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How Portraiture Complements Coaching

How I bring out someone's photogenic and creative potential.

Minnow Park
Minnow Park
4 min read

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This past week marks two years since the pandemic pulled my photography career from under me. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of client work vanished. My decade plus career of taking photos turned into filling out forms, and calling the Department of Labor hoping to qualify for unemployment benefits.

I found coaching four months later in July of 2020. I love coaching. I love the people I work with. And as photography has started to come back after it’s forced hiatus for two years, I wondered if I should just focus on coaching. Could I serve my clients better by letting go of photography and going all in with coaching?

I’m glad I didn’t give any final answers, because as I’ve started doing more portrait sessions, I’m seeing how well portraiture and coaching complement one another.

During a portrait session there’s a flow I enter into as I search for the moment when composition, good light, and energy come together. In that moment, that fraction of a second, I’m trying to capture the subject’s unique inner beauty—to make what’s unseen, seen. But without their participation and permission that moment will never present itself, no matter how hard I look. The space we’re in together has to be safe enough to let those hidden traits come through.

It’s the same thing with coaching. If portraiture is about bringing out someone’s photogenic potential, then coaching is about bringing out their creative potential. And each person’s creative potential is unique—whether it’s creating a consistent practice, shifting their mindset from scarcity to abundance, or coming to terms with feeling like an imposter. You need a safe space to wrestle through whatever’s getting in the way of unleashing these unseen forces to create life-changing results.

I recently had a portrait session with a coaching client who was launching her own business. We had worked together for a few months and decided to cap our time together with a shoot and a meal. We had gotten to know each other well as she transitioned into entrepreneurship. All of our calls were over Zoom, and this would be the first time we’d meet in person.

Being in front of the camera is an awkward experience if you don’t do it for a living. Most of the people I photograph find it awkward, and so I start each session by saying, “OK, so the first 10-15 minutes of this is going to feel awkward with this big lens pointed at you, but I promise it’ll get better.”

I probably said some version of that when my client and I met, but it wasn’t necessary. We jumped right into the shoot with no awkwardness or hesitation. The time we spent photographing was fun, effortless, and full of flow [1].

When I sent my client the photos a few days later she texted me, “I’m choking up looking at these photos. Whenever I feel down about myself I’m going to look at these photos to encourage myself. They are so beautiful I can't believe that's me!”

I don’t think her reaction was just because she received pretty photos of herself. It’s because the images captured both her photogenic and creative potential—those unseen forces that helped her own her identity as a founder and start a business centered around wellness and empowerment for women.

We usually associate photos of ourselves with special occasions in our lives like birthdays, vacations or what I’ve spent a big chunk of my career doing: weddings. We don't think of taking portraits to mark milestones of growth in our lives. Part of the reason is because we don’t give ourselves enough credit. We don’t think what we’ve done is special or worth celebrating, when compared to our expectations of ourselves or other other people’s accomplishments. We’re quick to move on to the next item on our list and try to make up for whatever we feel we’re lacking.

Both coaching and portraiture is a way to slow down and take notice of what’s happening in our lives. And while one is a space for us to gain clarity, talk through ideas, and have accountability, the other is a space to be seen, celebrated, and crystalized through a photo.

I’ve done a few more portrait sessions since then, and I’m going to offer portrait sessions to future clients. I’m excited to see where this goes. Just as composition, good light, and energy converge into a photogenic moment, my skills, passions, and the opportunities in front of me are converging into a moment I am uniquely ready to capture.

I’m surprised at how deep you can form a friendship and get to know someone through video calls. It carries over into real life so seamlessly. The only thing that catches me off-guard is how short or tall they are. ↩︎

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