As a wedding planner, there are some weddings you work that you look at the vendor list and think, wow, this wedding is going to be fabulous. In part because you have an amazing wedding couple but another huge part has to do with your vendors. These wedding professionals can either make or break the day. And Michele from Once West Photography definitely makes the day. Not only are her photos amazing but she does so much to make the day run smoothly. It's awesome when you are able to work together with a wedding vendor to make the couple's day everything they had hoped for. So when I thought about having these virtual sit downs with some of my favorite vendors, naturally Michele came to mind. :)
You recently made the switch from IN Photography to Once West. What does your new branding represent and what prompted the switch? I needed to course correct. I’d gotten so caught up in getting published and performing well on social media that it led to burn out. Creating for the sake of “likes” is an unfulfilling mission. Shifting my focus to instead celebrating the people in front of my camera has brought so much meaning back to my work. Every single couple, no matter how big or small, or simple or extravagant the wedding, has a story worth celebrating. I wanted to create a new brand anchored in honoring the people in front of my camera.
Detail photos are so fun and beautiful. Portraits of couples standing on sun-drenched mountain tops are dreamy. But all the raw moments, in my opinion, are the soul of a wedding. Those are the photos that will become more and more meaningful as the decades pass. While I still love photographing portraits and details, I’m now mostly focused on taking a documentary-style approach so that my couples have a beautifully authentic record of this fleeting and significant moment in time.
Where does the name Once West come from? Coming up with a new name was HARD. I kept coming back to the idea that my photography is all about capturing the moments in life that happen once but want to be remembered always. I also wanted to express my love of the mountain west and the fact that my work takes me all over Colorado. (And, the symmetry of two four letter words very much satisfied my OCD when it came to designing a new logo.)
How long have you been in the business? Since 2004! I started my business one week after graduating with my photography degree. What is your favorite part of a wedding? The moment right after a couple is finished walking down the aisle after they’re pronounced husband and wife. A photographer friend of mine calls this the “love bomb”. It’s when all the parents and wedding party rush the couple with hugs and cheers. It’s so filled with raw emotion and elation and happens so fast. I love the challenge of capturing all that’s happening in that short but sweet moment in time. I have to ask, we all have one story in mind but what is your gasp moment during one of the weddings you were shooting? Generally speaking I hate seeing wedding planners trying to force what they want on couples when the couple obviously isn’t in to it. It’s one thing to offer suggestions when a couple needs direction but I don’t think any couple needs to do something just because someone else thinks that’s what you’re “supposed” to do at your wedding. I think it’s so important that couples design their weddings around what’s important to them. If spending an hour on portraits is important, I’m 100% there for that. If they don’t want to do that at all because they don’t want to miss a moment with their people, I’m 100% in to that too. I love working with a great team of vendors that are dedicated to executing whatever the couple wants. It’s one of the many reasons why DME is one of my favorite planners. What is it like to work with you on the day of the wedding?
Via a questionnaire that I send my couples prior to their wedding, I’m able to learn about what is most important to them, how they want to spend their time that day, what their family dynamics are like and more. After that we set up a call to finalize the details. It’s so important to me that they know what they can expect from me and that their photography experience is fun and stress-free. On the day of, a short portion of the day is dedicated to portraits. I aim to work quickly and efficiently so that portraits feel effortless for everyone involved. The rest of the day I strive to be as unobtrusive as possible. I’ll never stage anything or interject myself in a moment, but I’m always available and am happy to take the occasional iPhone pic.
What sets you a part from other photographers? I’ve always struggled with this question because I don’t have anything to compare to, I’ve never actually watched other wedding photographers work. What I would like to believe is that you’d be hard-pressed to find another photographer with more heart and experience. 16 years shooting in the Colorado Rockies has taught me so much about all the little nuances when it comes to weather, logistics, etc. I’ve also learned so much about how to gracefully work under pressure or tactfully manage the expectations of multiple different personality types. My number one goal is to always provide my couple and their families with an exceptional experience. I show up to every wedding knowing that a million little moments are about to unfold in front of my camera and it’s my job to preserve them. A wedding lasts a day, photographs last forever. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. What is one of your favorite venues you've shot? I could never name just one. Colorado has so many incredible venues. Timber Ridge in Keystone, Colorado and Ten Mile Station in Breckenridge, Colorado are two of my favorites and I am so damn lucky that I work at them all the time. Flying Diamond Ranch in Steamboat is another stand-out favorite, as well as Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek. Where would you like to shoot a wedding? I recently discovered Gateway Canyons on the western edge of the state and would love to photograph a wedding there. The Surf Hotel in Buena Vista looks super cool too.
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