Spotlight on Van Alstyne – David Hamrick Photography
Truth is, most people probably pass by our studio numerous times a day and don’t even realize we’re there! While we have a gorgeous 3000sq ft studio on the second floor of our building, we only have a door as a storefront, nestled in between a dance studio. When you open our door, the very first thing everyone sees is stairs, 24 ¼ stairs to be exact! We don’t usually tell people about the stairs, because we figure they’d never come see us! But once they reach the top of the stairs, they can see it was worth the trek. Our studio is located in the downtown area of Van Alstyne, in a beautiful brick building that is well over 120 years old. It used to be the Carter Opera House and we’re told that traveling operas would stop in to perform on their way from Oklahoma City to Dallas. There are at least 19 floor to ceiling windows, so we get this beautiful natural light that filters through. The inside is all exposed brick and wood floors, it’s literally bursting with character! But let’s back up a bit and tell you how we got here…
What made you choose photography and how did you get started?
David: I caught the photography bug from my dad. My mom gave me my first SLR as a high school graduation present. I’ve been shooting ever since! For many years it was landscapes and airplanes. I joined the Air Force after high school and was on the flight line with the planes. Lot’s of F-16 pictures. I also photographed the first launch of the Space Shuttle. When I was stationed in DC my kids started playing T-Ball and softball. Before I knew it, I was taking team pictures for the rest of the parents. A guy I was stationed with was a wedding photographer and talked me into buying my first set of strobes. Thanks for the nudge Darris Curry! I spent my last nine years of Air Force life on Special Duty Assignment to the White House Communications Agency and retired in 1995. Tammy and I met while working for Fujitsu in Richardson, and married in January 2000. We have lived in Trenton the entire time.
Tammy: I have to admit, I didn’t grow up planning to be a photographer or in the photography business, but just like every other person I’ve taken my share of pictures and like to capture those special moments. I’ve always had the creative bug. Growing up, I often handmade Christmas and birthday gifts instead of buying them. I liked being able to create things that would have meaning to them. When David and I met and married, I knew that photography brought him a lot of joy, and having his own photography business was something he dreamed of, so it was something I wanted to be a part of.
In 2002 we got our official Tax Certificate and made things legal. We started out photographing different sports activities and High School Seniors on the weekends. That little bit of business helped us survive three different layoffs we experienced between 2002 and 2007.
David: Then in 2013, I was working as the Purchasing / Operations Manager for a company in Bonham when we were contacted by the yearbook advisor at Bells High School. They needed a new photographer and wanted to know if we could do it. Don’t ask me why we agreed to that, cause I don’t really know, but we did. A whirlwind of buying tux jackets, and fancy caps and gowns, and we were off! First stop: Bells Elementary. The mission: 400 or so PreK through 5th graders. Mug shots for yearbook. Ready to shoot by 8:00 am. Oh, BTW, lunch starts at 10:45…. and GO! It was miserable! We THOUGHT we were prepared…. It’s a wonder they let us come back into that school. Next day, the junior high and high school. Better. The final day, senior tux/drape and cap & gown. OMG, another train wreck. Three half days of vacation and we got it all done. We learned A LOT in those three days. For some reason, we decided we could be school photographers, and I quit the job in Bonham. The photographer who had been photographing several of the local schools, offered us an opportunity to take over the Seniors and sports teams in Trenton. Cool. Then, during the Christmas break that photographer told us that he was quitting everything, effective immediately, and if we wanted to strike while the iron was hot, we should hit whichever schools we wanted the day they came back from break. We did just that, and ended up finishing that school year with Bells, Trenton, Celeste, Wolfe City and Ector schools, and several sports associations. We photographed schools for five years and continued to expand our High School Senior photography on the side.
Volume photography, such as schools and sports associations, is great, but there isn’t much chance for creativity and we really wanted to be studio photographers. We wanted the opportunity to get to know our clients and interact with them one-on-one. We looked at a million spaces in McKinney and Sherman, and all in between. One day I was in Van Alstyne and looked through a door on Marshall St. All I could see was steps. I asked the ladies in the first floor business who owned the building. They sent me to see David Schatz, the pharmacist at City Drug. When I asked him about the space, he tossed me the keys and told me to go take a look. When I got to the top of the stairs, I KNEW I had to have it. It had been a storage space for years, and man it was dirty! But I loved it! Our goal was to be in the space by the first of the year. It was May before everyone had signed off, and we had changed the layout. The same time we opened, our school year was ending, and we let the schools know we wouldn’t be their photographers the next year. The studio has been open just over two years.
How many people do you employ?
Tammy and I are it! I do most of the photography, editing and the studio setup. Tammy does most everything else. There are so many “behind the scenes” processes that most people don’t realize, until you have a business of your own. She spends most of every day on the computer keeping our name in view. Gone are the days when you found a business in the yellow pages! Social media is the place to be. Tammy spends hours putting together little marketing pieces that go out to dozens of community Facebook pages and our Instagram account. She’s the one that answers all the phone calls and emails.
