Rob: Thanks, Jason Cole from Cole Studios for having a chat to us today on not the Rob Bell podcast. It's really great to see you again. It's been a while.
Jason: Pleasure to be here, Rob. Thank you very much.
Rob: So one of the reasons I wanted to have a chat to you today was around your studio. Cole Studios. And you've been operating now for over 20 years. And one of the premier wedding photographers down in the Wollongong area. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started and just kind of how you got to starting your wedding photography business?
Jason: Well, I used to be an engineer before I was photographer, and I basically had a three year changeover from photography to, sorry from engineering to photography. I had a friend who wanted her wedding photographed and I said, yep, sure, no worries I can do that, not having no idea about the complexity of shooting a wedding. So I went and shot and I was really good. And she was really happy with the photos. The photos I wouldn't put my name to now, but I was back in the day. This is 20 years ago. This is the 5th of January 1999 was the wedding. I still remember the date and we down the Mornington Peninsula down the bottom of Melbourne. I mean, she was happy with the photos, which is the main thing. But then, yeah, I always liked photography. I like the creativity of it. My mum was an artist and I just really liked the creativity of it. So and being a technical person, I got into the whole technical side of photography, which I think is very important. As a photographer, you've got to be good technically as well. You've got to be artistic. There's no good being artistic photos or blurry or you might, you don't know exactly how your gear works. And then I got into studio lighting and got into magazine photography, too, like the once we were shooting for 14 magazines. Shooting for HFM, Ralph, Zoo. All the big magazines like glamour stuff, the tasteful stuff. Like my idea with glamour photography was always tasteful photography it was never, You know, I want little Becky's mum to look at her and she looks beautiful. Not she looks like a tramp. you know what I mean, that's how I've always done my photography. And yeah, we've had a lot of success doing it. But yeah as the internet has come along. And as the you know, as things have changed, the magazines have all gone by the wayside. So now we sort of concentrate more on wedding photography. We do a lot of product photography as well. And yeah, so just it's just a good combination of things, mainly weddings. But we do do other things as well. Pet photography is a really big thing at the moment as well.
Rob: So it's interesting that you started as an engineer, and how instrumental do you think that engineering background played in mastering, you know, the technical side of photography and obviously studio lighting in and taking that outdoors, which was obviously one of your major marketing facets as well. How important was that background and how much did that play into your success?
Jason: Well, I think it's very important. I think that you have to be artistic. I think that it's really important. Like I said, my mother was an artist. So you've got to be artistic. I was just a joke to my mom I get all my artistic side from my dad she said your father hasn't got an artistic bone in his body, she use to get all upset because I only joking, and she knew that, my late mom. But I think that the artistic side is very good. But I think you need to have that technical side as well. Like you need to be able to look and go ok. Well, if I could work out apertures, ISO shutters in my head. You know, I can go I can look at a scene and go ok I'm going to shoot this at like, you know, 1:200th of a second I'm going to shoot ISO 400 and gonna shoot F28, because I want a depth of field and I'm generally pretty spot on with my calculations. But then at the same time I also look and think ok, well I want to shoot one two hundred second but my studio lights only sync the 1/160th so now I've gotta instead of having the fastest shutter speed I've gotta compensate with the ISO or the aperture. That's the sort of thing I can work out in my head. It also helps with the post-processing side of things too, because a lot of people don't realise that we spend as much time in the studio editing as we do shooting. So an 8 hour wedding is generally 8 hour edit as well. Brightening, darkening, colour correcting. Doing all the, you know, all the fine tuning that goes with a wedding to make it look professional. You know, we always set the exposure like in Lightroom, which is a program we used from Adobe. We set, we use the exposure for the face. So and that's really important because as you know yourself, you know, being a photographer as well, you can't get every exposure perfect. But you can in Lightroom that you can. So from a technical point of view, it's made a massive difference, like having a good technical background. It's also been good for a couple of times. We've had problems with cards where maybe, you know, maybe the cards corrupted. From a technical point of view, we've always been able to recover corrupted cards and we use dual cards in our cameras now and we have for a very long time anyway. But yeah, we had the corrupted cards. So having technical knowledge, like computer knowledge and stuff is makes a massive, massive difference to your process. And also, like from the social media online point of view as well, like, I guess from a marketing point of view, it's good to have good, strong social media skills, to be able to I guess internet skills, to be able to, you know, update their own website, to be able to, you know, get your Instagram, get your Facebook. You know get Twitter all that sort of stuff, happening regularly.
Rob: I suppose that leads us to an interesting discussion point as well, and, We'll come back to, say, the business side of photography in a little minute. But how much has social media changed the business structure? I remember back in, say, 20 years ago you'd go to weddings and there was really strict rules or at least strict preferences around guests taking photos and that sort of thing. But in this day and age of social media, have you guys adapted too, you know, accommodating that expectation and everyone's got a camera?
