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Podcast Episode 22: This is Candice Cusic

Thrilled to have the one and only Candice Cusic for episode 22 of the This is Reportage Podcast! Candice has photojournalism in her blood, having worked at the Chicago Tribune and other publications for over twenty years, and is truly one of theĀ top documentary wedding photographers in the USA. Her ‘moment-driven’ photography is thus core to her wedding work – and indeed, to everything she photographs – and she’s also an incredibly experienced teacher, having taught workshops and seminars all over the world. Stick with us today as Candice talks about:

  • the beauty of Chicago,
  • her work as a photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune (and others),
  • how she went from newspaper photojournalism to weddings,
  • the importance of being you,
  • what she would do with three wishes,
  • why we should stop comparing,
  • surrounding herself with positivity,
  • how she used to sing in a band,
  • one of her favourite ever albums,
  • how she has diversified to family and pet photography and has her own studio,
  • how she is moment-driven, no matter what she’s photographing,
  • the benefits of having a studio,
  • learning to celebrate her successes,
  • why it’s so important to watch hands,
  • what makes her happy,
  • what day she would choose to live over and over again,
  • her thoughts on the future,
  • why being nice is so vital,
  • Stephen King novels,
  • her love of teaching,
  • what’s worked for her in terms of marketing,
  • delegating what you don’t like to do to someone you trust,
  • why she always shoots with a second shooter,
  • her top tips for better documentary photography,
  • and much more…

Once again, this episode was recorded a while ago, before the world changed with the pandemic, so that’s why there’s no mention of it in our conversation. As an aside, I think Candice has the most wonderful voice – so silky smooth! – I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I did. She really should have her own radio show…!

Listen, as usual, on any of these platforms: Spotify, iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, YouTube, or below in this post (where there is also a full transcript (as there are for all our wedding photography Podcast episodes):

Alan Law

Hey Candice, how are you?

Candice Cusic

Hi Alan. How are you?

Alan Law

I am really good thank you, yeah, great. How’s things with you?

Candice Cusic

Things are good, it’s snowing in downtown beautiful Chicago but it’s good. How are you?

Alan Law

Oh yeah good. Oh wow it’s really snowing there, that’s cool. Well, very cool.

Candice Cusic

Do you guys get much snow?

Alan Law

Oh hardly at all…so I’m in the very southwest of England in Cornwall and, no, we get snow about once every five years probably.

Candice Cusic

Wow. Well, anytime you want to see snow come on down to Chicago and we’ll save some for you.

Alan Law

Oh that would be good. I’ll hold you to that. Does it snow… every winter it snows there then?

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. Chicago’s right on the lake. So it’s beautiful. And it’s a wonderful place to live. It’s a big vibrant city but it’s also a great place to live if you actually like colder weather, which I prefer, so, I have nothing to complain about.

Alan Law

That’s cool. And do you get White Christmases often then?

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. And they’re just beautiful.

Alan Law

Man that does sound lovely. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had a white Christmas ever.

Candice Cusic

Alan, you got to come to Chicago. Let’s make it happen.

Alan Law

I would love that. You know, I would love it. My whole experience of America is – very sadly – only Las Vegas. I’ve been there like six times and never anywhere else.

Candice Cusic

That’s a travesty. Please do not let Vegas represent all of America. Yeah, really, it’d be great for you to see something different. Vegas doesn’t really have tall, big beautiful buildings like Chicago.

Candice Cusic

Alan Law

I would love to go to Chicago. Definitely. Is that where you grew up in Chicago? Have you always lived there?

Candice Cusic

I actually grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And I studied photojournalism at the University of North Carolina and I moved to Chicago not long after I graduated, and I got a job at the Chicago Tribune. So that’s what brought me here. I worked for them for 11 years as a full time photo journalist. And since leaving the daily newspaper, to start my own business, I’ve just fallen so madly in love with the city if you haven’t already noticed.

Alan Law

You do sound very happy there.

Candice Cusic

So yeah, Chicago is definitely home.

Alan Law

Oh, that’s cool. What was it like then being a staff photojournalist for the Tribune? I imagine it’s very varied work. You got to see a lot of different things. You went to India, didn’t you, for example?

Candice Cusic

I did. I went to India twice to document the tsunami. I covered Hurricane Katrina. We really did world news extensively; it was an exciting place to work. But this was back when newspapers were a lot bigger in size. You know, it was a fantastic job. When I first accepted the job we had 50 staff photographers and five were female. So it was an exciting place to be. It was tremendous amount of pressure. But it was something that I’ve been training for, you know, I’ve been a photographer since I was a little kid. So I’ve been training for this moment for a very long time. And when I was in college, I, you know, I really loved photographing any real raw human emotion. That’s what I wanted to do. So I spent a summer documenting a boy’s prison and I followed a homeless family for four years. This is just when I was in college. So coming to a major newspaper and doing world news was really a wonderful fit. It was exactly what I was supposed to do with my camera at that time.

