Embodied Approach – Expressive Portraiture – The Final Action

In my photography sessions, I often work with the whole body, the head/face, ribcage, shoulders and arms, down to the feet.  I begin by drawing your attention to your foundation of feet and legs, with a simple wiggling of the toes, all the way up to the top of your head.  It is with the body that we are expressing our professionalism, confidence, and trustworthiness for the camera.  I invite my subjects to be aware of their breath as a natural signal for the body to relax.  I breathe with the client, because I need to stay relaxed as well.  If all goes well, we both enter into what Daria Halprin, author of The Expressive Body in Life, Art and Therapy (2003) calls “liminal space.”  In this altered state of awareness, we stand before the threshold of our old way of posing for a photograph, facing a new way of self-expression.  This can produce a desire to break free from old ways of perceiving ourselves, the world and make room for something fresh to emerge.  As I guide and direct the client, we access the mystery of the creative process and bring embodied awareness of the desired qualities to be illuminated, accessed, and expressed before the camera.

Next in the series of actions is to find the real moment inside.  I do this by assisting my clients in their expression of joy.  Setting aside fear allows the armor that hides out basic goodness to fall away.  This supports our appreciation of the life we have to shine out in the expression of joy.  Using the breath as inspiration, I invite the client to use their imagination in conjuring an authentic experience and expression of the emotion of joy.  Pema Chodron, in her book Start Where You Are; A Guide to Compassionate Living, tells us that the way to find our joy is to lighten up.  “Anything that begins to lighten up that resistance helps us to relax and open and celebrate.” (p. 131).  This celebration can be as simple as being curious, having a sense of humor, taking a few deep breathes, remembering a funny joke, or a situation to recall and express.
The final action or level in the creation of real moments is the use of imagination.  We have already done that in the expression of joy, but joy is not the only quality we want to express in front of the camera.  So, I coach my clients in the use of their imagination to create and express other qualities with their body, and then the series of action steps to creating an amazing photograph are complete.

By working with my clients somatically, they are able to relax and let go.  Being able to enter into creative play and authentic embodied expression in this way, we can now launch any expression or create any impression we choose.  Through this process we are free to express directly to our audience the qualities that we so deeply embody and wish to communicate.


Chodron, P. (2004). Start where you are; a guide to compassionate living. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Halprin, D. (2003). The expressive body in life, art and therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley.

McNiff, S. (1998). Trust the process (First ed.). Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Karr, A., & Wood, M. (2011). The practice of comtemplative photography, Seeing the world with fresh eyes. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.


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An Embodied Approach to Expressive Photographic Portraiture 2

The first thing we must do in order to make an authentic photo that expresses our natural qualities, is give ourselves permission, or license, to create and play.  Often the executive says to me,  “I am not creative.”  But as we continue to work together, we find that we are having fun with this process and come to realize what Andy Karr and Michael Wood say about creativity in there book, The Practice of Contemplative Photography – Seeing the world with Fresh Eyes.  “It naturally arises from your basic nature when you are open to it” (Karr & Wood, 2011, p. 1).  Obstacles to this are old beliefs, a strong ego, resistance, and a desire to control the final image in order to make the desired impression.  This perceived impression is what we see on corporate websites all over the world.  They are technically perfect, but often lack the fresh creative juice and direct expression of the man or woman behind the face.  Something is missing.

Some of the best corporate photographs I have seen are rare moments, when the executive is caught off-guard in a natural and authentic expression of who they are.  In other words, they were not controlling or efforting certain qualities in the image, but are accidentally photographed in a natural state of play or creative expression of those qualities.  Accidental is not repeatable, and doesn’t work for capturing more than one image.  We all know that in a photo session, we take more than one photograph.  So, in a professional session, our desire is to be intentional not accidental.  In order to be intentional about our photographic endeavors, which are to communicate that we are professional, confident, and trustworthy, we give ourselves permission to let go of our preconceived ideas of what looks good.  Then we are free to express those qualities in front of the camera so they can be captured in an image.  Art therapist and author Shaun McNiff, explains in his book, Trust the Process; An Artists Guide to Letting Go, that, “We let go of inhibitions, which breed rigidity, and we cultivate responsiveness to what is taking shape in the immediate situation.” (McNiff, 1998, p. 2).  Our immediate situation requires that we let go of or release this rigidity, so the intended expressions can come through and be captured by the camera.  We can respond to the situation creatively, instead of just trying to “relax” in front of a camera as the photographer is attempting to take a “good” picture.  That’s a good beginning, but we must go further.

As a professional photographer, is it my job to provide a comfortable environment so that my clients can feel free to relax and enter into creative play.  When we can play freely, it allows us to creatively explore many different qualities and variations on a theme.  It allows resistance to dissolve, as we discover something new about ourselves.  It allows us to lighten up and be fully present in the moment that we wish to communicate to others.  So, how do we get from a deer in the headlights to a relaxed state of creative play in 20 minutes?  The starting point for me, in this activity, is the body.

Working with my clients at this level, somatically (with the body), assists them in being able to release rigidity and achieve a level of relaxation that allows their natural, radiant, and authentic selves to shine through the layers of fear and protection so commonly captured in a photography session.  This may seem to be a tall order.  I promise, it’s not.

Thanks for participating in this dialogue.

Scotty Lewis

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An Embodied Approach to Expressive Photographic Portraiture

scott lewis

For most of us, getting our portrait taken by a professional photographer is not a big deal.  When we look at the photographs, we look at our face, glance at our eyes, mouth, and we know we like it.  We can feel it.  We don’t much think about what we had to do to make it.  For some of us, a little creative chuckle and a nice smile will do. We think the photographer has done his job and has captured us at just the right moment.  It’s a good photograph and are happy to show it to our friends, family, or colleagues.  We will post it on our company website, Facebook and LinkedIn, and not give it another thought.

For some, the situation becomes more challenging when we enter the photo studio or sit down in front of the camera.   We feel like the actor who steps onstage in front of an audience without knowing our lines.  We can’t seem to relax and our performance doesn’t come off so great.  We don’t like the expression on our face, and we wonder what happened.  We are curious about the moment when the photographer released the shutter.  Most of all, we are glad the photo shoot is over.  So, what did happen?

First of all, the making of a photograph is a creative act, and a form of communication.  We are trying to say something to the person viewing our photograph.  Those people could include our friends, family, or a wider audience.  Our communication intention could be very specific, as in most of the portraiture I do – business portraiture.  In this genre, the message is fairly consistent: the executive expresses personal and professional confidence, knowledge, trustworthiness, and dependability.  We have a pretty good idea who our audience is, and it is vital that we express and present an image that meets certain standards of professionalism.  This style of corporate portraiture is different from personal portraiture, where the values and standards are varied.  Of the thousands of executives I have photographed over the past 19 years, all of them have had the purpose of communicating that they are professional, confident, and trustworthy – even if they are not feeling that way at the time of the photo session.  So, we must find a way to access those qualities and express them naturally while being scrutinized by the camera.

In my next blog, I will discuss my approach to Somatic Portraiture®.  I will discuss creativity, letting go of control and resistance.  In the final blog, I will finish this project with how we go about doing all that in 20 minutes photography session.


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