La Grange photography studio stays focused on portraits

Wyckoff-Tweedie Photography in La Grange has been in business for 64 years, and James Tweedie has owned the company for nearly 35 of those years.

Now in its third location on the corner of Waiola and Burlington avenues, the studio is in space specifically designed for it.

When Roger Wyckoff died about five years ago, his wife no longer wanted to own the building that housed the business, so she sold it, Tweedie said.

They found space across the street in a building that had been gutted for a restaurant that never developed.

“We got to build it out and got everything we ever wanted in a studio,” Tweedie said. “And we have two shooting rooms, one that is quite large.”

The larger studio can hold up to 45 people for portraits of extended families or a company staff.

“The higher ceilings give us room to light better than we could before,” he said.

The business is a combination of commercial and family portraits, weddings and school pictures.

Tweedie said his firm photographs almost every law and medical school in the Chicago area. The students are photographed individually and then their pictures are put together in a composite photograph that identifies them, the school, the school emblem and the year.

Although Wyckoff-Tweedie used to photograph several high schools in the area, the only one it still does is Hinsdale Central. The company has been taking Central’s yearbook photos for 64 years.

After both Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South’s entrances were renovated, school officials wanted new pictures of each school. Tweedie volunteered to take the photographs and donated them to District 86.

The portrait business has suffered a lot over the last 15 years, with the convenience of digital cameras and camera phones.

“People are so saturated with pictures that they are not buying professional photographs,” Tweedie said.

And while they are taking dozens of pictures of everyone, “people stopped making prints,” he said. “They are keeping them in their camera or on their phone, while their walls are bare.”

But business is cyclical. Printed photographs and portraits are coming back industrywide, he said.

Print sales have been amazing the last two Christmases, Tweedie said. But his business has kept with the times.

“We were doing digital 30 years ago,” Tweedie said.

They used transparencies, instead of film, for commercial work. They scanned the transparencies and created a digital layout on the computer to create brochures and catalogues.

“In 2000, we went digital on the portrait side,” he said.

In digital’s early days, exposure was critical.

“In all digital pictures for a while the sky would be white, instead of blue, because it couldn’t record that much light and it didn’t have enough latitude to record the details in the shadow,” Tweedie said.

“Film had so much latitude that people had stopped using a light meter,” he said. “With film, you had 10 to 12 stops of light, but with digital there was only six and you had to be within a half-stop of your perfect exposure.”

From his years working with digital cameras, Tweedie knew this and Fuji, the lab that made his prints, recognized it. Fuji hired him and photographer Will Crockett to travel around the country and teach digital photography to professional photographers.

“They had 46 labs in the country and the labs would sponsor us,” he said.

In subsequent years, digital cameras improved and not only have as much exposure latitude as film, but have countless capabilities that film does not.

“To change the contrast was very difficult in the old days. (With digital), it’s an unlimited sliding scale of contrast. The saturation of color, or more sharpening or less sharpening. These were things we just longed for with film,” Tweedie said. “Not only couldn’t you do those things, you couldn’t do them to individual parts of the picture.”

He said without question digital photos are now better than film ever was.

“There is almost nothing we can’t do,” he said. “You are limited only by your imagination and people have great imaginations.”

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