Alan Law

That’s cool. And how did you go from photojournalism into weddings? I mean, I read that you were using your dad’s SLR from the age of six. So I guess photography has always been really in your blood, you know? Yeah. How did you get into weddings?

Candice Cusic

Oh, ’cause I was trying to escape newspapers. You know, at the time, I mean, I was a photojournalist for 20 plus years, you know, other publications and, and then finally the Chicago Tribune. And then we just saw the industry had changed and you know, we went from covering world news to covering press conferences every day and I would spend my lunch breaks looking at wedding photographers and looking at their websites and becoming so inspired because they could shoot any style they wanted. There was never an editor, you know, telling them, you should have shot it this way. I would have shot it that way. It was a complete breath of fresh air and an old friend of mine that I met in college. His name was Huy Nguyen – you’ve probably heard of him. He’s the brainchild and just the complete inspiration behind Fearless Photographers. If you haven’t already joined Fearless, please do – He really inspired me. He left daily journalism to go shoot weddings and I would look at his work, and it just absolutely blew me away. So moving into weddings was a really… it was an easy transition. Towards the last year and a half of my career every weekend, every vacation day, I was shooting weddings.

Alan Law

I guess from your photojournalism background, I guess you were instantly capturing weddings in that same way, were you, in the documentary way?

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. One of the things that I love most about photojournalism, is its realism. And that’s what captivated me about photography. Just when I was a little kid I loved real moments. So it was an interesting transition going to, from, you know, from daily newspapers where if I, if I moved something out of the shot, or I darken the photo too much, you were at risk of losing your job And then shooting weddings where there were different rules. I still have a hard time with that. I still love to shoot weddings. But at this point, I don’t even think I’ve ever asked the bride and groom to go walk down this pathway so I can photograph. I’ve never done that. Because, once again, you know, I would have been fired if I’d done that. For a daily newspaper. If you try to direct the scene in any way. So it was a wonderful lesson, to get the camera where it needed to be, and to learn how to anticipate the action so that you didn’t have to stress out over the fact that you couldn’t control this, you know, you can’t control anything, you’re just observing and reacting. So I still pretty much shoot the same way I was taught all the way back then, in photojournalism school.

Alan Law

That’s cool. And when when you were looking at other wedding photography at that time, were many people doing that kind of documentary approach to weddings?

Candice Cusic

There were and there still are. And it’s wonderful. I mean, I think anybody who wants to do something different in this industry is someone that’s really exciting to watch. You know, I’m sure you’ve seen enough photos of the bride holding the bouquet and her head’s chopped off. We’ve all seen it, and it’s always a vertical shot. We’ve all seen it. So is there any reason to keep doing it?

Alan Law

Oh, no, exactly. And it’s so competitive and such a saturated market. You’ve got to be different in some way.

Candice Cusic

You’ve got to be different and I really do believe you have to find what makes you special. What your favourite thing is to do on that wedding day, and then use that to your advantage. You know, I’ve spent most of my life dreaming of becoming a photographer, dreaming of becoming a wedding photographer, dreaming and becoming a studio owner. And it’s all because I’ve visualised it, and made it happen and found out what my strengths were, and delegated the rest. So, you know, I feel like, especially for young folks in this industry, who are perhaps getting passed over because they don’t know what to charge or they don’t know what their style is, or they’re, you know, trying to copy other people to find their own true style. The best piece of advice I could give them is just take a break and take a breath and figure out what you love doing. And that is what your main focus should be.

Alan Law

I think that’s great advice. You can’t see me I’m smiling and nodding back here. I think that’s really great advice. Let’s change tack slightly, for a little bit. If you had three wishes, what would you wish for? And you can’t wish for more wishes.

Candice Cusic

Nuts! Gosh, that’s wonderful. I would wish for my family to be happy and healthy. I would wish for unlimited creativity and abundance in my life that makes me smile. And the third wish… I would really love to have more time to volunteer and to support causes that I believe in, and I’d love to be at the start of more projects that would aim beautiful bouquets of money towards local rescues and charities and organisations that I love.

Alan Law

Ah, those are all really lovely wishes.

Candice Cusic

All right, Alan, what were your wishes?

Alan Law

Oh no…! So, what were you like at school? I know you said earlier you were always into photography. Did you have photography classes? Did you know that you always wanted to be a photographer?

