InFullFrame recently sat down with leading wedding photographer Erich McVey to discuss his approach to each wedding day. McVey’s aspirational and emotive imagery sets a standard for many wedding photographers in our industry. Being a destination wedding photographer means the Oregon-based photographer travels for every one of his events. Travel comes with many uncontrollable variables, so McVey chooses to focus on those things he can control.
“It’s tough to feel healthy and 100 percent heading into a wedding day,” McVey said about heading into different states and countries from event to event. “For me, that means trying to eat right and exercise and keep my mind sharp, and that is how I feel like my prep for a wedding day. Trying to feel sharp and healthy in my everyday life rolls over to the wedding day.”
Step two in McVey’s preparation for each wedding day comes in the form of communication. Being involved in the process of the timeline and having a detailed family photo list allows him to know the priorities of his clients and to prepare in detail for the wedding day “so that my mind is wrapped around the entire day before I even start my coverage,” as he put it.
“I like to meet with the planner, scout the venue, and do a walkthrough before the wedding day — a day before or two days before. During that time, I can plan out where the bridals are, family photos, sunset photos, first look, and photos after the ceremony — planning and scouting so each portion of the day can be in the best possible light.”
Doing a walkthrough is a huge opportunity to prepare in that you can visualize where clients and families might be placed for each key shot and have backup plans as well. Having a strong sense of lighting can also help you interpret how a space will look at different times during the wedding day so you can quickly make decisions during crunch time.
Plan as much you can prior to the day to deliver your best, but also know when to make concessions and considerations that optimize client experience. As an example, McVey offered, “If I have to do a first look on a beach in Thailand in 90-degree heat and 100-percent humidity at 1 p.m., then I’m thinking I realistically only want to keep them out here for five minutes, or otherwise I could ruin the rest of their day, and their trust in me leading them could be lost.”
Another key aspect to preparation is understanding your clients and their personalities. If you can, McVey recommends meeting or speaking with you client ahead of time to begin building a strong rapport: “What are they like? Are they flexible and easy and gamers? Or are they a little bit more conservative in that regard?”
Being a world-class wedding vendor of any kind means understanding that delivering a top-notch service is important, but also that the total client experience is also essential and, at times, prioritizing experience means making small concessions or having alternate plans. “I’m not going to make it feel like the day is just one big photo shoot,” McVey shares. Most clients want to experience their wedding day and have real, tangible memories from their big day.
Trust is one of the most essential pieces to creating authentic imagery for your clients. Many of us put a focus on earning client trust through industry referrals and building relationships prior to the wedding day, but consider the flow of trust throughout the day itself. Pushing clients too far or asking too much of them early in the day can hinder the entirety of the wedding day for you and your clients.
“I come in with as much prep as I possibly can with the things that I can control, but as an artist, I don’t want to come in with such a narrow mindset that if it doesn’t go one way or the other, I’m off track,” McVey said.
McVey suggests a balance in your approach and mindset as you begin each wedding day. This balance is a combination of being prepared and also open and ready to follow your heart as a creative. McVey parallels his approach to weddings with that of his portrait sessions. It is important to have poses or cues for your clients, but doing the same thing over and over is a disservice to your couples. “Each couple is unique, and you have to listen to the beat of that drum and really be observant and go with the flow a little bit,” McVey added. Be prepared but know things are going to go as planned. This same concept applies to weddings. Prepare, but also be open to real life and real moments and know things will unfold in their own way.
“Most of my favorite shots of all time are not the shots I visualized ahead of time. I’m just visualizing a general way things are going to play out, and rest of it is going to be interrupted. That is best way to get those real moments and that is where the magic seems to happen.”
It is very important to plan and prepare, but thinking that things are going to go exactly to plan is simply not realistic and won’t allow you to be at your best or capture moments and portraits that are true to your client and their story.
For McVey, the wedding day starts before the official coverage time. Before he enters the room he has already been shooting environmental and establishing shots. As he enters to greet his client, he is not rolling in, firing with every camera in the bag. Greeting your client warmly and in a way that is stress-free is key to creating and maintaining trust. “Have a low-key conversation with the bride or groom and have a little bit of a connection and make them feel at ease,” McVey suggested. For most people, having their photo taken is stressful and comes with a bit of tension. “I’m going to slowly ease in. So a little bit of catching up, and then start I shooting like a fly on the wall, not asking anything from them, starting far away and working my way close.”
Part of this approach of easing into intimate storytelling comes with understanding individuals. Some people are comfortable with cameras while others require more time getting comfortable. Remember there is no cookie-cutter approach. Some clients may really want to see you firing away all the time while others simply can’t be themselves when they think the camera is on them. Again, the key to all of this is trust.
McVey also offered a few tips for creating portraits during the wedding day. Start easy when it comes time for portraits. “Tell people how beautiful they look and that you’re excited about the photos.” Get your clients excited about how the photos are looking, but, more importantly, break down any preconceived feelings a client might have about looking awkward in photos. “Get them feeling hopeful and positive.” That will loosen them up and get them and their photos to look natural and free.
The other tips is the power of confidence. You want your clients to feel confident in themselves, but you also want your clients to feel confident in you. Projecting your own confidence when shooting portraits can take care of both.
Lastly, if you do set up a shot and it isn’t working, feel confident enough to stop and change it. Let your clients know that this isn’t working because either the light wasn’t what you thought it was or the angle didn’t work the way you thought it would. While this might seem counterintuitive (to admit you made a mistake), it can have a positive effect. Admitting a mistake lets your client know they didn’t do anything wrong and will also show you are confident enough to show the error and intentionality in your work.
Trending Toward Real
There does seem to be a trend in our industry toward the real and away from more styled details or overly posed images. This, like many trends, is driven by media outlets like Harpers Bazaar and Vogue. When speaking to the more frequent requests by clients to focus on real moments and less on styled photos, McVey had this to say: “I think it is probably a good thing because I think that those are the images generations to come will look back on and feel something visceral.”
This trend also relieves clients of some pressure to deliver the detail-filled day that is seen to be the standard. McVey sees the real-moment emphasis as a good thing. When blogs emphasize details and opulence, it can cause the newly engaged to try and keep up with false standards and compare their wedding with those they see.
Embrace the Nerves
Here is a secret: we all get nervous. Nerves before a wedding day don’t mean you are an amateur or not cut out for weddings. On the contrary, the nerves let you know this matters to you. The nerves let you know how important delivering your best really is.
“When I go into a wedding day, I’m definitely nervous. There’s a tension and energy, and I still question, will I be able to deliver and bring that energy? There is a ton of nervous energy, but once those first couple of killer photos happen, all of that melts away, and then I’m in the groove.”
The time he is the most nervous is from the call time to the ceremony. The early part of the day is when action is at its best. A million things may seem to be happening at once, and every minute, variables change. For McVey, the ceremony to the reception is the easier part.
The very thing that makes weddings exciting and authentic is the same thing that makes them nerve-wracking: every moment of a wedding day is in flux, and there is nothing formulaic about it. So, if you are newer to weddings, recognize the nerves are okay and the reality is that wanting to do the best for yourself and your clients comes with stress, even for the most experienced photographers in the world.
“All of the great wedding photographers that I know would get to the end of the wedding day and, if they missed even one thing, that is the moment they are going back through in their head and being hard on themselves for.” McVey said there is a difference between being hard on yourself and dwelling. He suggests recognizing the photos you could have made better or not missed and then using that as fuel to improve and move on instead of dwelling.
THIS or THAT with Erich McVey
Camera Strap or No Camera Strap: Camera Strap
Fuji or Kodak: Fuji
Mirrorless or Full Frame: Mirrorless
Color or Black & White: Color
West Coast or East Coast: West
Lake Tahoe or Lake Como: Lake Tahoe
Pepperoni or Pineapple on Pizza: Not Pineapple
Stand-Up or Sketch Comedy: Stand-Up
Cats or Dogs: Cats
One Large Print or Gallery Wall: One Large Print
Cabin or Tent: Cabin
Best 007: Connery
Macro Lens or Macro Filter: Lens
Candid or Posed: Candid
iPhone or Android: iPhone
Skiing or Surfing: Skiing
Landscapes or Flatlay: Landscapes
Sunset or Sunrise: Sunset
Coffee or Tea: Coffee
15 Guests or 500 Guests: 15
On Camera or Off Camera: On
Ponytails or Tight Fades: Pony
Brainstorming or Refining: Refining
Bicycle or Moped: Bicycle
Rolling Bag or Should Bag: Roller
High ISO or Long Exposure: High ISO