Alan Law Photography
I’m a wedding photographer based down in Cornwall, England, which is in the very south west of the country, and near to lots of lovely beaches (that I really should take the time to visit more often!).
I’m also the founder of This is Reportage (https://thisisreportage.com/), which is a worldwide community and awards body for documentary wedding photographers, and our sister-site, This is Reportage: Family (https://thisisreportagefamily.com/), for documentary family photographers.
I’m also a Dad to two lovely kiddos, very lucky to be married to a much-more-attractive-than-me amazing woman, and have a penchant for post-wedding McDonald’s. And, much to the amusement of my wife, I used to pronounce ‘penchant’ phonetically…!
What inspired you to start your photography business?
My own personal wedding photography business really came about because of my wife; I had taken some photographs at friends’ weddings (not as the pro, of course, just as a guest), my friends had liked them (or had just been very polite), and my wife said I should pursue it. I’d always been into photographing people – I could never be a commercial photographer, for instance, it’s always about the people – and with me not really enjoying my day job (I was in SEO), I thought I’d give it a go. The SEO knowledge I had also came in quite handy with starting my own business…!
In terms of starting This is Reportage, my passion had always been – and still is, of course – about capturing the real moments; that’s what it’s all about. I felt like I really wanted to create a new portal that really emphasised this, that showed what brilliant documentary coverage really is, why it’s so important. I also felt like I wanted to push back a bit about how heavily portrait-focused Instagram and other places were; I have a lot of respect for portrait photographers, and people who pose well, but it definitely seemed like an unproportionate amount of ‘webspace’ was taken up with portraits, whereas they only account for a tiny part of the day itself, and – in my opinion – are just not as important as the real moments.
Tell us about your photography business?
I began in 2012, and went full time in 2013. It was nerve wracking to leave my job, but I’m a real firm believer in just going for things in life; the worst that could’ve happened was for it not to work, and I’d have to find another job…but, luckily, it worked out well. I now shoot about 25 weddings a year all over the UK and Europe (only about 10% of my weddings are local in Cornwall).
What inspires you artistically when you shoot weddings or couples?
As 99% of my coverage is totally documentary (apart from some ‘couple time’ images and groups – if my couples want them, of course) it’s really all about being inspired by the people; what’s happening, how they’re interacting with each other, who is going to be reacting to what’s just been said, who’s going to be feeling what etc… I’m inspired by what I see, which is totally different for each wedding, even if it’s at the same venue, because the people are always different. That’s what I love.
Tell us about your studio or home office setup?
I am very lo-fi! Although I have a ‘main’ computer (which is PC, shock-horror!), and a large 40” monitor, I actually don’t use it at all anymore, preferring instead to do all my work on laptops. It’s just so much easier for me to be fluid; sometimes I’ll be working in my home-office, but other times I may be at the kitchen table, or on the sofa, or culling on the train, editing at my hotel. It’s great to be able to do whatever I want, wherever I want.
What does a typical non wedding workday for you look like?
As I’m sure every self-employed person will say, I seem to be always working. During wedding season, it’s all the culling (argh!) and the editing, of course, but I’m also working every day on This is Reportage & This is Reportage: Family; whether that’s scheduling Instagram and FB posts, recording our weekly Podcast, creating educational videos for members, looking for judges, doing group features and so on… there’s always so much to do.
What is a typical wedding day for you?
A typical wedding day for me means waking up to a Premier Inn breakfast, somewhere far from home. As I said, I only do about 10% of my weddings locally, so I’m invariably a 4 – 5+ hour drive from home, so I always travel up the day before. I then like to arrive at the venue or prep-venue around an hour before I’m due to start (even though my hotel is usually only 10 miles or less away, I just want to be on the safe side and arrive early). I’ll do a scout around the venue then for some location possibilities for the couple time later.
My full day is 10 hours’ coverage, so I’ll generally be working something like 12 noon – 10pm; usually doing a couple hours of prep, and getting an hour or two of evening party coverage in that. And the way I work really is totally documentary (apart from the couple time and groups); so never asking people to repeat things, or to look at the camera, or anything like that. I want to capture everything totally naturally, but also creatively and artistically. Not saying I achieve that, of course, but it’s the goal…! My couples are hence really relaxed people, who don’t want the day and the photos to be all about them.
How do you go about getting couples to relax in front of the camera?
A large part of this comes from the images that I show; because I’m always showing real moments – where, sometimes, people don’t always look super-flattering (but it’s real, which is far more important! Sometimes you can’t cry beautifully…), it means that my couples already know, from the images that I’ve shown, that they can just be themselves. There’s no posing, no airs or graces; just be yourself. I re-iterate that if we have a zoom/Skype beforehand, too; that I don’t want them to be thinking about the photography on the day at all; just enjoy getting married, knowing that it’s all being captured for you. Hopefully well, ha!
Also, I’m just myself – leading up to the day, and on the day itself. Which means I’m just me, with probably a silly/bad sense of humour, and I probably look silly when I’m trying to run ahead with my spider-holster, for instance. But I don’t care; it’s me; I think it makes people relax when they can just see that you’re not putting on a fake air of professionalism; helps them be themselves, too.
What is your favorite part of a wedding day?
I used to say prep, and I do still really enjoy that, but I’m finding the ceremony itself to be my favourite part now; as wedding photographers, we really do have the ‘best seats in the house’ – most guests can’t even see the couple’s faces, for a lot of ceremonies, for instance – and so it feels really special to be witnessing (and capturing) these close-up.
I do also love my post-wedding McDonald’s at 2am on the drive home…
Can you list the camera gear you bring to a wedding?