Candice Cusic

I did. And you know the blessing was that this was before Facebook and Instagram and I was in the darkroom and I was shooting black and white film and you really did not have the access to compare yourself to everyone else; to compare yourself to the world like you can today. And I think that’s a wonderful, wonderful way to become stronger in your craft, is to put the blinders on and just do what you want and stop comparing ’cause, you know, I don’t know where I would be today if I was constantly trying to get likes on Facebook or, you know…

Alan Law

Yeah that’s so true

Candice Cusic

Focusing on the wrong things or walking around as a young student glued to my phone, you know, when I was in school I was a photographer and I was a total photo geek and I ran the darkroom on campus and I sang in a band on the weekends and I did things that felt great and that made me smile and I just, you know, I never really… I never doubted that I wouldn’t get a job doing what I wanted to do. Because it was just something that I did every day.

Alan Law

That’s so cool. That’s a life goal really, isn’t it, to pursue your passion and, you know, make what you love your career. I mean, that’s just got to be a goal for happiness.

Candice Cusic

It absolutely is. And as long as you have less to complain about, your life is happier is what I’ve found, you know, there’s still photographers today that complain about vendor meals. I’m a vegetarian, I can’t eat half that stuff anyway. But I really don’t want to spend too much time arguing about it because I want to take a look at the bigger picture and really focus on what I want to succeed at, and finding ways to find that support to allow me to grow.

Candice Cusic

Alan Law

That’s so true. And I think it’s interesting what you said about being in a different time and, you know, without Facebook and Instagram and it’s kind of scary for me as a dad with, you know, I’ve got two kids, how their life is going to be different growing up with social media and that kind of instant comparison. It’s scary. Do you think your life would have been much different? What would you do if you weren’t a wedding photographer, for example? Or a photographer in general?

Candice Cusic

If I wasn’t a photographer, well, the reason why I fell into photography at such a young age is because my parents… they found the camera to be an important tool. And when we left the house, it was “Oh, wait, don’t forget the camera”. I don’t know many parents that are actually doing that today. I mean, typically the camera’s on your phone. So that’s why I found what I loved. If I wasn’t a photographer… I know back in the day, I would have loved to have been a singer. I would have found something creative.

Alan Law

Do you still do any singing?

Candice Cusic

Um, every single day, much to the dismay of my neighbours, and perhaps my partner but, um, yeah, I honestly, I really want to surround myself, you know, without sounding too, you know, hippie dippie, I really do want to surround myself with positivity and anything that you can do to start your day off on a wonderful note, including driving to the studio and listening to the stupidest pop songs that would maybe make you smile. It really does go a long way to success.

Alan Law

Yeah, that’s so cool. And I can hear the positivity in you, in your voice. It’s so cool. When you sang in a band, what kind of music were you singing?

Candice Cusic

We wrote our own music but we also sing a lot of old, r&b and soul records. Like old stacks, old Aretha, old Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding. The like…

Alan Law

Nice. And what was the band called? Do you remember?

Candice Cusic

No, I’m not gonna tell you…back in the day…

Alan Law

That’s cool you’ve still got that love of music… if you were cast away – this is not an original question – But if you were cast away on a desert island, and you could only have one album with you, what album would that be?

Candice Cusic

Oh my. Um, I remember the impact that the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had on me. I was just in junior high. I mean, it was obviously an older album, The Beatles are already done at that time, but I remember listening to it. I had my record player on the floor and I remember just sitting down next to it, holding that record album and listening to it and crying in some points, so that album is just… is pure magic. And I’ll always remember that as one of my top five.

Alan Law

That’s cool. I will let you have that on your desert island.

Candice Cusic

Thank you.

Alan Law

So as well as your wedding work, you’re also doing pet photography and family photography and have your own studio as well which is awesome. So I think this is something that, you know, a lot of wedding photographers are kind of interested in doing and branching out. Can you tell us about about that work?

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. It started with hiring interns. And I would get college interns. I still get college interns who want to learn from professional photographers and if you have a university near you, you can absolutely do the same. This has been just an instrumental move to get me to where I am right now. And so we spent years sitting at my dining room table and having interns coming in, you know, a couple days a week and the move to a studio… it really came after I took Steve Saporito’s workshops – he’s also another person, you know, your listeners should really definitely look into if you haven’t already learned his practices. I really wanted to connect to clients on a different level and I wanted to sell wall art. I wanted to do things that I couldn’t do inside my home. So branching into a studio… and now I actually have four interns a semester. And so I have help every day of the week. And now I actually have a place to take pictures indoors. And in Chicago, that’s kind of important. So photographing pets was a very natural segue for me. I’ve always had a connection with animals. I’ve always been a vegetarian. I’ve always, you know, just carried my heart on my sleeve, especially with animals. So I wanted to photograph dogs specifically, but I wanted to photograph them in a way I hadn’t seen them before. So with my staff, we have, gosh, we’ve just done hundreds of shoots. Not all of them are successes. We’ve made so many failures. But the great thing is that you learn from your failures. And you go back and you make them stronger. And that is something I’m proud to say that we do every week.

