When you’ve spent the better part of three decades photographing society gatherings in New York and Palm Beach, you know what it takes to tell a great visual story.
Of course, there are technical considerations. You’d better get the lighting right. And there are compositional challenges. How do you capture the lush tropical backgrounds without tipping the images into cliché? But Carrie Bradburn, owner of Capehart Photography on South County Road, will tell you that when it comes to photographing the Palm Beach elite, arguably the most important part of what she does is remembering people’s names.
“When people in Palm Beach show up to a party, they like to be greeted,” she explains. “They like to know that you know them. It makes them feel comfortable, and it puts them at ease in front of the camera.”
Bradburn points out that her mentor, the legendary society photographer Lucien Capehart taught her the value of becoming an integral part of the scene she was capturing. Heeding Capehart’s advice, Bradburn is a lifetime Palm Beach resident, a former president of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce and an active member of several local philanthropic organizations. She lives full-time in the world she photographs.
“Breakfast, lunch and dinner, I see a lot of the same people,” she says. “I shot a woman Monday night, and she said, ‘Carrie, I’m running out of clothes to change into for you.’ That’s how many times I’ve taken her picture in the last two weeks.”
Generally, the more relaxed and comfortable the subject, the better the photograph. But it’s also possible for subjects to get a bit too comfortable. Bradburn points out that in an age where everyone carries a powerful camera with them at all times, life can get complicated for a working professional photographer.
“The hardest part of my job right now is dealing with everyone’s cell phones,” she says.
Out of necessity, Bradburn has created a strategy for countering the never-ending request for selfies from guests at the events she photographs.
“Since the pandemic, I have a rule,” she says. “I don’t touch anybody’s phone.”
Cell phones were not a problem in the late-1970s, when Lucien Capehart started his photography business. After working briefly for Mort Kaye, the dean of Palm Beach society photographers, Capehart opened his eponymous studio in 1979. Bradburn joined Capehart as an assistant in 1991. With no formal training in photography, her rise through the ranks was more measured than meteoric. In fact, it wasn’t until 1995 that Bradburn took her first professional photograph for the company.
“When I started working for Lucien, I was running film to a lab and drying contact sheets and learning how to use a darkroom,” she says. “Eventually, Lucien owned every digital camera that Canon ever made, and he had Photoshop when it first came out. We all kind of learned from the ground up.”
Over the course of two decades of working together, Bradburn and Capehart forged a powerful friendship.
“Lucien was like my father. I started working for him right after my dad died,” Bradburn explains. “He walked me down the aisle at my wedding. He was there for all four of my children’s births. I was the godmother to his daughter.”
When Capehart died in 2012, he left his business in its entirety to Bradburn. Including Bradburn, Capehart Photography currently fields a staff of six full-time photographers, all of whom are women. Bradburn says that the all-female composition of her staff isn’t necessarily by design, adding that her two most recent hires were simply a case of finding the right people for the job.
“Obviously, this company was founded by a man, and we’ve had men work for us as photographers from time to time,” she says. “(Our all-female staff) is just kind of where we’ve landed since COVID.”
The studio offers an extensive roster of professional services, including personal and business portraiture, food and beverage photography, art documentation, and product photography. But Bradburn acknowledges that Capehart has always earned its bona fides primarily as a society and event photographer.
At press time, Bradburn had just finished shooting a pair of typical Palm Beach winter events. She’d been at the Colony Hotel to chronicle a raucous cocktail party celebrating the collaboration between Out East Champagne and the pop artist, Ashley Longshore. She’d also just shot a low-key breakfast hosted by the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce and featuring guest speaker Kim Ng, the general manager of the Miami Marlins.
Peruse Capehart Photography’s portfolio and you’ll find more than a few A-listers and boldface names from the art, entertainment, sports and business worlds. When asked if she has any particularly juicy stories about any of the numerous movers and shakers she’s worked with over the years, Bradburn pauses, then answers carefully:
“Yeah, but I can’t talk about the really cool ones,” she says. “I signed NDAs.”