Interviews with the Worlds Best Wedding Photographers | Destination Wedding Photography
As big fans of the work that comes out of the Callaway Gable studios I’ve been looking forward to this interview for a while now . Part of the key to Brian and Alison’s success is obvious, they are immensely likeable people who put out absolutely world class images, in fact Alison has been ranked in the top 10 Fearless photographers, Brian the top 20 and their associate photographer Lauren in the top 50. Not to mention a slew of ISPWP awards and an enviable amount of inclusions in Junebug Weddings ‘Best of the Best’ lists over the last few years.
Unfortunately when our interview rolled around Alison was a bit under the weather (not to mention moving house on top of managing a busy studio and family life to boot!) so my interview was just with the super entertaining Brian. I’ve got to admit it did feel less like an interview and more like catching up with an old friend! Who said ‘business’ isn’t fun!?
As well as having photos that stand out from the crowd their journey into wedding photography is a pretty unusual one too.
Ours is a pretty cool story: Allison was a model; she lived in Paris and worked as a model for a very long time. I was an actor and was on Seinfeld, the Bernie Mac show and about 50 commercials. But I was always a photographer. In fact I would do commercial photography work to make ends meet over the years. Whenever I worked as an actor I would hang out with the DP and try to pick up some knowledge. I would always ask about light and flags and why they were doing what they were doing. Those experiences were invaluable.
When Allison and I found out we were pregnant with our first baby, a close friend and commercial photography client asked us to shoot her wedding, and we said SURE! No problem! It was awesome! (And really stressful! Haha!)
We immediately realised that we had something special to offer. As a former model and actor we had a keen sense of how uncomfortable it can be to be in front of the camera. We wanted to create photos where our clients, who are not models, look like they are relaxed, having fun and are themselves at their wedding. And looking GORGEOUS! The key was adding in Allison’s modelling background and fashion sense and my love of light. No one was doing all of that at the time in the Los Angeles market, at least to our knowledge. But who knows…
We really both went into it without any preconceived notions, we didn’t have any idea, we’d never looked at any magazines, never looked at any websites, we just kind of photographed what we wanted to photograph and it just really took off from there. We always use light, and we were doing that right off the bat. Yeah, I guess that’s how it started, really fast!
With a background like theirs the obvious question seemed to be ‘Why weddings?’
We love everything about weddings: the rituals, people, drama, travel, photography culture – everything! We’re really passionate about it, I really think it’s the most exciting area of photography at the moment – there’s just so much creative freedom. I come from a commercial background and to be able to shoot the way we want, when we want, without someone telling me how to do it or do it again, or do it this way, it’s just totally freeing. Our peers are doing such amazing work, I mean look at the work on Fearless Photographers, Junebug Weddings and WPPI Print Comp – it just blows our minds!
Weddings are also incredibly rewarding – what can be more fulfilling than capturing these once in a lifetime moments and portraits that your clients and their families will enjoy and cherish for years and generations to come!! It’s invaluable what we all do, really.
It’s amazing how much the fantastic Fearless Photographers organisation gets mentioned in these interviews and it’s easy to see why every time a new collection comes out. The amazing thing to me seems that the standard of work just keeps getting higher, almost like the talent is contagious.
It’s absolutely contagious; it makes me wonder what’s coming next when everyone starts to become so good at what they are doing. In our studio, we have adopted the word ‘Fearless’ into our everyday vernacular. “I think I just got a Fearless shot!” or “Hey babe, if I crop this here, is it Fearless?” “Nope, it still isn’t Fearless, but the client is going to LOVE it!!
One of the most striking things about Brian and Alison’s work is the energy. Brian’s photos are some of the most entertaining on my Facebook feed so the obvious assumption is that they like to get involved in the weddings they shoot.
Erum Rizvi just second shot with me in Orlando and after she said ‘You absolutely interject yourself into a wedding’. And, “She’s right!” We’re very different to, let’s say a strict photojournalist, who sits back and watches what happens. I like to joke that we’re in half of our client’s albums because we become such good friends with them and have such a great time with them that they really enjoy us being there.
