by Bill Hedrick
Great photographers are not born with a camera in their hands. They come from a variety of backgrounds and one day decide to make photography the center of their universe. Amber Damour’s passion for creating images was sparked at an early age when admiring a masterful photograph of a cluster of mushrooms surrounded by beautiful purple flowers taken by her father. For a little girl with a big imagination, the close-up perspective of the mushrooms reminded her of a giant forest where magical things happened. It was an image she never forgot and one that eventually gave her the incentive to learn more about the fascinating world of photography.
By the time Amber was in high school, she was taking photography classes, learning how to use film and to develop it and print photographs in the darkroom. “It certainly gave me a technical foundation and an understanding of the fundamentals that I still use in my digital photography business today,” she explains. At that time, however, a career in photography was not particularly at the top of her list. In college, she studied biology and soon began a career in the medical world. For ten years, Amber was a “practice director” for medical and chiropractic offices, overseeing financial aspects of the business such as billing and reconciling, developing market strategies, organizing expos and trade shows, managing employees, and running social media accounts. Soon she was hired as the Strategic Operations Manager for a nutritional supplement company where she developed marketing strategies and assisted with product development and branding. Still, in the back of her mind was that magical image of the cluster of mushrooms.
There is a proverbial expression used to signify the futility of making detailed plans when the ability to fully or even partially execute them is uncertain. Such was the case with Amber Damour when, in 2017, she was let go from her job at this multi-million dollar nutritional supplement company. The owner of the company moved the business to another state and Amber, a new mother by this time with another baby on the way, longed to find an occupation that would allow her the freedom to spend quality time with her husband and children while using her creative skills.
William Shakespeare once said, “The very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.” Sometimes the dreams and goals that drive creative people forward are not as easily recognized as the final outcome. Amber Damour was not content to simply watch the world march past her. She wanted to be an integral part of it. A solution that would provide a creative outlet for her skills and talent, one that would provide the freedom to be a wife and mother she wanted to be, seemed just beyond her grasp.
The corporate world often presents distractions to our dreams and those magical moments in high school when Amber witnessed photographs coming to life in a darkroom had almost been forgotten. Life was much more simple then and little things are all too often taken for granted. But it’s always the little things that make big things happen. As Amber pondered her future, an image appeared in her mind of a cluster of tiny mushrooms. The road ahead could not be any more clear to her.
It began with taking photographs for family members and relatives. The fascination with seeing her work come to life was as strong as ever and Amber was relentless in her determination to learn more about photography. “I spent countless hours watching YouTube videos, online workshops, and tutorials from some of my favorite photographers,” she recalls. “I digested every piece of information I could find.”
When the time came to search for a studio location, Amber knew she wanted to put her name on a place that had personality. “I’m enthralled with old buildings and architecture. So, when a studio space became available in my historic town square, I knew it was the perfect spot.” The location is a building in downtown Kaufman, Texas, that was built in 1890. Originally, it was a bank that an infamous couple named Bonnie and Clyde attempted to rob in the 1930’s but were thwarted by local police. Years later, the building would be converted to a pharmacy.
“Inside the building, you can see some of the original banking and pharmacy receipts,” Amber explains. “My space has exposed original brick, original floor to ceiling windows, original wood floors, and… my favorite part… the original metal tiled ceiling. It’s an incredible space filled with vintage charm and I’m excited every time I enter the door.”
But starting a business in a highly saturated metroplex such as DFW, full of talented and creative photographers, can be a difficult and demanding task for a new photographer. From her previous experience in the corporate world, Amber knew she had to develop a signature style. She wanted her clients to seek her out rather than having to constantly knock on doors or spend small fortunes in advertising. “In a world where everyone has a camera in their back pocket, it’s even more necessary to set yourself apart,” she explains.
To accomplish this, Amber worked tirelessly to increase her photographic and marketing skills and to create a style of her own. “What really stepped up my business game and generated the revenue I wanted was the jump from being a ‘shoot and burn digitals only’ photographer to a boutique photographer offering fine art prints and products,” says Amber.
It was now 2020 and Amber had three little girls, all under the age of four, and lived on a small ranch filled with every farm animal imaginable. But the most challenging part of her journey to this point was finding a balance between being a devoted wife and mother and a business owner. “It’s so hard for me to turn off the business part of my brain, so time management has been crucial in maintaining my personal relationship.”
