A Unique and Fun Family Portrait Session

I love it when my client has a specific vision and idea for their session; part of my passion in photography is helping that vision come to life.

This extended family portrait was part of a very special weekend that was booked as a “Dad and Daughters” weekend at the absolutely majestic Air BnB, http://retreatatcoolspring.com/ out in Virginia’s wine country. The adult daughters were allowing their brothers to come over for dinner and family portrait session on the Saturday night of the weekend and they were expecting great things! Everything, from the dresses and the men’s jackets and khakis, to the croquet and champagne, were carefully styled for a family portrait session and I was so excited to help with the creation.

The direction given to me – which I LOVED – was “cocktail party, not stiffly posed…as if I was a fly on the wall of a wonderful party.”  And that’s just what it turned out to be (by the end of the night, I was asking if I could be adopted into this fun family).  All were great sports in the stifling heat of August in Virginia and I had a chance to explore a new beautiful setting, and try out my best “Vanity Fair” style of staging a group. They even pretended to do their “Dynasty” style pose, but then quickly relaxed into with their true fun and very unstuffy style.

This is Friderike…

When you first meet Friderike, what strikes you is her poise, height, her bright blond hair and big smile. She seems to be one of those rare people who radiate both professionalism and personal warmth at the same time. I met Friderike at a Vienna Business Association breakfast and was a little in awe of the way she commanded the room when it was her turn to introduce herself. She was so good at presenting herself and her business that it became my goal to be able to finesse my “elevator pitch” just as well.

As I got to know Friderike, I learned that she is just as tuned into others’ businesses as she is her own. In fact, that is her passion and her business. Butler Communication partners with business owners, executives, emerging leaders in transitions and professionals who want to activate their full potential in their businesses.  Leadership development and executive coaching is a field I didn’t know much about but when I started my series on women business owners and entrepreneurs who are changing their lives as they help change others’ lives, I knew I wanted her to be one of my first subjects. Luckily, she needed headshots as well.

We began our headshot session in a corporate setting since the majority of her business is in this atmosphere. But I knew I also wanted to take some images of this entrepreneur in her home office setting, where she and I had a very comfortable consultation when I went to her to discuss the goals of my own business – and where a golden retriever or two may or may not come in and lay down at our feet during a session (her dog Eduardo, thinks he’s a therapy dog and plays that self-assigned role well) and where Friderike leads our Small Business Mastermind group on a monthly basis.

Since my interactions and observations of Friderike have always been focused on helping others, I decided to learn more about her with some interview questions. Wow, I learned a lot! I never knew she had a prior career in the cruise industry and that she would describe herself as an introvert!

Here we go:

M: I know you haven’t always been a business coach, but like many of us women, have had one (or more) “previous lives.” What is yours and what guided you to this business?

F: I arrived in the U.S. in 1991 with two very large suitcases in my hands and a million grand ideas in my head. A German-US  exchange program for young professionals sponsored my work papers and everything else was up to me to organize. I lived in a group house in Washington DC and worked as the operations manager for a cruise ship charter company for a year earning $1000 per month.  After the first truly successful and grueling year, my boss offered to sponsor my green card and soon after I met my husband Scott on a blind date set up by one of my roommates.

After three years of cruises from Alexandria, I landed my dream job working for a German luxury river cruise line. I had the honor of opening their first U.S. sales office and enjoyed building a fabulous team. I got to talk about beautiful places in Europe, we designed fantastic trips and gave thousands of American travelers wonderful vacation memories. As much as I loved the work, I did not want to spend 60+ hours away from home when my husband Scott and I were ready to add kids to our lives. I left that job in 1999 a month before our first son Lukas was born.

After our second son Max was born, Scott and I worked together to turn his one-person consulting company into a software development firm that had 20 employees and contractors at its peak. When the global recession hit in 2008, we lost our biggest client, and I experienced first-hand what it feels like to get caught in a downward spiral and to spin into a frightening, reactive survival mode driven by fear and perceived scarcity.

Scott and I had a very different outlook on the situation and different decision making approaches and after many discussions and heartache, I decided to step out of the business. Instead, I built a translation business from the ground up. It took a couple of years until I assembled a trusted group of translators and together we were able to tackle large projects in technology, manufacturing documentation and real estate portfolio translations. As long as the boys were young, it was the perfect job since I was able to work from home and set my own hours and was available for them when they came home from school. I was able to shuttle them between their various activities and to be actively involved in their lives. However, my work life was lonely at times and was rather uninspiring to transform somebody else’s ideas from one language to another without much creative input. I started to get restless and was looking for an outlet for my creativity and business drive.

In 2013, I completed my degree work for Cross-cultural Management and Communication studies at George Mason University. My personal leadership development focus and feedback from colleagues and clients led me to enroll in the highly-acclaimed Leadership Coaching certificate program at Georgetown University’s School of Transformational Leadership in 2015. What I learned and experienced in this program was life-changing.

M:  You seem to have an innate sense of understanding people’s fears and trepidations in career moves – so there’s a level of psychology involved. Were you always the person that offered advice?

F:  I have reinvented myself professionally multiple times and have been an active entrepreneur in new territories for most of my professional life – doing things for the first time is fun and scary, exhilarating and exhausting, risky and rewarding, soul-crushing and uplifting. I have experienced how depressing and heavy it feels to be unfulfilled at work and I also know what it is like to operate in my sweet spot when work feels like play and I truly enjoy what I do and who I work with. I have seen operations fail and others become successful beyond my wildest imagination.

Over time and through training, I have learned to spot unrealized potential in others and I know how to encourage people to be themselves and be brave in creating a professional life for themselves that they enjoy. I wish for everyone to be able to realize their dreams and to find the courage to step out and create businesses or places of work that inspire them and others.

M:  How did you establish and build your business? I know you through the VBA (Vienna Business Association) and that seems to have been an important connection for you.

F:  I am an introvert, who enjoys to think and work one-on-one or in small group settings. Building my executive and business coaching business meant stepping out of my comfort zone in a major way. I had to learn how to expand my network, meet new people, and go to events where I did not know anyone. The VBA has been a safe place for me to practice my message, to give presentations in front of people I have known for a long time, and I was able to practice and improve my networking skills. From there I ventured out to other chambers and was recently invited to serve on the board of HR Alliance DC, which brings me very close to my target audience, HR directors and decision makers.

I volunteer as the Chairperson on the Town/Business Liaison Committee for the Town of Vienna, as a volunteer coach with Leadership Fairfax and a student mentor for Jobs for Life at the Lamb Center in Fairfax. Giving back to the community is important to me and it keeps me grounded.

Vienna Small Business Mastermind Group
The Small Business Mastermind Group that Friderike hosts. We meet on a monthly basis to share business tips, successes and input.

M:  How has this last career change been most rewarding to you?  

F:  I feel I have found my calling in helping others finding their innate strengths and talents and putting those to good use. Whether I work with brilliant scientists at NASA, innovative program managers at the FDA or courageous small business owners, ultimately they are all human beings with unique life experiences, who are trying to make sense of the world around them. I walk with them through tough transitions and help them to connect with what they value and what they do best. When they start to make brave moves and turn their professional lives into something they enjoy and that gives them pride, it is just the best feeling in the world for me.

Essentially building 5 businesses from the ground up has taught me many valuable lessons that I love to pass on to others. I think my most valuable lesson has been that you cannot take anything for granted. Life is precious and deserves to be enjoyed in the moment as much as you can. Once I figured that out, I started to enjoy the journey rather than constantly pushing towards a particular destination.

Entrepreneurs often have a hard time to separate business matters from personal time. I am not sure if working from home is different in that respect from working outside of the home, perhaps the lines can be even more blurry. However, I enjoy the flexibility of having a home-based business. My office setup allows me to work with clients at my home office and I also visit clients at their places of work. I enjoy both. Having a home-based business definitely cuts down on overhead and I like that I can be there most of the time when Max comes home from school.

M:  What is your vision for your future? Where do you hope Butler Communication will take you?

I have this crazy vision of flying business class coming home from an assignment at an exotic destination, a glass of champagne in my hand to celebrate success and looking out the window onto a sunset over the clouds. Until that happens, I continue to focus on coaching and teaching communication skills, team building, time management and helping other entrepreneurs turn their aspirations into reality.

It’s thanks to women like Friderike that I have been inspired and have persevered in running my own business at this stage of my life. And I think there are many other women out there that can relate. If you are interested in visually branding your business, contact me and we can have a conversation!

Procrastination no more… (musings of middle age in the middle of the year)

Let me be clear. I am not writing a self-help blog. I am not a life coach, I don’t profess to be a superior athlete, a nutritionist, or doctor of any type.

But I am a woman who has entered middle age and have learned a few things….

I have always been a procrastinator. I have always thought “when I’m brave enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, etc….I will do accomplish something.” I always had the creative side to me but was way to practical to be a starving artist.

First I needed a steady job with good health insurance (this was drilled into me by my frugal and cautious mother). Then, I needed to raise my kids – and this meant devote all my time to the kids because I believed I was doing the most important job in the world – and since I left the corporate world to do that and wasn’t bringing in an income, I had to justify it by being frugal and providing all the entertainment to my kids. I don’t regret that – I recently found old videos of family life back then, and life was fun and simple (before Iphones and texting and gaming – PBS TV shows were my only babysitter and guilty relaxation).

Then, my kids grew up and I needed to find work again. I was fortunate in that since we had lived frugally throughout the years – spending our time adding on to a house using our own labor (primarily my husband’s labor, but I did help raise some walls!) it wasn’t urgent to search out the most high paying job. My husband had the health insurance and encouraged of me to try my hand  in making photography a career. For the first time I was able to combine my passion with my business – which brought a whole new realization to me; I have a good amount of life left in me, for work and for fun.

And reaching middle age, I guess this procrastinator has reached the ultimate decision…I can’t wait anymore. We do have an expiration date, although none of us know what it is, and I know that if mine lasts a long time, I want to spend it healthy. And if it is stopped abruptly as it has to too many people of my age – I want to know that I spent the time I had, happy and involved in life.

Although I’ve always been a healthy eater, I started to look even closer at what I was putting in my body. I am not a dieter, I can’t force myself to set limits and portions.  So, along with the focus on my career, my happiness and my life – I have educated myself in what will keep me happy and healthy for now and the future.

So, here are some of things I have learned in middle life:

  • It’s all about food quality and less about food quantity.
  • There’s nothing prettier (and healthier) than fresh organic produce from a local farm.

We joined a CSA about a year ago and it’s almost like a mini Christmas gift every Saturday when I go pick up the order and see what is in my basket. When I don’t recognize the vegetable, it’s even more fun to research it and create a dish to try out.

  • Exercise is a self-fulfilling prophesy – the more you do it the more you want to do it. Especially if you have exercise buddies and accountability. I don’t think I would get up at 5 or 6 in the morning, if I didn’t know I was leaving someone in the dark trail if I didn’t show up. If I didn’t sign up and pay for classes (right now I’m doing pilates and yoga at Grassroots Fitness) I wouldn’t show up.  It’s also inspiring to go along on other’s fitness journey and the therapy that surrounds working out with others.

melissa maillett media

  • Kombucha is not just some wacky health drink – it really is good! It was suggested to me by my nutrition practitioner, Julie Nelson of The Natural Health and Healing Center. I am not a regular yogurt eater and had been learning about beneficial bacteria in the body. I reluctantly tried out a GTs Gingerade and discovered it was refreshing, with a tinge of carbonation, lemon and ginger…and I was hooked.  The only downside was the $3 a bottle price tag. So, my Christmas present to myself this year was a continuous brew kombucha jar and a scoby passed on by a friend. I immediately turned into one of those people who talk about the health and size of my SCOBY and fun ways to experiment in the second ferment. To me, the health benefits are just a happy bonus. (I’m still working on the other fermented foods….I know they are good for me, but it’s hard to go from a bland, New England diet to appreciating pickled vegetables and sauer kraut….they make a pretty picture though….)