We’re very hands on, we direct. But we also watch. Obviously a lot of our shots that have won awards are photojournalistic but when it comes to the posing and the portraits we’re very hands on. We like to get people out of their heads by being a part of their day, by making jokes, making them relax, giving hugs and really helping them enjoy their day. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for our clients! Los Angeles is an image conscious market so it’s our job not only to capture raw, authentic PJ moments, but also to make sure that we maximize how our Clients look in these photos. It’s a unique combination of moment and manufacture, if you will. One compliment that we consistently receive is that our work is a well-balanced combination of portraiture and moments. We feel that is has ultimately been the key to standing out and to our success.
We always did it like that, we never wanted to do it differently – it just felt right. We just wouldn’t attract the clients who didn’t want that approach. We really haven’t changed our business model since that first wedding, in fact I just looked at some of our first weddings and it all looks like the kind of thing we shoot now. The only thing that’s different now is that we’ve really worked on the photojournalism part of our business. We’ve taken a cue from contests like Fearless, Junebug and ISPWP to work on that part of our craft. Being really ready for those moments, getting really close and just have our equipment down pat. Just to be in the moment and listen. Listening is so important! I think when we started doing all that was when we really started to be successful in the photojournalism side to our craft.
It sometimes seems like such an obvious question, but as we get to know more and more photographers one of the things I find fascinating is how different people work. Especially couples!
Our process has come from years of shooting together, and ultimately deciding that our marriage and family is more important than anything. What does that mean? It means I had to learn to stop being an asshole… no joke. This is something that I continue to work on every day and perhaps is the subject of another interview – but its true. With that, Allison and I accepted that we are both Alphas, Allie even more so when she shoots, and so the solution for us was to assign roles. It’s been an interesting landscape to navigate.
Now its an unspoken thing and we cross roles all of the time, but in the beginning that is how we learned to work together.
I often tell people that shooting weddings probably has made us closer than ever because we have had to learn how to effectively communicate in high stress situations. I don’t know if we would have learned these tools without these experiences.
I often count my blessings for being lucky enough to share my working days with Verity, I certainly couldn’t do it without her. In fact in the last 200+ weddings I’ve shot exactly 1 bride getting ready. This kind of routine always makes me especially interested to hear more about the dynamic between other photography duos.
A lot of couples work so that one will get the safe shots while the other gets the creative stuff. We work separately a lot as well, so last year probably half of our weddings were separate. The situation with us is that we’re both Alpha, so one person usually has to say ‘Ok, I’m the second shooter today and not the lead’. That’s how we figured it out, but I’d say for the most part it’s a hard thing. Assigning tasks is the way to go – we know going in that one person’s in charge of this, and the other is in charge of that so we just let it go. I like the Mann’s way of doing it where Erika doesn’t even see Lanny until the first look. Whereas we’ll be moving back and forth to put our own take on each part of the day.
In fact when we have a second shooter Alison and I will shoot the bride together, I don’t even meet the guys until it’s time for their pictures. Our Lead Associate Lauren will sometimes joke that she likes shooting the guys a bit better because they are easier: they are angular, there’s more contrast, harsh light looks amazing on them, etc. Sometimes creatively it’s more fulfilling to shoot the guys. I’ve always preferred shooting the brides because I personally find that to be more challenging as a male.
Many of our weddings are high-end with planners, designers, coordinators etc. We are expected to produce amazing shots of the décor, florals, venue etc. At those weddings, my role becomes the Detail Shooter. This is actually one of the ways we grew our business so fast – by becoming known for shooting amazing details. (look for a workshop on this soon)
Time for a couple shoot can vary tremendously depending on the days schedule, weather and even just how a couple chooses to divide their time. That said it can be one of the most enjoyable parts of a shoot, not to mention the bonus of getting those standout shots we all love.
