part two of the ONCE WEST back story

In January my spirit and my career were flat-lining.  The only reason I was still booking weddings was because I didn’t know what else to do.  Every few weeks I’d surf job listings thinking maybe it was time to get a “real job”.  But that felt like such an injustice to the business my husband and I had poured 15 years of our lives in to building.  And it wasn’t that I hated photography, I still absolutely loved being a photographer, I loved photographing people…it was the wedding industry that was sucking the life out of me.  To get published or seen by wedding planners, wedding photos need to be primarily of the details or highly styled and staged portraits.   Moments, family, history, legacy…these things are not celebrated by the wedding industry and they’re rarely seen on Pinterest and Instagram. I bought in to this and began to hate how meaningless my job felt.  But I’d gone so far down the rabbit hole that I thought I had to buy in to what the wedding industry was selling in order to be successful. I actually believed that I needed to try harder to get my work to look more like everyone else’s on instagram when the reality was, it was causing us photographers to start creating the same thing over and over again.  Before joining Instagram in 2014 I’d done a really good job of blazing my own trail.  I’d been told a decade prior, by a wedding photographer I looked up to, to stop paying attention to what everyone else was doing and put my head down and get to work.  So that’s exactly what I did and it paid off.  I didn’t waste energy trying to compete.  I focused on creating the best possible product and service for my clients.  That’s all that mattered.  Without my even realizing it, wedding blogs and social media derailed me and thus began my downward spiral.

I’d reached the point where it was time to either wave my white flag and seek a new career or make a radical change.  Enter “All You Witness”…

Five photographers were as fed up with the wedding industry as I was and were pouring their hearts and souls in to creating a movement to free us photographers from what we thought we “should” be doing so that we could get back to the only thing that mattered…honoring those that chose us to care for their memories.  They were bringing heart, humanity and honesty back to the wedding photograph.  Their mission and their movement was called “All You Witness”.

After more than 60 combined years of experience in the photography industry, we want to help you connect the dots between head and heart, between the desire to make images that matter and actually doing it. This multi-day intensive [learning retreat] will be a chance to deconstruct all that’s been piled on you by the wedding photo industry, and help you build something new in its place, something with deeper roots, conviction, and heart.


 After reading their website, my heart turned to goo.  I’d somehow found EXACTLY what I needed.  I’d found my people.  It turned out I wasn’t the only one.  Their two 2019 retreats sold out quickly and I’d discovered them a day too late.  It all kind of felt like a cruel joke until five weeks later when I was offered the spot of an attendee unable to go.  I could hardly believe it.  I was a few short weeks away from spending 4 days in a cabin in the Rockies with 35 beautiful souls all desperately in need of a change.

What happened in that timeframe is so difficult to describe that it feels like an injustice to make an attempt.  The best way I can summarize it is that it felt like a week long intensive therapy session that reminded me how sacred a wedding is. How fleeting life is. And how photographs are meant to grow old with us, to give us comfort in times of difficulty, to show us how loved we are and how beautiful life can be. A wedding is a celebration of what it means to be loved and to be there for each other thru the agony and ecstasy of life.  I was reminded that the ability to capture that love and freeze it in time is why I fell in love with this job in the first place.

It took me a few weeks to digest everything I’d experienced that week.  I had yet to realize it, but I’d entered the post-All You Witness chapter of my career.  I knew with all of my heart that I wanted to continue my career as a wedding photographer.  But I had to rebirth/rebuild and rebrand my identity as a photographer in order to continue on in a way that honored myself and my couples in the most honest, meaningful way possible.  I was changing the way I showed up for the people that trusted me with their memories and I had to start from the ground up.  I decided that my current business, IN Photography, was too tied to my old way of thinking.  It was time to start fresh.  Time to wipe the slate clean.   Time to give the wedding industry the finger and create a mission with some heart and soul.

With that, ONCE WEST was born.






Hi there!  I’m Michele, owner of ONCE WEST.  I photograph weddings and families in Colorado & Idaho with a mission to create authentic, joy-filled photographs honoring the simple fact that we never get the same moment twice.  When I’m not working you’re most likely to find me camping or flying with my husband (and bff) somewhere around the Mountain West.


Create photographs that will last, of the stories that matter.  My role is to see life through your eyes, not mine, to honor your story and your memory, to give you photographs that will bring you joy for a lifetime.


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