Creative Spotlight: Gander Builders

Steve Lecas of Gander Builders is one of the most conscientious builders I have ever met.  When you look at the homes he builds you find first-rate craftsmanship, spectacular designs and superb building materials.  Steve builds homes.  Real homes.  Homes that are designed to be enjoyed by families, spacious, comfortable and practical.  Homes that will stand the test of time. 

I have been photographing for Steve over 16 years now, and I can honestly say that the houses I shot back then still look outstanding today.  Here in the Midwest, that’s saying something. 

Steve also always seems to take the extra step for his clients.  I recall more than one occasion when I met with Steve at a new home to photograph.  There always seemed to be one or two other homes in the neighborhood that he constructed in prior years and here is the extra step:  I have seen him walk around the other homes and look at how the finishes are wearing.  Often he will check in with the homeowner to inquire if everything is okay long after the project is finished.  His clients love the attention and it comes as no surprise that the majority of Steve’s work is referral based.

If you are looking for that ‘special’ builder… Steve Lecas of Gander Builders is just what you need.  Below are a few samples of recent work. 

Waiting for light

When potential clients look through our portfolio and see an image photographed at dawn or dusk, they will inevitably give pause and stare for a few moments. There is nothing that can paint an interior or exterior as beautifully as natural light.  Capturing it at just the right moment requires patience.  I love the wash of cobalt blue through the windows as a backdrop to an interior.  Facing west, the light has a variety of hues - yellows, magentas and blues.  It’s a different painting every night and one that can really embellish a fine composition.

For those who are curious, we do not ‘drop in’ or Photoshop’ the sky and no we do not ‘gel’ the windows beforehand. The skies in all of our images are real.  Here are a few that we captured while ‘waiting for light’.


Creatvie Spotlight: Michael Buss Architects

Every so often you get a call from a client that you haven’t worked with in quite sometime. Michael Buss Architects is a perfect example.

We began working with Michael and his wife Sue back in 2005 when we were shooting a project for an architectural magazine. 

At that time, he took me through several neighborhoods encompassing projects of various home styles and sizes.  One of the builders that were working with Michael labeled him a genius and a hidden talent.  Hidden I wasn’t so sure about when I visited his then-crowded home office.  Sue met me at the door, pointed to a small waiting area and was off to find Michael.  While waiting the office staff hustled in and around each other all busy with clients, designs, phone calls, faxes, and meetings. Blueprints were laid out everywhere.  It was just what you would expect from a full-blown large architectural firm functioning like a well-oiled machine, but in a lower level ‘bunker’ style office.  It was fun to watch. 

I arrived with proofs of the work that we shot so that Mike could make selections for a magazine write up.  He suddenly appeared, told me he had about five minutes and then scoured the contact sheets and made his selections.  Our meeting was over in about three and half minutes and he was off taking a phone call and walking into another meeting.  To this day he holds the record for the quickest image viewing I have ever had.  In that incredibly brief amount of time, he selected 14 images for the magazine article and 59 for his business portfolio.  I can’t even imagine how quickly his mind works.  Stunned, I gathered my materials and was off.

Fast forward to last year, when out-of-the-blue we got an email from Sue.  They wanted to update their portfolio.  Wow!  No longer in the ‘bunker’ office, Michael had moved into a large commercial building complete with full office amenities and increased staff to support their expanding business.  Very impressive.

Meeting Michael and Sue again was like flashing back to the bunker days.  Mike still moving at warp speed, Sue still managing the office, clients, schedule and Michael.

We made arrangements to begin photographing new spaces.  As you can see, Michael’s designs are beautiful, open and have a spacious feel.  Among the things I noticed about a Michael Buss design is his skill in finding a practical use for every inch of space.   Some of my favorite shots are found below.

Creative Spotlight: Expressive Interiors by Marietta Calas

Interior designers are some of my favorite clients to work with.  This is largely because the work they do is all about details. They work hard to get even the smallest nuances just perfect, resulting in a finished project that is not only a statement of their vision and talent, but also reflects their client’s dream.

