message, we want to convey this emotion, this connection, to our audience” and then once they understand that then bringing in a professional, someone like yourself, who understands that, who goes in and capture the story that you’re trying to tell.
Brad – Absolutely. I often say to people… the ideal scenario for photographers is… I happen to be photographing the president of Boeing and I have, their 200 employees working behind him on a 787, that would be ideal to have as a visual aide. But for the most part we don’t work in situations like that. We usually go to their office and often using the architecture of the office and have them stand kind of out from that… which is what we are usually using as a visual aid. Sometimes it might be in a conference room set up. We’ll set up a conference room shot and kind of activate people… have them talking, have them sitting or standing at a certain angle so it’s conveying a sense that they’re at work.
For example, I was at the Al Burdick Culver factory and we photographed a number of people on the line with the bottles going by them. I photographed someone in a steel factory where they made steel rolls and we were able to dramatically show, with different lighting, the steel behind them. In another photoshoot, we spent two days photographing these attorneys and with that time, I was able to photograph each attorney twice to really capture the feeling they were looking for.
A great way to shoot people in Chicago is if they are in the loop; shoot them with a window behind them so they have a city scape as a back drop to give it kind of a midtown Manhattan look. I also like to use that vantage point or it could be in their corporate hallways, or any setting in their office to show a sense of professionalism in what they do.
Markus – What would be the first thing you’d recommend if one of our readers is ready to capture their story, capture their message and to share their message with images, whether it’s for their websites or print material? What’s the first thing that they should do?
Brad – I would say first thing is to work with a designer and layout their website with how it’s going to look. Or if they already may have a website, is to contact me. For example, I prefer to come to the location and scout it out and talk to the owner or whoever is in charge of getting these images taken and look at the location. I’ll make suggestions about where we might shoot certain people and often during the conversation, other suggestions and ideas come up; maybe we should do a group shot of the partners, maybe we should shoot this one executive outside of the office, maybe we should use this view outside or showing the city, or maybe you want to do a “walking in the city” shot. Things just come out in our conversations. I don’t charge to come out to a location and talk about it. And that would be where I would start – with me coming out to the location whether that’s the office, the plant, the campus, wherever it is and seeing what’s there visually and discussing the game plan and finding out what is it you want to capture and discussing how long I think it will take.
Markus – Brilliant! So what’s the best way for them to learn more about you and contact you?
Brad – My website, BradBaskin.com. My email is Photos@BradBaskin.com and my phone number is 312-733-2192.
Markus – This has been great Brad. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. You shared a lot of golden nuggets, lots of insights and really given business owners, CEO and other executives a real inside look and perspective on how to capture that moment and how to capture their story, their message and their essence into a visual format. We appreciate your knowledge and expertise.
Brad – Thank you, it’s been great to be here.
For more information contact:
Brad Baskin Photography
850 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
Markus Loving is a Best Selling Author, National Speaker, long a time entrepreneur and a host on Business Innovators Radio with his show The Inside Track and contributor to Business Innovators Magazine and Small Business Trendsetters where he covers leaders and trendsetters in Business. As the founder of OnlineMarketDomination.com, over the last 10 years, Markus has been empowering business owners across the country to Dominate Their Market Online with Reputation Marketing, Local Search, and Authority Presence Marketing. Markus gets great joy in Demystifying the Internet for his clients as he educates them with the most cutting edge and innovative strategies, tools and processes.