Alan Law

That’s cool. Are you still photographing the animals in the kind of way that… you know, you’re obviously very focused on moments in weddings… Is it still moments with your families and the pets as well.

Candice Cusic

It will always be moment-driven photography, no matter what I’m photographing, and this is something I teach in my workshops. The very, very specific things that I look for before I ever take a picture. I look for the same things in humans that I do in animals. And once you know what to look for, then it just makes culling a breeze. I mean, I’ve never struggled with culling, it’s lightning fast because I know the most important things that would make that photo stand out. And you can tell instantly whether or not the photo has it or doesn’t.

Alan Law

That’s cool. Have you had any nightmares in the studio with, like, dogs, I don’t know, like going wild and…?

Candice Cusic

I’d say the wildest thing that I’ve seen so far is a dog who just peed all over the couch. I mean, comparing to, like, photographing world news and wearing a bulletproof vest, I can take the dog pee any day of the week. No big deal.

Alan Law

Was it kind of scary going into the studio thing though? You know, because it, you know, there’s a lot more overheads, I guess, you know, from weddings, most photographers, I guess, are just working from home and then suddenly with a studio, you’ve got a lot more overheads. Was that scary?

Candice Cusic

It was absolutely scary. Not only because of the overhead but also, let’s also mention the fact that I’ve never actually really shot studio work until I got a studio. I have very good friends. I am the least technical photographer you’re going to meet. So the great thing is I have really technical friends in this industry, who just told me what to buy and I really had to learn studio lighting immediately.

Alan Law

I bet it’s a totally different beast; I wouldn’t have a clue about studio lighting at all.

Candice Cusic

Yeah, well, you know, I’m still learning but you know, coming from a lifetime as a photojournalist where you’re trained to trick the light and you’re trained to just adapt to whatever lighting situation you have, and you know, shooting an eighth of a second is fine and then going into a studio is completely different. I’ve grown so much in just a year. But I’m forever thankful.

Alan Law

Have you found that it’s impacted your wedding work at all? You know, the studio work and…I don’t know, like your approach to the studio work? I don’t know… is it affected your weddings?

Candice Cusic

Um, I think owning the studio has certainly given me a level of credibility that I perhaps I did not have when I was meeting clients at home. Right? My studio is actually… it’s a storefront, it’s on Chicago Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. It’s a legit business. And I think that is something that gives my clients some comfort. And not only that, it gives their parents some comfort. You know, as we all know, they’re the ones that write the checks.

Alan Law

That’s so true, yeah. And it must have been super for you, that first day of opening your studio – must be such a proud moment.

Candice Cusic

It has been… I really am trying to encourage, push myself to celebrate my successes more. I think when I was growing up I was around a lot of bold egos, brash egos in my family and family friends and I think I started to think of success as ego, which was bad, and so I, you know, every success I’ve had, I’ve been like, “Oh, well, that’s nice”. You know? I don’t really focus on it too much. And now I’m really trying to… I’m trying to talk myself out of that mindset because I am forever thankful and I want to… every success that I have, or you have, it’s not just yours. It’s also your clients’. And it’s their families’ and they’re a part of this just as much as I am. So, you know, I think I do need to spend more time including them and celebrating with them and, you know, feeling more confident posting on social media and all that stuff that I try to avoid. And I, honestly, I do let my interns handle most of that.

Alan Law

That’s funny, that’s funny. I think something which you’re really known for, especially in our industry, is hands. Can you tell us about that, why you’re known for it?

Candice Cusic

I think one of the first speeches I gave at the Fearless Conferences, I started teaching how important hands and body language are when you’re photographing people. And so every time a subject moves their hands or puts their hands on their hips or has any sort of body quirk, it’s a great time to just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot… every single quirk that they present while you’re taking their photo. Because these simple little gestures, actually, they add up to real moments. So it’s just the, you know, you could photograph someone talking to you, but if they’re actually raising their hand and touching their face in, you know, mid conversation, that photo becomes five times more powerful because of that simple gesture. And, you know, it’s the same thing if you’re photographing the animals, you now know what to look for. It is all in the eyes. It’s in the ears. It’s in any way to make that one moment powerful. Once you know what to look for it’s easy.

Alan Law

It’s cool how that works across species from humans to animals as well, I think that’s cool.

Candice Cusic

Well these are the things that I’ve learned and like I said, I’ve never really photographed dogs before I moved into my studio but it has been the same. Photographing them has been the same. Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy, but I do have to admit, dogs are much, much more difficult than a 10 hour wedding. At least in weddings you kind of know what’s gonna happen… they’re gonna walk down the aisle… but with a dog you have no idea. The dog’s just gonna jump out of the shot like 50 times.

Alan Law

That’s funny. Yeah they say in show business that they don’t work with animals or children. And now you’re working with both.

Candice Cusic

I know… kids are kids are the same thing, but I gotta admint, when a kid breaks into tears, you’re like, ‘oh’, but when a dog jumps out of the shot, you’re like, ‘oh, but you’re still so cute’.

Alan Law

Do you have dogs yourself?

Candice Cusic

You know, I grew up with dogs. And then I started shooting weddings. So I opted to get a cat. We still have just a cat but she’s, you know, she’s freaking awesome and I would hate to ruin a great thing that we have going on with her, because she’s great, but no, in the future, I would love to have a dog that I could bring to the studio.

Alan Law

Have there been any, kind of really strange or exotic pets that you’ve photographed?

Candice Cusic

Not yet. Uh, I think the hardest thing I’ve photographed so far were two kittens. Definitely an ‘ah’ moment but kittens bond over one thing: They will not sit still for the camera. The minute you placed them in where you need them, they are going to run and hide under the couch or whatever. So that was a great learning experience on how to photograph them, and how to show their personalities. And the biggest ‘aha’ takeaway moment was ‘okay, well, they’re gonna run so we need to shove them into this lovely little glass container and let them peek out of the front before they do that’. And that’s the shot so…

Alan Law

Oh, that’s cool. That is cool. Let’s change tack slightly again. What’s the first thing or things that come to your mind when I ask what makes you happy?

Candice Cusic

Singing and yoga.

Alan Law

Oh, cool. Do you do that often?

Candice Cusic

I do.

Alan Law

You know, I can’t even touch my ankles. I’m so unflexible.

Candice Cusic

Doesn’t matter, as they say in yoga, it doesn’t matter, it’s just yoga. You do you, and you just feel you, and that’s fine. I love how we have the greatest job in the world. I love how we have the ability to make such a positive impact on so many people. And I love having that as part of my life. My family 100% makes me happy. We talk every day, all day. My partner… my studio, my interns, everything… I can’t put the key in the door of this beautiful location, without, as soon as I walk in, I just have to shout aloud “Thank you. Thank you. I love this place.”

Alan Law

That’s proper cool. I bet, it must be awesome to have that, I think that is really cool. And have you got family still in Chicago, then, are they nearby?

Candice Cusic

Actually none of my family is in Chicago. They’re still in North Carolina.

Alan Law

Okay, right. Cool. Is that far? Sorry, I’m awful with my American geography… is that far from Chicago?

Candice Cusic

You know, it’s only, like, an hour and a half flight.

Alan Law

Oh, flight? I thought you were gonna say an hour and half drive.

Candice Cusic

Oh no no no. But the great thing about being close with your family and owning your own business is I’m down there all the time. So it’s good.

Alan Law

If you could choose one day in your life to live over and over again, like Groundhog Day. Have you seen Groundhog Day?

Candice Cusic

I certainly have.

Alan Law

Which day would you choose if you had to live one day over and over again?

Candice Cusic

Honestly… I would have to go with today.

Alan Law

Oh that’s a great way of looking at it, though. That’s so positive.

Candice Cusic

Yeah, I think focusing more on the present and being happy about where I am now and excited about making huge mistakes and learning from them. And I can’t wait to see where where I am next year. So I’m really, really… I’m very happy to be where I am right now.

Alan Law

That’s very cool. That’s so great. Do you think…I mean, I think that’s honestly so good, and I think more people need to be kind of living in the moment and enjoying the present… it’s hard for a lot of people to do. I mean, but do you think about the future, what you’ll be doing in you know, 10, 15 years time? Does it ever worry you or you just don’t think like that?

Candice Cusic

I certainly do. But what I’ve learned is I can’t bank on it. I mean, I didn’t know I’d be photographing pets. I mean, I had no idea that I would be photographing inside of, you know, a studio that I ran, I didn’t know this a year ago. So I really do believe in dreaming big, and sharing those dreams with your closest and your nearest and dearest and, you know, not being afraid to tell your friends. I’m going to own a studio. I want to be a photographer, I want to be, you know, X, Y, and Z, whatever it is. So dreams are always going to change and grow just like you change and grow. But as long as you’re open to visualising what you want and sharing what you want, not only with yourself and your friends in the universe, it will happen and it will grow with you. So who knows where I’m going to be next year. I’m sure a camera will be involved. But honestly, I think the biggest takeaway I have, just looking at what I’ve accomplished in one year, is I’ve got to keep pushing and growing. And I’m going to keep evolving. You know, I’m not necessarily reinventing, I’m evolving. So that’s something I would love to see more photographers do and, you know, I mentioned I’m the least technical photographer out there because I don’t spend a lot of time looking at megapixels and new cameras and debating, you know, lenses. You know, just because I shoot with my heart and that’s what I look for. You know, when I’m photographing anyone or when I’m getting a new client, I’m looking for that connection. I want that heart to heart connection. And I hope you know, I hope my photographs show that.