Few, if anyone, do this better than Marietta Calas of Expressive Interiors.  I’ve worked with her on many projects over the years and I’m always impressed with the finished product.  In fact, several images of her work have been featured in my own marketing pieces because of the visual interest she is so adept at creating. 

Everything from paint, wall coverings, carpets, furnishings, fixtures and art are brought together to wow, stun, and thrill at first sight. That was my reaction when I first walked into one of her projects, and it is still my reaction when I see her current work.  I can’t imagine how excited her clients must be when they see the final result!

Her work has been featured in CS Interiors, LUXE, Builders Journal, Chicago/HOME, The Chicago Home & Condo, TRENDS, Build My Kitchen, Architectural Leaders Today, Long Grove Living, Chicago Tribune and The Daily Herald, just to name a few.

Marietta has served for several years on the IFDA Board as well as the Long Grove Architectural Board, and has been consistently recognized with numerous design awards:

Chicago Design Team
Top 10 Designer
2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014

Best of Houzz
2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

The Daily Herald
People’s Choice Award for Interior Design
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

International Furnishings and Design Association
Best Interior Design

You can see more of her work at I have selected a few of my favorites to highlight here.

Creative Spotlight: Benvenuti and Stein

This month, our Creative Spotlight features Benvenuti and Stein, based in Winnetka, Illinois.  They are a multi-faceted firm known for building fine luxury homes, seamless additions, as well as being highly-skilled artisans of woodwork and cabinetry. The quality found in their work is hard to come by and is some of the finest I've ever encountered.

Geno Benvenuti heads up the company and I have often heard him describe the work that they do as a "labor of love".  Among their many specialties are handmade cabinets and furnishings.  Open any drawer, close any door, run your hand across any finish, and you will feel the impeccable quality and solidity of their work. During a photo shoot I will often have to adjust furniture. I once attempted to move one of Geno's  hand-crafted dining tables.  I couldn't.  It wouldn't budge.  I would guess you would need six men if ever you wanted to relocate it. 

This is the craftsmanship that they are well-known for and is seen in even the smallest details. I have photographed the work of many high-end builders and few would be able to stand in the ranks along side Benvenuti and Stein.

Below are just a few samples in a seemingly endless catalog of superb work.

Shot With Film...

We have been taking some time this year to revisit some of our past photo shoots, particularly ones that were shot with film.  Yes ... film.  While most output these days from professional photographers is digital, there are still compelling reasons left for shooting film.

When digital cameras arrived, film cameras were at their pinnacle. Leica, Minolta, Nikon, Contax, and Canon had been manufacturing film cameras for decades and had thus mastered the process. In addition to the above 35mm favorites, there were the medium format giants as well. Bronica, Hasselblad, Mamiya, Pentax, Fuji, and Rolleiflex gave us some of the finest images of our lifetime.

We all had our favorites, although camera preference was very much a Chevy vs. Ford thing among photographers. I will dig up some of my very well-used film cameras and do a separate post on the ones I preferred. Truthfully, it was hard to go wrong with any of the above-mentioned makes.

I am a huge fan of old lenses, those that were designed and built by master craftsmen. No, they are not nearly as accurate as today's glass, but they had character, a certain quality that could make the images look incredible.

I always get a thrill out of turning on the light table and then placing a transparency on it. The back-lit images look absolutely fabulous. Words can't describe the expression on the faces of those who were raised on digital when they grab a loupe and look at them. 'Shock' would be a good word to begin with. Then the jaws drop and you hear "Wow!" I don't ever remember a single time when that didn't happen.

The reason? Because film is perfect, film is analog, film has a forgiving nature to it, whereas digital tends to accentuate flaws and artifacts.  Film is natural, realistic, beautiful, and in some ways romantic. It has a captivating appeal that will never be equaled by digital. It is also somehow more "legitimate" than digital because when we look at a film strip we know it hasn't been altered. It is truly "as shot".  Film is still the widely recognized benchmark as a true art form in photography. Film also has longevity, the ability to last decades and decades. I have family negatives that are from the 1930s that will scan, print, and display as if they were shot yesterday. All of my personal work is done in film for all of the above reasons.

