We had the privilege of sitting down with Erica Manthey & Ryan Manthey of Fort Walton Beach Tree Service in Fort Walton Beach, a Boutique Wedding & Family Portrait Photography Studio. They are such a great couple with a passion for capturing and creating physical reminders of families’ special days. Check out our interview with them:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you began in the photography business.
Erica: We have been married for 15 years. Ryan has lived here since he was 14, and I’ve lived here since I was 10. I was a military brat. We met in our early 20s here and have been in Destin ever since. Ryan’s from a small farming community in South Dakota. My family is from Pennsylvania. We have been here a long time and just love the area. When we got married Ryan was actually full time in a construction business with his dad and brother. In 2005, when we had our first daughter, Ryan enjoyed taking pictures with our point-and-shoot camera of her. That same year, for our anniversary, I bought him a digital SLR camera from Best Buy and he just took to it. He threw away the manual and just ran with it. He took pictures of our daughter, our family, and friends and posted them online; on Myspace at that time. After that we had friends and friends of friends asking us to take pictures for them. It started as a hobby where he would shoot pictures in the evenings, editing all night, while he was still working construction during the day. Within 2 years the Lord provided a path where we could go into it full time. We started the photography company in 2007 and went full time with it in 2009. During this time we also had 3 kids in 3 years.
Ryan: I never thought of myself as a photographer growing up. I never had a really huge interest in it honestly, at all until I started taking pictures of our daughter. I enjoyed it, and that opened up to taking pictures of our family, family friends, and I started to enjoy the process. I came to a point where I had to choose.
Erica: Something that was really cool about our community was that, when the Internet was just getting big, Ryan started googling local photographers and emailed a whole bunch of them; just offering to carry their bags. He had a few, one in Pensacola and one friend of ours, who were generous enough to say, “Hey, come on a wedding with me. Carry my bags and I’ll teach you everything I know.” He had a great start with photographers who were generous enough to help him out. He began Ryan Manthey Photography in 2007 and it was portraits only. After spending time assisting the wedding photographers and realizing he wanted to do weddings as well, we started Pure 7 Studios in 2008 that was weddings only. Then we merged the two.
What photo sessions do you enjoy the most?
Ryan: I enjoy families and weddings. I like the interaction of families and trying to capture that. Every family is different and every child is different. I don’t approach every session the same. We try to get to know the families before the session to see how the kids interact and get a better idea of who they are. There is beauty in the chaos. From past experience, most parents come wanting one thing but when the kids are allowed to be themselves, the pictures turn out a lot better than what the parents even wanted them to be. Moving past telling the kids to sit and be still, we’ve evolved our studio into letting the kids be themselves. There is beauty in just that. Especially with the younger ones, the running and playing are usually the best photos. We’ve found this with a lot of trial and error in shooting and seeing what is fulfilling for me as a photographer. When the kids are running and playing, it brings a real smile instead of a “1, 2, 3, cheese!” It’s more rewarding for me and in turn it’s more rewarding for the parents to see the children for who they really are.
What is your most memorable shoot?
Ryan: We do work with an organization called Waves of Grace out of Nashville. They send families on an all-expenses paid vacation to our area whose daughters, or sons, or mothers, or fathers have cancer. Sometimes this is their last family trip. Sometimes it’s a celebration of recovery. Those are the most rewarding sessions because they really understand how precious family and life is. I really enjoy those shoots.
Erica: What Waves of Grace does is they send the family on the vacation and they have partners like us and other companies that will offer them different things such as parasailing rides, condos, etc. for free. Ryan gives them full priority of his books and they are his most special sessions. Waves of Grace is always open to anyone who wants to partner with them. They are so great. They try to help as many families as they can.
What is one thing you would like to tell people looking for a photographer?
Ryan: Make sure you talk to the photographer on the phone instead of just emailing, especially for weddings. I’m with the bride most of the day, so it’s good to know the photographer as a person. Besides looking at entire galleries of their work and liking the quality of their work, just get to know the photographer as a person. If you end up finding the photographer’s personality isn’t a fit with yours, it will affect the whole day. My approach is laid back and I just capture how the day unfolds.
Erica: There are so many platforms to find photographers and there are so many talented photographers. When it boils down to finding one that has the personality that is ideal for you, keep in mind some are talkative, assertive, and give a lot of direction and some brides definitely want and need that. Some are going to be more low-key, photo-journalistic, behind the scenes, fly on the wall, and give minimal direction. My advice to a bride would be to know herself and ask, “What do I need?” Will the bride need direction? Does she usually feel awkward in photos? Does she need a photographer who is strong in posing and giving direction? Or does she just want to go about the day and know that the photographer is there capturing everything, but not really asserting much direction? Knowing the answers to these will help you ask the right questions. When she sees the photographer’s work and knows she likes their style, the next step would be a phone interview to ask how they achieve their photos which will give her an idea of what would be happening in regards to photography on her day. Beyond liking their style, she needs to like the method they used to achieve those photos. Some photographers prefer to pose the couple and use different lighting techniques, and some are more simplistic, taking shots as they go. Really find a photographer with a method you will enjoy. The next thing would be looking for client reviews and requesting to look through a full gallery of their photos. This way she will know that they will give the best from start to finish.
What do you want everyone to know about Pure 7 Studios?
Erica: We specialize in boutique family portraits and weddings. When we say boutique or heirloom we mean that, in addition to just taking pictures, we specialize in physical family heirlooms as a result of the portrait session and wedding. After the session our clients come in and we help create wall pieces whether that’s portraits, canvases, or even albums that are going to be enjoyed now, but also passed down to their grandchildren and great grandchildren. We are realizing in this digital age that a lot of history is being lost. We are striving for the next generation coming up in the next 100 years to have physical representations of their family members. That is really important to us. What sets us apart is that so many photographers just shoot pictures and provide only digital images. Those are great if that is what you really want, but we are realizing that after 5 or 10 years they are losing those images, the disc is getting scratched or lost, and the photographer doesn’t keep them forever. There are some historians that are worried about the way we (as a society) are storing photos and digital media. Our clientele doesn’t just want photos for Facebook or Instagram, they’re people who notice that we are putting art in their homes. We offer a very white glove service, so if a local client comes in and purchases a wall gallery, we will also have it professionally installed in their home. It’s a very start to finish process.