Mark Eric – Alexandria, LA

6 10 2007

Here’s the one you’ve all been waiting for…! Many of you have been asking to hear more about the creator of Don’t Box Us In so here’s a captivating interview with Mark Eric who, over the past year, has created a huge buzz in the wedding industry starting with the Trash the Dress sites and more recently with Don’t Box Us In, which has proved to be a source of inspiration to many photographers.

Mark is a very talented photographer as well as being incredibly passionate about furthering the wedding photography industry. He has a genuine interest in inspiring other photographers and has put together an array of exciting ideas for the near future.

Mark has had a remarkable year but remains grounded & focused on his clients & family. When he says on his website “it’s really all about you, not m.e.” he sincerely means it about his clients and, as I’ve witnessed firsthand, also with his friends & colleagues.

Thanks for taking the time to put this interview together Mark!

For more info on Mark visit his website & stay up-to-date with his photo journal.

Tell us a little about yourself…
I live in Alexandria, Louisiana with my best friend (and wife), Heather. We have a beautiful little 4 year old girl. I started shooting in 2000, after purchasing a Minolta film camera. As I was shooting some practice shots at a local youth baseball field, several parents offered to pay me to take pictures of their kids while they were playing. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I took them up on the offer. Before I knew it, we were running a youth sports photography company covering statewide baseball tournaments, football games, and even a few state beauty pageants. I had never studied lighting or posing, so naturally my style became focused on just “capturing” what was there, with the availalbe light. I learned to photograph “emotion” more than anything- and business took off. When Merrik was born in 2003, I backed off from youth sports so I could spend my evenings at home with the family instead of at the ball field. In 2004, I began shooting a few weddings the only way that I knew how- in a documentary style. Now, I am eagerly studying the art of not only “capturing” my subjects, but also “creating” great set up posed pictures as well. I want to blend all styles of photography from Fashion to Photojournalistic to best capture the personality of my clients- because they are all different.

How do you keep yourself motivated & your photography fresh?

I look for inspiration in my subject. I try to spend time with them in a casual setting before the shoot to get a feel for what makes them unique. We’ll go to dinner, or just chat on the phone. Usually, while talking with them, something will just click. We’ll both come up with ideas- then brainstorm from there. For example- I just met with a couple over a nice Mexican Dinner. At first, I got the usual answers- He likes to play golf. She likes to shop. But after digging just a little bit deeper, they told me how much they both love to travel. Then the ideas just kicked in from everywhere. We were all three barking out possibilities within a few minutes:

Bride- “Ooh- we could find one of those motorcycles with sidecars…”,
Me- ” I heard that a nearby town is having a Hot Air Balloon Festival in a few weeks- how cool would that be!”
Groom- “How about a conceptual series of us stranded on a highway with an overheated Porsche.”
Bride- “I’ve always wanted to get pictures in an airplane hangar- or even outside with an old antique plane, that could be very romantic”
Groom- “How about a Mo-Ped!”

That’s typically how we approach our sessions. Our goal is find inspiration from the personalities of our clients.

What (or who) has inspired, & continues to inspire, your work?

On one hand, I have to inspire myself. Everyone does. I’m reading a book called “Talent Is Never Enough” by John Maxwell. He mentions the fact that no matter how talented we are, if we don’t believe in ourselves, no one else will. No one else can really cause me to be a better photographer, that is up to me. So I purposefully go through every session with Heather, my biggest critic, to figure out what we could do better.

I do find inspiration from several different artists and business people-

In the area of Customer Service- Katherine Tolentino inspires me. (Katherine treats her customers better than anyone. And she always finds time to check in on me to make sure that I’m not burning myself out)

In the area of Business Smarts- Dane Sanders– (he is an example of someone who loves to give- and it is coming back to him)

In the area of being passionate about my craft- Davina Fear (I can remember a few years ago when Davina was so full of questions and eager to learn. Now, she’s one of the most saught after photographers in her area, and she is leading sold out workshops. She is proof that true passion will carry you beyond your dreams.

In the area of creativity – my friends from “The Crazies” – a group made up mostly of Louisiana Visual Artists like Kelly Moore, Josiah Kennedy, Joshua Smith from Cinematic Bride, Jason Cohen, and Kevin Beasley. We all try to meet up at least once a month for a live shoot. Just like Iron sharpens Iron, we strive to make each other better.

