Cat Ford-Coates: Masterclass Profile

February 24, 2017 Uncategorized

“At 21 I was studying photography in college. It was 1997 and I spent every last moment shooting or in the darkroom. I had no idea what I was doing and it didn’t matter, I loved it. I knew it was what I wanted to do but had no clue how I ever could. I would setup photo shoots in my living room with my cousins in the evenings and hung black sheets as backdrops and would light the sets with a standing walmart floor lamp. Then, as things happen, life got in the way.

For work I was an operatic voice teacher, a network designer for computer resellers in Florida and in Boston, and while I was good at any and all of it, the career aspects didn’t resonate with me. From there I moved into food service as a bartender and stayed along that path for over a decade. As a bartender I was great. High volume, service, staff management…it was so much fun and I made killer money (for a 20 something) doing it. Local bars and clubs would shop me week after week “come work at my place” yadda yadda yadda and, after 6 years with one club I felt I’d run my course with that establishment and took a job as a General Manger for an independent restaurant south of downtown.

A year later I was laid off. The owners were a father and son team and their business dissolved from conflict. I came back downtown assuming there wouldn’t be any problem getting hired by any of the dozens of businesses that had inquired with me week after week, month after month and what I found was…that wasn’t the case. Not any longer.

Suddenly I was being rejected at every application because I no longer had a following, I was 35 and not a 25 year old, super hot, super fun, and super popular bartender and I didn’t know what I was going to do.

My husband and I had bought a house the year before and I had ZERO income to support us. I had never NOT been the breadwinner in our marriage and I was lost.

It was 2012. I was finally able to scrape together as a fill-in bartender at multiple independent establishments. Three different places, on rotation and I referred to them as “where bartenders go to die”.

One day a regular at one of those fill-in gigs, knowing I loved shooting asked if I would take some head shots so he could update his dating profile. Afterwards he insisted on paying me “Cat, of course you can take it. I pay you for my beer, so it would stand to reason I would pay you for pictures.”

That afternoon I’d remembered studying photography in my first go at college in the 90’s. I’d remembered that love and that longing for wanting to BE a photographer in the really real world…one day. And it was in that moment that I made the choice that “one day” was now.

Over the past 5 years I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. Technical mistakes, dumb mistakes, smart mistakes, insane mistakes, huge mistakes, little mistakes…all the mistakes.

All of them.

And that’s okay. I’m human. I will continue to mistake my way through life. The one thing that wasn’t a mistake was choosing to study under Sue Bryce. That “goddamned kiwi lady on the internet” has helped me to create a business I only had dreamed of at 21 years old. And last week I was invited to her studio in Los Angeles with 6 other masters applicants (Lenka Jones, Saray Taylor-Roman, Michelle Taylor Jones, Rosaura Sandoval, and Marcus Hoffman) to shoot, to share our stories, to set an example of how “it DOES work”, and to set goals and strategies for the next 5 years.

I learned something from each of these incredible people and it felt like magic to be able to share this experience with others along a similar path. And seeing the work that each of us has created literally stops me in my tracks. Is there anything “special” about any of us? Not particularly; outside of our ambition and motivation to create successful businesses. Outside of that, we each strive to be better every single day and we each implement the recipe Sue has created. No matter where any of us is along this journey, there is absolutely NO reason why you cannot be in these same shoes. Will it happen overnight? No. Will it be frustrating? Oh yes. Will it be rewarding? Every single time you deliver a folio box to someone that has entrusted you with creating their portraiture…there is no other feeling like it in the world.

Sue, every day, thank you. This post only scratches the surface of how thankful I am to have found you. Your education has not only helped me to build a business, but to be a better person and that is simply priceless.

For anyone on the proverbial fence about whether or not Sue’s prescribed education is worth the investment in time or expense, walk, no, RUN to her website and sign up. Don’t look back. Schedule time each and everyday, every week to study and then implement the exercises in your mindset work, in your shoots, and in your folios. I promise you, you won’t regret it. Not even for a second.”

~ Cat Ford-Coates




  1. Cat, I’m so pleased to see you grow and be part of the chosen ones. Your testimonial is inspiring. It reminds me (actually all of the testimonials) remind me that we all go through different journey, have our own goals and our own why. It is hard work but it is feasible if we continue and follow instructions ( in this particular case Sue’s).

  2. She is so amazingly beautiful and your photographs show her beauty so wonderful! Simply gorgeous! And thank you for telling your story, it kind of reminds me of my own, just without the killer money while bartending 😉 My “little detour” was university.

    1. Hi Ursula,
      Thank you so much! I loved every part about this experience, truly! Haha and the “killer money” was noted with “for a 20 something” hahaha. All part of the journey though and university is a detour well worth taking on so many levels! I’m glad my story resonated with you. 🙂