SKYPE INTERVIEW: Brian Callaway from Callaway/Gable
We have our next guest on the line, Brian Callaway, who is such a unique guy. His work, he's a different story in that he found his style early on, and I think he's fascinating to talk to because his work is so incredibly recognizable. And we're going to talk to him about that whole concept of creative uniqueness. So, yeah, let's welcome Brian and say, "Hi." Can you hear me okay, Brian? Are you out there?
I hear you, hi.
Thank you for having me.
Oh, you're so welcome. It's so good to see you, and to see your work is just so delightful. I actually get feelings of delight when I see your images. And one of the things that really struck me so much is that there's always this little element of surprise. I look at your images, and I have to take a second glance because there's something surprising about it and very storytelling. Can you, as we go through your images a little bit here on the screen, can you talk to us a little bit about how you came to find your sty...
Well, I think when we first started shooting weddings, we just pulled from what we knew, from just ourselves, from what we had. All we had was really our background. Allison was a model; I was an actor. Oh, that's cool. That is a South Asian wedding, and that's the dad. And I think it was definitely not the first time that he had jumped into the crowd. Yeah, there's a great story behind that photo. Yeah, so in the beginning we just pretty much pulled from our background and knew that we wanted our brides to look beautiful on the most important day of their life. And any time that we deviated from that, I had gotten inspired by other photographers or saw other types of photography, I felt like we weren't being honest with ourselves, with myself. And, so, when I look back at some of our initial work, my initial work, it's got the same exact voice as it does now, eight years later. So I've learned, throughout the years, to just stick to what I know. Any time that I do deviate and go down a road where I get inspired by other photography or other types of techniques, we like to call them epic fails. I'm the master in the studio of epic fails, of taking chances and, then, it's absolutely just garbage. But I think you have to go through that to find your voice, if that makes any sense.
So it wasn't really that hard for you to find your style. You didn't really struggle with this concept of wanting to be like other people? So it just came to you because you were... Is that what I'm hearing?
Yeah, and I had also been doing commercial photography as well before that. And, so, I just kept going down the same path of what I was shooting. I just didn't, when we got into weddings, we didn't do a lot of research on how do people shoot weddings. We just walked in and said, "What do I want to shoot? "How does this bride want to be portrayed on her wedding day? "Let's use light. "Why can't we shoot it like fashion? "Why can't we come in here and use umbrellas and softboxes, et cetera?" And, so, that's what we did in the very beginning, and I think the one thing lacking in the beginning for our style was photojournalism. But, then, we just looked the other day at some of the initial photographs. I think there's one in there. Did you guys include the one with the grandma in the wheelchair, dancing?
I'm not sure if I did or not. I think that might be the one that didn't get in.
But that's eight years ago, so the photojournalism was there as well back then.
I love that shot.
Your work, like I said, has a bunch of surprises in it. Whenever I see your work, the guy standing back there in the underwear is just awesome.
Yeah, it just has this element of surprise. And there's this bride... I mean, just him putting his hand in an okay sign over his eye is a surprising way to portray a groom. And there's always this concept of foreground, middle ground, background in your images.
And this is just hilarious. Where does this come from?
Gosh, I have no idea.
I do know, though, that I am always thinking about layers. I'm thinking about what you just said, the foreground, the background, because the more layers in the photo, the more that the photo lives by itself as a story. And, so, we're totally driven, I'm totally driven all the time by the idea of how can I tell this story in one single photo, and that's by layering. And it's by opening your eye through the background to the foreground. And like when we initially talked, it's about listening, not only listening to your client and what's happening during that moment, but listening to the background visually, seeing what you can incorporate to tell their story. That photo with the kid in his underwear with the red Crocs, that's what makes the photo. That tells the story. Now we know where they are, and it helps remind the bride and groom that it was 110 degrees, this is the only moment they had alone, they came around a corner right before their wedding, and they were reminded that life is short. It's super short. It's going to go by super fast, this wedding. Let's have fun. And in one photo, we're able to capture that by thinking about looking for layers.
Wow, very cool. You are, and before we get into social media, I want to talk about one thing. How does an artist create? Your work is so recognizable. It has that humor, that surprise in it. How does one go about creating that uniqueness in their work so where it's so recognizable, that recognizable factor, where I look at a Brian Callaway image, and I know it's a Brian Callaway image. Where does that creating uniqueness place happen in an artist's life?
Maybe, if you want to get deep a little bit, I think, we often joke, my wife and I, Allison, who, by the way, is half of, all of these photos are a collaboration. Our work is a collaboration. But the actual photos we're showing you right now are mine. But we often joke that we're driven by all that we have, which is ourselves. And our backgrounds, both, were not that healthy and, so, we often are, I'm often driven by making things really happy, really fun, kind of anti-my background. I'm looking for the most joy in life as I move forward in my life. And, so, I think that's what you see in the images is you see people really at the apex of fun and joy and life. And, then, there's a little bit of humor in there, as well. So I'm always thinking about a little bit of humor How can I make this funny? How can I even make it rememberable? Does that make sense?
It totally makes sense. Do you think that uniqueness comes from your past, then?