And when I need a good dose of accountability, or someone besides my wife to tell me like it is (because I don’t always listen to her- ha ha)…I trust my friend Jason Domingues. He pushes me with his work, and let’s me know if I’m making questionable decisions with any of my ventures.

How do you balance work & family life and with having to juggle both how you keep from burning out?

A few months ago, right after the media craze, I was spending all hours on either my personal business- or promoting trashthedress.com (giving interviews, sending pictures to magazines and TV shows, returning hundreds of e-mails a day). My daughter came in my office one night, tugged at my shirt tale, and said “Daddy, you never play Candy Land with me anymore”. No amount of media attention or fame is worth the time that I have with my family. I made a decision then to back off, delegate, and enjoy life. I block off time to make sure my family comes first- even if I have to stay up until 1:00 am to complete a task, I will spend my evenings with my family.

How has your work evolved from your first shoot to the present day? And what have been the main factors for this evolution?

My first wedding was a $300 gig for a couple that was married in a saloon- complete with JD bottles and Bull Skeletons everywhere. Due to lack of room, I shot the entire ceremony about 3 feet away from them, with direct flash (courtesy of my Quantray flash bracket from Ritz Camera- ha ha). They received the prints, and the negatives. They divorced less than a year later.

Wow- how far things have come. Then, I had no clue what it meant to find the light. I had no clue how to even bounce a flash (not that I would have been able to in a saloon). Everything I shot was documentary- except the group shots. Now, I love shooting with slaves off to the side. I strive to create moments for my clients, as well as capture moments. I’m becoming more of an artist than a snapshooter- and it’s a beautiful thing.

The factors in the evolution have been many- but I have to attribute most of my growth to being involved with some great forums such as www.opensourcephoto.com and www.digitalweddingforum.com.

How did you come up with the idea of the Don’t Box Us In website and do you feel it’s influencing the readers?

DBUI is still evolving. I wanted to create a site that would be inspirational to all photographers, whether they were just starting out or seasoned pros. I’ve always found it inspirational to read the stories of other photographers. To hear the story behind the storyteller so to speak. I also see so many photographers copying poses and settings that they have seen from other photographers. My hope is that DBUI challenges us all to get out of our comfort zone, keep pushing our boundries, keep exploring and growing. Like I said about The Crazies- Iron Sharpens Iron. We can learn from each other. We can be inspired by each other. And we can challenge each other to grow.

What kind of feedback have you received from photographers regarding the DBUI site?

The feedback I’ve received has been very positive. We haven’t really advertised my name (or Sofie’s) too much. This is about photograpy- the site is bigger than us. We are just trying to provide something that helps make our industry better- and based on the feedback we’ve received, we are heading in the right direction.

Can you give us any hints about the future of Don’t Box Us In and what else it might hold?

Things could get very interesting in the near future. I have so many ideas that I sometimes have a hard time focusing on which ones to make a priority. Sofie and I have shared e-mails about sme exciting ideas that would help educate, inspire, and motivate creative photographers. The top three things on my list right now are:
1. Instituting a rewarding photo competition
2. Creating a Visual Pod Cast where select photographers will be interviewed. During the interview, they will point out how they created certain pictures within their portfolio.
3. Expanding the Referral List on trashthedress.com and letsgettrashed.com into a more pleasing website that promotes our recommended photographer’s work through more buzz marketing ideas (such as TTD and LGT).

What made you take up wedding photography & what is the best part about being a wedding photographer?

Sports photography was my passion. I shot my first wedding (in a saloon) just to challenge myself, or to take a chance just to see if it was something I might enjoy. I honestly didn’t want to do weddings after that session. Then, one of my friends was married a short time later. My gift to her was to shoot her wedding. Her dad had cancer, and wasn’t even supposed to make it to her wedding, but he did. During the ceremony- I managed to captue a picture of her dad sitting in a pew looking at his beautiful daughter with tears in his eyes. He died a week after the wedding. That shot changed my mind. I realized how much I could impact lives through wedding photography. It became more than just a paying gig at that point- it became a purpose. It still is.

Tell us one thing your client should know about you and one thing photographers should know about you.

Clients should know that I loathe one thing at weddings- and that’s when friend or family member says “Hey, let’s try this shot. We did it at our wedding…” As long as no one utters those words- it will be a great day! (and even if they do, we’ll still have a great time- but you may get an uncontrollable smirk from me)

Photographers should know that I hate being in front of the camera. If we are shooting together at a convention or get together, I’m not your model, ha ha. I’d rather be behind the camera any day- I’m more of a spectator. However, my daughter will own the spotlight all day long.

