Winter Caplanson captures the big picture on local, sustainable living

Lobster risotto, one recent subject in Winter Caplanson's growing photography portfolio.
Lobster risotto, one recent subject in Winter Caplanson's growing photography portfolio.

Food, education, photography: Winter Caplanson is a big picture type of person. The skeins of her many related endeavors weave beautifully around a commitment to sustainable food, natural products and creative living.

Caplanson is the executive director of Bridges Healthy Cooking School, the 501c3 that oversees the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market among other projects; and the soapmaker behind Sleepy Moon Soaps which she crafts from her 18th century farmhouse using herbs, buttermilk, honey and natural oils.

She also serves as the photojournalist for Willimantic Downtown, and is the lead photographer for Connecticut Food and Farm. (Samples of her work are shown on the facing page.)

Connecticut Food and Farm began as Bridges project — a food blog covering local agriculture, markets and eateries.

“As we gathered and told the stories of the local food movement, we realized to that to market their products well, many of the producers and purveyors we were covering needed access to the same kind of high quality photography that was being contributed to create content for Connecticut Food and Farm,” she explained.

Connecticut Food and Farm now offers professional photography to the agricultural and food service industries. Current clients include Willimantic Brewing Company, Cafemantic, and the Mystic Cheese Company.

Grace recently spoke to Caplanson about her latest ventures.­

— Faye Parenteau

Is your photography work the realization of a dream or was it a natural outgrowth of other endeavors?

Great photography has been the most critical component to my successful marketing of the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market. Through the years, I’ve been joined behind the lens by many talented photographers. Their work and mentoring inspired and supported me in growing as a photographer and by doing the work often, and a little better each season, I’ve come into my own. In the springtime, started to do photography as a business. I saw the need that local farmers, makers, and restaurateurs have for fantastic, on-trend photos to use in marketing.

I once spent a whole morning doing a business plan with a photographer laying out how food and farm photography could become the core of her business. She opted not to move in that direction — later I realized that, unwittingly, I had been developing a plan for myself.

Can you describe the pivotal moment that life took you in the direction you’re in?

My husband and I for many years owned a farm in Vermont. We spent good chunks of time in the Brattleboro area and were steeped in the funky, artsy, back-to-the-earth vibe. Eventually, we concentrated our time and focus back here and I sought to transplant to Connecticut what I loved most about Vermont. Chief among those elements was developing a vibrant farmers’ market. As I gained organizational and marketing skills, I also used them to create other local-food-centric events and promote the farm and food businesses doing amazing work all around me.

What sets your photos apart?

Food and farms are what I know best. I know what pictures will best tell the story and forge a connection with customers. From my years with the farmers’ market, I am a familiar figure to a lot of farmers and chefs and am as comfortable during dinner service in a hot kitchen as I am ankle-deep in mud in a pasture. I know them, I know their businesses, and I know how to reach the customers that will appreciate what they are doing.

What has been the biggest challenge you faced, getting things off the ground?

Farmers, makers, and local restaurants don’t always know they can afford professional photography or that investing in great images is the best marketing money they can spend. Instagram and phone photos can provide a false sense of security that they are getting the shots they need themselves. But having a file of professional, high-resolution photos is a resource they can pull from again and again not only for social media but also for ads, and print materials, and to send to the press. A business that can provide the media with beautiful, high resolution photos is a business they will turn to often when they need content.

A schedule of short but regular visits builds a great digital portfolio, keeps the cost of the photography down, and creates a comfort level between photographer and staff (or farm animals!) that is conveyed in the final images.

Who were the people who helped you along the way?

Access and opportunity have been a huge advantage for me. I’ve taken photos behind the scenes at farm dinners, at milking time on a frosty January morning, when chefs are rolling dough for hundreds of pies, or bringing out the weekend’s beautifully-plated dinner specials.

How has this venture changed your life?

At nearly 50, I am not too old to follow yet another passion, to learn, and to be of service. I get to use my camera to tell the stories of the local food movement to people who support it. These businesses are doing great work and this is a way I can help them to thrive. We all benefit from that.

Do you think women face any unique entrepreneurial challenges?

No. At least I have not.

What do you love most about your work? Do you have a defining philosophy that guides your work from day to day?

I love using my camera to capture images that show people what I see.

I know I improve daily by doing the work. I don’t pass up an opportunity to photograph something I love and I want other people to discover and appreciate.

It’s easy to fall prey to worry that one’s work is not as good as some others… but I say to myself, “Look around, there are no other photographers here, so you’re the best photographer in the room. Get the shot. Tell the story. Do the work. Tomorrow you’ll be a little better for it.”

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