In her pursuit of constantly growing and learning, Amber became a member of the Dallas Professional Photographers Association, the Texas Professional Photographers Association, and the Professional Photographers of America. “One of my favorite photographers wrote an encouraging message on social media about the benefits of joining a local photography guild and entering print competition,” she explains.
“When I decided to take that step, I had no idea what to expect. I must admit it was a bit intimidating and an incredibly vulnerable feeling to have my creative work judged. Even so, I realized it would be an experience to push me further as a photographer. I can honestly say that I’m still shocked at the results and thankful for the experience.”
At the 2020 TPPA Image Competition, Amber Damour won two trophies for her image “The Apprentice” and another trophy for “When Titans Fall,” not to mention a Diamond Award for having at least eight entries scoring 80 or above. Although winning accolades is exciting for anyone entering image competition, Amber says that the main reason she entered the TPPA competition was to receive image critiques to help her to grow and improve her photographic skills.
“Putting my work in front of a panel of accomplished judges is a vulnerable feeling, but it is also a valuable way to learn,” she explains. “As a newer photographer, I often doubt my skills and abilities. The awards I received were validating and gave me confidence. It’s also an excellent marketing tool that excites potential clients, followers, and fans.”
Her work can be described as a “painterly style” of photography that she uses for both studio and location portraiture. “I’m drawn to color and emphasize that affinity in my portraits. I coordinate color pallets with my clients and manipulate in post production if necessary to accomplish a polished look.”
By studying and understanding various lighting scenarios for studio portraits, Amber is able to use directional natural light outdoors that reflects those studio techniques used indoors. In post production, she uses various tools and techniques to add dimension and depth to a subject. “I typically utilize a long focal length lens for my outdoor portraits, using gorgeous bokeh and compression to achieve a dreamy, ethereal look. My goal is to tell a compelling story with my images and to engage with clients in a way that elicits genuine emotions and reactions.”
As a new member of the Texas Professional Photographers Association, Amber was pleased to learn about the Texas School of Professional Photography. “My next goal is to attend Texas School. I’ve spent every free moment studying other photographers’ work, taking online workshops, subscribing to educational publications, and watching videos to glean some direction for my business.”
Those new skills, along with her past experience in marketing, have proven most beneficial to Amber and are a major factor in the success of her studio. From the initial contact with a potential client, she offers a unique and seamless process. First, she gets to know them… their purpose and vision for their portrait needs, and then begins an experience specific to that particular client.
“It’s important to either meet with them in person or at least have a phone conversation if that is not feasible. They are entrusting me with creating their dream portraits, so it’s imperative to make them feel confident and comfortable with investing with me.” For her unique “couture” sessions, Amber works closely with designer Elizabeth Copeland, owner of Bentley and Lace, to create custom gowns and designs for her clients. “My clients even have the option to visit Elizabeth’s studio in Frisco, Texas, to try on various designs and coordinate accessories,” she adds.
Before each session, Amber uses electronic contracts and electronic invoices that include her own branding and are easy and convenient. After the session, she offers an in-studio or virtual “reveal” session. “Although it is wonderful to meet in person again with my clients, it’s been a business advantages to offer a hybrid style of in-person sales session via Virtual Reveal, something my clients are able to enjoy from the comfort of any location and without a pushy sales feeling.”
Every photographer has their own reason for doing what they do and each one’s motivation comes from a variety of sources. For some, their love for creating images is confined to doing it strictly as a hobby. To others, it is a passion that evolves into a profession. Unfortunately, some are often unprepared for the challenges faced in today’s photographic marketplace. It is somewhat rare to find someone who possesses all of the qualities that come together to create a recipe for success. In the case of Amber Damour, failure was not an option and she recognized early on that a successful photographer must also have keen marketing skills as well.
To come so far in such a short period of time is a testament to hard work and perseverance and she will be the first to admit that it has been no picnic. The road to success, as others have discovered before her, is filled with obstacles. What sets the successful photographers apart from the others is how they keep their eyes on the road and forge ahead with a plan of action instead of blindly stepping into the abyss. It also involves learning from the advice and experience of others who have been on the same journey.
“We all have room for growth,” she explains. “Image competition is just one of those things that allows photographers to not only learn from experts in our field. It also pushes us out of our normal business routine and forces us to dig deep into our creativity to develop pieces that are inspiring.”
For new and veteran photographers alike, it is inspiring to meet someone with the perfect combination of talent and business skills to excel as a professional photographers, especially in today’s world. One thing is for sure, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Amber Damour.