Jason: Yeah, I think that's a very good question. We still do our own thing, like, see this is the thing, people go to a wedding and they say, ok I'm going to get my friend to shoot the wedding. The friends got the iPhone, they might even have a camera like this Gh5 some are using. It could have a good camera. But it's also about, like most of wedding photography is interacting with people and dealing with the customers. That's most of, the photography part is easy. The hardest part is crowd control. What I say is crowd control. Because crowd control is critical to being able to do your job properly. Being able to organise people, being able to organise families, being able to get people to do what you want without offending anybody. You know, being able to get like a group shot and like, when people are mucking around and had a few drinks, being able to move people along, get the next person in because, you know, kitchen's wedding to do mains and stuff. So then you've got a short amount of time working with all the other people. When you get when your sole job is the wedding photography, you know, you're going to get the job done properly. When these people get their friends to shoot it, you know, they might get, who knows, the friends get in the way of everybody else, they don't get the shot, they get involved because their emotionally connected to the wedding, they get involved the next thing you know, they like go oh!! As the first kiss happens but they don't get a photo of it. You know, you get you Uncle that does the video that got his little handy cam but then his got one battery and then half an hour it's his battery gets flat. So that's the end of their wedding video. And then you see back in the reception, where he's up right against the wall of the wedding but his cords only six foot long and his up against the wall trying to record from the wall. And so the audio is terrible. The video is terrible. It's like. It's just. You get what you pay for you very much get what you pay for. But I think from a social media point of view, social media has very much changed how we do work like I've always been a person that's been very what's the word, very like, I have a bit of, my wife will tell you I have OCD. Yeah. I like stuff to be done properly, but even more so in the days of social media, because if you make a mistake and so, if you make a mistake, the smallest mistake a lot of people these days instead of saying hey Jason I'm not happy with this can we fix this, and 99 out of 100 times we can. Or you know sometimes you know like yourself. Anything that's you talk to people and you have dialogue with people 99% of things can be resolved just by talking to people. But this day and age with social media, people are the first ones get on and go 1 star. I'll give you a good example on our website on our Google. We've got a hundred and fifteen reviews none and a hundred and fourteen five star reviews. A hundred and forteen, five star reviews we've got one, one star review from a customer it wasn't even from a wedding it was from a newborn shoot because the photos wouldn't fit in the certificate frame she bought to put them in. Now, if she had of called us, we would've said, OK, well there not going to fit, we would recommended some frames we would have reprinted them, you know, but instead they just got straight onto Google and gave us a one star review that's all they did, you know, there wasn't any communication and then said that we wouldn't talk to them, after which we would talk to them. It's just a case they didn't communicate. And when they finally I finally did get on so that are abusive enough that I thought, well you know what, once people get to that stage, there's nothing you can do. But what my point there is, is if I had worked with us from the start, that problem could have been resolved because I mean. She had a couple of 11x14 photos in her package, in the newborn package, who buys, who gets 11x14 from a photographer and doesn't put it in a nice frame. You know, we spent all this money getting the best printers, the best cameras, the best lighting, the best everything to produce a finished professional result. Much better than what you can do yourself at like god-forbid Harvery Norman or Domayne or somewhere like that. You know, like it's a finished product. So you get a nice frame it's got a nice border round it, it's finished. A certificate frames is one you do when you finish Uni and put your certificate in there. And so what happened is she tried to push them in and they didn't fit and they all squashed up or four of them. It was actually four prints sorry not two, all four prints and gave us a one star. So I think from that point of view, it makes us a lot more. It's a lot more where a lot more conscious of that and the fact that, like, you know, the slightest little thing can cause a bad review. And I mean, you live and die by reviews, as you know, like, you know, If I've got a 5 star rating on Google and I get a couple of 1 star reviews then suddenly I'm 4.9. Where the other photographer, that's 5 stars that's got one review he gave himself and now it comes up above me. It's just how Google works. You know you see you've gotta and you've got to be very conscious of that, which we are we're very conscious of. Like we follow people up after wedding's say are you happy with everything. Is there anything we could have done better. We get all our feedback, but we also, we're very, very thought at what we do, too. Another thing, when you talk about with, you know, like social media getting friends and such as a photographer, my job is to make sure that you get all your photos that you need. So, you know, so to give you an example, the family shots, you know, the bride with just her mum, the bride with just her dad, the bride just her mum and dad, the bride with just her mum and dad and siblings, the bride with her mum, dad, siblings and the groom, the bride with each sibling. And then, you know, then we swap it around the groom with just his mum, just his dad, there's all these things. And I know all this up here cause I've done over 2000 weddings now and I know my job back to front. Whereas when you've got your friends shoot it, or you know, someone who's sort of practicing like the worst possible thing you do is get a friend to shoot your wedding when you've got a friend doing it they go oh ok there's a nice photo with mum, dad, and the family and the, Yeah, and the partners. I mean, I always shoot without the partners with and without because I mean, you know, how many times have you seen where you know you've got "oh their going to be in love they are going to spend the next 50 years together" three weeks later they're broken up but now their partners are in all the wedding photos. So, you know, when you got somebody who's not experienced. That's. That's what they're doing. You know their not experienced so that I really know what to do from that point of view. So I think from a social media point of view, from a, you know, like the New Age, everyone's got a phone and stuff. To be honest with you, I don't think it really makes much difference to our business. I think the people that do get their friends to shoot the wedding with their mobile phone or their iPhone. They were gonna get it they weren't get a photographer anyway, So like we still do around a hundred and fifty weddings a year.
Rob: Yeah, OK. So, I mean, obviously it's evolved, but what you've sort of said there as well is that reputation management is really pivotal to the business, and especially now that it's so much more prevalent and transparent online. Anyone can find anything about pretty much any business. How do you, I know that you run a second photography team to cater for the sheer volume of weddings that you book. How do you manage that from a reputation standpoint. Hiring people and maintaining, you know, ensuring that they're maintaining the brand and those values. Excuse me, those values that you are putting across on your brand?
Jason: I'm very fussy, extremely fussy. We have the same three photographers that have worked for us for about probably seven or eight years now. The same three photographers I'm very, very fussy like I, the guy that runs our second team, Anthony Edwards. He actually shot my wedding. Anthony was with me for two years. He was with me for, and I taught him every aspect of what we do. I made sure he had the right personality for it as well, which he does. He had a lot of training before we put him out on his own team. And when he had his own team when he started on his own team, he used to have cue cards, he'd have like cards to go through to make sure, just to make sure everything was done properly. And that's why it's so hard to find another, like we could easily have a third team, easy have a third team. And also, I also am the one that is responsible for the final edit. And that's probably the most important thing, because sometimes, you know, you're looking and you think oh, you know, it's not a bad shot, but it's not great because the composition is not right or the backgrounds too dark but because I did the final edit when the customer sees the final product, It's beautiful, It's exactly like I would have shot. So that's that's the thing. And you've got to have good photographers. Very hard to find good photographers like the three guys we've got now. Bobby, Tony and Anthony, they are superb photographers. We've got a couple of other photographers, too, which are which are stand in, which are really good photographers, too. But these guys know exactly how we shoot back to front. And they've got different styles to like Bobby Kid is more of an arty sort of photographer. He works on my team, Anthony and Tony work on team two, and Bobby's a really arty guy and has a very, very different style to what I do. So it sort of complements each other and same with Tony and Anthony, they've got very different styles as well. But at the end of the day, we still know that we have to we've got certain shots we have to get at every wedding. We've got to get those portraits. A simple thing like a portrait, a lot of photographers don't do portraits anymore like just you know three quarters, you know, just a portrait, of the bride and groom, something that Mum and Dad or Nan and Pop, where going to put up on their wall at home. They do all these arty shots but they don't do a simple portrait. We do both. We do the arty and we do the portraits as well. And I think it's also from just years and years of talking to people, feedback. And every time we get feedback, I think, you know what? That's a really good point. We put it into our product. I think it's really important. And we also use the mobile studio light too. Some mobile studio light is a very, very different sort of lighting to what any other photographers use it comes back from the magazine days, magazine photography days. But a lot of people look and they'd say, you know, that backgrounds has been Photoshopped or it's fake or whatever. It's not it's just about good lighting. It's about having really, really good lighting. We use a broncolour Adverso ,best you can buy.
Rob: So obviously, the studio lighting aspect. As you just mentioned, does come back to that magazine history and but it creates a very distinct style for, you know, those formal portraits. And, you know you can, I've seen them. You know, you can blow them up on the wall and make them look phenomenal and a real centrepiece of a room. But how important is having an edge to your style in terms of cutting through the competition in such a competitive space?
Jason: I think it's very important. I think that's the studio light, the studio light. We have a product that nobody else has got. There's no other photographer who uses a studio light. There's other photographers use lighting, but nobody else uses studio lighting like we do. Nobody. No one use Adverso I'm the only photographer that uses it anywhere in Sydney. No one else uses it. And the beauty about Adverso, as opposed to other studio lights, it's a very, very bright light. So from a photography point of view, like, I can shoot under blue sky, a really bright blue sky. Get a perfect exposure, at like f/16 at four meters. No other photographer can do that. So you can produce a photo. That is really that's just really different. Some people look on it, put on the wall and go wow, that's really cool. And if you angled a little bit to the side where you get beautiful depth in your photo as well. No other photographer can do that. But where we went wrong, we did go wrong for about two or three years my signature style, our signature style, Cole Studios, has always been vibrant. That's our style. We should vibrant. We shoot nice natural light. We shoot with natural light or like warm tones they don't shoot cool tones. We're very much kind of a real style that we shoot for about two or three years there.the whole whitewash look was in, that the natural, the blown out look was in. And we sort of went down that path a little bit. We sort of changed our style a little bit. And that was a mistake because that two or three years we've seen a drop in business over that two or three years because we sort of lost our identity for a little while there. But now what we've done with sort of, the last night probably three or four years we've well and truly gone back to studio light, back to it. It's not for everybody. Some people don't like studio light, they say you know, it's not. You know, this it's not like it looks fake or it to vibrant it to perfect. That's fine, because I mean, you can't keep everybody happy. We've got our niche set of the market. And like, when our customers get the photos back, I love the hype. Like I get a message, wow, got the photos, amazing can not believe the colour and everyone loves, everyone just keeps looking at them and just going wow, like I mean. And that's what you get from like a studio and obviously the skilled photographers to shoot the studio light as well, cause It's all manual. There's nothing auto in studio light, nothing auto anyway. So, you know, you've got to know how to do it. But that's pretty much our signature style. And since we've gone back to the studio, light as, I guess, our signature style. We've gone back up to like a hundred and forty four, hundred and fifty weddings a year. Whereas when we sort of lost our identity, we sort of dropped down to about 90, 85, 90 weddings we dropped a lot because we lost our identity, which I think is important for any photographer to have their identity and to own that identity. And don't change, they say you know, should change with the times and stuff. But I really agree with that. I think this styles change but I think I don't really agree that you should change and follow every single style look at whitewash for a couple of years, there whitewash was in. You know, there's no contrast, like desaturated, no contrast photos. They've come and gone. You know, now the people that have had the whitewash photos and now got them forever. A beautiful colour, a beautiful colour photograph, well composed with blue sky, white puffy clouds that will never date. It'll never date because you know what the sky never dates outside. The sky is always like that. That's where we market our photography, that it's not going to date, which I think is really important. And obviously, attention to detail, too. Basically getting we love our OCD at Cole Studios.
Rob: So I certainly agree that having a signature and staying true to that, to that aspect of your business is important. And even though the sales drop off to say, 90 weddings a year is probably the envy of a lot of wedding photographers even at that level. It's certainly a drop compared to what it used to. But obviously, times do evolve. And I know that you guys have introduced things like drone photography and such. Is that now incorporated as just another aspect or does it sort of influence how you approach a wedding from the outset?
Jason: Yeah. The drones are very popular, like everybody asked for drones. Now like at weddings and stuff like this a lot of places you can't fly. There's lot of restrictions, even fully license is a lot of restrictions. And basically, I mean, if I want to fly down the Harbour I can fly, but I have to put a permit, get a permit. Takes the council 10 days to tick it. And I've got to pay. I think it's around eight or nine hundred dollars for the permit just to be able to fly the drone to take a photo. So that makes it like just not economical. You just can't you can't do it. You can't do it at that price. It's just not economical. So from like, you know, from a drone point of the drone is definitely change how we do things. Definitely. It's but it's an evolving, it's an evolving technology as well. I don't think the quality of the drones is there yet. Like, I think that unless you're talking. Yeah. Like something like an Inspire 2 with an X7, which is like a 20000 thousand dollar drone. But I don't think the actual quality is there yet I think like the Mavic 2 which we use is a good quality drone. But it's nothing like one of these SLR's, not even close to it.
Rob: Sure. So speaking of evolution, I understand that your wedding photography business started working from home and then you've evolved into a studio. Can you tell us a little bit about that process and how that came about and sort of the challenges of doing that as well?
Jason: Yeah, well, we at first I started working from home but then we sort of found that we run out of space. That was probably the main thing. And we also wanted to have more of a dedicated area, like a work area, you know, we'd get to work, you come home, you have any family time at home, we wanted to have that dedicated area. We weren't interested in having a like all in one because then you just always working all the time. So we looked and we found a space, which is about I think about three thousand a month. So for three thousand month, you know, and you can pretty much double that by the time you pay utilities and everything else. So, you know, you've gotta make the work to do. You've got to get the work to be able to afford the studio. We shared the studio with a videographer with Shane Hintz, Capture You Videography. We shared the studio because we have a mutual product. Like you know I do weddings, the photography, he does the video. So we sort of complemented each other to, it's kind of like economies of scale. So you save money by doing that as well. The, with the video though we also I think because we do complement each other. It also help like with things with the rent and stuff. I think it like gave us more of a professional outlook as well. Like instead of go to someone's house, you go into an actual studio now. So I think that's and to be honest with you, where we were before. We didn't own the place we were renting it. So we couldn't really do much modification at home. Like, I think it's fine to work from home and like have your, say you've got a nice big garage set it all up properly, put a proper floor in, put backgrounds, make it like a proper studio. That's fine. A lot of people do that. The issue we had before doing that was that we didn't own the place we were only renting it, so and you can't you know, no landlord is going to be happy putting walls out where, you know.
Jason: Then you've got to put it all back together. So that was so the issue we had before. But now that we own our house, we are looking at doing that, actually I'm looking at working from home again. That's going to be, we haven't made that announcement yet. But we're looking at doing as a possibly as a product. I think that one thing that we find too with these days with especially with the quality of cameras, is that, you know, almost everybody's is a wedding photographer. Like, you know, they go into JB HiFi they buy there like, whatever. Their $1500 camera and then up pops Joe Blow Wedding Photography. And it's not until after the product so it's finished that people look and I go, well it's garbage, but at that time it's too late. You know, once the wedding is finished, it's done, it's over and done with. So that's something that we sort of compete with as well, is the, so you've gotta keep your pricing down the only way to keep you pricing down is to keep your overheads down as well. At the end of the day you've still get to make a living like, you know, profit is not a dirty word without profit. None of us have got jobs.
Rob: No, of course, I guess that's where it comes back to this like the reputation and the collaboration as well. How does that extend through too, say, wedding venues and partners in that aspect? Do you do you find a lot of sort of joint business or at least referral business coming from these guys because they know that you will help that wedding, you know, look great. And everybody wins and all the customers are happy?
Jason: Yes, very much so, very much so. We're the recommended photographer at Panorama House, Panorama House is one of the busiest venues in Illawarra. I mean other places recommend as well. It's kind of a little bit clicky as well, like some of the places have got their photographers, I guess, like Panorama House with us. Like, they love us. And we look after them and they look after us like we refer work up there, too. And, I only refer work to people that I truly believe in. Like I don't, it wouldn't how much money you had. If you come to me and said, you know, I've got XYZ and I want you refer us will give you a kickback, I would just say no, because your reputation is much more important than a kickback. And I never take kickbacks for anybody like we recommend so Jacinta Hanson, Sarah Tuckey for hair and makeup and for, those girls do a fantastic job. You wedding's finished on time and you're ceremony on time to get your photos. It all works well, so but I've never taken a dollar from either those girls. We don't make anything from it. They make you know, they do very well from us. We don't make anything. The reason we recommend to people we do is because they are the best at what they do. It's the same with the reception centres to like Panorama House. We get half our work from Panorama House, we got a lot of work, we got a little gallery out there of work. But when we're there, we work in, you know, like, you know, when you going to a wedding as a photographer, you've got to work with the kitchen. That's the most important thing, because at the end of the day, when your guests come back from the wedding, what do they get. What's the thing that everybody talks about? The food. That's ever talks about how good was the food? Everybody everyone talks about the food, right? So if I hold the kitchen up by doing say family shots or guest shots, say between entrees and mains and then the kitchens 10 minutes late, and everybody's steak is overdone or the chicken is tough. You know, that reflects back on the reception centre and it also reflects back on the bride and groom. That's the thing about being experienced is to know to be up to working with like the kitchen, people like that, to make sure that all of this stuff is done. It's done properly. Again that comes back down to being a professional photographer, there is so much more to photography than photography. That's like, photographies, seriously, 10% - 15% of the job. Most of it is organising people but then, so to answer your question, I think that it comes back to you. You have to have. You've got to have good networks. You've got to have good people that refer you. We get most of our work through referrals pretty much. I probably would have to say 90% through referrals. We get, we also do like a little bit online social media and stuff like the organic stuff, online. I mean, I think there's definitely a place for I guess maybe, you know, I guess like a marketing campaign and stuff like that, especially more so when you're starting out and when you're trying to get your reputation, once you've got your reputation and you know and you you've tried and true people know that you're going to deliver on your product. I think that like to a point, your reputation kind of sells your product anyway.
Rob: Yeah, okay. So obviously, the referral business is playing a large part of that continuity. And do you help foster that or does it really just come organically?
Jason: No, we do, I definitely foster it like, I stay in touch with the guys up there all the time, I'm always, you know, I always go if they're got anything that they need, I always look after them like we just shot Maria at Panorama House her wedding. You know, Deane for her, done Kristen for her, you know, like we look after them too because they look after us really well. So we look after them as well. It's got to be a two way street. And I think the best way to look after more than anything though is that we deliver on our promises. So when you've got you know, when you when they've recommended someone to us and we've sort of said, okay, well, you know, like yeah, so they're sort of said, these guys are really good. Go with these guys. They'll deliver, they'll deliver, they'll deliver. And then we do deliver. It just makes the customers just happy about that. That makes the customer very content and it makes the customer I guess, they respect more what they say. And then, of course, the biggest referring goes word of mouth. So then that customer goes book Panorama House they're amazing, book Cole Studios, they're amazing. Really happy you know book Capture You, fantastic video, book the celebrant, booked you know, with a wedding like when somebody sees us about a wedding. There is so much that we can so much knowledge we've got that we can we can help him with, there's so many things that can go wrong at a wedding there's so many. What's the word I'm looking for here, like we're just like a wealth of knowledge when it comes to it. So we can really help people. Things like getting the right celebrate, you know, all that sort of stuff, too, like that all comes down to it again with the referrals. We've got a couple of celebrants we refer because I know those celebrants will deliver, I know they're well priced because the pricing is something I always look at before you refer someone. I know that they're very experienced. So the wedding will actually happen it will run smoothly. I like people that have got a little bit of personality to like to have fun, So yeah, that sort of stuff we do as well. So, but again with even with those relationships, you have to we stay in touch. You know, look, I have a diary and in my diary, I had contact points, that's what I call them, contact points. So I just I often just touch base. Hey guys, How you going? How's things? Anything new? You know, staying up to date with what's going on in the industry I think is really important as well.
Rob: So if you had to put a figure on it in terms of how much of your business is photography and, you know, skills related to taking photos and great photos and how much of it was a business side and having a really good understanding of business and joint partnerships, well, how would you see that balance kind of playing out?
Jason: You know what, I'd probably say 50/50. I'd say 50/50. I think the relationship and the business side of business is very important. I think back in the day, I used to focus solely on the wedding. So like on the actual work. I didn't necessarily focus on things like social media I didn't focus on things like relationships, like getting, you know, getting to know people, getting to understand what they need as well, I think which is really important too. Getting them to like you so that they refer you as well. You know, like, when I met people, I try to be as friendly as I can. I try to get along good with people. One of the big secrets, even to wedding photography, is you've got to be able to treat that person like you've known them for year for years you've known them for. And like, but you've only really met them once. See, almost gotta like become I guess their friend, for want of a better word on the day, you know. And I think that's really, really important. That's really important to, to have that sort of that connection, but not just with your customers, but with your suppliers as well, with your colleagues. Like, you know, when we have a joke, when we see our celebrants, we always have a joke. How you going? I know their families they know our family like we sort of like know each other and know how each other works we understand like one of my frustrations as a photographer is a celebrant that, doesn't know what they're doing. So, you know, we had one time we were at Panorama House and we had the celebrant, you know, when you got like your photographer here, I will do it side on, your couple there and the celebrant stands behind them. And then the crowds all around here, like around the back of the photographer where this celebrant, the couples there, the celebrant stands in front of the couple. So you can't see the couple little things like that then, I have to go say to the celebrant, hey can you go around the other side cause no one can see. You know what I mean, little things like that make a massive difference. A lot of celebrants, especially new celebrants, have got very short attention spans. So like I would say to the celebrant okay, we're gonna we're gonna do a group shot when were finished we always do a group after a wedding. Where going to a group shot of everyone, which is what we use the drone for a lot. We're going to the group so everybody can everybody, everyone like you say, I know that when the bride groom walk up, just before you announced them, say, we're going to a group that everybody wait for the group shot. So everybody knows that. Everyone knows that we've got to wait for group shot. But then the celebrant sends everybody off and doesn't say, there's going to be a group shot. And then what happens then is Nan and Pop, they're heading off to the, to sit down somewhere. You know and mum's going up to the toilet, Dad's gone for smoke. Couple of people say we'll we've got 2 hours before the reception. Let's go and get a Gelato down the road, down from Panorama House has a really good Gelato place. Everyone's sort of gone everywhere, and then, so you can't do the group shot, or you do the group shot and their's people missing out of the group shot. And once that bride looks at the group shot, the bride and the groom, they're going to see their's people missing. And that reflects back on us, you know, same with like hair and makeup, like having hair and makeup, that's finished on time. It's critical. For a 3 o'clock ceremony, we start at one o'clock. Hair and makeup should be finished at one o'clock. It shouldn't be finished at 2:30. It should be finished at 1 before we arrive, because that gives us time to do the nice portrait with the bride. Sorry that's just Steven out the back barking his head off. So that gives time to do nice portrait's with the bride. It gives us nice time to do the detail shots, to do the family shots, the bride with the mum, the bride with the dad, the siblings. All that sort of stuff, like gives us time to do all that. If hair and makeup go right up until the ceremony. Yeah, we had a wedding a few years ago. It was an 8th of February, I still remember the date of it, and the, hair and makeup run half an hour past the ceremony start time. So, yeah, so there's no time to do any prep at all. And the bride was an hour to her ceremony. And you've got all the oldies sitting there in the sun. It was at, it was down at, Gerringong and all the oldies sittingin the sun, and people flopping off their chairs, the grooms angry because the bride's late, you know, it was just and that all come from hair and makeup. So this all comes back to how, when, how I recommend people and what, It all comes back to that experience I do. and that all comes back to the relationships because I would recommend somebody that I didn't know hadn't worked with. And they're the same with me, too. That's where you get a lot of your work from. I a lot of your work to, like most of my work comes through referrals. I would say, like at least 90% of it comes from referrals, now. We've got a good website as well. Our website is really good. It's really well designed and that. But most of our work still comes from referrals. But obviously, the refer they say, check these guys out. They go to Cole Studios look at our website, and then you know it sort of goes from there. We also got a very simple booking process, too. It's all online, there's no paperwork like the the paperwork is done online. So we've made it as simple as we can for the customer's to book us. And the process is simple. The turnaround is quick. Our service guarantee is four weeks for you're wedding photos back but it's usually a week occasionally it blows out to two weeks the only time it every blows out to four weeks, say like weddings like November where it got 16 or 17 weddings. And because I do the editing myself, it just takes time to do it probably takes time. I don't let anybody else edit. I just like to finish the product myself.
Rob: Yeah, sure. So what I can really glean from that is sort of this process of really under promising and over delivering. And has that really always been a cornerstone of what you're doing, both in terms of volume of photos and everything that you're doing?
Jason: Exceeding expectations. Yeah a little thing, just a little thing can make people so happy, like, just a little thing like, you know, like say they've got a little, we have this little 10 USB set. But we've got a bigger USB set. But say this customer they've had a, you know their day hasn't gone smoothly like it's rained or whatever's happened on the day. And you know and say, you know, we might upgrade them to a bigger set at no extra charge. A little thing that people love that they talk about they tell their friends, you know, we also take them out and we'll let them go for a, we'll take them out a second time like say it rains, we'll take them out again. Hey, guys, get dressed, excuse me, get dressed, let's go out again, and let's do another shoot. You know so I like there's all that sort that side of it as well like where you can, if you add a little bit of extra value, especially value the customer wasn't expecting, then you know your home and hosed, the customers, people just love that. And, you know, when they're expecting, you know, a thousand photos and they get like 1700, they get a lot more, you know, a lot more. Yeah. We give every photo we can. Sometimes you know there's, you might have a focusing problem or you've got you know took a photo of the ground something like that, stuff like that. Obviously we don't we don't hand over, we hand out every possible photo we can. We do the cropping, we do the colour correction, exposure. Everything's all done before they get the photos, and all they do, when they get their photos they get enjoy them. And we also keep the photos for three years, which has been a, that's a massive selling point because, do you know how many times a year I get someone say to me I have lost the USB. You know what the hardest bit is with people with little kids because the USB they flash. They've got like, you know, like little red bit at the end that flashes and a little two year old sees it in the Xbox and goes, Oh, and snaps it off. Happens all the time. So the fact that we keep backups of everything. We even supplied a wedding a few weeks ago was just after Corona Virus started and that wedding was done in 2012. And we still have. We've actually still got every wedding we've shot because we have separation anxiety. We can't get rid of our weddings, but yeah. So, that sort of backup is priceless as well. The fact that people know that if something goes wrong and they lose the photos, one of our customers lost their photos and their album in the fire's in January. And we were able to replace the photos in the album exactly the same as they had.
Jason: Because we had it on file. I that wedding was from 2008.
Rob: That's awesome. I bet you they were absolutely stunned.
Jason: Oh they were that the fact that we still had the album design as well. We have, We've got really good storage, we use raid like we've got really, really good storage arrays. We've got Cloud backup. We've got also, we've got a massive safe, we bought the size of refrigerator. That's rated at sixteen hundred degrees. It'll burn at sixteen hundred degrees for three hours before anything inside will even get warm. So and what we do, we put the wedding photos in that safe, got on a portable hard drive, we put them in the safe as a backup until the customers actually got their wedding photos. And we also we give all this saying that recommended 16G or 32G whatever it is, back it up go to Officeworks and they've their backups. The more copies you get the saver your photos are. But that's sort of the background that people that say that's the engineering in me that comes out, that wants redundancy, wants things to be, you know like. That's what we've never lost a photo, we've never had any problems because we're very, very thorough at what we do. You know. If the house burned to the ground, the fire brigade said the house would get to about eleven hundred degrees and it would burn for about half an hour. If nobody attended to it. So the safe is another just another way. We protect our customers to make sure that things can't go wrong. How many times you heard it a wedding photographers lost all my photos? How many times you heard that over the year you know. With us, it just cant happen, we are way too thorough. There was one time, one time years and years ago, only happened once where I was in Martin Place and left my camera bag behind. You remember that?
Rob: And posts are, so post shoot and the camera bags are gone?
Jason: Yes, left my camera bag behind. And I was working with this, with another photographer his name is Robert Bell. And Robert Bell picked my camera bag up, and took it home.
Rob: I remember something about that, actually. Yeah, that's funny. Yeah.
Jason: That was the one time in all the years I've been shooting that, that happened. I got home, there's no camera bag. I nearly had a heart attack and then I called Rob and Rob said yep I picked it up for you.
Rob: There's a long time ago now. It was a long, long time ago.
Jason: Back in the day.
Rob: Yeah. Back in the day. So we're actually coming up on time now. We're just trying to keep a lid on the time. But I've got a couple of quick questions that I would really love to ask you if you're up for it.
Jason: Yeah a lightning round, yep.
Rob: Yeah, a bit of a lightning round. So if you could pick the single most important lesson that you've learnt over the years in business, what would that be?
Jason: I guess to stay true to your style and true to your word. That would be the most important lesson to be true to yourself, true to your style, true to your word. And be a man of your word, or a woman of you word. If you're going to do something. You do it and you commit to it and you do it, and you do it properly. You don't half do stuff that would be my best bit of advice.
Rob: And if maybe you've just covered that one, but if you had your time again, is there a decision that you might revise to change the outcome?
Jason: Yeah, you know what I would have done I would have started photographer earlier, photography earlier. Instead of wasting like 15 years as an engineer. I would have started photography early, because I mean I enjoyed my engineer days and that. You know, but this is my passion. You know, and I think you know last time I checked your long time dead. And so you got to use the time you've got. We don't have, none of us have a little time here. So you got to use the time wisely. And I mean, and working for myself. I love working for myself. I mean, you have any challenges, obviously, with the, you know, like, you've got to make sure you get tax away all the other stuff you've got to do. But it's also good if, not that I do it very often. But it I want a day off I go, you know what, I'm going to have today off. I just gonna go fly the drone for the day. I'm going to go, you know, so I think working for myself is a massive factor, but that's what I would have done differently. I think I would have, yeah, I would have done photography earlier.
Rob: Yeah ok. And last one is, if there was one person that you could have had as a mentor through your business journey, who would that be?
Jason: Well, I had a really good mentor, a guy by the name of Wayne Daniels. Wanye, was a he's a glamour photographer, but he's also a really nice guy. And he's a really what I love about Wayne is Wayne is very much. He's one of those people that doesn't sugarcoat anything. So if it's no good, he'll tell you it's no good. Simple as that. And I think from, he was a fantastic mentor because he helped me really evolve my style. He was the one that said, you know, this is not any good. You're wasting your time. You got to get better before we approach that very first magazine, which was FHM before we approached FHM I did a couple of years you know like. Wayne like just learning from, I went on shoots and stuff. And then I started, doing my own stuff, and show him and he's go you know what Jason it's not any good. It's not going you're not going to get published with this. And so, and because of that, yeah a couple of times I got like, you know you get your nose a bit out of joint. You know, it's like god it could have been really good, but it's not. That happens, but overall, he was really good. He was instrumental. And so was mum, too, because my mum always made me believe in what I what I can do. And my wife has been great, too, just as far as always, encouraging me. You know, she's always very encouraging. So having the right people around you, I think is really important as well. But I think if I had to say my main, photography would be Wayne Daniel's amazing photographer. Absolutely amazing photographer. And a great guy too, a really good guy. He's done everything.
Rob: That's some really, really awesome stuff there. So, Jason Cole, we need to wrap this up. But for anyone who's looking for a wedding photographer in Sydney, Wollongong region, where would they find you?
Jason: Just on our website, on www.colestudios.com.au, or on Facebook, just Google Cole Studios on Facebook or on Instagram or on Twitter.
Rob: Sounds amazing. Jason Cole, I really appreciate your time. Thank You.
Jason: No worries Rob, Thanks very much nice to speak to you.
Rob: Thanks, mate.
Rob: There you have it. I hope you really enjoyed this episode. And if you did please like it, share it or leave us a review on your favourite platform. It helps us show more of this content to people just like you.