Alan Law

Oh, and they do definitely. Yeah. And I’m like you, I’m such not a technical photographer cameras… I’m not really interested in cameras, you know, the actual tools. They are just a tool for the job for me, you know, it’s interesting, though… other than photographic skill, what skills or attributes do you think wedding photographers should have?

Candice Cusic

I think wedding photographers, to stand out from other wedding photographers in their field, you’ve got to really just find your confidence. And, above all, be, you know, be nice. That’s the thing. I’ve seen photographers who just kind of scare their subjects a little bit. So, you know, you got to realise you’re going to be in someone’s face all day long, and they’re hiring you because they like your photography, but I think they’re also are hiring you because they like you. If you’re a great person, you’re going to get great people to work with. That’s a given. And I, you know, I think it’s really easy for the client who doesn’t know anything about photography and doesn’t know anything about wedding photography. You know, I’ve had requests before and I’m sure we all have: “Oh, you know, I don’t need any getting ready photos.” Well, that’s my job to explain to the client, you know, it’s not really for you, these getting ready photos. It’s more for I want to get to know your family. I want to hug mom. I want everyone to be comfortable with us. So that when mom starts crying later on, she’s not gonna freak out because I’m taking her picture. She knows she; she trusts me. They’ve all gotten to see us in action. And now they’re comfortable enough to ignore us. And that’s all I want from a wedding day. So really, you know, you, you really want to be someone who’s just comfortable in any environment, and positive and happy and strong.

Alan Law

I think that’s so cool. Again, I’m just nodding back here. I think that’s such good, just good general life advice as well , really, to be nice. You know, it’s so important. It really is, though.

Candice Cusic

I know and I think I learned at a very young age that creative people, any artists, musicians, photographers, creative people are always a little… could be, you know, could be a little on the spectrum or maybe just a little… off. I know I certainly, you know, growing up I was incredibly sensitive and you know, total book reader and just weird in my own way. But as long as you’re nice, you know, it just goes a long way. Especially, I think looking at photo journalists, especially when I first started, you know, big brash guys with big lenses and being like, you know, your world photographer. Um, that could be intimidating. But, you know, if your clients aren’t connecting to you, and if your clients aren’t hiring you, it could be your photography, but it also could just be how you’re presenting yourself. And so I think if you’re nice and your photography is still in its growing stages, you’re still gonna get hired.

Candice Cusic

Alan Law

That’s so true. I think that’s great, great advice. I really do. Um, and you mentioned about how you’re really into books. Has there been a specific book that you’ve read that’s had a lasting impact on you?

Candice Cusic

Not really one book. I mean I’ve certainly got favourite books throughout my lifetime. I think I was a huge Stephen King fan growing up…

Alan Law

What’s your favourite Stephen King?

Candice Cusic

Oh my goodness. I think it had to have been ‘It’. I’ve read ‘It’ several times.

Alan Law

Oh cool. You know I’ve never read that one actually, I need to. I think the one that tripped me out the most I think was Pet Cemetery. I honestly find that really, really creepy.

Candice Cusic

It is. The Stand is also a really great one. I just love anything that just kind of gets in your soul…

Alan Law

Have you read his ‘On Writing’ book where he talks about…?

Candice Cusic

I have.

Alan Law

Yeah, I found that really inspirational and a lot of what he writes about could be applied not just to writing, but to kind of general life advice. I thought that was a really good read.

Candice Cusic

And I think that’s really essential to spend time reading, to spend time, you know, going for walks, going to play basketball, whatever it is, because that is all going to come back and inspire you. And the easiest thing about photography is that it blends itself to almost any industry. You know, photography and music. Hey, that’s a good thing. There’s inspiration all over the place. And once you just remain open, it’s fantastic and easy and brilliant to just find that inspiration every week. In any way you can. So absolutely.

Alan Law

You’ve spoken at conferences, like literally all over the world, like all over and indeed that was how we met in London at Nine Dots in 2016, when we were speakers. I guess you must really enjoy them, you know, and you do workshops, you must enjoy the teaching side…? Do you still learn yourself from those things as well?

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. It’s not just that I’ve loved teaching: I love photography. And I can talk about it all day. So I just accepted my job as a photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune. And I had an assignment to go photograph Northwestern University’s journalism school. And so I just walked into the admissions office after my assignment and I just said, “Hi, I’m Candice, what can I do here?” And that led to teaching photojournalism at Northwestern for a decade. So I’ve always taught just because, yeah, because everything I teach, it comes right back to me, and I learned as much – if not more – than my students, and especially since I’ve been around college students for so long. One thing I love working with adults is, you know, the, the best way to learn how to get the camera where it needs to be is to be comfortable in different environments and be comfortable talking to strangers. You can do street photography, where you don’t say a word, and that’s cool, and that’s stealth and it’s really hard. But I think it’s also harder to walk up to somebody on the streets of downtown Chicago and say, “Hi, can I take your photo? Please just ignore me. Let’s just have a conversation.” So we do that in my workshops, because, well, you know, the great thing is, after that you’re not scared anymore. And now you’re like, you’ve got this confidence. I can go talk to anybody. And that’s, you know, that is a lesson that, you know, goes way beyond photography.

