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The City of Flagstaff and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau were looking for some images for a campaign that promoted the close proximity to Phoenix baseball and the Grand Canyon. We live in a spectacular part of the world and are within two hours of some awesome places with Sedona, Prescott and the Grand Canyon all in our backyard. Having the Grand Canyon, a natural wonder of the world, only 75 miles from my front door, is such a treasure. I’m probably at the Grand Canyon once a week, on average, for weddings and I love how different it looks each time I’m there. It’s a beautiful place for portraits, weddings and commercial shoots like this one.

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Grand Canyon has some spectacular locations to choose from but we chose Lipan Point at the Grand Canyon because of it’s grand views, beautiful outcroppings and a great view of the Colorado River. I think it’s one of my favorite overlooks at the Grand Canyon National Park. However, it’s not best for anyone with issues with heights. There are drop offs at each angle of approach and you’ll need secure footwear and no vertigo to navigate them.

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Jerome and his daughter, Grace, are clients and friends of mine. When the City of Flagstaff described the models they needed for the shoot, I knew they’d be perfect. Plus I loved the thought of using a real father-daughter relationship for this commercial photo session.  I try and use organic situations when I can because they lead to better, natural expressions.  I did Grace’s newborn photos and can’t believe she’s this old now. Where does the time go?

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If you want to visit Lipan Point, I recommend approaching it from the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. Plus, that route will take you through the vast lands of the Navajo Nation and it’s beautiful landscape. On a clear day, you’ll even be able to see the Painted Desert in the distance on your drive.  Sunset and sunrise are both spectacular times to visit this gorgeous point.

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The Grand Canyon is a magical place to photograph. Every time I go there, I’m met with different cloud coverage and hues of the magestic rock walls. Keep in mind, however, if you’re planning a commercial shoot, you’ll need a permit to do so. I’m a big proponent of permits and how they help regulate the impact of our public lands.

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Photographing seniors in Sedona is one of my favorites and it’s that time of year when I get to showcase some really special young adults as they graduate from high school.  I remember feeling the same way as many of my seniors feel…excited, nervous, anxious and relieved.  Possibility just seems to seep from everything when you’re 18 and ready to embark on your own journey.  

Sedona has some amazing choices for events and portraits, but Christina chose Crescent Moon (locally known as Red Rock Crossing) for her senior photos.  If you’ve never been to this little piece of paradise, I recommend you make the time during your next visit.  The day we went, a big rain had just occurred and most of the area I usually use was under water, which made these photos so unique and gorgeous.  

As a Sedona Photographer, I feel pretty lucky. Not only do I get to meet so many amazing people, but I also get to photograph them in one of the most gorgeous natural settings on earth.

Congratulations Christina! I wish you only the best! ~ Melissa

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I just love living in the college town of Flagstaff.  Northern Arizona University, with its 20,000 students, brings so much to the table.  Each year, I get symphony tickets, go see various plays, volunteer with my alumni sorority, get to see some great collegiate sporting events and even get to use the Sky Dome to do some serious leg exercises sprinting to and from the bottom of the field.  But my favorite part is meeting wonderful students each year as they prepare to graduate.

Nikki came to her session with some great props and a smile that lit up all of Old Main.  She was so sweet and I loved hearing about her future plans, all wrapped up in fresh excitement that made me excited for her.

We chose Old Main, the oldest part of NAU, for her photos.  The historic buildings stand tall over the grassy lawn, and remind everyone who pass, they are part of a larger future of NAU graduates.

Congratulations Nikki!  I can’t wait to hear where the future takes you. ~ Melissa

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I have a little secret, I have a big soft spot for adult family gatherings. I grew up in a family that used to gather every Sunday at my Grandmother’s house in Trion, GA. She made a feast that was so large, it could have fed 50 people, instead of the 10 people who attended. We did that up until I was 14, and then my mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed within a year. When mom was sick, she didn’t have the energy to make the 20-mile road trip to Granny’s house, so we stopped the tradition. I suppose it was grief and the fact that my brother and sister had married and moved on after mom had passed, but we never had those family gatherings again. During those years after, I missed my uncles, aunts, and cousins, but I suppose, life went on.  I went to college and then moved to Arizona after I graduated.  I didn’t even know what I was truly missing out on until I was much older.

