Our Story

Ballerini Cooley Studios (BCS) began in the Midwest during the early 70s. I (Kathy) started off as a print model for many of the large department stores including Boston Store, Marshall Fields, and Gimbals. As successful as I was in modeling, I realized that I also had a gift for teaching and helping others realize their goals. This gift, coupled with my ability to understand faces and makeup, led into teaching modeling. It was there in an academic setting that I was first exposed to life behind the camera. It all happened like this. One of my friends was a photographer, looking for models to test with, and I had a class of about thirteen girls. I offered the girls the opportunity to test shoot, knowing the additional experience would be invaluable for them. The shoot day came and I meticulously made up all of the girls, picked out their outfits, and attended to each little detail. The shoot went great and all the girls went home. I decided to hang around and wait while the photographer processed the film to see the results. I could not have been more disappointed. All of the angles were wrong, the pictures weren't particularly flattering, and the cropping was bad. Everything was just wrong. When I asked my friend why he shot it this way, he simply replied, "That is the way I see it. If you think you can do any better, Ballerini, then do it yourself."

I took his challenge seriously. I called all of the girls and told them the film was ruined in processing and to come back tomorrow. The next day, with the help of another friend and photo assistant Tim Lampson, I did another shoot. Not only were the pictures better, but I was able to contribute a composure and comprehension that I gained from my experience in front of the camera. The shots were great and the girls were thrilled. This experience helped me to decide to buy out my friend's studio and equipment. Studio 512 was born. Though I loved modeling, I never liked the long hours on the set and away from my family and my young son, Billy. My first customers were my former modeling peers, which eventually led to actors and celebrities. These models and actors took my photos to meet prospective commercial clients, and the clients asked about who had shot the work. Within eighteen months, Studio 512 was shooting for major accounts all over the Midwest.

Due to my extensive knowledge of the entire process from makeup and styling to posing and capturing, I was often compared to Francisco Scavullo. Scavullo was a photographer famous for his amazing makeovers and many magazine covers in the 60s and 70s. In the late 70s, warmer climates called and my son Billy and I moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After meeting with several modeling agencies and showing my book, the phone started to ring and business was jumping. It was here that I began to learn the art of natural light. The beautiful weather and close proximity to the ocean offered so many opportunities not available in a studio. I relocated the studio to Miami in 1980 to be closer to more work. More shoots and recognition followed as the business grew in leaps and strides. I soon decided to better the future of the family, not just the business, so we moved again to California.

The family grew. In 1982, Bill (1972) was joined by a brother, Chris, and in 1983 sister Kari arrived. We adopted my youngest daughter Kirsten in 1994 when she was six years old. Although I continued to shoot for close friends and special clients, the business went on hiatus for a few years while I focused on being a full-time mom. After the young kids were in school, I decided to jump into the Hollywood market. I called an old friend from Chicago who connected me with a woman in L.A. who had a modeling school and management company. I started to teach and soon after shoot many of her clients, who happened to be children and teens. Rachel Epstein, an agent at Gilla Roos, and Tracey Dwyer of L.A. Talent saw my work and began to refer their clients to me. Word was out about a great photographer who was a mother and worked in a relaxed, residential family atmosphere in the Westside. The client base kept growing and soon many agents realized that I shot people of all ages. It was during this time I received a phone call from Cindy Osbrink, who informed me she was opening a new talent agency and that she wanted to send me her clients, she said she "had never seen someone who cared so much". This was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I started scheduling kids in the mornings and adults in the afternoon. Bill Ballerini's earliest memories are of visiting his mom on the set when she was modeling...

I (Bill) had the best time riding around the studio on my big wheel, listening to disco music. Exposed to so many people from such diverse backgrounds, my life very early on became a tapestry of different yet complementary experiences. Because I've grown up in full-fledged studio since I was four, photography has been part of my daily life. Whether it was pressing out the old fiber 8x10s or helping coil the cords, much of my childhood and adult life was lived in the studio. During my teenage years, I began doing theatre which led to agents and auditions. I became a member of S.A.G. after doing several national commercials and a few television shows. Following years of working nights and weekends for the studio, I finally left for college and studied both Theatre and Economics at UC Santa Cruz. When I returned from school in 1996, I began working with the studio and Kathy full time. I was the full-time assistant, office manager, and courier.

It has always been exciting and also a little scary to work with someone who is as good as Kathy is day in and day out. However, slowly but surely, I was able to absorb the process almost as if by osmosis. The process does not just include shooting the pictures, but it includes the make up, the styling, and the imaging as well. In the early years I was often tasked to shoot special assignments, I shot a little bit of everything. I've shot products from custom drums to vinyl windows, and musicians from rock and roll artists to classical tenors. I often handle our commercial and promotional work including several magazine spreads and covers, the West Coast Customs crew from the MTV show "Pimp My Ride." and several fashion campaigns. My passion is faces. I enjoy the challenges of each new person, the different bone structures and skin tones. When combining this analysis and understanding with the clients' needs, things become really fun. I have learned—from my own acting experience as well as our many industry synergies—that name of the game is marketing. Giving agents, mangers and casting directors a diverse and multifaceted "image tool box" is the only way to assure that our talent has the best opportunity for maximum exposure. A client may have a unique look, but one look is not enough. His/her true strength is in being malleable and having versatility. Exploring this malleability and perfecting the branding is where the true challenge lies, it is also why it is the most rewarding.