Again, I’m really quite lo-fi, in that I have two camera bodies (2 x Sony A9), and two lenses that stay on each camera the entire day – the Batis 25mm f/2 on one body, and the Batis 85mm f/1.8 on the other. I never have to worry about which lens would be best for each scenario, never have to worry about changing; I know that I can capture everything with this two body/two lens setup, and so I can focus on what’s happening in front of me, rather than my equipment.
I love shooting close and wide, so about 80% of my images are taken really in close with the 25mm. I love the intimacy in the resultant images, and, by being close, you really do anticipate moments more. Coupled with the totally silent shutter of the A9 – I’m in silent literally 100% – it’s just perfect for documentary.
I bring backup bodies and lenses, of course, and I have a Godox flash and trigger for my one-flash OCF setup for the first dance/partying *if* – and only if – I need to use it. Every venue/wedding is different, so a lot of the time I’m finding I’m still shooting the dance and partying with ambient light only.
What is your process for culling and editing your images?
I use Photo Mechanic for my culling (argh again!), and LR with my preset for all the editing. A massive time saver for me has been using a piece of software called LR Keys on the PC, which is a keyboard shortcut system – so I can literally do virtually all my editing by pressing keys, rather than having to use the mouse/sliders. This has made my editing so much faster!
How do most of your couples find you? What marketing do you do for your business?
I know you may expect me to say this because I also run awards-websites, but a lot of my own couples find me because of the various awards or ‘list mentions’ that I’ve been lucky enough to receive/feature on. I think it’s only natural that winning things, or being mentioned on lists, gives people a bit more trust in you; we’re in such a competitive industry, so anything you have that differentiates you from the photographer down the road, really puts you in great stead.
But I also get past clients’ referrals, of course, which is lovely, and I guess means I’m doing something a bit right at least! And though a lot of photographers seem to not like Facebook, for me I find it good, and I get quite a few enquiries and bookings through it.
What has been your best business purchase in recent years?
Definitely the A9; I love it. Totally 100% silent, small-factor, being able to see your exact exposure (and thus no chimping) – they’ve all been game changers for me.
Comparing your business from when you started to now, what has been the main thing that allowed you to succeed?
It’s tricky because ‘success’ is so subjective; it means so many different things to different people. For me, in terms of my own wedding photography being a success, it means being able to make a comfortable living from it; doing something I love, that’s creative, and that also gives me a lifestyle that I enjoy (even if I am constantly working, it still gives a great lifestyle; I’ve been able to spend so much time with my kids before they started school, for instance, something which I’ll always be super-grateful for).
So, with that version of ‘success’ in mind, I think the two man things which have enabled that for me is 1. Really just going for it (I think that’s so important, to really go for things in life. So I threw myself into my own wedding photography, and into TiR, for instance), and 2. Just being myself. And by that I mean just shooting what I love, showing what I love; not following the trends, not shooting the same off-camera backlit rain portrait. I honestly think it’s pointless to just do what everyone else is doing – not because my way of doing things is the ‘right’ way, of course (it’s probably totally wrong, ha!), but just because I can only get passionate and really enjoy things if I truly feel that way about those things; not because everyone else is doing them. And there’s no point being self-employed if you’re not doing what you actually enjoy, in my opinion.
What do you consider the main differences between those people who have been successful in the industry and those who have failed?
Again, it’s hard to quantify what success really is. Though I mentioned about not doing what everyone else is doing above, if someone does those OCF backlit rain portraits week-in, week-out, and they love doing that, then that’s super, and that’s totally success; doing what they love. But I do think if people are very easily swayed into doing what everyone else is doing, then they can end up only differentiating by price, and that rush to the bottom can easily leave people disheartened and hanging their cameras up.
What’s the best piece of photography business advice you’ve ever been given?
I remember hearing early on – or reading it, I can’t remember where now – about how being a photographer really isn’t about taking photographs. I mean, it is, but it’s *so* much more than that. If you want a business where you’re actually making a living from it, you have to know about the business side, the marketing, the financials…everything that running a business actually involves. So, to have that in my mind from the beginning meant that I focused as much energy into the business side as I did into the photography, and I think that’s been paramount.
What’s the most common rookie mistake when it comes to starting a photography business? What advice would you give them?
Ah, totally linked to what I said above! Remember that it’s not just about taking great photographs; you’re a business, in a very competitive market; you need to get your head around the business side (or at least outsource to people who do…!). So I’d definitely advise that. But also, just be yourself – and be yourself in *everything* you do. I honestly think that’s so important; by being yourself you will make images that are unique, you will have a business that is unique, because you are unique. Sounds trite in a way, but it’s vital.
You have had your wedding photography business for many years now. What have been the biggest challenges for you in keeping your business running profitably year after year?
Apart from 2020…? Ha, yes, with that particular year out of the equation… I don’t know, I feel lucky in that – touch wood (my wife bought me a wooden iPhone case, so I can easily touch wood!) – I’ve not had major worries or challenges. Like every photographer, there can be times where we’re eyeing the number of bookings we’ve got in for the following year, but I’ve always hit my target. It’s natural, being self-employed, to be having thoughts about future income, though, and we’re lucky that, for weddings, people generally book so far ahead.
What are your top 3 wedding venues or destinations that you have photographed?
Ah a tough one, as honestly, it’s the people who 100% make the difference. But I guess, if we really are talking about venues/locations, then I did a fab outdoor mountain ceremony/wedding in Verbier in Switzerland which was awesome (apart from my fear of cable cars), and a super-old chapel on a tiny island in Montenegro was special too.
Do you have any bucket list locations you want to shoot?
Actually only one: Vegas! I love Las Vegas – it’s like the total opposite to sleepy Cornwall – and so I think it would be really fun to capture a wedding there. Anyone reading this and fancying Vegas; hit me up!
Best places online to view more of your work?
My own wedding photography:
This is Reportage:
This is Reportage: Family: