Amber Marlow: Capturing the Joy / by Leslie Fandrich

By Leslie Fandrich // Themes: Weddings, Portraits, Photography // Category: Creative People


Amber Marlow will never be a landscape photographer. She believes in love and friendship and her whole life's work focuses on capturing the joy in relationships. Amber specializes in portraits, elopements, and intimate weddings. She has also started shooting destination weddings and elopements, and would like to do boudoir

photography for individuals and couples who are underserved by the current boudoir industry, like masculine of center women, gays, and transgendered people. She loves seeing people presenting their best selves, loving each other, and celebrating life. It's exciting. She says being part of someone’s life, no matter how briefly, is a huge privilege.

A few months ago I visited Amber in her home to watch her take a head shot of her friend. I was struck by how Amber eased into the situation, got her subject comfortable and coached her into a very flattering pose. I could tell her friend was a little nervous at the beginning, as anyone would be in front of a camera, but Amber really had a way of playing down the nervous feelings and getting the shot she was looking for. I know from experience it's not an easy thing to do, but Amber is a pro at it and it's what makes her such a great portrait photographer.

Amber is a self-taught photographer who has been shooting with Canon equipment for the last 16 years. Her gear includes two camera bodies, a Canon Mark III and a Mark II, two lenses, a 24-70mm/2.8 lens and 50mm/1.2 and a 580 II Speedlight Flash. For post-processing she uses VSCO to capture the color and saturation of film that she grew up on and has been dreaming of since she started shooting digital. Her goal is to always capture everything in camera, the minimal edits that she does are very close to what she would do in darkroom.

My mother was into photography before I was born [in 1982], so she had books from the 70’s that I used to teach myself the basics of photography, portraits, and lighting when I was a teenager. Long before the bells and whistles of modern digital cameras, these books gave me a solid foundation of photography theory and thinking for yourself instead of flipping the camera into “automatic” mode.

Besides her mother's old photography books, Amber shamelessly takes small lessons from everyone and hopes that she inspires others too. She is close to a group of other female photographers that she keeps in touch with daily online and they have been a tremendous resource for practical things like creating albums and pricing and also for the more emotional things that come up when you are the sole proprietor of a small business.

My friend Katie has a tremendous amount of grace when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and always knows just what to say. Another friend, Gavin, is encouraging of me when I feel stumped creatively, and he keeps me laughing at the absurdity of life. I’m dating someone who is remarkably calm, and his presence in my life has been a valuable lesson in shrugging off the small stuff. Photographing toddlers has taught me to appreciate the wonder of being human, and that you’ll probably have more fun if you let go and act silly.

When Amber is editing photos she likes to listen to podcasts at home or go out to the local bar to hear the happy chatter of a crowd of people and have a beer. She has learned that two beers while working is one too many though! Pressing "send" on a finished photo shoot is incredibly gratifying and leaves Amber with a total sense of accomplishment. Her clients always love the work that she sends them, just read the love notes on her About page!

I am constantly looking at fashion photography to keep abreast of trends. I shun anything in business that threatens to show itself over-complicated, and when things ARE complicated, I hire someone else to deal with them (shout out to my accountant here). When everything is calm and orderly creativity blooms.

Amber's studio is the whole world. She shoots exclusively on location, in homes or parks, in coffee shops and bars, depending on the client. She is interested in doing more travel and for 2014 she has waived her travel fees for clients who want to hire her for destination weddings, special events or portraits that are outside of the New York area.

I have loved watching Amber grow her business over the last few years and when I asked her what she had learned about herself through her work, this is what she had to say:

I’m turning this around a little. One of the things running a photography business taught me is that the world says yes a lot more than you’d expect. It’s made me quite bold. I recently photographed a destination wedding at a hotel in Puerto Rico. The plan was the guests would get cocktails at the bar and then head inside for dinner. The bar was dark, loud, and crowded - a bad combo for getting good photos - but there was this amazing sun deck at another part of the hotel that stood empty every evening as I walked past it. I realized that if guests could get their drinks and go up there to socialize, I would get glorious post-sunset photos. When the bride and groom didn’t really have a preference, I asked the manger if we could use it, and could we use it for free since it never seemed to be booked. She said yes, and the photos from that time of the evening are absolutely stunning. It was only in the past few years that I realized, to my horror and then my utter delight, that I was the adult in my life, and this has made calling the shots scary and a whole lot of fun.

It's true that Amber loves to photograph people and love and relationships, but I see something a little deeper. She is committed and honored to help people document and tell their personal stories. Every photo shoot is a story to tell. “We got married in Central Park with just our parents there.” “We had a baby, and brought her home. She met the dogs for the first time.” “We have a two year old and a six year old. They’re rambunctious and joyful.” And more than that, the stories that Amber is most dedicated to telling are the stories that we don't always see represented in wedding and portrait photography. People who do not follow traditional gender roles, who are gay, lesbian or transgender, people who are mixed race, or in a mixed race relationship, people who have tattoos and do not fit into the tiny box of standard beauty. She is an LGBT advocate and celebrates all body types. Hiring her will guarantee that not only will you get amazing photography, but you will also get a wide open spirit who is excited about sharing ALL the stories that there are to tell and showing ALL the ways that people can love and be beautiful.

I want to thank Amber for letting me into her home to photograph her while she was working and for sharing all these amazing insights into her work and process! I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of the wonderful work Amber is putting out into the world and you should totally hire her if you need pictures.