In college, Alissa Coddington spent hours documenting her friends’ lives.

After putting the camera away for about a decade, she’s found a way to turn her passion into a full-time career. In the meantime, clients say she’s helping them reconnect with their own lost interests through portrait sessions.

“She is always curious about what people want to do when they grow up,” said her friend Mandy Sage. “She’s like, it’s never too late. She firmly believes everyone should follow their passion.”

After graduating from Minnesota State University-Moorhead — where she studied photography, religious studies and anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology — she moved to the Twin Cities and eventually Woodbury in 2013. After operating her own daycare for 10 years, Coddington returned to her art school roots. In 2018, she started her own photography business with a home studio and held a celebration for her new business earlier this summer.

“I loved everything I did in art school, and I just didn't think people would want it. Which is weird because I am now finding the opposite is true,” she said.

Before she ran the daycare, she worked at National Camera Exchange in Golden Valley. The job came with some perks: she could practice her skills on new equipment for free.

“But I had no business experience whatsoever,” she said. “I didn’t understand how to translate the art degree into an actual job.”

After her kids were born, she became a daycare provider. In the process, she built entrepreneurial skills.

Several years later, as she pondered her next career step, she found herself in a sub-par family photo shoot under the harsh noon sun by an inexperienced photographer.

“I'm like, well, you know what, I can do that. And I can do it better. And I can really provide a good service for people,” she said. “It just inspired me to go back to it.”

Her mom used the photos for a custom calendar, which Coddington still keeps today.

“It’s part of my story,” she said.

She started photographing her daycare clients for more practice, and lined up more subjects to pose for free while she perfected her craft.

After about three years of practice, she closed her daycare to pursue her new venture full-time.

“Now I had all this business experience,” she said. “I knew the value of what I had to offer people, and I had the confidence. It was just a totally different experience this time.”

Coddington prioritizes capturing her subjects’ authentic personalities, especially through reflecting their passions.

One of her first clients was Mandy Sage, who says Coddington helped her reconnect with her previous dance experience for a themed photo shoot.

“Some of the things she had me pose in were some of those moves that I would have done so many years ago, and she would just be like, try again, you’re going to get it this time,” she said. “She’s just a very, very positive person.”

Sage said that Coddington’s commitment to showing people’s real selves stood out to her.

“If I were to have my picture taken again, I would want it to be exactly the same,” she said. “I don’t want it to be photoshopped or airbrushed, I want to look like myself.”

Coddington said she meets with clients first to determine what type of mood or style they want to convey, and then chooses lighting setups and advises wardrobe choices to match.

“We talk about, how do they want to see themselves?” she said. “I’m into the whole preproduction.”

Her photos on Instagram caught the attention of Lake Elmo resident Sarah Marshall, who booked a maternity session with her.

“I thought it was really beautiful and different than other maternity photos I’d seen,” Marshall said. “There’s something that’s kind of timeless about them.”

Coddington said that she tries to provide the “high school senior photo shoot” experience to her clients, most of whom are women. As part of her sitting fee, she includes professional hair and makeup styling. She also gives clients a guide with styling tips ahead of time.

Coddington strives to capture people's personalities without any distracting edits. Hannah Black / RiverTown Multimedia
Coddington strives to capture people's personalities without any distracting edits. Hannah Black / RiverTown Multimedia

“We tend to put ourselves last, especially once we start having children and families. And I think it's really important to just document ourselves … so we can reconnect with ourselves and feel good and empowered, but also for our families,” she said.

She further commits to her goal of documenting life by prioritizing print — something she said has become less common over the years. She always provides matted print copies in addition to digital.

“For me, printing is important, not only just to keep things around for the long term, but also it's a legacy that our future generations will look back to,” she said. “There's nothing cooler than opening up like a box of photos and being like, 'oh, wow, that's my great grandmother. I have her nose.'”