Alan Law

That’s very cool. And, yeah, confidence is such a big, big thing with so many photographers, I think. Yeah, that sounds good. I would be so scared of doing that though!

Candice Cusic

Okay, now you’re definitely gonna come to Chicago.

Alan Law

Yeah. Okay, I’m gonna come, we’re gonna do that. I want to get over that fear.

Candice Cusic

Like, it’s really easy to tell. And I’ve judged a lot of photos – I’ve done judging for you – It’s so easy to tell when you look at a photo if the camera is not where it needs to be. And typically that just screams that the photographer wasn’t confident to get close. And so just getting over that one little hurdle of being where you should be and just letting other people just ignore you, really goes a long way.

Alan Law

Yeah, totally. That’s great advice. That’s interesting, when you were teaching photojournalism at university, did you ever talk about weddings at all, as a, you know, an avenue of photojournalism?

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. Especially when I first became interested in weddings and it’s kind of funny. I was trying to become a wedding photographer and I’d never actually been to a wedding… it’s very similar to moving into my own studio and I never really shot studio and I certainly hadn’t shot pets yet so maybe I was manifesting for the future…but I think a strong photo and a strong moment… you can see it anywhere. It could even be in fashion photography, it can be in any style of photography, and a great moment is just something to learn from.

Alan Law

Mmm, and going into your business specifically… In terms of marketing and getting yourself out there, what’s been the most effective tool for you?

Candice Cusic

When I first got this studio, I joined a lot of local business groups, Chamber of Commerce, a lot of women groups as well, where you meet monthly but now you’re developing relationships with people who can refer you. So that’s key. Because you know, the end of the day, it’s great to have a big happy family where we can all just share the same clients and there’s no reason why you can’t. For weddings, it was doing the same thing. It was just making friends with other wedding photographers, and now you’ve got a great referral base. And I still love to share referrals with my friends, you know, hey, I’m booked, do you want this one and vice versa? I don’t think you need to strike off on your own and like, be, no, I’m the lone soldier. Well, you know, you can do that, but you might be a little lonely.

Alan Law

Yeah, because it can be quite a lonely industry, really, without that kind of network as well.

Candice Cusic

Extremely. And I think networking is so important and for, you know, for social media and, uh, you know, MailChimp and growing email lists… that’s just been incredibly helpful to have interns help me with that and help me run this business, basically. Every time they come in, they’re going to put their stamp on something that they get to be proud about later. And that’s wonderful. And I really do think, you know, I’m not a big control freak. I don’t really want to have my foot in every aspect of my business, I don’t want to colour correct, you know, 1000 wedding photos, I’m quite happy giving that to my staff. But I do know a lot of photographers they want that control in maybe too many aspects. So I think once again, you just find what you want to do, delegate what you don’t. And I found the same thing, even when I’m shooting, you know, working with a second photographer who can take all the family formals so while, you know, while they’re doing that I can shoot candids of people just waiting to have their photo taken. Once again, that’s what I like to do, delegate what I don’t to someone I trust, and that’s probably the biggest word of the day, is ‘trust’, and I do I have a lot of trust in my team. So, letting go of those little aspects.. it’s not painful. It’s you know, I’d love a break.

Alan Law

Yeah, it’s important. I think that’s cool. And I guess with each different intern was bringing their own kind of different energy and kind of freshness to the business a bit as well.

Candice Cusic

Absolutely. And also inspiring.

Alan Law

That’s very cool. And do you always shoot weddings with a second?

Candice Cusic

I always shoot weddings with a second and I also shoot weddings with a lighting assistant. So then again, that allows me to divide up my day into where do I want to be, and where do I want to delegate, so, you know, the bride and groom walking down the aisle… it’s great to have someone you trust to take that photo so that you can be up in the balcony or, you know, taking a fun creative shot. And the more you delegate, the more time you have to become creative. But if I was working alone, I would have to play it safe a lot and safe gets a little boring after a while.

Candice Cusic

Alan Law

Yeah, that’s so true when you’ve shot hundreds of weddings as well. You’ve been shooting for, you know, quite a while now. Has the industry changed over that time, do you think? And how do you see it evolving in the future?

Candice Cusic

Well, I mean, considering I started on film.

Alan Law

Wow. Yeah, I cannot imagine shooting a wedding on film!