When I started to regularly photography family gatherings, it hit me like a brick wall. These relationships, these moments, you never get them back. At every shoot, I’d soak in the laughter and giggles, and even sometimes the tears as I reminisced on moments of my own family’s memories lost. I love these shoots and it’s so nice to capture these moments for families. I know they’ll cherish these moments in 40 years, even more than they do now.

I love spending the morning with the Berthelsen Family in Oak Creek.  This little piece of paradise has always been a reminder of home, with the cool streams and beautiful riparian environment.  Plus, this family was just so happy to be together, to smile and laugh and reminisce.  Thank you for having me as part of your family history 🙂  ~ Melissa

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Clifton and Jennifer chose a gorgeous day at the Grand Canyon for their intimate elopement. Surrounded by their closes friends, and as the sun dipped below the horizon at Grandeur Point, the officiant, Phil, and I were able to witness the start of their life together. A nervous Jennifer giggled through their vows and even though he didn’t want to admit it, Clifton wiped away more than a few tears as his beautiful bride walked towards him.

Elopement at the Grand Canyon

The moments right before the wedding are some of my favorites with elopements. I get to hear about their story, how they met and why they chose the Grand Canyon. Most of the time, as was the case for Clifton and Jennifer, it was the beauty and peace that drew them there. And I would have to agree, I don’t think there is a more beautiful place to be married on earth.

After their ceremony I heard about their hopes and dreams, challenges and obstacles in getting to this day. I found out how kind they both were as Clifford told me about going to Puerto Rico after the hurricane to help restore power to the island. As he spoke of befriending many of the native islanders and helping them get back to normal, I knew why Jennifer adored this man so much.

I say it every time, but I mean it every time with my whole heart. It was such an honor to have been there for you both and I wish you a lifetime of love, adventure and happiness.

Getting married at the Grand Canyon is beautiful, but also presents some challenges. The permitting process isn’t very transparent and for visitors who have never been to this National Park, simply picking out a location for the ceremony can be daunting. If you’re considering an elopement at the Grand Canyon, check out my blog post on locations and the necessary permits and marriage license requirements.

Grand Canyon National Park is situated in Northern Arizona. The nearest cities are Flagstaff and Williams. To get married in the park, you’ll need the necessary permits and a valid Arizona marriage license.

Venue: Grand Canyon National Park, Grandeur Point

Officiant: Phil Waring, Arizona Ministers

Photographer: Melissa Dunstan, Tangled Lilac Photography

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I remember making a phone call once in the early 90s to my dad. I was attending the University of Georgia, a Biology major, trying to get into Veterinary School.

I remember the day perfectly, it was a Friday, and had been raining. My windshield wipers needed replacing and I had been putting it off. I could barely see driving down the country highway.

I desperately wanted to talk to someone, and that someone was my dad. And this was pre-cell phone days, so I had to wait the 30-minute car drive to get to my landline to call him.

By the time he picked up the phone, despite my plan on holding my composure, I was sobbing. And I don’t mean the sniffling kind, I mean ugly-face, can’t-get-the-words-out sobbing.

My poor dad thought the worst. I remember him pleading “…was there an accident?…are you ok?…please say something I can understand…”

What came out of my mouth was probably not what he expected.

Why Valentails is important to me

I had spent the week volunteering at our local animal shelter. The first day, I had to help with the free clinic the shelter offered. No problems there, it was usually owners who came in for regular check-ups, vaccinations, ticks, etc.

