Before every photo session, I sit in my car, take a deep breath, and say a little prayer:
“May I be open to the beauty within this person so that I and my camera are able to capture their true essence. May I see them through the lens of gratitude and wonder so that I can help them see how beautiful they are — just the way are.”
I always enter a photo session more relaxed when I set that intention and in turn, my clients feel more relaxed. I’ve found that approaching challenges (creative or otherwise) with gratitude is the best place to start. People want to feel appreciated. They want to know that someone “gets” them, and not just in a surface way. They want to be understood.
The misconception about photography is that it’s all about looking good on the outside. Not so. Some of my most favorite photos are of real moments and real people doing real things. They aren’t smiling (and if they are, it comes from a natural place), their hair is messy, they aren’t wearing make-up, and you can actually see their wrinkles (shock! horror!). What I love about these photos is that you can see the people as they really are, experiencing life. That is beautiful to me.
The concept of beauty is complicated, isn’t it? When we hear the word, we immediately jump to conclusions about what it means. There are stories in our heads of what beauty means. Maybe we associate it with youth and being thin. Maybe we associate it with what we see on television or pressures we’ve felt from friends and family. Maybe we associate it with what we used to be and not what we are now. Often, when it comes to beauty, our minds point to everyone but ourselves.
This got me thinking. What if the way we define beauty makes it unattainable? What if “beauty” is the wrong word? Granted, I throw that word around a lot since I’m a photographer. But I’m starting to realize that we all define beauty differently. I have been using the word “beauty” all this time, but what I’m referring to is bigger and fuller than that one little word encompasses.
So what word should I use instead?
I have been grappling with this question for a few weeks, trying to pinpoint the word that describes the beauty that moves me when I look at people. It’s almost indefinable. It’s not something you can point to, like pretty hair or nice skin. It’s deeper than that.
Finally, the word came to me in a yoga class. A few days ago, I sat in lotus pose at the beginning of class. As I closed my eyes and breathed a cleansing breath, the instructor asked us to take a few steps away and look back at ourselves in our minds. He asked us to look back at ourselves with glasses that only saw qualities. These glasses didn’t allow us to cast judgment on ourselves or to see physical attributes. Instead, the glasses allowed us to observe the qualities we liked best about ourselves: courage, joy, sensitivity, warmth, etc. We were to look through the glasses with compassion and the more compassion we showed ourselves, the more compassion we would put out into the world.
“That’s it!” I thought, staying in the moment as much as I could as I made a mental note of his wise words. Beauty is not about physical perfection or flawless skin or staying young. Those things are fleeting and to be honest, they don’t even begin to capture who you really are. Beauty is about the qualities within you — the ones that make you unique, the ones that people admire in you.
From now on, I will be adding this to my pre-photo session prayer:
“May I be able to see the qualities that make this person who they are.”
This will challenge me to look within the people I photograph and see their heart. But really, that’s a piece of cake. That’s my job — to see the beauty in others (yes, I said the “B” word again). It’s much easier to find the best qualities in others than it is to see my own best qualities. Sadly, we’re programmed from an early age to focus on the negative. When we look in the mirror or at photos of ourselves, we don’t see what others see. Others see their wonderful friend, partner, wife, mother, child. They see the things they love most about you. They see your qualities. But what do you see?
My challenge for you is to start reversing the way we’ve been programmed. It’s time to treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion that we treat others.
Let’s start today.
What are the non-physical qualities you love most about yourself?
Want to continue this conversation? Jump over to my blog today where I’m talking about the “fear of photography” epidemic and the reasons why so many of us think we’re not photogenic.
If you want to take it a step further, share your thoughts in a blog post and leave a link in the comments below.