FREDERICTON–Not everyone gets to make a career out of what they love doing, but Mike Erb, co-founder of Photo 506, has worked for years to be able to do just that.
Erb and his partner in both life and business, Ashley Erb, own the commercial photo studio, the product of two freelancers joining forces.
We asked Mike a few questions about what it’s like to have a passion that’s both your business and a big part of your personal life.
When did you first get into photography?
I would have gotten into photography probably about ten years ago now when I was finishing up high school. From there I went and studied at the Craft College (New Brunswick College of Craft and Design) and then St. Thomas and have been going ever since.
Why did it interest you?
It was probably being able to be creative in an art form because I’m a terrible drawer and painter and all that stuff so having some sort of art form I could learn and control drew me to it. Capturing imagery, I was always drawn to it. I don’t really know why. It just happened organically.
What kind of photography have you been involved in?
In the sense of my artistic photography, it’s sort of changing but my preferred thing to photograph is urban landscape. I started out doing music and a mix of both at that point because I would travel with music and photograph both things while I was away. Lately just more urban landscape but still doing some music. If you think of the commercial aspect, it all just depends on what the market demands at the time or what Ashley and I think is the best work we can produce in different sectors. I thought I wanted to be more of a photojournalist at one point and then that evolved into trying to be an artistic photographer, which evolved into a commercial photographer and now it’s evolved into both.
How does the partnership with Ashley work?
Photo 506 is a business Ashley and I opened together three years ago now. Before that we were both freelancing on our own. We’ve been together for a long time as a couple so we figured it didn’t really make sense to both run separate ventures in the same vein so we just combined our skill sets under one roof.
Have you ever had to consider different career options?
Here and there. It’s a tough gig … it’s always changing, the market. As Photo 506 has been running, I have worked other jobs in the past. When we first launched the business I was also cooking. I worked in kitchens for a bit and just recently I’ve been picking up work here and there, but in my field. Last year I did a contract at the Craft College as a photo technician for the academic year, which is a nice balance because I was able to work in my field with steady pay, regular hours and I was still free to run my business. That allowed us to move in to specialize our focus because we were able to focus on the markets we wanted to get into with having the other income. We don’t do weddings anymore. We do some family shoots and stuff like that but we don’t really market that way, we market strictly to commercial. Whenever I can make a living off photography, I’m very fortunate. It’s like any business, there’s good times, there’s bad times.
How do you stay interested and still passionate about photography when it’s your business?
I ask myself that every day. We work with commercial people so we’re helping them with brand development or helping them identify their brands or just doing headshots and stuff like that. With that we’re fortunate when people bring us on board who trust us for our skills, who hire us specifically to create something that helps them market themselves or represent themselves, even if it’s just a portrait session …
There is lots of room to be creative within being a commercial photographer but I also still do my own stuff on the side. Artistic photography, which is anything from travelling to take photos or just photographing my surroundings or maybe doing a little bit of studio work myself.
I’ve recently gotten into printmaking, making cyanotypes. It’s sort of like the oldest form of photographic printmaking. … You make a large digital negative and expose it through UV light. It’s like working in a dark room. That’s helped because it lets me have a hands-on approach to my digital process.
Do you find your artistic side takes a hit when you’re busy?
Obviously commercial pays the bills compared to artistic photography. I like doing both. If you talk to any creative person, usually any photographer you speak to would prefer to make a living off the things they’re really passionate about. Luckily for some people they’re passionate about photographing weddings and babies. They do okay. There’s a market for their creative outlet. But for myself, the commercial stuff does enable us to be creative as well. Any time I take on a commercial gig, that takes away time from things I could be doing on my own. But every time I take on a commercial gig, that also allows me time to work on the things I want to do on the side.
Any plans for the future?
I’m actually going back to school to finish my undergrad at St. Thomas. I’ve always toyed with the idea and the timing just worked out. Now on top of running the business full-time, I guess I’m a full-time student. I’m going to finish my major in fine arts. Hopefully in the future that will help me achieve some goals in a sense of doing a bit more of what I want to do related to photography. That could be by picking up contract work, by maybe working at places like the Craft College or doing contracts with galleries or workshops. Just trying to make myself as well-rounded as I can.
With Photo 506, how Ashley and I run it together, we both have our strong suits. We’re able to offer people more and more. Any time you can learn something new, it’s always beneficial.