Hello? Is this thing on?
Hi. I have some explaining to do…
My name is Jason and this is my brand spanking new website. (July 2017) This is my chance to re-boot, and start again with my life as a wedding photographer, and I couldn’t be more excited.
But I need to clear a few things up. The first question is Why? I – I have an established business that I’ve been building for around 15 years – Alexander Leaman Photography has been a hugely successful wedding photography business, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been there since the days of shooting film and through the change to digital and been a part the revolution in wedding photography that followed. That’s pretty awesome. But why would I essentially kiss goodbye to all of that and start a new venture, absolutely unknown and amongst a saturated world of wedding photographers, all clamouring for your £2K. Why would I dump all of the good reputation, and all of the technical foothold that comes with having such a well known and built up business?
Alexander Leaman Photography has been a great home for me for nearly 15 years, and before that I was working in the world of fashion and celebrity photography all over London, running studios, and looking after all aspects of a shoot in one way or another. Very glamorous and very chic. I would snap polaroids of pop stars for my nieces (couldn’t believe it) and grab video messages from Gok Wan for my sisters (eternally grateful), while planning launch events for Kylie’s underwear collection when I could just find a minute. I witnessed and took part in a seismic shift from film to digital both in Studios as well as in my personal work. I started getting work for small magazines and publications passed to me by photographers who hadn’t yet invested in a digital camera – the budgets for this kind of work were close to non existent so not having the expense of film was the only way to make any money. I learned quickly.
In the studios, the clique of photographer, assistant, makeup artist, art director, digital tech, models, and hangers-on, was different each day. The team would huddle around the world shooting something new in a different studio with the same backdrop every other day. When somebody inside of such a group would be getting married, the rock star photographer they regularly worked with wouldn’t touch a wedding, because they were either too busy, or more often just in no way interested in something as bland as all that. I’d be at the back of the room holding my hand up and saying “I’m your man”. You see, like I’ve said, I’m a quick learner. I had already worked out by this time that I didn’t want to chase the world of fashion photography. I loved the scene, and I loved the partying (London in 2001 was intense), but the portrait wasn’t there for me. My favourite photographers at the time were shooting celebrity portraits in a gritty and honest way – more character than clothing. I’d grown up watching photographers like Anton Corbijn, the famous music industry photographer and film-maker. Corbijn’s portraits came from a pace of simplicity and honesty, eschewing the gimmicks and posturing of the fashion photographs regurgitated and spewed all over the magazines as the next big thing became the next big thing. Gritty pictures from Corbijn that marked the musician as a made personality, created by and fed by their lyrics or sound. Real and authentic in a quick burst. No pretence.
That’s what I wanted to photograph, and fashion wasn’t as exciting and glamorous as it at first appeared. A great place to learn, fast, but not something I artistically wanted to be a part of. It seemed like someone else’s idea, and the truth is, it’s a hard industry to be original in. The art director wants in to look like this. The magazine is looking for that. There are tear sheets strewn across the table – A little bit of this made to look a little bit like that. It’s very [insert zeitgeist here]. I wanted out, and I was quite happy to shoot the weddings that nobody wanted – a quick route into real people. Real characters and real faces. I started using my middle name to mark out a ‘different side’ of what I could do as a photographer, partly because it was almost a taboo to shoot weddings back then, and partly because I liked the sound of it – Alexander Leaman Photography was born. I found complete creative control in my own business. Remember – 15 years ago wedding photography was very different. There were only a few people who were changing things up a notch, and there were huge technical limitations getting in the way. It wasn’t really until 2005 that there was an affordable high quality, small DSLR camera available to make it possible to re-invent the wheel. There were only a few of us around at that time that essentially changed the face of what wedding photography could be. A case of great timing coupled with a hunger to make it work while learning on the job. Back then the internet wasn’t Facebook, wasn’t instagram, and wasn’t all about having your website found on google. I hadn’t even heard of SEO.
A Wedding Photographer Is Born
It was a fertile time. Trying out different approaches and looks without having a billion photographers breathing down my neck was just creatively liberating. Not having to blog every 5 minutes to retain any kind of visibility was, in hindsight, a very free feeling. Of course, I made mistakes, creatively speaking. I made a couple of bad decisions along the way, but ironed all of those creases out very early on. The key to everything for me back then was simplicity. Everything had to be simplified and elegant.
