Picture Perfect

Published: Oct 5, 2017

Patrick Rife ’10, visual arts

As an undergraduate student of art history at UMBC, Patrick Rife ’10, visual arts, paid homage to obsolescent technology by building a sculpture out of 9,000 vinyl records. Today, as the co-founder of Baltimore-based Pixilated, Rife spends his days figuring out the key to staying on the cutting edge of a technology that calls to another throwback technology – photo booths.

If you’ve been to a major party in Baltimore in the last few years, you’ve probably seen the heavy rotation of guests posing in front of one of Pixilated’s trademark photo boxes. But Rife’s team has moved far beyond where it started in 2012, with a team of three. The Pixilated of today consists of 36 full and part-time employees with 24 booths working family and sporting events, festivals, conferences and corporate meetings in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, as well as installing permanent, wall-mounted kiosks in businesses.

In short, Pixilated has left its mom-and-pop one-photo-booth rivals in the dust.

Rife and his partner, Nicolas China, started Pixilated after Rife was inspired by a watching wedding guests jumping in front of a professional photographer and acting crazy. This was Rife’s first exposure to the concept of an “open air” photo booth and occurred before the proliferation of digital photography. Years later, he remarked on it to a friend who’d had a similar experience and they realized the business potential given the digital technology then available.

Within a year after graduating from UMBC, Rife went from a low-wage job transporting high-end art pieces around the country to starting Pixilated. With his first child on the way, Rife, who is also a musician, said he viewed Pixilated as a small side business that “would buy me a little more time to make my next record.”

While there was a nascent photo booth industry at the time, Pixilated planned to improve on existing models.

“The original concept of Pixilated was to do something … that was a little more sculptural and with a sexier silhouette, instead of a traditional booth and to take higher quality photos, produce really high quality prints, and make an experience of it,” Rife explains. To heighten the experience element, they added themed props and green screens, and more recently, “GIF booths,” with stop motion photography that allow customers to take home a short animation of their memories.

After about two years serving weddings and other private functions, Rife was ready to take it to a higher level – bigger events such as trade shows, expos and state fairs. Since then, Pixilated has successfully marketed their services to large corporations, setting up photo booths for Under Armour at the Chicago Marathon, and traveling with Sony Records and Pandora, among others. They’ve also become incredibly savvy at marketing and brand engagement.

Pixilated photo booth customers become stars, posing with or wearing company logos and brandishing products, then posting the slick, ad-like images of themselves on social media. The client company’s exposure and recognition multiplies. Pixilated’s logo also appears in every shot. Everyone wins.

Next up, Rife foresees the business becoming more “nimble” with the proprietary software they’re launching, using the cloud for file sharing and social media integration.

“The industry has been going pretty heavily for four years now…but when it comes to bigger companies doing brand engagement, there aren’t a ton in the Baltimore market,” Rife reflects. “At the moment it’s still a little bit of an arms race to see who can build the exceptional technology and combine that with business development.”

— Cait James ’01


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