“My first passion was never photography, it was about the children,” says Julie Floyd, founder of Classic Kids Photography. “I appreciate a great picture, but I’m not a photographer of children because I love photography. I’m a photographer of children because I love children. You have to look at those babies and see that beauty. Then, when you work with the beautiful light and the different lenses, you can do some amazingly magical things.”
Anyone who’s seen some of Floyd’s signature black and white studio shots can testify to that magic, families and children captured in perfect moments of sincere laughter or soulful stares. Nothing about it forced, no one “saying cheese,” you can really see every person. The images are so crisp, the crystal clear eyes of the subject captured with a lens so precise as to have everything behind them begin to drift artistically soft. It’s not only family portraiture, it’s art.
Floyd would accept nothing less. In a recent home remodel, she chose 60 of her favorite prints from the last 20 years—mostly shots of her five sons—to reproduce for display throughout the house. She knew her prints would be of the highest quality; she ordered them from the private lab she built in Evanston. A lab she created to ensure that the 11 Classic Kids locations throughout the United States deliver the ultimate in hand-finished photography prints.
A personal attention to detail is built into every step of the process when working with Classic Kids, from a home walkthrough to make sure the end product is going to perfectly complement your home aesthetic to sitting down together to look through physical copies of proofs from the shoot.
“A lot of photographers have gone to sending online galleries because they don’t want to spend the two or three hours we spend with each client helping them pick out what’s ideal for their house,” Floyd says. “We do sell files, but we discourage it. Art is in print, putting things on your walls where you’ll enjoy it every day, not on a hard drive, where it just piles up. People who are choosy about how things are printed still come to us.”
It’s funny to think that before people were coming to her to capture the essence of a moment in their family’s life, they were coming to her for advice on corporate international tax planning. After graduating from Northwestern Law School with honors, Floyd spent her early career working at the firms Baker & McKenzie and Jenner & Block.
“Law school was really fun, but the practice of law is very dry, especially international tax,” Floyd remembers. “You spend hours in rooms going through boxes looking for evidence that a company priced something incorrectly with their Swiss subsidiary. Not a lot of people contact.” Which was the polar opposite of the experience she had when she took her infant son to have his portrait taken.
“I felt like it was the most fun job in the world,” she says. “You just play with these kids and these beautiful babies. Precious toddlers taking their first steps in front of you. Somehow, saving Exxon half a million dollars in federal taxes just didn’t do it for me in the same way that having a cherished memory on someone’s wall did.”
She began apprenticing for that photographer immediately. When her husband’s job with Hyatt took the family to San Francisco, Floyd decided to skip taking the bar in California and picked up a camera. At first, she dedicated herself solely to black and white portraiture of children and families in a studio environment. No props, no distracting backgrounds, just people spending time with the camera until they dropped their guard. She placed one example 11×14 in a popular baby store and suddenly had more business than she could handle.
When Floyd, her husband, and kids moved back to the North Shore, she kept the San Francisco operation up and running, flying back for marathon photo sessions, shooting seven families a day before flying back home. Shortly after, Floyd opened the Classic Kids in Winnetka. With her arresting images in the windows, she was flooded with business, proving the demand for her concept wasn’t limited to the west coast. Within two years, she opened the Chicago location and the expansion continued.
Classic Kids now has 45 employees, between the 11 studios in California, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois—the newest of these opened in Highland Park last month—and the photo lab that puts out their high quality prints. Floyd splits her time jumping from location to location, training her staff as new techniques and equipment cycle in, making sure everyone is performing to the best of their abilities, watching out for her exacting Classic Kids standards, and meeting the next batch of apprentices that may one day be at the helm of their own Classic Kids satellite location. Though it was her love of capturing the beauty and innocence of children on film that drew her to the field, she finds herself spending less time behind the lens as her business continues to grow.
“Believe it or not, I love all of it,” Floyd says. “At first, I was in the studio, five shoots a day, every day. I loved that for 15 years. But I really enjoy managing and helping other people reach what they want to do in their careers, as well. And I love the business side of it. I love marketing, I love branding, I love designing our packaging and our shopping bags. I love helping to design our news blasts and windows. I love growing and setting up new studios. I love creating beautiful things. That’s what I love.”