L.L. Bean shoots, scores in Westbrook

WESTBROOK – When you’re flipping through an L.L. Bean catalog this fall, look closely at the scenes of home furniture and bedroom sets. Through a window, you might just spot some trees from Westbrook.

That’s because all the photography of new L.L. Bean products is now being done at a studio on Thomas Drive.

In February, L.L. Bean signed an agreement with Wisconsin-based Quad/Graphics Photography to be the clothing and outdoor company’s exclusive studio photographer. Part of the agreement was that L.L. Bean would build Studio 1912, the 16,000-square-foot digital photography studio in Westbrook.

Previously, Bean’s catalog photography had been shot at a few smaller studios in Freeport and Portland. Employees of both L.L. Bean and Quad say they’re excited about the new space.

“It’s exactly what we dictated we wanted,” Zack Bowen, the lead photographer, said about the building, which is the former home of Planet Fitness Express.

Mark Kozlowski, director of photography for Quad, said there are several reasons the companies landed on the Westbrook site to build the studio. One of them was the location of the city itself, he said, which is close to the airport and highways. But it was the building that really sold them. Its size, the height of its ceilings and its position, which allows in abundant daylight, all made it the perfect studio.

Seven photographic shooting bays, a wood shop and rooms for props and merchandise make up the operation. There are nine full-time employees at the studio, but the companies also bring in models, stylists and people to prepare clothing for the shoots.

Jason Bean, manager of the studio (but no relation to the company owners), said being able to schedule all the photo shoots through one company in one studio allows for “much more flexibility.”

According to Bean, the photography is done about nine months before the catalogs come out, which is why the first Westbrook shots won’t be featured until the fall. The “on location” shots of beaches and hikers are not part of the contract, but, Bean said, “anything with a white background,” like piles of polo shirts and spreads of sweaters, is being shot in Westbrook.

Carolyn Beem, spokeswoman for L.L. Bean, said the company mails catalogs to about 250 million households every year. Bean catalogs include Men’s, Women’s, Kids, Fly Fishing, Hunting, Traveler and Home titles. Quad will also shoot photos for Bean’s Web sites and e-commerce businesses.

According to Jason Sawtelle, a sales director for Quad, the media and printing company also does work for Talbots, Orvis, Casual Male and Yankee Magazine.

The relationship between Quad and L.L. Bean dates back to the 1990s. Since 2008, Quad has been the exclusive printer of the catalogs and does its pre-press work, which Sawtelle described as “everything that happens between photography and printing.”

Bowen, who’s been a photographer for L.L. Bean since 2005, said he likes working with the company, because it knows what it wants and is good at communicating its vision to the photographers.

“It’s just a good client,” Bowen said. “A solid group of people and a solid product.”

Tom Canney, a photo stylist with Quad Graphics Photography Services, works with an L.L. Bean shirt at the company’s new studio in Westbrook last week. (Staff photo by Brandon McKenney)