When you interviewed the Mann’s they talked about getting the ‘Art of Getting Lucky’, I think ours is kind of the same approach. Oftentimes there’s not a lot of time, so some of those standout couple shots you see were taken really fast, some were conceived and then executed. I’d say 90% of them though are just completely in the moment. Allie doesn’t preconceive any shots; they are all totally happening in the moment. The shot I have with the fish was an idea I’ve had forever and I finally had a chance to do it. I’d say I like to think it out first whereas Allie prefers to think in the moment. She needs to feel to create, and living in the moment has served her well. I see much bigger vistas and she sees close emotions much better than I do. Usually when we shoot couples though it’s anything from 10 minutes to an hour; if we do a Day After Shoot we get a lot more time!
The key is having a system of getting portraits and knowing your equipment down pat! Allison and I use a very specific formula for attaining a wide variety of unique shots in a very short period of time. We talk about our formula on stage and in our workshops so make sure to check our schedule at learn.callawaygable.com to learn more about it.
More and more I’m starting to see that kit choice really isn’t that essential. With some incredible technological advances in our industry the truth is that even compact camera’s like the Sony RX100 III put out beautiful images that are even accepted by some of the world’s top stock websites, known for their close scrutiny of images at 100%. The truth is though I’m a true camera geek, so it had to be asked.
Our kits are the same: we both have two Canon 5D MK III’s strapped onto our bodies with Holdfast Moneymakers. Our lenses are all Canon L-Series: 50mm 1.2, 16-35mm 2.8, a 70-200mm 2.8, and the 100mm Macro. For off-camera lighting we use Canon 600 EX-RT speedlights and the Lowel GL-1 Hotlight and the Switronix TorchLED (for its variable temp setting). We use umbrellas, soft boxes, gels, snoots and grids. I also use a variety of Tiffen filters for landscapes.
We’re doing Shotkit as soon as we have a day or two off and I can’t wait to lay it all out! We bring three suitcases to every wedding and we use everything in there. We use a lot of umbrellas for family shots, we use soft boxes and all kinds of stuff.
The move into becoming a studio, even just with a part time associate is always a big one. Over here in the UK it’s really not something we see too much of but it’s much bigger in the states and completely logical really. Brian and Alison have already taken the decision to become a studio and work with their full time associate Lauren Belknap.
Lauren’s rad. It has always been our dream to give talented people like Lauren a place to make an amazing and fulfilling living without the stress of running a business. We are a family. We’ve all had common challenges in our childhoods so in essence, we’ve created our own little family with Allie, Lauren and myself. A few odd birds who have found each other! haha
I also feel that we’re in a business that has a challenge in terms of longevity, it’s a business where we’re getting older and the clients are staying the same age. So our relevancy is going to diminish. It’s already started, sometimes I’ll crack jokes and they don’t know the reference to the movie because I’m 44 and they are 24. With a Studio, our talent is more relevant.
We’ve all noticed the explosion that seems to have happened in the world of wedding photography workshops and seminars. There is an openness in the industry that is really helping to bring everybody up together. Brian and Alison have already spoken in front of sell-out crowds at Seminars and launched their own series of workshops – Laffaway-Workshops – with the awesome Todd Laffler.
We feel like we have a lot of passion for what we do and we just want to help other people. Allison worked in education for ten years so it’s definitely in her blood. We get a lot of satisfaction from sharing some of the hard lessons we’ve learned. We started with Junebug Weddings Workshop in Los Angeles. That was the first time we’d ever taught and it was with Sue Bryce and Roberto Valenzuela and then our first big talk in front of a crowd was at Mystic Seminars. Since that time we have done Creative Live, WPPI and our Laffaway Workshops. We approach it just like we approach our client work. From the minute we say we’re going to teach a workshop its going to be done with 125% effort and it will be an amazing experience
Remember, this is all new for us, and it’s a whole new business model. It’s been really awesome. We’ve been married almost 9 years now and we joke that when we have our vow renewal all of the people there are going to be photographers and people in the industry. Our best friends have come from this gift that is wedding photography. I never would have guessed in a million years that I would make so many amazing friends through this business. So teaching and sharing just gives us that satisfaction and I see us doing it for a long time because I feel it’s something you can have longevity with as opposed to shooting
So what about numbers? It’s always interesting for me to hear how many weddings is ‘ideal’ for each photographer with travel and family both big considerations.
With Lauren last year we did about 70 weddings, Allison and I did about 50 either together or apart and then Lauren did the rest. We do some commercial work and Lexus is one of our clients, the first shoot we did for them the Client described us as a “Beautiful Chaos.” That pretty much sums us up !
Brian and Alison’s work always seems to stand out, vibrant and energetic, as an integral part of everyone’s workflow I was keen to hear how they approach the edits.
When we first went to Mystic Seminars we sat next to Bambi Cantrell on the plane. She happened to look over as we were editing on the plane and said ‘Is that all in camera?’ and we were like ‘yeah!’ 95% of what we do is in camera, the only thing we add in post is saturation and sharpening and maybe a little cropping and contrast. For the most part that’s how we process our stuff, everything that goes to the client is colour corrected. Everything that’s on the web or in an album or print is retouched in Photoshop and finished with AlienSkin Exposure.
In terms of the way we wanted things to look I’ve always felt that a colourful photograph that’s well exposed and is composed well is all you need. It’s timeless that way, I think and the more you start developing and adding textures and stuff like that, the more you put a date stamp on the image. We want it to be colourful, vibrant and alive kind of like we are and like our clients are. Allie came from a fashion background so we feel like our photos have that side to them. We don’t shoot at 1.2 we shoot at mid apertures; we want everything to be in focus front to back so I think our editing style just fits our shooting style. We’re also using light so we’re getting some of that effect in camera instead of post
Success in any kind of contest is fantastic, but to have the kind of consistent success that Brian and Alison, along with many of the other photographers I’ve interviewed, is a true testament to their ability to up their game in increasingly competitive industry.
It’s interesting going through these contests – which we love by the way – as a group of three people in this office the comradery and the fun that we get out of doing it together has been really great. We go through the same process as everyone else, we say ‘How the heck did that not win an award!? That is a great shot how did it not even get picked?!’ and that’s usually when you’re choosing a shot you think should win instead of going with your heart. Alison does this all the time, she says ‘I’m picking this photo because it makes me feel something’ and we’ll say it’s not going to win and of course it does! That’s been a huge lesson for all of us in the office, following her lead and saying ‘does it make me feel something?
Allison definitely has a gift for seeing nuance, while I have a natural talent for seeing and creating balanced light.
I think for me the shot of the bride holding the fish over her eyes stands out. It was a National Geographic Photo of the Day and it was a spur of the moment ‘Oh my god, put the fish up!’ So that one’s really special for me just like the underwater fish photo – which was an idea that I had that really worked. A lot of my ideas just turn out to be epic fails so we put all of them in a folder and when we do a workshop we show everyone those and they get a kick out of that because there’s a lot of failure.
Everyone defines success in their own way, for many ‘business’ success and critical success can be two very different animals. The ideal situation is of course to achieve both which, it’s hard to argue, is exactly what Brian and Alison have done with Callaway Gable.
I wouldn’t call what we’re doing success at all, there’s not really any such thing as success. We’re only as good as what we did yesterday and the future is not guaranteed. We have to continue to sell, to produce quality work and not repeat old work. We have to always be creative and, honestly, the contests and speaking gigs are secondary to our clients. The number one thing we live on and thrive on are our clients. We’re absolutely nothing without them. So when I think of the future I think of photographing weddings and taking care of our clients. If we can construct something that will take care of our family in the future then that’s great. But our clients will always come first. So when I think of success I don’t think of contests or awards, I think of having happy clients who are raving about our work.
To see Brian, Allison and Lauren’s awesome work, please check out the Callaway Gable website:
For more information on their workshops, speaking gigs and mentoring, head over to their teaching site: