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For Tualatin native, a portrait is success

Photographer Ali Murray specializes in personalized photo shoots for local ladies


by: COURTESY PHOTO BY JIM & RAVYN - Matt and Ali Murray own Murray Photo LLC, specializing in wedding photography. Ali just launched Portraits by Ali, which offers full-service glamor photo sessions at her own home studio in Newberg. As a successful wedding photographer, Ali Murray knows there are few occasions most women feel entitled to professional photography services. Beyond their nuptials, senior pictures or family portrait-sittings, the only other time many will opt to pose is as a gift to a significant other: for racy “boudoir photos.”

It struck Ali as limiting.

“What I felt was missing was a way for adult women to come in and have beautiful photos done in a studio setting,” Ali said, “but without bringing fishnets.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tualatin native Ali Murray just launched Portraits by Ali, which provides customized glamor photo sessions for women.The 28-year-old Tualatin native wanted to offer “heirloom-quality portraits” her female clients could use for a variety of purposes: headshots if they happen to work in the creative field, professional-grade images for LinkedIn profiles or even as avatars for online dating accounts.

When Ali and her husband Matt established Murray Photography LLC in February 2009, primarily shooting weddings, Ali found she enjoyed the glamor, the sense of celebration and intimate rapport she had with her clients.

“My favorite part of the wedding is shooting the bride and groom,” Ali said. “I love that interaction of working with a couple people, but the reality of weddings is you don’t have a lot of time.”

Her desire to create a more personal, less rushed experience inspired her to launch Portraits by Ali, her own branch of the business that offers customizable photo sessions which are decidedly female-focused.

Before a photo shoot, a client receives a planning guide that instructs her to bring a number of outfits she might want to wear — preferably items she already owns which reflect her personal style. The client is also asked to fill out a survey to determine her food, drink and music preferences so Ali can tailor the experience and put the client immediately at ease.

“The goal is to have a great day with (clients),” Ali said.

The Portraits by Ali studio is located in her Newberg home. During a session, Ali generally puts on some vinyl and leaves her client in the capable hands of either Jessica Belknap (a former Tualatin High classmate of Ali’s) or Courtney Rodgers, for a full hair and make-up session that can last up to an hour and a half.

Ali uses this prep time to consult with her client on which four outfits are most appropriate for their session. By now, she said, she has a keen eye for what will photograph best.

And then the shoot begins, and it’s clear Ali isn’t just about image; she is technically exacting. She emphasizes proper posing, and has extensively researched techniques to show her subjects at their best “in camera.” She dislikes post-production editing beyond light touches like skin softening or adjusting contrast levels to enhance the photo.

After a session, clients are given both a digital portfolio (a USB drive with at least 30 images) and a more traditional photo album.

Tualatin roots

Although she lives and works in Newberg, Ali considers herself a child of Tualatin. Her family has been in the area for nearly a century, and Ali proudly identifies herself as a Nyberg. Her mother, Christine Nyberg Tunstall, is active in the community, specifically at the Heritage Center.

Ali has known her husband since both were students at Bridgeport Elementary School, although they didn’t start dating until the end of high school. At the time, Matt was a teacher’s aide in her photography class — fitting, since Ali credits Tualatin High School’s intensive Arts Seminar program with nurturing her creative interests.

In 2006, Ali graduated from Portland State University with a degree in social science. Although she had just married her shutterbug sweetheart, she wasn’t ready to throw herself into a life behind the camera just yet. She took a position in the billing department at Portland General Electric, an experience she describes as invaluable.

“I feel like I have a better business sense because I spent five years there,” Ali said. As she pursued her photography ambitions on the side, she said, “My goal in my careers — both of them — was to never have PGE feel like I wasn’t doing that full-time, and to never have my photography clients feel like I wasn’t doing that full-time.”

She added, “I feel like I wouldn’t have been as successful if I had just gone to art school and then done photography. After being there at PGE, I just feel like I’m absolutely better for it.”

It’s come together organically

The Murrays were never looking to leave Tualatin, where both their families still live. But Matt fell in love with a 1910 Craftsman home in Newberg, and as they were settling into their spacious new digs last February, Ali began to realize there was room for the new business idea that was formulating.

When a pregnant friend asked Ali to shoot a series of maternity portraits for her, Ali converted a large spare bedroom into a makeshift studio and was amazed by the quality of natural light that, she’s since discovered, pours into the room year-round. She had stumbled onto the ideal in-home studio.

“It just hit me then: ‘This is what I should be doing,’” she remembered.

While taking online classes to hone her technique, Ali was exposed to the work of Australia-based photographer Sue Bryce, an industry veteran whose business philosophy and aesthetic appealed to Ali.

“It was just the way she was able to bring something wonderful out of the subject,” Ali recalled. “I had been trying so hard to figure out where I was going to go with my ideas. It all came together when I saw her work and started learning from her.”

Within eight months, Ali had discovered a marketable way to cater to an under-served clientele — by offering a professional, personalized experience, whatever the occasion. And to do it affordably.

“My overhead is low,” she explained.

Before launching Portraits by Ali this week, she said, “I photographed almost 15 women. I photographed people who have a ton of different body types, 20 years difference in age. It was an experience of starting with a new concept but learning from guests who come in to do my portfolio-building.”

For more information, visit Portraits by Ali.



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