part three of the ONCE WEST backstory
The day I returned home from All You Witness my heart was full like it had never been before.  I felt truly seen and heard and cared for in a way I didn’t know I needed.  I was shown how to better see and care for those that stepped in front of my camera.  I’d finally turned a corner in my life and career.  If it wasn’t for some unique circumstances, my husband would have had to listen to me ramble on for hours about what an impactful experience it had been.  Instead, I couldn’t say a single word.  Mark barely had time to pick me up from the airport.  He was one day away from his final test to becoming a flight instructor.  He was deep in to preparing for an on-ground and in-flight test that would take the better part of a day.

In the months leading up to this day, our house became littered with books and study materials.  It felt more like a study hall than a home.  I had to learn how to keep myself from constantly chit-chatting.  A challenge I often failed at.  But distractions came at a cost and Mark didn’t have time.  He already had a paying job and clients on the calendar.  He not only chose to fast track the process to earning all the credentials he needed, he chose to do it largely on his own.  And there was a deadline on the horizon.

So I sat at my desk that Saturday with my lips sealed.  Then my wheels started turning.  There needed to be a celebration the next day after Mark passed his test.  This was a milestone that went far beyond a test, it was the culmination of us setting out two years prior to change our lives entirely.  I wanted nothing more than for him to know how loved he is and to experience the weight of all he’d accomplished.  But we lived in a new state, hundreds of miles from our friends and family, I couldn’t exactly invite people over.  Instead, I wrote them a letter and asked them to write back.

In that letter I reflected back on the road leading up to this point…

For the last few years, I watched Mark slowly deflate at weddings.  Our joint career no longer offering him the stimulation he craved. In 2016, when we bought our Kitfox (and had no clue what we were getting ourselves in to by buying a plane that didn’t run) I watched him come back to life as he poured hundreds of hours in to refurbishing it.  Two years ago when Mark was offered this once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity, I broke down in tears.  I knew in that moment that everything was about to change.  It’s been a long road to get here and has very much been a two steps forward, one step backward kind of process.  With that, tomorrow is a celebration of so much more than passing a test (though hugely challenging in it’s own right).  It’s a celebration of the fact that you can turn your entire life upside down in search of a better life.  And if you work hard enough you’ll find it.  I can’t tell you how many years we agonized over whether or not we were just throwing money down the drain as we attempted to have a life in aviation.  What we always came back to was, ANYTHING that lights you up inside is worth pursuing.  If you truly love something, you never know the kind of opportunities that pursuit could lead to.  And here were are.  Thank you for helping us get here.

In no time, the congratulatory letters came pouring in.  I knew we had some amazing people in our life but hot damn the heart I felt in each and every letter was overwhelming.  I hung them in our hallway and impatiently waited for the call from Mark that he passed the test.  Finally…I get the call…he passed, as I knew he would. 

He was exhausted and ecstatic and in shock when he got home.  Then, when he laid eyes on the letters, tears streamed down his face.  In the 17 years I’ve known my husband he has never sought recognition nor acknowledged his talent and potential.  I wanted nothing more than for him to feel loved and acknowledged.  It was a success.  We stood in our hallway for over an hour.  Reading each letter one by one and then talking about how much that person means to us.

We were both completely overcome with gratitude.

We’d done it.  We’d talked for years about needing a change and we’d finally done it.  We refused to settle for a life that had become comfortable but unfulfilling.  I was in search of meaning and purpose and what I found led to the creation of ONCE WEST.  Mark was in search of challenge and stimulation and he found it in the sky teaching others how to fly in some of the most challenging terrain in the world.  We were in awe of what had transpired since selling our house in Colorado two years prior to live on the road in search of something, anything that would reignite our passion for life.  And now it was time to get to work.  This time doing work we couldn’t wait to do.


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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