Vivid colors, styles, feelings, energy … the focus of Lara Blair’s photography has left quite an impression on the Downtown Camas scene.
Years ago, Lara Blair had a photo studio on Birch Street, and she found the energy of the merchants and the people downtown to be wonderful. “I went back to teaching for a while in the Camas School District because I missed it,” Lara said. “And when I decided two and a half years ago to ‘retire’ and create another portrait studio, it was a no-brainer to be in Downtown Camas again.”
Lori Briscoe with Camas Beauty Bar let Lara take over half her space for six months until Kyle Eakins, building owner downtown, offered the space at 411 N.E. Dallas Street. “I needed more room to get creative with our colorful ‘Kaleidoscope’ portraits as well as space to teach my ‘Brave & True’ girl workshops. We completely transformed the space into a colorful fantasy land. It’s a dream come true and we love having our work hanging in the windows on the busiest street in Camas!”
Lara opened her first studio in 2000, back when photographers shot on film, and that was when she left teaching to be a full-time mom. “Not one to sit idle, I went full board and it was a success. I’ve always been creative … I studied music and theater all through my youth and in college. I love to create stuff. I was the mom with the kitchen island full of art supplies and mess.”
With photography, she fell in love with the interaction with clients … going to their homes to measure walls and get to know their families before they were in her studio for the session. “I love empowering girls with our Brave & True camps and with a ‘whole enchilada’ portrait experience called ‘Kaleidoscope.’ We help girls feel seen and celebrated.”
Her “Brave & True” camps are all about empowering girls to get through the middle school years. “Those are rough waters! We teach basic skills about dealing with body positivity, social media use, communication with parents, girl drama, and time management. These camps are magical for me. They fill up fast, so I’m guessing there’s a need. I will do this as long as our schedule allows because it’s so important. For now, we offer a camp in January (we’ve got a spot left) and one in August,” Lara said.
There are many ways Lara incorporates empowerment and confidence into her photo shoots and workshops.
“My team and I listen intently to what our clients want from the experience and final images. The pre-session consultation is key for understanding why this portrait is happening at this time and how they want to feel. We revolve the whole experience around that. I also think there’s something to ‘look good, feel good.’ Our makeup artist does an amazing job and our studio closet is full of every possible combination for whatever style a person wants to rock.There’s even multiple sets of wings, flower headpieces, crowns and armor up there! We help people feel truly seen and appreciated. There is nothing better than hearing from a mom that her daughter didn’t want to leave our space.”
One recent testimonial from a mom said, “There is a moment when my daughter finally sees what I’ve seen all along … she’s beautiful. She’s strong. She’s amazing. Lara Blair created these moments with a Kaleidoscope session and captured them forever with her photographs.”
Like the young girls facing middle school challenges, Lara faced challenges herself opening a studio in the Covid era. “When I was ready to go full board with the studio after leaving teaching, COVID showed up. I had just signed a lease on the 411 NE Dallas space. Instead of freaking out, I realized the lockdown actually gave me the time I needed to make the space what I knew it could be for our clients and the community. I had a vision complete with multiple Pinterest boards and it was time to go all in. I was covered in paint for three weeks! We’ve been very blessed in this pandemic mess. People still came. We practiced our COVID protocols and kept at it. We photographed 125 in 2020, including 25 families for our ‘Front steps’ project that raised money for the Camas schools backpack program. We also hosted three ‘Brave & True’ girl empowerment camps. I hired an assistant and a salesperson and these two women have been my rocks in this up and down time. Turns out three heads are better than one when navigating a business in a pandemic.”
Lara said she’s found that her portrait clients value family and relationships. “They see the importance of investing in heirlooms that capture these bonds forever. With our candid, fun style of family portraits, we tend to attract fun, easy-going folks who enjoy each other. I love the silly stuff as well as the beautiful ‘mom/kid’ bonding sweet shots. I’m game for anything and I think our clients come to us for this reason …. it’s not your average family portrait. For Kaleidoscope, we market to and attract moms who want their daughters to have an experience that empowers them. It’s an investment, for sure, but we feel the reward, and power of the resulting images, are beyond measure.”
Lara builds a rapport with her clients by sending a newsletter out to those clients first, offering her special experiences and rates. “I do a pre-session consultation with every client. The plan is to do this in person, but with COVID it’s been some FaceTime and some home visits. The result is me knowing exactly what they want in the experience and finished portrait product.”
She said they aim to create wall art and heirloom albums with every client. “We gift prints and goodies to clients who invest a lot in our studio. Sending flowers at holiday time to our best clients is something we love doing! In a vaccinated 2021, we will be hosting parties and events for our clients in our space in the evening, including the 3 p.m. weekly Friday dance party under our disco ball for anyone who would like to come. Our space is colorful, bright, positive and full of window light … we want to share that with our community so they can just dance it off for 30 minutes. Heaven knows, we all need it.”
And one of her big plans in the works for 2021 is to launch her “come from out of town for portraits” experience. “We would like to put folks up at the Camas Hotel and give them a basket of coupons for local restaurants and stores. We believe Camas is not only a great place to travel to for the best portrait experience of their lives, but also to make memories in an adorable town that has a lot to offer. We’re optimistic that with good marketing on the West Coast in magazines and online ads, we can attract the kind of client who would embrace this experience.”
If you’d like to schedule a photo shoot, call Lara at (360) 980-2413.