By Lily Whorl
Your wedding day; one of the most memorable days of your life, a day many dreams about from a young age, a day celebrated with friends, family…and Erica Dietz.
A wedding photographer holds a unique and essential role in your wedding day. And Erica shared with us her insight on not only wedding photography but also how her journey brought her to where she is today.
Erica uses her unique style and introverted personality to stand out from other wedding photographers. She brings passion and her experience in journalistic photography into the mix, capturing shots that wow her clients. There are many inspiring women in business, and Erica Dietz is one of them. Keep reading as we learn more about Erica and her path to success.
Photo credit: Lou Ruediger of Ruediger Photography.
Women in Business Feature: Interview with Erica Dietz
Planful: Tell me about yourself, your background.
Erica Dietz: I grew up in Homer City with a brother and two very wonderful tolerant parents. They let me be myself. I was always in the middle of 3 different messy art projects. I would cut out images from magazines like National Geographic or Vogue and use sticky tack and thumbtacks to display them all over my bedroom walls which ultimately ruined them. I was very creative and a highly-introverted person. People think I’m shy, but I’m just watching and observing peoples’ behavior. I was always creating, which helped me decide to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) and major in art. I was good at art but wasn’t great. And to succeed in the art world, you have to be great or know the right people. So, I changed my major to communications media, which required an internship to graduate.
I got accepted at the Valley News Dispatch where I met my husband, Steve. He was a freelance photographer there. He’d been there for a couple of years and was shooting weddings [in addition to his work at the paper]. He was super busy, and it motivated me. I thought, obviously, this guy is making it, and so can I. He took me under his wing at work, and I went and shot weddings with him where I watched him problem solve and handle different situations. Steve was influential because he showed me how to work at a wedding and hustle without looking like I’m hustling too hard. Now, we complement each other. He’s a business-oriented photographer, and I’m the creative side.
P: You noted how you were creative growing up. Did you share this characteristic with anyone in your family?
ED: Well, my brother Matt was the opposite of me. Matt was more book-smart, and I’m more creative smart. He works in the capitol building in Harrisburg and wears a suit every day, and I dress for comfort. My father is a welder, which requires a lot of technical skill but not much creativity. But my mother is a published writer, and she has been one of the biggest supporters in my pursuit of photography.
P: What is your history in photography, and how did you get to where you are today?
ED: I had only taken two photography classes at IUP; one was Intro to Photography, and the other was the art version of Intro to Photography. Those classes helped, but it was really my internship that shaped me as a person and photographer. I learned how to show up at assignments that had terrible lighting or was uncomfortable. I interned in 2008 and paid my dues freelancing around for a while before finally being hired on full-time at Valley News Dispatch in 2011 for four years. Then, due to budget cuts, the company laid off roughly 150 people; I was one of them. I was the only young person n the group, but being laid off was [actually] okay. It gave me a push to really focus on weddings in a way that I really wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t gotten the boot.
My original plan was to be a photojournalist and not a wedding photographer. What I ended up doing was working on the paper AND shooting weddings. So, naturally, the two things started to merge.
P: What were your biggest challenges when starting your career? What about current challenges?
ED: Besides the obvious start-up costs, gear, laptop, hard drives, and stuff like that, (which was hard because I didn’t make much freelancing for the paper, but you start up small and build your gear from there), my biggest challenge was being the quiet introvert. It was hard for me to direct people. Walking into a room with a bunch of nervous people and being nervous myself was a hard thing to overcome. I learned how to own that about myself. I would take the back seat during the day and quietly allow the wedding day to unfold. I work best when I’m ignored. To find how every wedding is different, I learned to sit back and watch, learning how to anticipate moments and show up at a scene while working with what I’m given, which is exactly what I was trained to do while working at the newspaper.
I’ve also discovered that the energy you put out into the world is the energy that is given back to you. If I send out energy that is upbeat and enthusiastic, then that’s the energy that I receive. It takes a lot of effort for me to send out that much energy, and I try to rest the next day to mentally recharge. Something I learned from Steve is how to befriend everyone at the wedding, and by doing so, everyone is more comfortable around me, and it makes it easier to capture good and pure moments from strangers if they feel a kinship with me. And I really do want to be friends with everybody. I am genuinely happy to be there to experience the meltdowns and the moments with them. It’s a significant milestone.
P: Do you have a specific experience in photography that helped shape you?