Candice Cusic

Not to date myself there, Alan. You know when I was growing up and when I was in college, we were admiring photo journalists. And we would look at other newspapers from around the country. Open up those papers and look at these beautiful photo essays. That was who I was aspiring to be at that time. Yeah, the industry is completely changed. I mean, even just when I joined the Tribune we shot film, then we shot Nikon and we shot Canon. You know, it’s all changed and that’s okay, you know, even when I was a little kid I kind of resisted change but so I’m still working on that but, um, you know, it’s okay, as long as you – once again I gotta go back to as long as you can still find what’s important to you and focus on what makes you happy, bring on the change.

Alan Law

I think that’s such a cool way to look at it.

Candice Cusic

Thank you.

Alan Law

It really is though. I think a lot of people are so, kind of, scared and afraid of that, but you’ve just got such a good mindset I think for it all.

Candice Cusic

Well, you know, I get scared and afraid too, but I have to remind myself that… well think about it this way: If you went to a wedding terrified, would you be happy with your work afterwards?

Alan Law

No, ok. But I’m still nervous for each wedding, you know, beforehand.

Candice Cusic

I certainly am too. But I think now that I’ve got a team, I’m much more comfortable. When I first started and I was shooting by myself, I would get to a wedding like two hours early. I mean, I was sweating bullets before I even got there. But having that team allows me to take a breath. So it’s finding that support that allows me to thrive, not just shoot a wedding, but you know, go make some mistakes. When you’ve got teammates that you trust, I’m perfectly comfortable making mistakes at a wedding, but if I’m just shooting by myself, no, I’m terrified.

Alan Law

Yeah, that’s so cool. Oh it’s been so good talking to you. Candice, thank you, it’s been awesome. I love the way, by the way, your name has ‘candid’ in it. It’s like you’re meant to be a documentary photographer. It’s awesome.

Candice Cusic

Thank you.

Alan Law

I bet people have said that to you before. People must have said that to you before.

Candice Cusic

No, I think you’re the first… I really appreciate that.

Alan Law

Oh really? So yeah, can I ask what would be your top tips to help someone become better at the documentary side specifically?

Candice Cusic

The quickest way to strengthen your moments is to have some patience. I think the hardest thing for a photographer – especially a young photographer- to do is to put the camera to your eye and actually wait 3, 4, 5 minutes for a photo to come together. Most people… they’re already off to the next shot. And so really composing and waiting is something that is just remarkably easy to forget about, especially during a hectic day. But that’s the best way to get some really fantastic moments. And these are moments that you really worked really hard to get and have the confidence to not shoot whatever else was happening because you’re waiting for something magical.

Alan Law

I honestly think that’s great because… and it can be difficult at times, isn’t it, you feel like something could happen here but you hear, like, a big laugh somewhere else, and you’re kind of torn to maybe go to that, but having the patience – as you say – can really reward you with the great moment.

Candice Cusic

And once again when someone’s laughing and there’s something else going on, you know, that’s what your second photographer’s for. That’s okay. You know, it’s okay to just focus and wait for what you are… what’s going to make you happy.

Alan Law

I think that’s great advice, and I think, as you say, to have that team and a second photographer, you know, I’ve only ever shot solo. So, it does make total sense what you’re saying, it really does.

Candice Cusic

Yeah, yeah. It’s certainly been a growing experience for me. But you know, I when I first started, I was solo too. And then I realised life is a little bit sweeter. You know, especially if you can get some interns to at least, you know, hold your light. It just changed everything for me.

Alan Law

That’s cool. Oh, Candice, it’s gone so quickly. I’ve just loved that. I love hearing your voice by the way, it’s like silky smooth. It sounds so lovely.

Candice Cusic

Thank you, Allen. It’s just been so nice reconnecting with you. And, honestly, I’m thrilled to be asked on this programme and I really, really love what you do.

Alan Law

N’aaaw, well thank you so much. Honestly, it’s an honour to talk to you and have you on here. And I think people are going to love that and you just shared so much gold and so many interesting stories and so open. So thank you so much.

Candice Cusic

Thank you.

Alan Law

I loved it, I really did, honestly. And if people are listening now, you know, while they’re running or editing head to the site, thisisreportage.com, and I’ll include lots of examples of Candice’s work and links to your website as well. And yeah, just thank you so much. That was awesome.

Candice Cusic

Thank you. Honestly, if y’all ever need anything, don’t don’t hesitate.

Alan Law

Oh, same here, and I want to come to Chicago. I want to play in your snow.

Candice Cusic

I’ll save you a snowball.

Alan Law

Awesome. Thanks so much, Candice.

Candice Cusic

Thank you, Alan. Take care.

***********************************************************

I loved talking to Candice – and hearing her voice! – hope you enjoyed listening too. Thanks again, Candice!

You can see lots more examples of her work over on her website.

Photographers, find out all the benefits of joining us here at This is Reportage, and apply for membership over here.

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