Focus on photos

By on February 23, 2014

Photo: Jan Baumgartner with her camera and her “winter wonderland” photo setting in the background. The scene is just one of several photo rooms she’s created in her studio. Photo by Patti Wilk

ELBURN—Jan Baumgartner, one of the newest members of the Elburn Chamber of Commerce, is working hard to turn her photography business into a full-time venture.

Her journey to get to this point hasn’t traveled a straight line, and she recently reflected back on pivotal points and people who had an impact on where she is today.

When Baumgartner arrived at Kaneland High School more than 20 years ago, she was in the lower half of her class. She had always been artistic, but she did not see herself as college material.

“I didn’t see myself going to college,” she said. “I didn’t think I was smart enough.”

But then she found herself in Richard Ross’ college-track science class. Although she tried to switch out of the college track, he kept talking her out of it.

“He saw potential in me, and he wasn’t going to let it go to waste,” she said.

Three years of science classes with Ross taught Baumgartner to be curious about the world around her and to explore to find out how things worked.

“It was all about learning to take chances and not give up so easily,” she said.

Year later, when she found herself at Waubonsee Community College, these skills and this confidence would serve her well.

Armed with a B.A. in French, Baumgartner’s goal was to teach. The advisers she spoke to at Northern Illinois University suggested she pick up some required courses in art and history at Waubonsee.

She ended up falling in love with drawing, and took classes in art and photography, painting and drawing in her pursuit of an Associate’s Degree in art.

While she was there, she had an opportunity to intern with a graphic artist and photographer in Waubonsee’s marketing and communications department.

“That experience was very pivotal for me, to see that I could have a creative profession and to be compensated for it,” she said.

Her learning curve took a steep turn upwards when the woman she was studying with died suddenly. Baumgartner jumped in and took on many of the woman’s responsibilities.

She learned how to operate the department’s 35 mm camera in time to cover some very important public events. When the college made the transition from a black-and-white darkroom to a digital environment, Baumgartner was given the responsibility for doing the research and making the equipment purchasing decisions.

“There were lots of learning opportunities,” she said.

The next eight years with Waubonsee offered her a very broad and deep experience, with the college’s execution of its master building plan. Her responsibilities included managing digital assets, creating photo displays, building things out of foamcore and the layout of publications.

Although she had done much learning on the job, Baumgartner felt that she wanted to focus in on photography, and she left Waubonsee and the Midwest to attend the Hallmark School. The course was the “boot camp” of the industry, Baumgartner said, and she learned portraiture, the basics of metering, commercial table-top photography, as well as many other skills and techniques.

Armed with her array of skills and a deeper confidence, Baumgartner came home to create her own business. She does fine portraiture, corporate photography, high-end retouching, graphic design, small-business marketing, as well as some social media marketing and creating websites.

“It’s like a small ad agency in a box,” she said.

As she works to grow her business, Jan Baumgartner Photography, she looks forward to the day when she can bring on board other professionals.

“Ideas are the currency, and what I miss from Waubonsee is other team members,” she said. “I gravitate toward a free flow of ideas.”

She also looks forward to becoming an active member of the Elburn business community, and has joined the Chamber of Commerce toward that end.

For more information about Baumgartner, visit her website at