So to anyone out there who is in the middle of their life and wants to make a change – whether it be personal health, a creative passion, or a new interest – just take the leap now!

These Women are 2Unstoppable!

This is Michelle and Ilana. I recently photographed them in preparation for the launching of their online matching service. But…this is not just any matching service.

Ilana and Michelle had been friends for many years, but the bond between them grew with their shared experience of having breast cancer. Although their personal cancer stories were different, they both realized that staying active during treatment and long after treatment ends was more important than ever — and helped more than just the body. 

As Ilana said, “It gave me the strength and energy that worry and treatment took from me.” Michelle and Ilana know firsthand how difficult it is to summon the energy to be active during this time, and their friends were instrumental in keeping them moving.  “Everyone can benefit from a partner to inspire and motivate us to move, and that’s whay we founded 2Unstoppable!” Michelle told me.

2Unstoppable is a non-profit organization that these enterprising and caring women  created to help women with a cancer diagnosis find the right exercise partner. Using a free online matching program, women are paired based on needs, interests, abilities, and other criteria. The goal of the program is to help forge powerful, motivating and supportive partnerships to encourage physical activity during treatment and long after treatment ends.

Studies have shown that: Physical activity plays a critical role in improving breast cancer outcomes, enhancing the recovery process, and facilitating secondary prevention.


I was so pleased to help out Michele and Ilana with some professional headshots for their website. We met for coffee a few weeks before the session, and as I listened to them talk about their personal stories, I was reminded of my mother – who for the 5 years she dealt with ovarian cancer, walked on the beach almost every day, even when it was the most difficult. I also think of my own running crews  and the Moms Run this Town organization that I have been a part of for a few years – that gets me up and on the trail every morning, despite extremes of cold and heat – it’s more than running, it’s running therapy!

I can’t wait for the matching to begin and to watch these women who have gone through something that could have been such a negative actually turn it into making a positive impact both for themselves and for others.  Please pass on this information to anyone in the DC area (and beyond) to let them know about 2Unstoppable and the free fitness buddy matching service! You can learn more and stay in touch with 2Unstoppable by subscribing to their newsletter at their website and follow them on Facebook.


This is Susan

Meet Susan Niebergall of SusanNiebergallFitness.com. Susan runs personal training and strength coaching business in the Northern VA area, and what’s super interesting about it is that a large number of her clients are coached online – so she can reach out to anyone in the world, including clients in Australia, Israel and Engand!

What I also find interesting is that Susan is on her second career.  After retiring from teaching and being a school counselor in her early 50s, she decided to combine her enjoyment and feeling of empowerment from lifting and fitness with her desire to help others achieve their fitness goals.

A confessed previous gym rat and “yo-yo dieter,” Susan learned that even when she was power lifting in her younger years, there were basic things that she didn’t understand about fitness, nutrition and training.  Then, as she began hitting the menopause years, she learned more about the changes that happen to womens’ bodies and how strength training can “kick middle age square in the face” (her words).

Susan invited me to follow her through a gym routine workout the other day and by the end of the session I was exhausted from watching her lift, row, pull up, squat and pushup (and I maybe made her repeat a few more times than usual to get shots from all different perspectives…)

Susan’s body is a work of art and the result of many hours, reps, effort and commitment – I must admit I was so taken with  her muscles that I ended up with a lot of images of her back – but what impresses me even more than the way she has shaped her body, is her passion and desire to share her knowledge and expertise with her clients.

Susan is one of those women that has reinvented herself – and in the process, is helping others to reinvent themselves.

Thanks Susan for all the work you do – I also want to “kick middle age in the square in the face” and you inspire me!

If you are interested in private coaching, you can contact Susan here and if you are would like a fitness photo session, you please contact  here  or reach me by phone: 703-850-7212.