In a world that seems to scream, faster is better, bigger is better, more is better. It is so refreshing to hear a master craftsman talk about being motivated by getting better at his craft. Today we have the honor of hearing from one the world’s most celebrated photographers, Erich McVey. But you may be surprised that this master of his craft, started his photography career having never picked up a camera and at a job interview his mom signed him up for!
Erich is a business owner I have looked up to for years and I am beyond thrilled he is sharing his business journey with us today!
“Us creatives are notoriously bad at the business part.”
That’s how one of the world’s most celebrated photographers, Erich McVey, answered when I asked him to open up about the real behind the highlight reel of his 14 years in business.
“I got into this because I like taking pictures. I didn’t get into this to crunch numbers on a day-to-day basis. The money part, the owning it, the talking openly about profit and loss—that’s not what I got into business to do.”
The behind-the-scenes details in his business were things Erich had to figure out along the way. Fortunately for him, that’s something he has a long history of doing! After graduating in 2009 with a digital arts degree, he had no idea what next step to take.
That’s where his mom came in.
“My mom lined up an interview for me to be a photographer, which was weird because I didn’t have a camera, had never been interested in photography, and had never even taken a picture. When I told her all this, she said, ‘No, you’re gifted and you’re going to do it.’ My mom’s a badass, ex-marine superwoman, so at that point, there was no sense in resisting.”
Gifted a camera for Christmas, Erich had only a few days to learn how to use it before taking the job that would change his life.
“This company hired me to shoot their whole campaign. I got my start in photography, I met my wife, Amy, and I built my business all because of that job!”
His wife, Amy, has turned out to be a key player in building the business he has today. Just as they got married, she made the decision to leave her job and join him in creating the photography brand they have today.
“It was our dream to work together. It was a hard decision for her to step away from her job, leave her steady paycheck, and step into the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship. But we were building on a dream, and we really wanted to do that together.”
With Amy on board, the marketing of his business took off.
“I have so much respect for Amy. Her background is in PR and marketing, and her expertise has allowed me to focus on the creative side of things while she thought about the details that would keep us afloat.”
Now, 11 years into working together, Erich credits so much of their success to his partner.
“I absolutely would not be anywhere near where I am today without her.”
Of course, getting where he is today wasn’t an easy task. Starting out, Erich was learning every part of photography as he went, taking on job after job in industry after industry to find what worked for him.
“The only way for me to learn was to go out and shoot. I was trying everything, from real estate headshots and architecture to senior portraits and all kinds of business photos.”
Eventually someone asked Erich to shoot a wedding. Though he had no experience in the industry, he said yes to the job.
“It was really hard for a long time because I didn’t know what I was doing. It was a lot of pressure that first wedding. Honestly, that pressure made it harder to fall in love with the job, but once I got good at it, I absolutely loved it. Now, I could never imagine doing anything else!”
In an effort to find his passion in the industry, Erich made the choice early on to learn from others. After attending a workshop on shooting film, he made the shift to move his work away from digital and solely to film.
“I was fully committed that I wanted to do film when I got back from that workshop. Fortunately, in that season, I had the luxury of being able to do that. My wife was still at her corporate job at the time, so we had margin financially to invest in film, education, and figuring it out.”
So, that’s exactly what Erich did: invested his time in building a business as a film wedding photographer.
“That time allowed me to get good at film very quickly. It left me with a great portfolio of film work, which is what people were looking for at the time. Because I had the work to show them on film, I was able to charge more money for my work faster than I expected. That year, I would say, is what changed the trajectory of my business.”
Little did the McVeys know, a new turning point was coming for their business.
“We were living in Oregon at the time, but the market was a bit too small. One day, Amy just decided to come up with a plan to get us out of Oregon. She wrote it down, made the spreadsheets, and set up the steps. We made our goal of moving markets the thing we were working toward in every part of the business and our lives.”
The couple set their sights on California, shifting all the SEO on the website, all their vendor listings, and all their marketing to the area even before they moved. That approach left them with a solid foundation to start with when they actually made the move.
“My goal has always been to just keep going and growing. It’s hard for me to look miles ahead, so I don’t always set specific goals. But setting this specific, big goal paid off! I just had to approach it step by step.”
The move to a new market was a turning point for Erich and the business—one he appreciates more than he even realized at the time.
“What I’m thankful for is that I didn’t have anyone else’s work or trajectory to look at in front of me that whole time. I didn’t see what anyone else was doing and get down about it because I wasn’t doing that myself yet. I just focused on my own work, my own business, my own growth, and that I think is what kept me going in those turning points.”
While they were initially focused on incremental growth for the company, now the couple has focused on trying new things to keep the business expanding into new territories.
“We’re always looking for a little bit more. We’re always looking at what we could be doing better and how we could grow more. I think that’s serving us extraordinarily well.”
Now, they’re turning their business side hustles into full-fledged offerings. From workshops to online courses, the McVeys are expanding their reach to help others in the industry learn along with them.
“Our first side hustle was doing workshops, and that went really well for us. We eventually wrote an online course, and it ended up being a homerun for us. We worked really hard on it, but the profit we made and the feedback we got was well worth the work we put in to make it.
Today, one of Erich’s biggest passions in the industry is building a community of creatives.
“I didn’t realize how important it was to have community. I needed camaraderie with other entrepreneurs, but it’s such an isolating field that I was struggling to find it.”
To check this box for himself, Erich regularly attends conferences, connects with others online, and does whatever he can to support and help the friends he’s found in the field.
“Having an abundance mindset over a scarcity mindset has been huge for me. It’s helped me not feel competitive or have my identity wrapped up in the profits. Some years are good, some years are bad. Sometimes I’m doing better than others, sometimes I’m far behind where they are. But realizing there’s room for all of us and something we can all learn from each other has helped me create and hold on to community.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Fiona is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the full transcript.
From Bali to New Zealand, Norway to Colombia and everywhere in between, Erich McVey has photographed weddings all over the world during his 14 years of experience as a professional photographer. Named one of the world’s top wedding photographers by Harper’s Bazaar, Martha Stewart and Brides, he uses an approach that combines documentary and fine art styles to capture images that are honest and timeless. His work has been featured in top wedding publications including Vogue, Brides, Harpers Bazaar, Martha Stewart Weddings, The Knot, C Weddings, Over the Moon, LA Times, and numerous online publications. Erich is based in Oregon, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
January 12, 2023