Our next studio spotlight is Cobalt Photography, located in a fun and active suburb north of Chicago since 2004. Brad Floden is the owner and “primary storyteller” of a studio where the mission is to best tell the tale of the event through artistic and emotional images. Cobalt Photography specializes in bat/bar mitzvahs (they have shot over 1,000 mitzvahs so far!), wedding photography, and corporate events with a style that mixes photojournalism and traditional photography. Cobalt tends to be a bit “mitzvah heavy” because in the time and energy it takes to shoot one wedding they can shoot two mitzvahs in that same day! When Brad is not shooting events, he enjoys participating in career days at local schools, and also photographing charity events as a way of giving back to his community he appreciates so much. He also is an avid scuba diver and considers it his “Zen” location where he can get lost in nature (while taking some awesome underwater shots).

Brad, what is your strategy for selling albums?

90% of my albums are sold as part of the package, so the selling happens at the pitch.  I go into the meeting with the knowledge (and even the assumption) that every client wants a finished album to look back upon.  I then sell them on the fact that, as a professional, I can deliver something they most likely can’t do on their own.  Specifically, an artistic representation of their memories in the highest quality album available.  The template-based albums on press printed pages made with proof-ready images is a far cry from a custom edited and designed archival photographic print album that will stand the test of time.

I also involve the client in the process.  Rather than fight with the “I can do that” attitude, I let them be part of the final editing of the album layout.  I highlight that it is their album, and we will make it to their tastes and preferences.  In reality this results in minimal changes but involves the client and improves both our relationship and the feeling that they are getting a personalized final product.

I also strive to make it as easy for them as possible.  Most D.I.Y. albums never get done because it is too daunting a task for most people.  Many studio albums never get done for the same reason.  With that in mind, I use every tool available to make it as easy as possible.  From suggested image selections, to PDF proofs, online flip books, and finally, face to face meetings.  Whatever level of involvement the client wants or needs, I provide a solution for it.

  1. Assume they want an album
  2. Assume they want to be involved.
  3. Offer them your artistic expertise while making them feel part of the process.
  4. Make it easy.

How did you and your camera first meet?

The Minolta FM2 and I met at my 14th birthday.  I can still hear the click, and feel the vibration, of its shutter in my mind’s eye.  It was the beginning of a great love affair with photography.

What do you love about shooting in your area?

I love the community: both client and industry.  In the Northshore of Chicago we have a wonderful bubble that I find to be unique when I speak with other photographers around the country.  It is rare that I photograph a wedding or mitzvah where I don’t know the dj/ band, the videographer, consultant, decor company, venue manager, or any other vendor for the event.  It is a tight market and we all get along.  Even the photographers are mostly all friends and willing to help in a pinch.  It is also rare that I shoot an event where I don’t have several clients as guests.  We are primary referral driven, so we run into our clients often.

When I leave our little bubble it is a much lonelier day with a group of vendors that I don’t have a connection for friendship with.  Although, making new friends is always a good thing!

After an event is done, what is your work flow from uploading the images from your card reader to delivering the album?

This is an abbreviated and simplified list, but I think it gets the point across.

  1. Download the job – backup the job – start the offsite backup upload. Store the memory cards until all backups are complete and the files are delivered.
  2. Culling and renaming in Bridge
  3. RAW to Jpeg conversion in Lightroom
  4. Backup finished Jpegs
  5. Proof conversion (low resolution with branding) automated in Photoshop – if included in package
  6. Create online gallery and suggested list of images for album and send information to client
  7. Print and deliver physical proofs (if included)
  8. Client chooses images, or we help them, depending on their level of need.
  9. Custom edit ordered images and layout album.  Send proof of album to client and call to set a time to go over it together.
  10. Receive album edits from client, perform edits and reproof for them.
  11. Receive final approval and order album
  12. Deliver album.

How do you find your customers? (expos, online advertising, print ads, referrals, high school advocates/models, etc.)  

The majority of our business is referral driven.  We live and die off of what I refer to as “the girlfriend network”.  It is almost exclusively the brides, the brides moms, and the bar/bat mitzvah moms that sing our praises and give our name out.  We also receive bookings from a handful of consultants that we have good relationships with.  We also take part in several event expos over the course of the year.  While this is not a major source of new work and most people we meet come to our booth on a referral, it is always beneficial.  

The website has been an increasingly growing source of new leads.  Whether it is a referral checking us out prior to contact, or a potential client who found us on a search, the contact page inquiries have been growing over the last year.  As a result we have been putting less emphasis on print ads and more on SEO.  Our goal this month is a complete redesign of the old site, which will hopefully launch soon.

Do you prefer to shoot by yourself or with an assistant and why?

I prefer shooting with a 2nd photographer.  I say 2nd photographer and not “assistant” because I prefer to work with someone that can be creative and take control when needed.  While I am the lead in regards the style of the images, the flow of the day, and who is where and when, I love being able to have each of us get inspired from the other when it comes to creating images.  I don’t want someone to simply haul gear and position lights, I want someone who has the ability to be creative and isn’t just following me or too ego driven to take and/or give ideas and suggestions.  However, finding that person has become increasingly difficult as everyone with a camera and a website now owns a company and is less willing to work with another.  Thankfully I have a handful of trusted photographers that possess both the talent and desire to collaborate.