What do you love about VA?
Tammy and I both spent parts of our childhoods in small towns just like VA. There’s a “feel” you get in a small town that just isn’t possible in bigger cities. VA has that feel. Tammy was the financial secretary for a time at the Methodist Church, so she is more familiar with people around town than I am. It’s just a great town. We’ve learned a lot more about what makes VA special as we’ve been doing these spotlight interviews. There are some pretty terrific people running businesses in the downtown area!
Are you involved in any community activities?
We are members of the VA Chamber of Commerce. For a short time David was even the Vice President of the Board of Directors. We have donated various items to school and VAEF fundraising events. We had a Senior Model Team last year where each member had the opportunity to compete for a $250 scholarship. We have opened our studio the past two years on Van Alstyne and Anna prom nights. We always say that if you spend that much money on prom, why not come and have some professional portraits made. We photograph on two backdrops, and make 5-6 more backdrops available for selfies. The kids get a couple of professional files to remember prom by, at no charge. This year we had almost 50 kids come through. It’s always a lot of fun seeing these kids all dressed up for prom. We also open up the studio during Halloween. Van Alstyne holds a downtown Trick or Treating Event. For $1 or 1 canned food item per child, they can come in and have a professional portrait taken of them all dressed up in their Halloween costume. We had the opportunity to photograph over 100 kids and adults sporting their Halloween finest and raised $110 and 54 canned good items that were delivered to the Four Corners Outreach Alliance Food Pantry.
Who is your target audience?
Our passion is with High School Seniors. It’s such an important year for the Senior AND their parents. Think about it…you’ve spent the last 13 years in school working towards this one final moment of graduation. Parents, you’ve been there every step of the way – cheering them on at sporting and academic events, helping with homework, shuttling them to practices. It really is a HUGE deal and it’s one we feel needs to be captured and remembered.
The other area we focus on is Christmas! Who doesn’t love Christmas? We’re not talking about the hustle and bustle and stress that’s often accompanied with the holiday season. We focus on the joy. The joy of your children seeing Santa Claus, spending time interacting and talking with him; having milk and cookies with him; helping him finish up the toys. Our Santa Experience in November is one that we truly love being a part of.
And while we don’t advertise it as much, we also offer Family Sessions and in-studio or on-location Business Headshots.
So, as you can see, our target audience is just about everyone! You will also notice, we didn’t mention Weddings or Newborns. These genres of photography just aren’t our cup of tea. Some people love them and have a blast photographing them. Those are the people you WANT doing them, not us. Anytime we get queries about weddings and newborns, we are always happy to refer a photographer that specializes in those areas.
What is it that we want you to know about our business?
Let’s be real. There are photographers everywhere. Cameras these days are amazing and between cameras and phone cameras, just about anyone can take a picture. We take a lot of pride in several things that we’re able to offer and say about our photography business. First and foremost, we are a bonafide business. We have been a business since 2002 and have paid taxes that go back into and help support the local cities we work in. We also carry insurance on our business, so that whether we are conducting a session in our studio or go into a school or specific event we are covered and our equipment is covered.
Another huge thing for us is education! Every year we attend a weeklong education school focused on improving our photography skills. We also attend various workshops throughout the year and are constantly learning through online courses we take. We network with hundreds of other photographers, learning from them and bouncing ideas off each other. This is our passion and we want to do it to the best of our ability for you.
One thing we absolutely love about being a Studio Portrait Photographer that we weren’t able to do as Volume Photographers is the amount of time we get to spend with and interact with our clients. From the moment you inquire about a photography session with us until the day you pick up your products, we are in contact with you. We are able to focus on what you want for your portrait session, by sitting down and talking with you at a consultation prior to your session. If you want your hair and makeup to be camera ready – we can do that! We have a hair and makeup area within our studio and work with local hair and makeup artists. We can customize and create an experience catered to you and will create custom art pieces through the use of Photoshop that you won’t find anywhere else.
And finally, we’re passionate about being sure you walk away with prints and products. The art pieces we create for you, whether it’s Senior Portraits, Santa Sessions, Family Images…should be displayed. We want you to hold and touch the pieces you receive. We want you to be able to walk throughout your home and see these images everyday. If we delivered your images to you on a flashdrive or CD, we wouldn’t be doing you any favors, because chances are, that’s where you’ll images will remain. How much joy do you think you’ll get when walking by that desk drawer you shoved that CD in? So it’s important to us that you have prints, wall art and albums that you can enjoy today and pass on to loved ones later.
There is a photographer for everyone out there and thankfully there are enough people for every photographer! When you choose your photographer for your next event, whatever the occasion may be, choose one that fits your style. And if we are the ones you choose…we promise to capture those moments that matter most to you and create an experience you’ll remember long after.
David Hamrick Photography – David & Tammy Hamrick
256 E. Marshall St, Van Alstyne, TX 75495