And how can an artist look to that? And you've obviously done it in a positive way. You've spun it the other direction. And some artists don't, the whole tortured artist syndrome is a common cliche back to the early days of art. How do we use our experience in life to create our style, and is it always wise to do that? What's your thought?
My thought, I think when you're starting out and, gosh, I don't know how, I don't know, to be honest.
That's okay, that's okay.
I was just curious because I know so many, you look at artists in their career, like Salvador Dali was a tortured guy. He had a rough life, and his paintings reflected that. Whereas you may have had something traumatic in the past have turned it into funny and humor and happiness in a totally different direction. But I think it's awesome to examine your past and what you've experienced in growth and life and, then, apply that to work because it's such an influence in your work, and it's so you, and it makes you tick. It makes you who you are. So yeah--
Well, it's also the genre of what we're photographing as well. So the genre is a wedding, and a wedding isn't going to be deep, dark, brooding stuff.
Right? So I think, yeah, there should be something. I can tap into my deep, dark stuff if I was shooting a documentary something that was very deep and dark. I would tap into that. I'm basically always tapping into my experience.
Yeah, yeah. So let's talk a little bit about social media. You are pretty dang good at social media, but you're also, again, this whole concept of discipline and editing your work. How do you incorporate your style into your marketing in that way?
Well, so we're very, very specific with Instagram, primarily Instagram right now, Facebook as well. But Instagram, we separate it into a personal Instagram for Brian Callaway and, then, we separate it into a business Instagram for Callaway Gable. And everything that's Callaway Gable is a portfolio image that has been retouched and has been very well thought out. It's usually always an amazing image, and all of the personal stuff, we keep out of that. All the transparent stuff with our kids and joking around and making faces, that's all for Brian Callaway Instagram because I don't want to dilute the Callaway Gable feed with that personal stuff. And, then, we tag 15 to 20 tags so that when a groom is looking up tuxedo, et cetera, hopefully our image will pop up. So we're very specific thinking about that. Facebook is primarily, we use the page, same thing. My personal page is very transparent. We invite our clients to be part of that. We want them to see that we're down-to-earth and fun. And, then, the Callaway Gable page is primarily designed to throw out a few images and, then, the client will then share those images throughout their network, driving traffic back to us.
What do you think happens--
Anything that we--
What do you think happens when a business owner puts images out there that aren't necessarily their style? What happens in the mind's eye of the potential client?
People move so fast. People are making judgements in two seconds, if that. If there's one thing that turns them off to that portfolio of images, which, by the way, Instagram on the internet, you can look at someone's Instagram and see their whole portfolio in one shot. If it's not cohesive, I think it turns people off. You have to have a very cohesive style, and it has to be super specific. And I think what is hard for people when they're beginning is what is my style? How do I hone it down? Is it risky for me to go in this one direction? And I don't know what the answer to that is. I think that your show is probably helping people figure that out and giving them tools of how to figure out what their style might be. Again, circle back to me, it just came from pulling from my background, pulling from my experience.
Brian, we talked a little bit about shooting from your heart in our discussion a few weeks ago, and I really liked our conversation. And your wife said, correct me if I'm wrong, she said, "To find your style, you really have to shoot from your heart." And I asked you what that meant. What does shooting from your heart mean in you and Allison's mind?
Well, in this genre that we do, it's walking into a room and understanding that someone's under a tremendous amount of stress and having empathy, connecting, giving a hug, really understanding what's going on with them, asking how they're doing, connecting with them. That's shooting from the heart. It's listening to the conversations that are going on and being ready when you know it's going down a super emotional path to have your camera up and not down looking around the room for what you're going to do next. It's not about us; it's about them. And our job is to have our camera up all the time, listening. And that's what she does very well. She's very connected that way. The other level of it, too, is that she's a parent. We're both parents. And, so, we look at it through the lens of being parents. So we walk in the room going, "What would I want as a parent?" when I have my camera up. And, so, we're making sure to make sure that everyone's in the room, and that they're talking and connecting. And, so, that's shooting from the heart, I think.
Well, Brian, your work is absolutely beautiful. I loved it the instant I saw it. You're so, so talented.
Thank you. Is there anything else that you wanted to add that, maybe, I forgot to ask about style or a point you wanted to make across that we didn't talk about?
I think you nailed it all. I think what you're doing is amazeballs for people.
I had to get that word amazeballs in there.
You're so awesome. Thanks, buddy. Now, of course, you do teach other photographers as well in the wedding circuit, and I wanted to make sure that information got shared. Can you tell us a little bit about it and where we can find you?
We have, our main website is CallawayGable.com and, then, we have a teaching site called Learn.CallawayGable.com. And our whole thing is about creating an extraordinary experience for people which is just one step above than just taking their photo. So that's what it's all about, workshops, private coaching, other stuff.
Someday I cannot wait to meet the two of you because you sound like just amazing people. And thank you so much for joining us here today. It's just an honor, and we're very humbled that you agreed to spend some time with us. So thank you so much.
I'm humbled to be here, too.
Thank you, thank you.
Thank you very much.