I shot some great weddings. Unreserved, a bit unsure, but I was never out of my depth. A few of my jaded peers started noticing, that not only was I photographing weddings and people in a new and vibrant way, but also that I was getting paid! I got a lot of requests to be my assistant at this time, though I generally worked alone. For busier weddings Carrie would assist me, and we carried on like that for a while, just tweaking and moving forward. Always learning and getting better. As it turns out, the two photographer thing can be a different kind of wedding altogether. Done well it can really add the right ingredients to the sauce, but having two photographers as a default one-size-fits-all approach can be more of a negative than a positive. You’ve got to know if you’re adding to the story or if you’re making things more complicated than they need to be. You might just be diluting the creativity of your chosen photographer, and you’re getting an extra person to navigate around on the day too. Does that suit your wedding? Have a look at my Prices page to get a better idea of how to bring in another photographer, when it’s right, and when it’s not necessary.
As Alexander Leaman, and now with Carrie working behind the scenes, I got very busy very quickly. I’ve made some great connections along the way, and established myself as a preferred photographer for a few wedding venues around the UK. The best ones are the ones that want to collaborate for no other reasons than they are passionate about the weddings and they will do everything they can think of to make their couples have the best experience they can. Being in a certain position within the industry means that there are lots of people that want a piece of me. The amount of calls I get on a daily basis for SEO services is ridiculous. In my more naive times I’ve been completely burned by these Specialist Wedding SEO companies to the extent that one of them more or less wiped me off the face of the internet after signing me up to tens of thousands of questionable websites. They covered their tracks enough, but it bothers me that they’re getting away with that stuff with wedding industry vendors.
Pushed into oblivion. That was fun.
I know that I ‘compete’ with other photographers in the area, and in other areas. That’s mostly OK, but I do know of perhaps more cynical suppliers who will tell couples anything they can come up with to get the booking – something that has become rife in the industry – It’s not just me being paranoid – I’ve spoken to a number of other photographers and it’s remarkable how many similar stories there are, usually involving the same suspects. I’m relatively unscathed by it, but that’s not the point. It’s the Bride and Groom who get stuck with the consequences when the photographer has forgotten his/her ethics.
I’m tired of the competitive nature that wedding photographers have adopted. It’s unnecessary. I want nothing to do with it.
Where are we now?
Photographing weddings is the easy bit for me. It’s the part of my job that I can do well. I float, I dance. I’m completely at ease. I’m in the moment, and crucially, I know why I’m there. It’s genuinely not just a business to me – it never has been – but the simple truth is that you can’t run successful photography business without being able to adapt and learn as well as actually being good at running a business! I learned this early on, thanks to some long nights and conversations with photographers who had reached the top of their game and stayed there. A great photographer called David Anthony, who’d been busy from the heady days of the 60s told me this:
“[in photography] you’ve got three places to go, three paths to take. If you’re at the bottom of the pile you’ll work so hard and probably never see daylight, and definitely never have enough money. You’ll be anything to everybody. If you work at the top, everyone will want what you’ve got, and they’ll do what it takes to step into your shoes. Everyone will want you to fail, or at least be cheaper! Everyone will want to take credit for your successes, and gossip about your failures. If you sail through the middle, people will respect you for your humble and approachable nature. You’ll get paid, and you’ll stay in business, and you’ll catch a glimpse of the other two guys as they fall by the wayside”.
Now. He was probably slightly nuts for whatever reason, but he was right. I never wanted to be the guy that everyone knew. I never wanted to be famous. I didn’t feel the need to burn out. Let the other guys get around town whichever way they choose. I’m staying on the bus.
It turns out that ALP continued to be a great bus ride for me. I always had a destination in mind, and I knew if I just stayed on the bus I’d get there. We’ve had some good years, and we’ve had some not-so-good years, but by and large it’s a great life being a photographer. I’ve been happy with that for a few years now but it’s time to change.
