1981 Digital sat down with our good friend, community starter, artist, business owner extraordinaire in Decatur, Illinois Robert Palmer of Brooktree Studios and more recently Brooktree Film Lab. I have had the opportunity to work with Robert over the last 3 years as a second shooter at weddings for his wedding business, but further as a creative collaborator on additional projects.
Today we talk about Brooktree Studios, their wedding photography business, the new, state-of-the art film lab Robert has put together, and the community of analogue loving film shooters Robert has built with his film of the month club.
Robert is a world class photographer and was actually my own wedding photographer because I love his work so much. We think you will enjoy hearing his story about building from the ground up, and leaving a comfortable, career level job to venture into the great unknown of business ownership.
Prefer to read this blog instead? Read the full interview below
Interview with Brooktree Studios and Brooktree Film Lab (Transcription)
1981 Digital: Today we are sitting down with my good friend Robert Palmer to talk about all things Brooktree Studios and Brooktree Film Lab, and what’s it like to be a small business owner. So, Robert, it’s great to chat with you.
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: Yes, Daniel, I am so excited to be here. Thank you so much and thank you for for allowing me to be on your program. I’m super pumped to talk about everything.
1981 Digital: So tell me a little bit what what made you start your own photography business?
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: Yeah, I I’ve been a photographer for basically my entire life, ever since I was small. My mom would buy us disposable cameras at the beginning of summer vacation, and my friends and I would shoot those cameras over the break. And at the end of the summer, we got to develop the memories and kind of see everything and relive them through those photos.
So I’ve always kind of had a camera in my hands and, you know, working at corporate job, I was at a major cell phone carrier for a while as a manager, moved across the country with them. And then I ended up moving back to my home state there a few years ago, and I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled. My family has a history of small business and I thought, Why can’t I combine my love of photography with my family’s history of small business management into one?
And that’s where Brooktree Studios came from.
1981 Digital: So Brooktree Studios started in 2018. And you’ve been in the wedding industry ever since. Tell me a little bit about that. How did you how did you land in that specific genre of photography? And is that what got you interested in photography?
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: Yeah, so it isn’t what got me interested. I actually started out doing like landscape architectural background photography. And one day my friend Amy asked if I could help her on a wedding shoot. She’s a videographer here in Decatur, Illinois. And I said, Yeah, absolutely. Why not? Let’s do it. So I assisted her on that shoot, and she ended up giving me a b cam to play around with.
And I literally fell in love with the whole just wedding aspect. Everything that is photography happens on a wedding day. You have portraits and candid moments. You have landscapes and details and everything that you can think of. Photography related happens on a wedding day. I also thrive under pressure, and that is something that weddings are very good at.
Giving is a lot a lot of pressure. You have to get the shot right the first time. You cannot rewind the first kiss. And so being able to, you know focus my mind and get those photos is what I’m after.
1981 Digital: I love that so much. And I’ve had the opportunity to work beside you many times on on wedding days, which is has just been so much fun for me. And it’s true. You are like an ace under pressure. I thrive to be that guy. He, like, just so detail oriented. Nothing falls through the cracks. He’s just like always so locked in.
What now gets you so excited about the medium of photography as a whole? Is there any one thing you’re like, at a high level? Like what in photography is like, Oh my gosh, I’m so excited right now.
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: That’s kind of the resurgence of film photography that we’re seeing in the country. You know, it started out as kind of a niche hobby, and then a few years ago it just started to blow up. And while it’s not as big as it was back in the eighties and nineties, you know, it’s not ever going to be like that.
It’s still on the up and up. And, you know, we’re seeing new members come in every single day, but it’s exciting film photography is just something new and I can incorporate it with my weddings as well and shoot. It’s called hybrid shooting, where you have photo film photos and digital photos taken side by side. So that really has kept me energized and it’s fresh.
It’s kept me nice and motivated.
1981 Digital: This was the perfect segue into my next question. You were my gateway into film photography. Shout out the Pentax 645n a fave forever. Yeah. Thank you for being my gateway into costing my family thousands of dollars. But. But I know that last year you kind of. You took it took that film hobby that we were literally doing in the in the living room or in the in the kitchen of your of your apartment three or four years ago and do a full scale mail in and drop off film lab with Brooktree Film Lab.