It’s almost a year since the Trash the Dress website began and it’s been a wonderful & exciting ride for everyone involved. As the founder of the Trash the Dress website, how do you think Trash the Dress has impacted wedding photography?

I think TTD has knocked down a wall in the world of creative wedding photography. I believe that through the contributions of everyone involved- the bridal market has been exposed to Modern Wedding Photography. Photography that no longer has to live under a label like “photojournalism” or “traditional”. Of course, photographers were offering that style well before TTD hit the mainstream. I think TTD made a dent through the buzz created on bridal forums that has opened up the eyes of many brides. They realize that they don’t have to settle for the same type of pictures that their parents and siblings had….their photography can be fresh and different.

One thing we’ve had to monitor is the number of beginning photographers that started offering TTD sessions. We support anyone who has a passion for photography, but we were concerned that some who really didn’t know how to use a camera may be trying to make a buck off of such a sensitive area as TTD. Our thoughts were that anything involving a wedding dress- and potential damage to that dress- could be a one shot opportunity. It’s not really the best session for a beginning photographer to train themselves on. The memories for the Bride are much too important. Therefore, we started screening our recommended photographers a bit, just to make sure they didn’t appear to be beginners. Hopefully, we can help set a high standard in the industry which gives the beginning photographers something to work towards.

Is there a particular moment in your photographic career that stands out as special or extraordinary for you?

In addition to the Bride’s Father in the story above, I was heavily impacted by an engagement session.

I met a bride and her mother for lunch at Applebees one day. She was so excited. He was a rocker, she was a choir singer at her church. He was rough and tough carpenter, she was fragile and soft. They were complete opposties, but they were heavily in love. She was going to have on blue shoes during her wedding. The Bridal March was going to be played on an Electric Guitar. They were going to ride off on a Harley. She was so excited about the wedding, and honestly, I was too. This was one of those unique weddings that a photographer just knows will allow the type of creative freedom we desire.

I met her and her fiance in Galveston for a very romantic engagement session on the beach. We played in the sand. They ran in the waves. He carried her and danced with her. We went to a nearby boardwalk and amusement park for some very fun pictures. Eveything came out great! Two weeks after our engagement session, her mom called. The Groom had died of Heart Problems in the middle of the night…at 28 years old.

The pictures I had taken turned out to be more than just an engagement session. They showed how happy he was with her. According to his family, they were the best pictures they ever had of him, because they showed his personality, not just a pose. The pictures were displayed at his funeral. A love that was cut short was captured just in time. That gave me a wake up call as to how important every moment is. Each second that passes by is a moment that can never be recaptured.

That’s why I don’t fear competition, I embrace it. There are too many moments in the world for all of us to capture. There aren’t enough photographers in the world for that. When we create great art- and make it visible to the public, then we can help them understand the importance of taking time to capture and create great memories that can be treasured for a lifteime.

Tell us three things that are important to you…

1. Family- above all
2. Integrity
3. Character

Which photographer would you like to shoot with for a day & why?

I still have a yearning for sports photography. I know it’s a cut throat business, and all photographers compete for the same shot. I just love the thrill of being on the sideline. I don’t know any sports photographers by name, but I would love to just be huddled on the sideline with all of the other white Canon lenses- capturing the action- and the reaction.

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5 responses

7 10 2007
www.bestdigitalphotography.info » Mark Eric - Alexandria, LA

[…] amorphia wrote a fantastic post today on “Mark Eric – Alexandria, LA”Here’s ONLY a quick extractMark is a very talented photographer as well as being incredibly passionate about furthering the photographic industry with a genuine interest in inspiring other photographers and he has put together an array of exciting ideas for the … […]

9 10 2007
www.topweddingadvice.info » Mark Eric - Alexandria, LA

[…] amorphia wrote a fantastic post today on “Mark Eric – Alexandria, LA”Here’s ONLY a quick extractOur thoughts were that anything involving a wedding dress- and potential damage to that dress- could be a one shot opportunity. It’s not really the best session for a beginning photographer to train themselves on. … […]

24 10 2007
lorileighphotography

Well said Mark… 🙂

29 11 2007
Gisela Prishker

Very nice Mark the last image is my favorite

17 01 2008
Tessa Hodges

Mark Eric!!!!!
Awesome interview btw, and surprised to see pictures of us on here!!! You are an amazing photographer and I am so glad that you were our photographer at our wedding!! Wish we could do it over and over again, we had a blast!

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