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Known for her unique take on balayage and as a leader in balayage technique education, Amy McManus (@camouflageandbalayage) is the latest addition to the Wella Professionals ambassador team. As a long time Wella user and salon pro with over 30 years of experience, she knows a thing or two about hair color and elevating your skill set.    

Amy emerged at the forefront of the balayage trend in 2016 and established herself as an innovator in the space. Balayage was a little-known trend and she was immediately drawn to the technique as she looked for a way to reignite her passion, feeling that her craft had become robotic.  

Learning how to utilize social media for education changed her entire career. Amy turned to YouTube and Instagram for education and inspiration; learned, perfected and improved on the service and has since adopted these social media platforms to share the do’s and don’ts of balayage with the hairdresser community. 

Ahead, meet Amy and get to know her photography tips, favorite products and industry insights.

MODERN SALON: What does the ‘camouflage’ in your social handle refer to?

AMY MCMANUS: The ‘camouflage’ in my handle refers to clothing – I have a slight obsession with it. A year after I created my handle, one of my followers commented on a picture and said “Oh! I just got the camouflage part of your name. You camouflage hair, that’s so clever!” That actually made me laugh because I wish I had thought of that, but it was just about camouflage clothing. 

MS: Your hair photos are always so gorgeous. What are some of your best tips for capturing great photos?

AM: Use natural, indirect light. I tried the ring light early on and it was an epic failure. It just made my result look flat and too warm. I loved the old location for my salon. When the lighting was good outside, it was magical. Often if you shoot in video mode, you can screen shot from that for a more 3D effect or shoot with your camera on reverse for a selfie. I find that works best for my brunettes to avoid overexposure. 

MS: Do you shoot on your phone or with a camera?

AM: I just use my phone. Currently, it’s the iPhone 11 Pro. Truth be told, I’ve bought two different cameras but never had the patience to learn how to use them properly – so in the bag they’ve stayed. 

MS: Do you have any favorite editing apps?  

AM: I use Lightroom to edit. My new space has a few issues with lighting, and I find it makes everyone look brighter. I end up knocking back the exposure a touch and adding some shadows and black back to make it look similar to what my eye saw. Occasionally, I use Facetune to blur a background.

My favorite tool for those who are OK with face shots is the ‘Noise Reduction’ setting of Lightroom. It gives everyone that soft, airbrushed finish to their face, and who doesn’t love that? 

MS: How did you become so skilled as a hair painter?  Did you have any mentors who trained you or is it just practice, practice, practice? 

AM: When I first heard about balayage, it was completely foreign to me. I was embarrassed that, as the owner of the salon, I didn’t have a clue what all this was. I went to YouTube after one of my stylists approached me about her client’s mom wanting to come see me because I was good with older hair, and that was the most insulting thing she could have said to me. I was 43 years old at that time, and I was labeled an ‘old lady’ hairdresser. It lit a fire in me to want to switch things up. 

The only thing I could find on YouTube for balayage was from Guy Tang. He was showing surface painting, not teasing. I was hooked! I looked feverishly for education. I couldn’t find any. I turned to Instagram and followed every balayage artist who appeared to know what they were doing, but everyone just posted pretty pictures without any explanation. I needed to understand the why for all of it.

I slowly started to put the pieces together with each screw up. Once I understood, it made trying different placement, product, or techniques easier and my painting became more purposeful.

I remember trying every clay lightener I could get my hands on, looking for something with tons of lift. One of my favorite artists was Jamie Sea. She used Wella Professionals Freelights to paint, and I loved her work, so I bought some to try. The consistency and glide ability, as well as how clingy it was, made it a dream to paint with. I also discovered adding a little Wella Professionals Blondor into my Freelights formula gave me the ultimate lift I was seeking. Having high quality professional products and understanding how they work is an integral part of hair painting.

Using Wella Professionals Freelights and Blondor ultimately gave me the product performance I was seeking and gave me the confidence to consistently predict what my results would be with each session, thus building trust and a great dialogue with my clients. 

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