So tell me a little bit about that and what inspired that move into being something that wasn’t just like for you, but for for the greater public?
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: Yeah! It started even before the kitchen, I was actually in my mom’s basement. Before that we were doing it and it was just I had one reel, like a one reel tank, so I could do one roll at a time. And it was just black and white, you know, I wasn’t going to mess with all that that color stuff, but it was really fun.
I would do my own film. I would do film for my friends. And then one day a friend of a friend who I didn’t know asked if I could do a roll of film for her. And I said, Yeah, absolutely. And then she asked how much it cost, and that was just like a light bulb went off in my mind.
And I thought, People will pay for film photography or film processing, and it just snowballed from there. I would take orders from friends of friends and acquaintances and people that I, I knew through association and then eventually I thought, Why don’t I open this up? I’m comfortable. I’m getting the equipment together. Why not, you know, help pay for my own hobby?
And that’s where Brooktree Film Lab came from. It started as kind of an offshoot of the wedding photography business, and it’s just grown and grown and grown. This last, like you said, 12 months or so has been fantastic. And we’ve bought scanners and processing machines and printers, so we are genuinely becoming a one stop shop for film processing and scanning.
1981 Digital: Tell me about what are some of your favorite moments, however granular you want to get here from from your business, whether that’s whether that’s the film lab that’s that’s Brooktree Studios. Maybe a little bit of both. Tell me tell me, what are your favorite moments?
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: I think it’s the honestly, the merging of both of those things, being able to bring in like the hobbyist side of the film, shooting into the professional side of the wedding photography and combining those like we did at your own wedding is just a blast to me. And it’s such a neat way to incorporate like both sides of my brain into into working together coherently.
1981 Digital: You are so good at like meeting, meeting those worlds. Like, like I said, it’s just so cool to see how they keep coming together. And it’s nice that that’s like a cool service where you can offer offer your clients to you. Like that’s something unique to you that you probably don’t get from other other other photographers in the area.
Yeah, so, tell me, what is what a scale look like for you? You know, are there specific big picture goals or or is this just like, I want to just keep doing what I’m doing, keep, keep healthy growth, doing 30 weddings a year, doing 900 rolls of film a month. Like tell me, what does that look like for you?
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: Yeah. So with wedding photography, I love working with people that I get along really, really well with And you know, through the through the years when I’ve had more inquiries than dates that I need filled, I’m able to kind of be a little picky about who I get to work with, and I get to really zone in on my ideal client because I know that if we get along well, the photos are going to reflect that and they’re just going to look ten times better than if some random person did it.
So with the scale of the company growing, I get to dive in a little bit more and really see what are the personality traits, what are the characteristics that make an ideal client for me, for weddings. And because I have this film lab business that fills in the other 80% of my time, I can scale back and focus more intently on those weddings and then have the film lab kind of happening, you know, the 9 to 5 Monday through Friday.
It’s so cool too, that each of those has the space for the other, right? They really do work in tandem and and create an awesome opportunity for you. I love that. So, Robert, tell us, where can we find you and have them keep up with all things?
Robert Palmer, Brooktree
Absolutely. The easiest way would probably be Instagram that is like the photo sharing platform, right? So it’s @Brooketree, B-R-O-O-K-T-R-E-E and then @Brooketreefilmlab, which is the same thing just with Film Lab. At the end of it, we just went through a rebranding with the Film Lab, so that’s super exciting and it’s been a neat place to post updates and share things with the weddings.
They’re getting started in about a week, I think. So you’ll start seeing more wedding content, but always there to talk about photography, film or anything else you want to chat about.
1981 Digital: Well, thank you, Robert, so much for taking the time to sit down with us. We super enjoy getting to see the growth. The rebrand is super exciting and hopefully you’ve got some new people sending your film at the end of this.
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: Can’t beat it. Absolutely. Daniel, anytime, man. Always here to help out and chat.
1981 Digital: Awesome. Have a great every day, man. I’ll talk to you soon.
Robert Palmer, Brooktree: You two bye bye.
Interested in talking with 1981 Digital about your business or community project? We’d love to hear more about us. Reach out!
Are you a film shooter? Interested in getting started? Check out our friend Robert’s site by clicking the logo below!