Interview: Wedding Photographer Amber Marlow
Today's interview is with Amber Marlow, a wedding and elopement photographer in NYC--a place where, to put it lightly, competition is "a little bit stiff."
Amber has a thriving photography business, and her work is INCREDIBLE. She manages to find people in their truest, most loving moments---all while framing her subjects *perfectly* and capturing incredible colors. Stroll through her gallery and check out the different types of light she's able to work in---she's an artist at the top of her game, and she has an incredible understanding of how to bring out the colors in people's faces. She's a makeup artist from behind a lens!
Amber is our first interview with a professional photographer, and I am absolutely thrilled at how incredible it turned out---she offers an insider's view on makeup artistry, while also observing some of the mistakes that she sees different MUAs making (for example, read below for her insights about running a business on Instagram---she's totally on point). She talks business cards, networking, and her personal development as an artist---but most importantly, she talks passion. Everything she talks about is 100% helpful to makeup artists.
One other thing: Amber has a fantastic "About" page, which you should absolutely visit. Why is an "About" page important? There's a saying in the business world: "People do business with people they know, trust, and like." That is ABSOLUTELY true, and Amber's "About" page not only makes you want to hire her, it kind of makes you want to hang out with her! She comes across as smart, fun, and totally understanding what you'll want in a wedding photographer. She's generous with information about herself---without getting *too* personal (and that's actually something she actually discusses that below).
If you live in the NYC and you are looking for a wedding photographer, check her out. Her work is AMAZING. We fully recommend, without reservation. She travels---New York City, Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut, the Hudson Valley and Long Island---oh, and the Caribbean, too!
Q: Let's start with a little information about you---what's your name, what do you do, and where do you do it?
A: My name is Amber Marlow, and I’m a wedding and elopement photographer in New York City and the Caribbean.
Q: When did you know you want to become a photographer?
A: It was always an interest for me, but it wasn’t until college that it occurred to me that this could be a career. It took a while for the pieces to fall into place after that, and I honestly wish it didn’t take so long.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the profession? And what's the most difficult thing about the profession?
A: The best thing about being a wedding photographer is knowing that the images I take are going to be treasured by not only my clients, but by their children and grandchildren. I’m capturing the beginning of a family; the beginning of a legacy! Before every wedding, I take a moment to think about these people, who might be 50 years from being born, who are going to look at the photos I’m about to create. It’s a huge honor.
The most challenging part of my job is the most challenging part of being an artist: you always want to improve, and that doesn’t go away. You don’t cross a line and “arrive”. When you are where I am---five years into doing this full time---you know about everything that you don’t know, and that’s really exhausting! You’re always improving, and while this is also the privilege of being an artist, it is also the most challenging part of making your living this way.
Q: How do you stand out from other photographers in Brooklyn and NYC? Some of the best artists in the world live in the city---it's a pretty tough place to make a living!
A: Well, I believe in community over competition. I’ve sent referrals to other photographers knowing they’d would do a better job for the client, either because their rates were more in keeping with what the client was hoping for, or because of a personality fit, and I call many of the talented people that would be my competition dear friends. We all learn from each other, and that’s done way more for my business than keeping to myself would, by way of education and referrals. I’m in competition with myself, though, which goes back to what I said earlier: I’m always looking to improve, and to deliver amazing photos and excellent customer service to my clients. I also make it a point to keep up with technology.
The real secret, too, is that we’re all different, even if our jobs seem identical on paper. Not every person who can put “wedding photographer in New York City” on their business card has the same ideal clients. My clients tend to be socially liberal, interested in serious travel, and value creating an experience for their friends and family on their wedding days. They also tend to be foodies and have dogs or cats... seriously!
There’s enough work for everyone.
Q: What advice would you give to makeup artists who are just starting out, who are new to the wedding industry? It's a pretty competitive area, and many new makeup artists are a little overwhelmed by it.
A: Be excellent. Be passionate.
In fact, don’t even bother trying to be an artist in this City if you’re planning on phoning it in. You have to hit the floor every day (ok, most days) ready to work hard. You won’t succeed otherwise, and you’re honestly better off working for someone else and collecting a steady paycheck.