ED: Yes, back in 2009, early on in my career, the G-20 Summit was held in Pittsburgh and with the leaders came the protestors. I went with Steve and a bunch of other photographers. I showed up just because I wanted to shoot it. I had a G20 bus pass around my neck that looked like a press pass but wasn’t, and I just jumped in there. It’s something I wouldn’t have done [typically], but I learned how to be calm in the midst of chaos. I familiarized myself with how to approach something that I wanted to shoot as well as how to compose an image while still being very scared in the midst of people running, getting arrested, and tear gassed. This experience made it easier for wedding days because wedding day chaos was no longer intimidating compared to the protests. At a wedding day, there’s a lot a moving parts; sometimes they’re emotional moving parts and sometimes they’re physical like the polka bridal dance. I like to be in the middle of it, dodging, weaving, and occasionally getting elbowed in the face.
P: Do you ever have to deal with camera shy clients?
ED: I attract a lot of couples who don’t like to be photographed. They say they enjoy my photos because my photos don’t feel directed and there’s less pressure. They can be themselves. Sometimes I get couples in front of my camera who are too scared to be themselves, so I talk to them a bit to get them comfortable, and if I still see them being too stiff, I have a few verbal prompts to get them laughing and being themselves.
Sometimes I do maternity photos, and the woman is hesitant because she might feel insecure about the physical changes her body made while pregnant. But, the thing I try to communicate to them is that you’re not getting these photos of you for yourself, you’re getting it for the generations after you. I would’ve loved to see my mom pregnant, but there aren’t any pictures of her.
P: What motivates you?
ED: I like to try new experiences, which will help me down the road, sometime, someday, somewhere. Trying new things gives me insight; it helps open my perspective. I’ll be walking through Pittsburgh’s Strip District, and I’ll see a little kid reach up for his mother’s hand. I’ll make sure to remember stuff like that. Then later down the road, I’ll be shooting a wedding and see something so similar and immediately be inspired. It’s all about filling your head with art, films, and poetry. All the things you take in sit inside you, and they’ll come out later in your creativity. I like movies that make me feel things. I’m a big fan of the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh because it makes me feel so much. As an artist, it’s essential for you to fill your head with as many visuals and feelings as you can.
P: What would you like people to know about your business?
ED: People say photographers are expensive and I can see why they would say that. But, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. With every hour of shooting, you have at least two hours of post-production, editing, uploading, etc. Gear is expensive, and knowledge is costly. Thirty percent of the money we make is taxed, so that’s money we’re not even keeping.
P: What are your best time management tips?
ED: For me, it’s just finding a routine. Every day for me is a little bit different. I wake up and take the dogs for a walk in the woods, I come back and hammer on editing for a couple of hours. I hit a slow spot early afternoon, so that’s when I do my errands and running around and then usually I am editing until late into the night. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job, but I still work every day. However, it’s crucial you take breaks. Self-care is necessary. My walks in the woods give me time to let my guards down; sometimes I come up with my best ideas while not thinking about anything.
P: Best advice you’ve ever heard?
ED: The chief photographer at the Daily News Dispatch, and my mentor Eric Felack, would always say, “You gotta have fun in life.” I think the reason he would tell us that is because working at the newspaper there is a lot of negativity and it’s easy to get stuck in your head. You need someone to reach in there and know you can joke around and take a quick mental break. I think about it all the time now, too. It’s easy to get stuck in a swamp of sadness. Sometimes you need a little reminder and little laughter during the day.
P: What are your best selling services?
ED: Most people book me for weddings. It’s what I’m known for. But something that I’d like to shoot down the road, maybe during the winter season is documentary style family photography. This photography is different. It’s spending a day with a family. It’s trying to shoot the chaos of that or the peaceful moments. It’s something I haven’t done a lot of, but I’m drawn to do. It’s interesting to me because I don’t have kids and seeing that kind of scene is different and fascinating.
P: Any advice for other young female business owners or any business for that matter?
ED: The best thing for you to do is to try and find a mentor. Once you find one, then, in turn, be a mentor to someone else. Down the road, I’d love to be a mentor, but recently there have been a few young ladies with an interest in photography at Freeport Area High School that I’ve helped. They come to me with questions, and I’m always eager and open to questions for them. I do this because I had so much help when I was starting out and I like to share my knowledge. And help a sister out! Support female-owned local, small businesses.
Erica is another inspiring woman in business and we can’t wait to see how she continues to grow. To see more of her work, check out her website ericadietzphotography.com.
And of course, thank you, Erica, for sharing your story with us.