The second day, I assisted a technician in surgery. This is where things started getting bad for me. They messed up and gave a cat too much anesthesia during a neuter procedure. He didn’t make it.

According to the tech, it was ‘no big deal’, because he had just been adopted and she was certain the new owners would adopt another one. They’d just tell her he had a bad reaction to the anesthesia.

No one in the surgery room disagreed.

I. Was. Horrified.

That night I didn’t sleep. I just kept hearing the sobs of the new owner in the lobby of when they told her the news. “We have other cats you can adopt…” said the tech to her. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

The third day, a man brought in his puppy who clearly had a broken leg. He wanted to surrender it. The puppy cried and yelped and screamed when the man left him. I stayed and tried to console the pup, and I’ll never forget looking into those deep pools of brown eyes as I told him his life would get better from now on.

The next morning, I found out the pup had been euthanized due to overcrowding and under-funding at the shelter. I honestly don’t remember that whole day as I tried to reconcile what had happened.

By the fifth day, I was a zombie. I remember a woman coming in with eight kittens who were so sick they couldn’t hold their heads up. She said she had thought about throwing them in the river, but didn’t have a bag.

I didn’t know what to say to her and after vomiting in the employee bathroom, I walked out. And one hour later, here I was trying to get all this out of my mouth to my poor father who, at this point, wasn’t sure if I was safe or not.

By the time I did regurgitate my story to my dad, all I heard was silence. “Dad…are you there…” I pleaded.

“I’m here.” he said. And then I heard him sigh. Dad had a softer heart than he ever wanted to admit. And, he knew mine was even more tender, and I know he was trying to find the words to help me.

Dad was usually a one-liner, cliche, kind of advise man. But, on this day, he really changed my life with some of the best advice, to this day, I’ve ever received.

“The world has problems Melissa. But, the good news is that you can do something about it.”

“But what Dad…what could I possibly do??” I fell onto my couch and felt so defeated.

“I’ll tell you…. And don’t ever forget this…

Do WHAT you can, HOW you can and WHEN you can”

Thomas Grimes, Jr.

Fundraising for my furry friends speaks to my heart

Dad had once again stopped me from feeling hopeless and distraught. He had given me hope and a ray of light when I needed it most.

I couldn’t save the world that day. But maybe, I could do small things over the course of my life that could change the lives of a few animals. Or maybe a hundred, or a thousand. I have dreams…stay tuned for them.

So, in following my dad’s words of advice, over the years I’ve been photographing animals in rescue groups and shelters who need homes.

There really is nothing more rewarding than seeing homeless animals find their beloved home via one of my photos.

Nothing.

When that happens, my heart doubles in size.

I started doing photo fundraisers for Paw Placement six years ago, and each year, they’ve grown and become one of my favorite events of the year.

When Paw Placement won the bid to become Coconino County’s Animal Shelter, I was ecstatic to be able to raise money for this new and beautiful shelter. I’ve always thought a city shelter should be a place where pets could come to find their own forever home, not a place that I witnessed in rural Georgia.

I named the event “Valentails” in honor of my favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day. I think our pets offer us the most unconditional love we’ll ever receive and think a celebration of that love is perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Thank you for being my Valentails!

I’m so happy to announce that we were able to raise $3,505! As my sweet husband would say, “That’s a lot of kibble.”

I was so humbled by all the people who came to support this organization and to share their sweet furry family members with me so I could create some memorable images that I know they’ll always cherish.

Thanks to everyone who supported this event.

Canyon Pet Hospital was our title sponsor and Purina donated goody bags for everyone who came.

Kingsmark Kennel supplied gift cards for services at their facility and a free dog bath from Ruff-n-Cuts too!

Flagstaff Sedona Dog magazine supported the event with a full page ad in their publication and WagStaff Dog Beds donated two custom dog beds to raffle off to help raise money for the shelter too.

It truly was a community effort to pull this event off and I’m honored to have these wonderful businesses support this great cause.


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