On the practical side, get a professional looking website (mine is SquareSpace) and build a portfolio full of models that look like the clients you want to serve. If you want market to offbeat brides, feature colorfully made up brides with tattoos and blue hair. If your ideal client is the upper middle class bride, show models wearing classic up-dos, natural makeup, and neutral nails. You might consider adding gay couples to your portfolio, too, to show you’re happy to work with them. In New York City this is hardly a concern any more, but everyone who is throwing a wedding wants to see themselves reflected in the portfolios of the vendors they are planning to hire. Don’t forget people of color, too! Showing you are an inclusive person who can work with a variety of skin tones and hair textures will put you head and shoulders above many others.
Have a business card. I always ask for them so I can send the makeup artists I work with at weddings professional photos of their own work, and most times it’s, “Oh, I don’t have one.” I always give them mine so they can get photos from me if they want, but seriously: that tiny slip of paper could book you an entire wedding if a bridesmaid asks for it. Why wouldn’t you have one in your kit?
Q: Makeup artists, just like photographers, are basically employing themselves---what can you tell us about running your a small business? What have you learned, that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
1. Keep track of your expenses using a separate business credit card or checking account, and set a savings account up for paying taxes. You will thank me later!
2. Work for free or full price, but never at a discount. Someone will fight me on this; they are wrong. If you discount, you get a discount reputation. If you take a project for free, it should be because you can control it and are passionate about it. Don’t be afraid to walk away from low paying opportunities that don’t even cover the expense of your travel and makeup. Good ones will come if you’re running a good business, and you can always do model calls on your own time. Beware working for “exposure”.
3. Use instagram well. I see so many makeup artists making the same exact mistake on Instagram: they use one account for their personal and professional life, and then overdo it on the personal side. When I go to their IG page, it’s 12 grainy photos of their niece and no photos of brides, makeup, or them working. That’s not what a potential client wants to see. Either get a separate account for your personal life, or keep the personal photos to very occasionally, and only well photographed ones (it’s ok for clients to see your personal life a little bit!). Consider perfecting your on-the-fly photography skills, and use hashtags to get found. Only post pretty photos, even if they’re of your personal life. What your grid looks like (the last 12 photos you’ve posted on Instagram) is very important.
4. Invest time and money into networking. I wish I had done this sooner! You’ll meet amazing people who want to work with you.
Q: A big part of a wedding photographer's business is his or her online presence, and makeup artists (just like photographers) need a fantastic website in order to attract new clients. What can you tell us about having your own site? Any tips or tricks you've learned, that makeup artists need to know?
A: Blog regularly. This will help with your SEO, or “search engine optimization” which is what brings you to the top of Google. Name your images things like “Makeup Artist in Brooklyn” and “Your Name Makeup Artist” rather than “img_007”.
Q: Many of our newer makeup artists are a little freaked out about working with flash photography; can you give any advice on how makeup artists can work with flash photography so that their brides look amazing?
A: That mineral powder stuff seems to reflect flash photography pretty badly! If you can skip it, or just give the photographer a heads up that you’re using it, we should all be fine.
Q: Do you have any "bridal meltdown" stories? How did you deal with it, and what advice would you give makeup artists who are working with brides and grooms? (and their parents and their wedding parties and...)
A: Oh gosh. I never had a full on meltdown, but if I did... I’d just love them through it, I guess.
Also, take control of the situation if necessary, by asking the front desk if they have an empty room to use for hair and makeup. Ostensibly this will be because you want less clutter for photos, but really because you want a calm situation for your client. If they have an empty room, most hotels are happy to provide you one. (And it really does give you less visual clutter!).
Q: Do you personally have any favorite makeup products that you're working with?
A: I don’t leave the house without Kat Von D liquid eyeliner! Even when I’m working 8 hours while pressing my eyeball to the back of a camera, it stays put. I would wear full lashes every day if I could.
Q: Here's my favorite question: What's made you successful? Remember---"it ain't braggin' if it's true!"
A: Working hard. Believing in community over competition. Working towards improving constantly. Knowing I’m not really successful---success is the journey. Ha! That sounds so corny. It’s true, though.