Melissa Dunstan

A little about me
I grew up in the South in a small town in Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, TN.   I am the youngest of three kids and was also very close to my uncles.  I grew up thinking they were all super heros.   I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with my  maternal grandparents, who were rocks in my life until they passed away in 1982 and 1996.   I grew up, always, with many pets and adored them all.   I was very sensitive and loved to talk to them.  I swore they understood everything I said, lol.  However, my childhood wasn’t all rosy.  When I was 9th grade, my mother  passed away from melanoma.  It was one year from diagnosis to death.   She was only 48.  That experience forever changed me.  My father did the best he could, armed with the knowledge he had at the time.  I wasn’t allowed to go to counseling and was told not to cry.  I remember barely being able to breathe when the grief consumed me.  For a sensitive child, this burial of pain was almost unbearable.  I was in my thirties before I actually grieved her death.   Because of this, I’ve been an advocate of many mental health and grieving organizations.

After six years in Bullhead City, AZ,  I moved to Flagstaff.  Why?  There were trees here.  Yes, seems funny, but true, I really missed trees.    I didn’t have a job but had a UHaul full of my things and my beloved pets.  (Don’t worry, they rode in the front with me :))  While standing in line at the Black Bean, a man overheard my story to a friend who had met me there and offered me a job on the spot.  I’ve always been a firm believer of fate.

I met my husband, Grant, through my love of cycling.  We met, randomly, because we had answered a request to have a Trips for Kids chapter here in Flagstaff.  His compassion and sweetness quickly won me over and we were married in a beautiful meadow at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks in 2007.    We tried to have children, but the same fateful universe that got me a job and got me to meet my husband decided it was not in our life plan.  It was a hard reality to face, but in time, I healed.  We do share our home with three dogs and two cats who are all my heart.  If you ever want to meet them, head over to my Instagram account.  Yes, I’m that person who posts photos of their pets-  All. The. Time.   You’ve been warned.  lol

My journey to photography
After graduating from the University of Georgia with a BS in Biology, I was pretty lost.  I originally thought I wanted to go to Veterinary School, but after an intern with an animal clinic in rural Georgia, I quickly found out my heart just isn’t tough enough.    So, looking to redefine myself, I packed up my bags and moved to Arizona with a friend.  For the next few years, I made my living in the medical field, but found my love for photography.  I took classes at our local college, went to every workshop I could afford, and buried my nose in every instructional and art book I could find.  I also offered to take photos for all of my friends and family for the experience.  It was this love that inspired me to start my photography business in 2007 and I have never looked back.   Some people are regretful of their past careers, feeling like they’ve lost time, but not me.  I am so blessed that I was fortunate enough to have been a wildlife biologist, which taught me appreciation for the landscape and the tiny details of the miracle of all life.  I’m also lucky to have spent time as a financial analyst for medical practices, which fine tuned my business skills.  Without either of those past careers, I wouldn’t be where I am now.   Plus, to get kids to smile, I get to tell them my very first job out of college was collecting poop.  Yes, this is true.  I worked with the Georgia Department of  Natural Resources collecting bobcat scat (poop) on a island to see what the bobcats were eating.  You should see their faces.  It’s so hilarious that I always end up laughing too.

Why I became a portrait and wedding photographer
One day, sometime in 1995, I was packing to move out west.  I was downsizing, and wanted to take only the most important things with me.  It quickly became apparent that the most important things to me were precious images, of those people that I had lost, and friends and family that I was leaving.  At the same time, I realized that a lot of the people and pets that I had loved so much, were absent from this small pile.  My mother was always the one taking the photos when I was small, and when she wasn’t, she would always say she didn’t want her photo taken because she needed to lose 10lbs/didn’t have her made-up on/wanted a better shirt/etc.  I remember thinking, when I developed my first roll of film from the first wedding I ever photographed, how excited I was to be able to give that family photos of their loved ones.  Happy, laughing, beautiful photos.

Because here’s what I’ve learned…

Photos don’t seem like a big deal, until they are all you have.

What’s important to me in images
I am a sentimental romantic, so I aim to get those moments that are sweet, endearing and heartfelt.  Whether it’s a wedding, engagement, family or pet session, it all comes down to capturing the relationships of my clients.   Yes, I’m going to get those posed photos that everyone needs and wants, but I’m always going to try and get you to laugh and hug and kiss, because, ultimately, those are the images that your kids are going to want in 40 years. (whether they are in them or not)  Trust me.

I’ve seen some wonderful love through my camera, it’s overwhelming at times.  I am truly a lucky woman.