Shoot First, Then Live, Laugh and Love

By Caresse Muir

Bradley Zisow photographed his first wedding at age 17, and 15 years later has built a successful business, which employs eight other photographers in his hometown of Baltimore, MD. “I always loved art, painting, drawing and 3-D sculpting. I could draw anything I could see but had a hard time making up things from my mind that didn’t exist. My love for photography really grew because I could take a traditional photo and then paint over the image and make it more surreal.” While in college, Bradley majored in photography, marketing and management while working full time at Ritz Camera. Clients would have to come to his parents’ home where Bradley met with them in the kitchen. Soon thereafter, he moved to an apartment using his dining room as a shooting studio and meeting clients in his living room. His wedding business grew so rapidly that he had to quit school and his job at Ritz Camera. He bought a three-bedroom townhouse where, at age 25, he ran his business, which was comprised of weddings, events, photo restoration, video, web and graphics. Bradley says, “I want to do it all. I liked the versatility. I never just wanted to do one thing.”

Bradley learned his work ethic from his father and believes if something is worth doing it is worth doing right. He always bought the best cameras and lenses even though it cut into his profit a bit. “I was shooting with Hasselblads while some of my competition were shooting with 35mm.” Bradley was one of the first photographers to embrace digital cameras and in 2001 made the switch to only shooting digital. He says, “Everyone thought I was nuts. I figured, keep evolving; keep looking for something different. Never stay the same.” He has also mastered Photoshop from the very beginning when “most photographers weren’t even using computers.” He says if you can think of an idea, he can create it in Photoshop.

In 2002 he opened his first storefront studio on a major highway in the Baltimore area, which he remodeled. This is where his crew of eight photographers makes everything happen. Bradley Images, which photographs 120 weddings and events a year, charges the same fees for weddings and events no matter who the photographer is. Bradley says he has assembled his team over the last 15 years and is very happy with their talents and their love of the profession. “Everyone who works here is fun, energetic, hard working and young at heart. They know when to take control and they know when to be quiet. This is truly a hard thing to find.” It wasn’t easy to find great employees. Bradley looks for employees who are talented and have good personalities, but are eager to learn and grow and can accept his critiques on their work. Some of them start off working in the studio on Photoshop and Lightroom production. He feels blessed to have such a wonderful staff and is not looking to grow any larger at this time.

Bradley meets with every client, even if he won’t be the photographer. He likes to get to know his clients and get an idea of what they want before he assigns them to one of his staff photographers. He sees every album design before it goes to the lab. He wants to do an amazing job for every client at the wedding or event and the difference in what they pay comes from the size and type of album they order. He interacts and builds a relationship with every client in hopes of forming what will be a lifetime bond with them.

Bradley Images receives most of their business by word-of-mouth. Bradley says, “I form a bond with my clients. I go above-and-beyond. I know my title is photographer but if I can give any advice that will take stress off the bride or family I am willing to try. I sometimes coordinate the entire wedding or help the parents of the bar/bat mitzvah come up with themes for their child’s event. I never charge for my time. The happier I can make them and keep them happy, the better.” He does do some direct mail advertising as well as full-page ads in a wedding guide, which he says, works very well. He works closely with his vendors and gives them images. Bradley says, “Keep a good network. Out of sight, out of mind. Vendors will tend to recommend the photographer they worked with last. I do not pay for leads or give kickbacks. I want vendors to use us because we work hard and give a great product.”

Bradley uses Nikon D3, D2x, D300 and D700 cameras with an arsenal of lenses. He says, “Right now I love shooting the traditional sharp pictures with the 3-D backlight and the wide open 85mm f/1.4 with just a kiss of ambient light. To top if off I use video lights and strobes on occasion. Giving the client a nice mixture is just such a fantastic way to tell a story.” He incorporates fashion techniques in his weddings and mitzvahs to lend a different look to a traditional event. He has used many labs over the years but finally found in Nations Photo Lab (www.nationsphotolab.com) a company he attributes much of his success. “I only use Kodak paper and it’s hard to find a consistent lab that can get great prints all the time. For 10 years I was using three labs: one for proofing, one for enlargements and one for mounting. Now Nations does everything and I just started using them for albums. It helps so much with production and as we know that is the hardest part of the business. They do proofs, put them online, get the prints out, design and print the layout and give me a finished album. They have some cool new acrylic, metallic and leather wrap covers and all the traditional covers too.”

Bradley is expanding his photography business to include motion picture production by partnering with JBV Media. He has purchased a RED digital camera system (www.red.com) and the two companies are now producing commercial content for local and regional businesses and nonprofit organizations. One of his senior photographers says that the images coming from this camera are outstanding and it is like shooting a DSLR at 24 frames per second with the same sharpness, color and depth of field. Bradley always wants to be on top of rapidly changing technology and this is just another example of his dedication.

Bradley has been a member of WPPI for over five years and also belongs to PPA, PMA and ISIS. He attends the WPPI convention each year to keep up on the changes and to get answers for any questions he may have. He has been successful in WPPI’s print competition and has won many awards for his photography. He won the 2007–2008 Eventpix Best of Weddings grand prize. “I like competition a lot but it really does come down to making the clients happy tomorrow and not what I won yesterday.”

Bradley teaches private photography classes and is hoping to start doing seminars next summer. He would like to teach other photographers the dos and don’ts of wedding and event photography; from capture and process, storage and backup, Photoshop and design, to finding the best albums. He lives by his motto, “Shoot first, then live, laugh and love.” To see the fine images of Bradley Images go to www.bradleyimages.com.

Caresse Muir is a Certified Professional Photographer and a Master Photographer. She specializes in family, high school senior and children’s portraits. She is a member of the Professional Photographers of America, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, the Professional Photographers of California and the Professional Photographers of San Diego County where she served as president for two years. She has won awards for her photography on the national, state and local level.