We had a great time firing up the light table and viewing transparencies. After doing some quick scans, I thought I would share some of them with you. This might become a semi-regular feature here as we found quite a few projects of spaces and people that will soon be integrated into our website.

For now here are just a few:

What To Look For When Hiring an Architectural Photographer

Choosing the right professional to photograph your project is so important, yet it can be overwhelming when you're not sure what to look for.  Should you only consider the financial aspect?  Maybe hire a friend with an 'amazing' camera?  There are many factors to consider when choosing an architectural photographer.  Today I will highlight some points that can help you know what to look for and what to avoid.  As I'm sure you've heard, a picture is worth a thousand words.  So start by viewing photographers' portfolios and keep in mind some of the following points to look for.


Composition in a photograph is so important, and should not be underestimated. A skilled architectural photographer can look at a space and quickly frame up the best shots in their mind's eye. They know instinctively how many views it will take to capture the given space in the most complimentary way.  This not only saves time, but also avoids the pattern of some who simply take many "snapshots" of a room and hope for the best.  Do the photographer's pictures look "intentional" and highlight the space in an appealing yet effective manner, or are you unsure of what you're supposed to be seeing? 


Many photographers today like to highlight the type of camera they use.  While the camera is certainly important, in many situations the types of lenses used are even more so. Proper architectural lenses allow the photographer to capture a view with minimal distortion while maintaining complete perspective control over the image. This is critical because it means that all vertical and horizontal lines will be straight.  Pay attention to pictures in photographers' portfolios – walls should be straight, not distorted; in exterior images, buildings should not appear to be "leaning" forward or backward.  Vertical elements such as doorways and pillars should not be curved like bananas. 



There are many instances when natural light can cause deep, unsightly shadows; these can hide details in furnishings and design.  In most circumstances, determining the best time of day to photograph will prevent these lighting challenges; however, supplemental lighting will sometimes be necessary.  Choose a photographer who is skilled at manipulating light to achieve optimum results, whether it be on-location at the time of the shoot, or in post-production.  What you do NOT want is a photographer whose solution to low light is to over-expose the image.  This results in windows and light fixtures that become virtually unrecognizable, completely blown out and devoid of any detail.  Many times people call these shots "airy"; in reality they are incorrectly exposed and indicative of a photographer with very low standards and technical abilities.  Look for pictures that show the room evenly exposed and windows that you can see through.


More often than not, this is necessary in order to deliver the highest quality product possible.  If the photographer hands you a DVD or flash drive right after the photo shoot, then what they are delivering are essentially ‘snapshots’.   Professional images should almost always go through post-processing, eliminating even slight imperfections and editing the images to the absolute best captures.  Unsightly cords and cables, excessive wall switches, etc, can be distracting in an image.  In many cases, removing these elements can enhance the viewing experience and leave the focus on the beautiful architectural and design elements. 


During the image viewing and selection process, you should see only those images that best flatter and highlight the spaces photographed.  The photographer should NOT waste your time by shooting images haphazardly hoping some "turn out", and then making you sift through the mass during a viewing.  I have heard of photographers who will shoot thousands of images during a single architectural shoot (yes – one location), and then upload ALL of the work for the client to view.  This is an unnecessary use of your time, especially once you realize the unprocessed work is the final product.  It also suggests a lack of confidence by the photographer in his ability to compose well and create quality images in a decisive and well thought out manner. In the end, this style of shooting wastes time – both yours and the photographer's – and therefore money.


The final image should be captivating, accurate and beautiful.  I say this all the time: quality is more important than quantity. It is far better to use one stunning photograph than dozens of mediocre ones in your marketing materials.  A talented architectural photographer will create beautiful photographs that can be used effectively for years.

There are so many high-quality architectural photographers today and one should keep in mind that a higher price doesn't always mean better photography. Therefore good architectural photography doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive. Finding someone that will meet your marketing needs and work within your budget should not be difficult.  We encourage to keep these points in mind when seeking a professional photographer for your next photo shoot. See what a difference it can make!