Houston-based TriCoast Photography offers style, smiles, and, of course, photographs that allow its clients to say they've had not only a unique experience but a wonderful one that delivered fantastic wedding photography. TriCoast consists of Cody Clinton, Jordan Chan, and Mike Fulton, all of whom offer a different view and style in their images--but who maintain a consistent bond with a drive to deliver a customer experience far and beyond what their competitors might offer. Their reputation as good guys is solid, and their grasp of lighting offers clients professional results--and with clients such as the vice president of Uganda (they photographed his son's wedding) and Martha Stewart Weddings, they keep cool heads about the pressure to perform.
Fulton declares himself genetically endowed with the gift of gab, which he extended not only for the creation of this article, but also to anyone who would like to understand TriCoast's formula for success. "Our philosophy is No Secrets,' and we'll talk to anyone about anything photography-related," Fulton says. "Recently, we even spent a day holding a workshop just for one of our local competitors. This business is like a baseball game--no matter what happens, folks will go--so we're not afraid of running ourselves out of work, even by helping other local shooters."
Their willingness to share their thoughts on photography, business, and marketing is furthered in online forums, particularly on Pro4um.com. "Pro4um is one of our favorite online haunts, especially for seniors photography," Fulton says. "Photographers on the forums share so many tips and tricks that it's one of the most thorough how-to sites I've seen, especially in the area of running a business. The Pro4um community has helped us learn how to run our business and grasp the business of portrait photography much, much better."
TriCoast also offers seminars on wireless TTL flashes and posing. "Photography is all about lighting," Fulton insists. "We teach the use of intelligent wireless flash for either Nikon or Canon systems; we're not in the same vein as our friend Strobist.com, where flashes are used manually--we teach to the point of embracing the great advantages of the Canon and Nikon intelligent flash features. We love the response from the audience, which confirms our feeling that many new, digital shooters have strayed from learning lighting and posing techniques that can take an image to the next level."
TriCoast is a group entity, which lets it shine as something different for its clients. With no single team member considered valued over another, clients are guaranteed that the end result will be a TriCoast wedding, regardless of who is present to photograph the event. Initially the team was duo Fulton and Clinton, but when they thought about growing TriCoast as a larger team effort to cover their filling booking calendar, the idea was to eliminate the loss of special images by only having one shooter at each wedding, the two of them spread thin. The method was simple--find partners where they could play off each individual's strengths. "I have a great repertoire with the guys, so handling grooms is my place; Cody is the ladies' man, he's so quick and clever," Fulton laughs. "They think he's cute, too. That was about the extent of our business plan--playing off our strengths."
In addition to bringing in veterans Jordan Chan on weddings and Cindy Williams as creative designer, they also rely on Suzy Min, an independent wedding photography business owner to backbone their senior portrait business. "Suzy has one of those looks and personalities that immediately puts everyone at ease, especially teen girls," Fulton says. "Even if Suzy is merely present for the shoot, her contribution is invaluable in that they warm to her a lot more quickly than they would a chubby old guy like me."
The collaboration between the TriCoast members is a facet they embrace completely, and they know their success depends on it. "We truly believe that it takes more than one person to make a great photograph," Fulton says. "Regardless of who is tripping the shutter, we won't let the client down, offering just about every style our team can produce. We use wireless flash as a team, offering unique off-axis lighting to our wedding clients--the resulting photographs really set us apart. Our synergy is great--I can set up a shot, but Cody will see a different angle, say, with a wide-angle lens from below, and boom--as a team we just made a killer image. Teamwork is everything, and we're so happy we all found each other."
Long and short, TriCoast brands itself as the ultimate in teamwork to its clients. "We believe it's the teamwork that makes us works so well as a business and brand," Fulton explains. "We don't care about entering prints into competitions, we don't go for the glory--we focus on making our clients as happy as we can make them, and we do it as a cooperative."
Cater to your Client
TriCoast's customer service and marketing are thoughtful, thorough, and personal reflections of the jovial attitudes they bring to their shooting. Their goal is to offer the best experience and product in their area, and they want their personalities reflected in everything from their first contact with the client to the referrals after the jobs.
"We all have fun in every aspect of the business," Fulton remarks. "We go out to have a great time at weddings; we want clients to be confident that we care and that we're looking to be lifelong friends, and that means a commitment. We start off the very first phone call with that attitude. We might take a potential client out to dinner, and we'll invite along a past wedding client, too. We want everyone to know one another, to laugh, to joke, to be comfortable relying on us to take care of them. That's the only way we know to make it a perfect job for all involved. As a general rule, it works out very well, but worst-case scenario, we have full stomachs and a tax write-off for the dinner check."
After a client has been booked, instead of sitting on their haunches waiting for the date or wiping their hands after the print delivery, TriCoast puts together a list of "reminders" to send, with the message that they're thinking about their clients. "If we discovered they like chocolate, we send a box of chocolates with a note a few weeks after we book them," Fulton says. "Proof albums might be delivered with a deck of playing cards featuring an image on the card backs specifically for the groom. We'll write If she ever lets you play cards again, use these!' You can't forget the groom--while it's the bride's day, he can help swing the final decision if they're shopping for photographers. Make sure he knows you care about him, too."
Delivering the Goods
Miller's is usually TriCoast's vendor of choice, for everything from prints to press-printed books, and even for the personalized playing cards and other fun items. "I trust the folks at Miller's," says Fulton. "They've never let us down, and in this business that means a lot. We also love Collages.net--we love the way images are presented there. But really, there's no product out there that we will deny a client--we'll use the company best suited for the job every time."
While there are plenty of software packages that allow photographers to assemble fantastic albums, TriCoast usually prefers to design the pages themselves and put them into the press-printed books. This allows for colors to match backgrounds, and theme and brush-stroke consistency. Specific requests are honored no matter the vendor.
Fulton concludes with the final item in every delivery to his clients and hopes readers won't cringe at the generosity. "We even give each client a full set of the final, watermarked images at 500 pixels x 500 pixels," he says. "Don't deny yourself that opportunity--let your clients market for you. We want clients to put the shots on Facebook; we want them to email them around. Their friends are going to get married, too, so the more folks that see our work the better, even if they're not competition-worthy shots. We know that if we have just average' images but the clients loved us, they'll talk about us and spread our brand. Remember--it's the importance of the experience!"
See more of TriCoast Photography's work at www.tricoastphoto.com
TriCoast Photography's Gear Box
Canon EOS 5D and 5D Mark II; EOS 30D; EOS 40D; EOS 50D; EOS 10D (IR converted); EOS 1D Mark II and ID Mark III; 24-70mm L, 16-35mm L, 70-200mm L IS, 100-400mm L IS, 24mm L, 50mm L, 15mm fisheye, 100mm Macro lenses; 580 EX flash
Denny Mfg. Zebra lights
PX Radio Popper units
Larson soffboxes (all sizes & reflectors)
Denny Mfg. Freedom Cloth backdrops
Think Tank, Lowepro, and Denny bags
Slik carbon fiber monopods
Denny Mfg. monopods
Millers Professional Imaging (lab, albums)
Collages.net (lab, online hosting/sales, albums)
PC & MAC computers
Drobo storage devices
Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom
HP and Canon printers