“It’s important to take yourself out of your comfort zone when you want to be creative, to take yourself somewhere where you’re not going to just create by reflex” – The Edge
AlexanderLeaman.com will continue – I might just use it for my corporate work and family portrait and Newborn photography. The website itself is very bloated – there’s a huge amount of code and data in there which just isn’t doing anything. The first thing to go was the Butterfly logo – that was a hard decision to make. I really loved that logo! It’s become such a recognisable and colourful symbol and represented for years a lot of the freedom and beauty inherent in my job, but I want this to be about hard choices because I know that when I purposefully leave myself vulnerable in any way – that’s when I stumble on new ideas. ALP was starting to become an old idea. It was starting to become my comfort zone.
The Love of my life…
The biggest change is that Carrie is stepping away from the website. Now, I simply don’t have a life as a photographer without my wife Carrie co-piloting the whole thing and keeping it all running. On top of that, she runs my diary, and she runs a busy house with all the melee that comes with having three children under ten. It’s unfathomable how much she does, and I owe my life and sanity to this strong and incredible woman. She’s shot weddings by my side, she continues to photograph newborn babies with me, and she edits and produces albums and prints, while keeping our weird database up to speed too. She was pregnant for 18 months (not all in one go, silly!) of the time when we’ve been working from home and she’s still kept up more than her fair share of the workload. It has always been “we are…” and now it’s “I am…”
She’s still here, but she’s a very private person, and doesn’t really rate social media so much anyway, so we thought it might be a good time to quietly drop her front facing presence from the website. It’s both a big deal, and no big deal. I know some of our previous couples have worked very closely with Carrie, and I know some of you will miss her, but she’s still around and she’s still the navigator, and I still can’t do it the way I want to do it without her. We’ve been there and done the ‘Husband & Wife Team’ model to the extremes, and now we’re expanding to0 – working with a close community of associate photographers to make sure our couples are getting only the best when it comes to having a second photographer when that’s necessary.
Stuck in the middle with you
I’ve been explaining the drawn out “why I use my middle name” story for too long! Some people just don’t get it. “So do we call you Jason, or Alexander?”. Believe me – that gets boring or weird very quickly.
The hard thing though, isn’t the superficial visual changes that come with this kind of rebrand. I wish it was that simple. I haven’t chosen the easiest way to go about this.
The really hard thing is suddenly becoming invisible, and hoping that people will still be interested. This isn’t a vanity project, and this isn’t me just tweaking my website to death. This is a completely refreshed, revamped, and rebooted work ethic based on what I’ve learned as my alter ego over the last umpteen years. It’s about adapting to new things I want to become good at, and getting rid of the baggage that I want nothing more of. It’s about rekindling a passion (not that that’s ever left me) and re-igniting level of integrity without all of the guff. When you’re this wide open, you quickly become more honest, and more urgent. I think I’ve been hiding behind that butterfly a little. I might have known the song back to front but maybe singing slightly out of tune.
A lot has changed in 10 years, with social media having taken over our lives to such an extent that now having followers or not is the mark of success or failure. We are plugged in to technology, we are on-demand, we live and die by what we tweet. With Jason Leaman Photography I want to redress the balance of this stuff, specifically on a personal level. I’m still going to use social media, but it’s going to be less once this new thing settles down. I want to focus more on-life and less on-line. We all need a bit of that don’t we?
Getting rid of all the stuff is exactly what makes me feel better. I want to stop all of the sales pitch stuff – I was never any good at it and it’s not why I do this. I’m invested now more than ever in my clients, and getting them the photography they need without all of the ‘reportage’ and ‘documentary photographer’ guff.
I take great pictures of people’s weddings, and more often than not it’s exactly what they need. I’m not competing with anyone else. If anything I’m competing with myself, or last week’s wedding. Or this week’s wedding. I want to learn from other photographers, not compete in business. I’m open to collaboration, and I’m just not interested in negativity.
It’s time for a new start. A challenging new beginning. I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone and into a place where I know I can continue to grow and thrive. I haven’t felt like I can shake things up for a while and now I can. That saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t work for me. I’m more like “if it aint broke, it can’t be fixed”.
I’m taking all of the good stuff from my previous venture and re-imagining it. I’m getting rid of easy, and re-defining my processes. I’m re-defining what it means to have me photograph your wedding, whether that’s me alone, with two professional photographers, or with all of that and aerial drone photography too. I want to blow it apart and see how much we can develop a simple idea.
It’s all spun my head around, and for the first time in a long time I don’t know where I’m going.
I like that.
This is where I begin.
This is my journal.