We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie Damon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katie, what’s the most important lesson your business/career has taught you?
My experience as both a photographer for the Air Force and as a business owner has taught me SO much over the years, and I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned from my journey is the ability to have an equal amount of humility and confidence. I was a sweet kid growing up, but I was very shy and VERY introverted. If you had told me back then that one day I would be directing a room full of military generals for a group photo, or posing an Olympic dressage rider and her incredible stallion, I would have gone pale in the face and called you a liar. Through my growth in photography, I’ve been able to have an appreciation for the skills I’ve developed, and I’m able to understand the value of the work I bring to the industry. At the same time, I was raised to be a kind, humble person, so I’ve also developed a passion for helping people in their photography journey and making the knowledge I’ve obtained accessible to aspiring photographers. When it comes to entrepreneurship, the lesson I’ve learned is this: confidence without humility is arrogance, and humility without confidence is fragility. In my opinion, a successful business owner must find the balance of both.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As a kid, I had two passions in my heart which would lay the foundation for my adult life – horses and graphic arts. I was the absolute definition of “horse crazy” as a little girl – even going so far as to lead my little brother around in the backyard like a pony (bless his brotherly heart). My family and I lived in the middle of the city, so owning a horse wasn’t an option at the time (I also think my parents believed horses were just a phase that I’d grow out of – HA!) So, instead of owning a horse, I dutifully spent every weekend mucking out stalls in exchange for riding lessons. I was determined to work as hard as I could so that I could be around horses as much as I possibly could. Looking back, this seems like the first glimpse into my entrepreneurial drive.
At a very young age of about 14, I began teaching myself how to use Photoshop. I became the go-to kid who could design things, and by the time I was a junior in high school, I was an adept Photoshopper. I had always assumed my career would consist of some kind of graphic design, and when I was 19 I was hired as a graphic designer on Schriever Air Force Base which included cross-training into photography. The moment I picked up a camera, I was absolutely hooked. I fell head-over-heels in love with photography, and spent the next couple of years soaking up as much knowledge as I could, even putting myself through an online digital photography course from Harvard. After all of my hard work and proving my instinctual abilities as a photographer, I was promoted into the senior photographic position. I’ve always had a love for the Air Force (and even seriously considered joining), so I decided that being an Air Force photographer was the second best thing for me.
One day, I decided to take a stab at combining my two life passions by bringing my camera to the barn – my skill as a graphic designer and photographer swirled with my love of horses, and came together in such a perfect and magical way that I ended up forming my own horse photography business, Clever Lark Photography. Nowadays, I continue my dual-hatted endeavor as both Air Force / Space Force photographer, and professional horse photographer. By now, I’ve photographed over 300 horses, from donkeys to Olympic horses and everything in between. My work is well known in the horse community, it’s been featured in many publications, and I actively teach aspiring photographers from all over the world. I come from a family of entrepreneurs who instilled in me the belief that life is short, so you should ALWAYS chase after your dreams, and anything is achievable with hard work.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I was born and raised in Colorado Springs, so I do happen to know of some of the best places around. For tourism / sightseeing, at the top of my list are Garden of the Gods, Cave of the Winds, Bishops Castle, the Pikes Peak summit house, Pikes Peak International Raceway, and the Denver Museum of Natural history to name a few. The best food joints that are my personal favorites include Smokin’ Daves BBQ in Denver, Bubba’s 33 in Colorado Springs, Ice Cave Cider house in Monument, The Rabbit Hole in Colorado Springs, and Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub in Colorado Springs. Restaurants with a unique atmosphere which I grew up going to include Fargo’s Pizza in Colorado Springs, and Casa Bonita in Denver.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I regularly reflect on the successes I’ve had in my pursuits and the key people in my life, without whom I would not have been able to reach the milestones I have. I’d love to dedicate my shoutout to the following people:
To Kyle, my wonderful and caring husband, who is always there to keep me on track towards my dreams and who selflessly helps me with anything I might need (whether it’s getting up at the crack of dawn to help with a horse shoot, doing a funny dance to get horses’ ears up, helping me brainstorm ideas to innovate my business, or giving shoulder rubs after long days of hauling gear) I am SO lucky to call you my husband and I seriously couldn’t do it without you. I love you so very much!
To my family, who probably always thought it was bizarre how much time I spent working in Photoshop as a kid but supported me anyway – one of the things I love most about our family is how we’re always there to help each other with our entrepreneurial adventures. Whether it’s volunteering for strange experimental photo shoots, painting the garage wall with a giant logo, or spending an afternoon smelling candle fragrances together, life would be a thousand times harder without the support system we have in each other. To mom and dad, both of whom are also entrepreneurs – thank you for showing me what it means to have a solid work ethic and to strive for the things you want in life.
To my mentor, good friend, and the “Boss of the Bride,” Dennis, who decided to take a chance and offer a job interview to an awkward 19 year old kid fresh out of high school who didn’t have much of a work history – I’m grateful every single day for the unwavering confidence you’ve always had in me. Without you, I wouldn’t have the skills I do, I wouldn’t have been able to experience the Air Force as closely as I do, and I’m certain that Clever Lark wouldn’t exist without the opportunities you’ve given to me over the years. Over the last ten years, you’ve watched me grow up, get married, and start a business. You’ve shown me what it means to dedicate yourself entirely to the craft that you love, and how to remain humble and appreciative for the blessings you have even when things get tough. I’m proud to have you as my BOTB and you will always be a very special person in my life.
Lastly, to all of my amazingly wonderful friends and photography clients (and photography clients who have turned into amazing friends), I wouldn’t be able to do what I love every day without the support you show my business. Some of you have seen the blood, sweat, and tears I’ve put into growing Clever Lark from the beginning to where we are today. I’ve formed lifelong friendships with many of you, and I am so humbled by that. Thank you for the opportunities you all have given me over the years!
Other: TikTok: @CleverLarkPhoto