Adam Cole '98 Makes Connection with Photographyby Kim Johnson • July 24, 2008
One look at Adam Cole’s portfolio reveals something achieved by few photographers – connection. For Cole ’98, connection is what makes Three Spot Images what it is.
"When people react to an image, it’s because it shows a relationship to the people who are involved in the photograph – even if it’s not a picture of two people, like if it’s just a child, a high school senior, or a grandparent – they want to be able to identify something that they recognize and that they know and love about the person in the photograph other than just them sitting down and smiling up at the camera."
Cole describes his style as almost photojournalistic. "I like to put people in situations and them let them react to each other. A true photojournalist would not have any involvement. I find that people want to be told what to do at least a little bit because they don’t know.
"My whole thing is the relationship between the people. I put them in a situation and say ‘just have a little fun, be yourselves’ and then I shoot from the periphery."
Cole recognizes his photos are best when he has developed a comfortable relationship with his clients. He knows that only comes with time and effort. "The best images don’t come in the first 20 or 30 frames. They usually come at the end. It’s just like any other process. By the end, they feel like I’m more their friend than just a person taking their picture.
After getting his start shooting exclusively studio photography, Cole started Three Spot Images as a way to make extra money on the weekends. "It was one of those things where someone wanted me to photograph a wedding. I did it sort of reluctantly and found that I really enjoyed it.
"It pushed me to be a little more creative. I was in different locations, different settings, and with different people every single time."
As business slowly picked up, he found himself doing less and less studio work. Last year Cole shot about 40 weddings. On average he takes between 1,500 – 2,000 photos at each event. Then the real work begins. After sorting and editing, the average couple will have approximately 700 photos from which to choose.
Cole does all of the album design by hand laying out each page individually. He spends as much as 20 hours on any one wedding album. Although he could utilize templates to speed up the process, he prefers to start from scratch with each album. "I can really personalize it. I can add text or even add the lyrics to the first song they danced to.
"It takes a lot longer than some people who are doing a similar type of album but I think when brides see it they appreciate it because it looks different. Each album looks a lot different than the next."
Cole credits his liberal arts education at Wabash for turning him on to photography. "To get a degree you have to have an art class. On a whim, one of my fraternity brothers said, ‘hey, do you want to take this photography class with me?’
"I said, ‘sure!’ That was the first semester of my senior year. I thought I was going to graduate school. Then I took this class and that decided it."
He found a job as a photographer at a studio in Lafayette, Indiana. He felt it was the perfect time to experiment with a new career direction. He was not married and had no family to support so he gave himself a year to try it out. If it didn’t work, he would look to graduate school in psychology or find a different job.
"Luckily, I got in under a photography manager there who was really into educating people right so I learned a lot from him and built a strong portfolio."
He then moved to Louisville, Kentucky to another photography studio. "They are really who I credit with what I consider the majority of my education in the portrait photography industry."
Cole and his wife Amanda moved from the big city of Louisville with their daughters Zoe and Ava and returned to their small town home of Vevay, Indiana, just minutes from where they both grew up. Only a few miles from the Ohio River in the countryside of southern Indiana their log cabin home, Cole’s studio, and office sit on seven acres of rolling hills, woods, and fields. The quiet setting and the small town nearby offer Cole a wide variety of scenery for unique portraits.
While he hopes to continue his current wedding business, he is looking to return to his studio roots shooting senior portraits, children, and families. With increased demands on his time as a photographer, his wife is now joining the business to assist with bookkeeping and finances.
Cole said his Wabash education prepared him for the everyday issues of life, running his own business, and dealing with people. "Liberal arts is a little different because you’re not going to come out ‘an engineer’ but you are going to get an education.
"Wabash throws so much at you at one time, especially as a freshman. You go in there and you’re pledging a fraternity, you’ve got your first college classes, and you’ve got all these other activities going on. You just learn to adapt.
"I didn’t know the direction I was headed in exactly which is one of the reasons I wanted to pursue a liberal arts education. The academic standards at Wabash really impressed me. I just wanted to be a part of that."
Photos above: top left and right - Cole during a senior portrait photo shoot, bottom left - one of the photos from the photo shoot.