Mokena family shooting for picture-perfect, for three generations
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com September 8, 2013 9:22PM
Behnke Photography in Mokena is a family affair. It began with Al and Connie Behnke — the parents of Bert Behnke (right) — in 1956. Today it includes Bert's wife Cindy (left) and his son Al (rear). | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 10, 2013 6:06AM
For decades, the Behnke family have been telling intimate stories through their family photographs.
With as many awards as photos adorning their walls, it is clear they have left lasting impressions.
What Al and Connie Behnke started in Cicero in 1956 (and moved to the Lincoln-Way area in 1961) has grown to three generations of photographers.
Even through darkrooms have been replaced with digital technology, the longstanding tradition of providing a memorable photograph carries on.
“I grew up in the business. I never knew anything different,” said their son, Bert Behnke, who took over the business in 1985 and now operates out of their Mokena home. “I went into accounting in college but saw what my parents were doing and liked it.”
Similarly, his son, Al, said he “fought it for a while,” got a marketing degree and worked at the board of trade for 10 years before coming around to the family business.
“It’s pretty cool to be the third generation,” Al said. It’s also pretty cool to be photographing the same families as his grandfather, he said.
Bert’s wife, Cindy, is an award-winning photographer, too, and joined the business in 1991.
“We all do something different. That’s what is so cool about it,” said the younger Al, who has been shooting weddings with his dad since he was 14.
“We can do everything, but I gravitate toward families,” Bert said.
Cindy focuses on intimate maternity and newborn photos.
In all aspects of their work, the Behnkes said, they first get to know their clients and develop a camaraderie with them.
“I probably spend more time talking with people than photographing,” Bert said. “I love working with people and capturing images they did not think possible. As you study them and work with them, something might pop up.”
He said he tries to making the photo session a “memorable event.”
“First and foremost, you have to capture what the client hopes to get out of it,” Cindy said. “But you can’t help going above and beyond. There is a lot of potential that people don’t realize. You try to show them something more artistic.”
In doing intimate photos, “you must be very respectful and show them it can be fun,” Cindy said. “I love working with people and giving them something different that will last longer than us.”
“We like what we do and are always looking for something different,” Bert said. That’s why they travel to various professional conferences as participants and guest speakers, and continue to enter and judge contests.
“We have to make sure we stay current. We have been traditional photographers for so many years, but we have to adapt to what the clients want,” Bert said.
Bert served as president of the Professional Photographers of America, won the PPA’s International Award and was named Portrait Photographer of the Year by the International Photographic Council. Cindy has been Illinois Photographer of the Year, PPA Photographer of the Year and recipient of both the Kodak Gallery Award and the Fuji Masterpiece Award.
They each have served as past president of the Associated Professional Photographers of Illinois.
Bert and Cindy also are two of 11 professional photographers who spoke at the 2013 Florida Professional Photographers convention in Orlando, Fla., from Aug. 19 to 20.
Bert presented his program — “It Starts with a Ring ... The Engagement Portrait” — including a live posing and lighting demonstration to show how he captures engagement images for couples.
“I go beyond the faces and the ring and show their personality,” he said.
Cindy presented “The Business of Bellies” and did a maternity photo shoot with the posing and draping that flatters pregnant mothers.
Participating in such conventions throughout the year and networking with other photographers not only keeps them current but allows them to share their experience and knowledge.
“Our job is to develop the next generation of photographers, to let them know what works and what doesn’t. I want Al to be better than I was,” Bert said. “I want to help people reach their potential. I do this because I want to raise the level of my profession.”