We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Statler and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Melissa, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
This question usually comes to my mind in the form of anxiety. In light of all the pain, uncertainty, and struggle people face, what am I really offering to the world with portrait photography? It’s easy for photos to begin feeling superficial and unimportant when the world gets heavy—and yet I keep returning to it, day after day, year after year, even (and sometimes especially) in times of pain.

Living in the smartphone/social media age, we are absolutely saturated in photos. It almost seems absurd that someone can make a living charging money to give people MORE photos—but the fact that creative careers like this exist is a testament to their value. It’s not just more photos that people are looking for; it’s connection. Professional portrait photography is about so much more than adding images to the never ending pile of media we consume every day. It’s about feeling seen, trusting someone to tell your story in a way that feels real. It’s about carving out a space to be with the people you love, to find joy and stillness and closeness in the midst of the chaos of life. It’s about intentionality, about creating something that has purpose, thoughtfulness, and direction to it. So many of us live on shifting sand, constantly changing, moving, impermanent. We grasp at passing time with iPhone snaps that we rarely look back on, and the present passes unnoticed too often. We crave integrity in ways we often don’t even realize.

Well made portraits are not only a window to the past, but also a window to the soul—a glimpse into whatever it is that makes life worth living, those deep, inexpressible truths that we can’t put into words. And when you see a portrait of your own family that reaches those depths, you know that well made portraits are something the world needs desperately, perhaps now more than ever.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Starting out as a photographer can be incredibly frustrating. You know what you’d like to see in your images, but actually getting there is a long process. You want your clients to connect with each other, show genuine emotion, open up and be vulnerable, feel safe with you, and enjoy their experience along the way—but how do you go from “Hi, nice to meet you” to genuine emotion and vulnerability? This has been the core challenge of my journey with portraits.

A writing professor in college used to say that good fiction is always based in truth. The most beloved, believable characters feel like real people because they carry the same weight of detail that real people carry—the same messiness, rawness, and unpredictability. The most compelling characters aren’t perfect. I think the same concept applies to photography. When creating a portrait (because portraits really are “created,” they don’t just happen), if you are trying to force authenticity, you’re going to lose it. To create something authentic, believable, and beloved, you have to draw from real life. You have to embrace the imperfect, the mess, the kids who won’t sit still and smile because they want to dance instead.

As I’ve grown and learned more, I’ve begun to realize that a lot of what elicits true emotion though has nothing to do with me. As a photographer I’m not an entertainer. It’s not my job to “make” people laugh or cry or feel something. It’s my job to remind them that their loved ones already know how to make them laugh and cry and feel something and to direct them back to each other—because that’s where the magic already exists. I think letting go of that pressure to entertain has opened up a lot of creative freedom for me, and also allowed me to enjoy my sessions and my clients more. This is something I am continually working on. One of the best parts about being a photographer is you never really hit perfection. There are always ways to improve and keep developing that sense of connection that drives good portraiture.

In terms of professionalism, one of my primary goals is just to make sure my clients feel seen and cared for in every stage of the process. I fall short in a lot of ways, but I do my best to show up for people, to be attentive, to listen and assist, and to make things feel as personal as I can. Portrait photography is a business made up of people, and I always want to make sure people remain a priority, even as the “business” side of things continues to grow.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
As a work from home mom, I can’t say I “get out on the town” much, but something I love about Rifle is that there are so many easily accessible outdoor getaways that are easy to do with kids. Rifle Falls, Harvey Gap, and Rifle Arch are all beautiful and close by. Another favorite of mine is Redstone—not necessarily Rifle adjacent, but close enough to make a fun afternoon trip out of to browse small shops or eat pizza at Propaganda Pie. If I do get out for an evening with friends, Tini Tuesday (bogo cocktails) at Miner’s Claim in Silt or soaking in the pools at Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs are both favorites.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people I could credit here, but I have to start with my husband Jake, my biggest supporter. He has given me the freedom to stay home with my babies and pursue and build a creative career that I love. He trusts in me and my ability to help provide for our family with photography, and has never once made me feel pressure to get a “real job.” He really believes in me—and in a creative endeavor, having someone in your corner who sees your potential is everything.

I am also forever grateful to the clients who have been with me since the beginning. I have been doing portraits now for 6 years, and without those first people that trusted me with their portraits, that came back even when prices increased, that gave me feedback and love and encouragement along the way, I would have never come this far.

There are also SO many inspiring photographers I’ve met and learned from over the years, but the two biggest game changers for me recently have been Athena and Camron and their Embracing Connection Masterclass and Jessica Byrum and her mentorship program. There are a million different components to being a “good” photographer, but these two mentors have helped bring me back into why I do this and how to show up better for my clients as people.

Website: https://www.depthoffiction.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/depthoffictionphotography/

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