Lynn Trautmann, a talented and popular local photographer, recently wound down her photography business, LT Photo, around the same time she and her husband sold their longtime Evanston home and relocated further north to Lake Bluff. The move was prompted by a desire to live in a smaller, ranch-style home on one level, and with few ranch homes in the Evanston area, the couple expanded their search.
Then, just a few weeks ago, on Oct. 29, she received a First Place award in the Spot News Photo category at the virtual 2019 Northern Illinois Newspaper Association (NINA) awards ceremony. Ms. Trautmann has won several Second and Third Place NINA awards before, but always in the Sports Photo category. The prize-winning photo was taken in early 2020 at the ‘soft opening’ of the Evanston Public Library branch located in the new Robert Crown Center. The judges appreciated her keen eye, saying, “Utilizing a birds eye view to add a little extra to what could be considered a mundane assignment is what makes this photo rise to the top in this category. Nice job.”
Closing a business and moving in a short period of time would be challenging under normal circumstances, but nothing about this pandemic year is normal. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings, most of Ms. Trautmann’s regular client assignments dried up in the spring during the lockdown. The few remaining assignments she had scheduled, she needed to decline for health reasons. Ms. Trautmann spoke to a reporter via Zoom as she looked back on this part of her professional life.
On the North Shore, she built her reputation as a sports photographer for local high schools including Evanston Township High School, New Trier, Glenbrook North and South, Loyola, and Lake Forest as well as a photographer for special events, headshots, and family portraits. Although she had been a burgeoning photographer in high school, she did not consider pursuing photography professionally, saying, “I was too scared. I didn’t think I would be able to earn a steady income.” Instead, she pursued the corporate path and earned a master’s degree in Communication Theory. For years she was managing human resources development at a prominent consulting firm, which no longer exists, having merged numerous times.
She developed an expertise in sports photography through hard work and stamina. Her son, Marcus, was an athlete in baseball and football, and she attended all of his games, always with her camera, to take photos of him and his teammates. She loved doing it. Her initial results were promising, and she was getting lots of exercise running on the sidelines. Eventually, she became confident about her photography and invested in a 70mm-200mm telephoto lens. A couple of years later she was able to afford a 300mm prime lens, which made all the difference, especially for shooting sports photography.
She was also very generous: she bought for, and donated to, the ETHS school newspaper a 70-200 millimeter lens after seeing one of the kids trying to shoot a football game with a 50 millimeter lens, an impossible task.
Ms. Trautmann found sports photography to be very straightforward. Most of the time she used a 300 millimeter lens and ‘pushed’ the ISO or degree of brightness to 3200—a high number, but any higher she felt would risk the photos being grainy. She made sure to use a wide aperture of 2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second to stop the action. Not only were her photographs clear, exciting, and memorable, but she got a good workout and strong arms because the equipment is so heavy.
It did not matter if she was standing on a sideline or baseline, behind a backstop, across the gym or behind a diving board, her camera brought her right beside the players. She could see every expression and every emotion – elation when the team scored or a player did something extraordinary, disappointment and frustration when the opposite happened. She witnessed tears, smiles, embarrassment, anger, and pride, sometimes all in one game with one team. She had a front row seat to the sweat on their brows, the color in their cheeks, the dirt on their clothes, and the relationships they had with each other and their coaches.
After her son graduated from ETHS in 2014, Ms. Trautmann contacted Larry Gavin at the RoundTable and suggested that the paper needed a sports photographer. He agreed, reviewed her portfolio, and liked what he saw. She was hired. Every week the paper provided her a list of games she needed to cover. Instead of taking the required photos and leaving, something she could do in about 30 minutes, she stayed until the end of each game and took photos of almost every athlete on the home team.
“Kids like to see themselves looking good. I made a commitment to myself that I would never publish a picture of a kid that made them look bad. Ever. A lot of the First Place NINA shots were of kids falling down or missing a big play, but I wouldn’t shoot those,” says Ms. Trautmann. “The team could lose by 50 points, and every kid would be a superstar. Even kids who almost never got game time or play time, I would be there for them. That was the community service aspect of LT Photo. I tried to be there to give the people in the community pictures of their kids, and for the kids, pictures of themselves.”
She painstakingly edited and color-corrected the photos and then would share them with the Evanston community through the LT Photo Facebook page (since deactivated). The kids and their families, in turn, liked and shared the photos of themselves through their Facebook pages. Olivia DeLeon-Pope, an Evanston resident and mother of three ETHS graduates, described how the day after a game, the ETHS students would be eagerly waiting for Ms. Trautmann’s photos to be uploaded to the LT Photo Facebook page. “She is so generous. Super popular with the kids, passionate about her work, and always one who went above and beyond. Her work is outstanding,” said Ms. DeLeon-Pope about Ms. Trautmann.
Ms. Trautmann loved seeing all the comments from the kids, their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. It helped bring families together. There were at least two occasions where estranged fathers reached out through Facebook to comment and say, ‘How great is our kid!’ She felt like she was making a difference.
Lynn Trautmann and LT Photo soon developed a following. Kids would ask her to photograph them when they’d spot her at a game. The breadth of her work expanded to non-athletic events with students, and she was hired to take the current photos used in the backlit poster images still lining the storied corridor of Heritage Hall at ETHS.
Even people in the stands, and especially the groups of moms who regularly attended games to support their kids, had their picture taken by Ms. Trautmann.
Glenice Pittman, one of the self-described “football moms,” and the one who claims credit for starting the chant of ‘LT Photo! LT Photo!’ at games, enthused, “Lynn captured moments that made everyone on the team feel included, even if they didn’t get to play much. She brings so much passion to her work. It’s more than a business for her. You can tell she loves what she does. And it shows – her work is excellent.”
Over the years Ms. Trautmann grew close to several students and they stayed in touch with her after they had graduated ETHS. She would hear from them when they were in college or at jobs. She loved hearing about what they were up to and took a genuine interest in their lives. She has remained a presence in the lives of several, even using some money set aside from her business to help out one of the graduates from ETHS Class of 2014. Everything she did with LT Photo was for the kids she photographed.
Her work expanded beyond athletic fields. Jill Schacter, Community Engagement Coordinator at the Evanston Public Library and responsible for the library’s external communications, hired Ms. Trautmann in 2015 to take photographs that “bring to life the library. Lynn showed the power and impact of the Evanston Public Library on our community. She captured images that show how the library brings people together through activities in and out of the building, and serves as a source of entertainment, literacy, and technological training.”
Ms. Trautmann said that even though she has taken tens of thousands of photos, she can still tell if a photograph is hers. She has spent so much time designing each photo that she knows her ‘look.’ “I’m like a kid in a candy store when I have my camera. I look at things differently. I see beauty everywhere. I am never bored with a camera in my hands. I loved how they said at the NINA awards that I took a photo that could have been a mundane shoot and I made it interesting. I did because it is interesting. I love capturing life.”
She has witnessed athleticism, competitiveness, focus, and striving with both girls’ teams and boys’ teams. “The camera is a good indicator of talent,” according to Ms. Trautmann, “and I gravitated to the players doing exceptional things.” She was proud to have been there to capture such talent, and to document the prowess of young and gifted athletes. Those are the days that sports photographers live for and dream about.
The irony of a non-athletic person’s earning local fame and an income as a sports photographer is not lost on Ms. Trautmann. As she contemplates which new direction she will pursue, she is leaning toward something in art, but cautions, “I have no idea what that means. … I’m still exploring.” What remains are the relationships she’s made throughout the community and the impact her work has had on Evanston families over the past decade.