Sometimes it's all about the timing.

Ours is an unlikely love story...

One that almost never happened, and took us THREE times to get right.

I don't remember how it was that we met, other than knowing it was through a mutual friend. Maybe it was at a house party, or on a Friday night for Cosmic Bowling.

However it was that we came together, it happened in 2000... for the first time.

Drawn to one another, we casually started to date. And during that time, Erik told me about a favorite memory of his... something about admiring a friend who had worked with snow leopards, and having gotten the chance to be close to them, himself.  

So I drew THIS for him, as a gift for his birthday.

snow leopard pencil drawing by Michelle Simmons of The Suitcase Studio

We didn't date for much longer, but went back to being friends. 

And little did I know that that this had become a treasured possession of his... and one which he'd always kept out in view.

And NOW, after all these years... this drawing is proudly displayed in OUR living room.

HERE WE ARE on New Year's Eve of 2001...

At our friend Mark's house and playing a game of Jenga Truth or Dare, and "dared" to rub noses. (Many thanks to whomever picked up the camera to snap this moment for me!)

ours is an unlikley love story - The Suitcase Studio - photographer in bend oregon

We were only friends at that time, but there always seemed to be some kind of pull between the two of us. 

Not too long after New Years, while I group of us were hanging out and swapping stories, I confessed that I'd never been given a dozen red roses.

And the very next day, I awoke to find a long gold box on my doorstep... containing a dozen long-stemmed red roses, and a note which simply said "Never?"

And soon after that, we began to date again.

And, being the sentimental fool that I am, I've kept that note tucked away in a photo album for all these years. 

ours is an unlikely love story - The Suitcase Studio in Bend Oregon

But like the first time, we simply didn't last very long together as a couple. I don't think we ever even made things official.

Tale as old as time... Much as we liked each other, we were in different places in our lives, wanted different things, yada yada yada...

But still, we remained friends. 

And he's just always been there. Someone I've always instantly "clicked" with, no matter how much time had passed. And being able to pick right back up where we'd left off, no matter if it had been days, months or years that had passed since we'd last seen one another.

You know... the way it is with great friends and family.

And looking back, it feels like we've always just BEEN there in each other's lives. Maybe there were no big fireworks or dramatic moments between us, but he's been a constant. Sometimes as a main character, other times in a supporting role, and even just as a background character.

But time marches on, changing our direction and our selves.  

He moved. I got married.

And time, and our lives, continued. 

But sometimes things just don't work out the way you thought they would, and 12 years later I was once again single.  

And craving an adventure. 

And having found one another on Facebook, Erik suggested I come up for a visit... as he'd moved from Portland to Bend, and knew I'd LOVE the area.

You've already heard the rest. And if not, I won't bore you with the details... but here it is in a nutshell:   

Bend felt like the place I never realized I'd been looking for... and for the first time in years, I felt myself able to breathe deeply.

I made the bold decision to MOVE to Bend.

And Erik flew down to help me.

He helped me pack, dealt with the movers AND my emotional moments, and even met my parents for the first time. And then he drove us both up to Bend, and it felt like coming home.      

We officially crossed the border into Oregon on April 20, 2015.

So I count that as MY anniversary. In my life, that date signifies the start of this new chapter in my story. My big "before" and "after." 

And as the relationship between Erik and I grew, we decided to make that OUR anniversary, too. Because there was no clear beginning, or dates to easily mark as we transitioned from one level to another. 

So we count April 20 as the start of OUR new chapter, too.

Time passed, and we simply evolved together, in a way that took us both a bit by surprise. Because it all just seemed so natural. Too easy. And too good to be true. 

Because time has a way of changing a person... or maybe just changing them into the person they're MEANT to be... stripping away all the "shoulds" and other things we're taught we're supposed to be and do. Life experiences carve us, like chisel to marble. Cracks form, pieces crumble, and what's left can be absolutely beautiful.

And we found that we simply made sense together, and it simply felt right. We just "got" the other person, sometimes without even saying a word.

We fell in love. 

Maybe it's because we're older now and know OURSELVES better. Enough to know what we want and don't want, to know what we actually need, and know how to ask for it.

We started to feel like family.

We have an amazing partnership unlike anything I've ever known, and complement each other in ways that balance what we "lack" in ourselves. 

We just FIT TOGETHER in a way I can't completely explain, but can FEEL clear through my bones. 

He feels like HOME. 

Happy three year anniversary to us. 

And cheers to the many adventures still to come.

love stories &nbsp;- The Suitcase Studio

What love stories are hiding within YOUR family? I'd love to discover them together... 

Click to learn more about my STORYTELLER EXPERIENCE, so we can bring those stories to life!

Why you might want to skip the MINI SESSION for your family photos

Here's why mini sessions are NOT always the best idea for family photos, especially if you've got young kids.

Mini Sessions might seem like the optimal way to go with getting new family photos, right? I mean, they're low-cost with little time commitment, will give you that one perfect picture for the announcement or end-of-the-year holiday card, and can be a great way to test out a new photographer without making a major commitment, right? I mean... what could go wrong?

BUT PICTURE THIS: You step into this adoooorable new shop that you've never been before. There are So. MANY. Things. to see. You're SQUEEEEEING with glee and getting ready to drool because you just can't stand the cuteness, but before you can do ANYTHING you're suddenly yanked by the arm to the center of the store where everything is just out of sight, and definitely out of reach. You try to sidestep to a colorful shelf that calls your name, but you're redirected again. Told you can't even LOOK in that direction. Frustration mounts, you find yourself checking your watch over and over again, wondering WHEN you can just have a peek... when you're suddenly pulled out of the store and led away.

Not cool, right?

Unfortunately, mini sessions with young kids can be a bit more difficult than you might expect, because this is what it feels like to them. This is what your toddler feels like whenever they're brought somewhere new and magical, and aren't allowed to touch or look or explore at all. And told to sit still and look straight ahead. But SMILE, dammit!

While most moms tend to want to book a MINI session because the kiddos' attention span is incredibly limited, this is actually the opposite way to go. A mini session can be "crunch time" if you're trying to get all those smiling family photos, and with little time to wiggle or play, the kiddos tend to melt down even more.

But by booking a full-length session, there's still in-between time for them to easily make the transition from moment to moment, stop for a snack, and explore the area from time to time. There's also plenty of time for everyone to warm up to the camera, and for authentic personalities to shine through. A full-length session ensures that everyone is able to actually ENJOY the experience all the way through, and alleviates the stress of worrying whether or not the kids will "behave" for the camera.

Now, before you start to panic because you've already booked that mini session or your budget just won't allow for the full session at the moment, let me remind you: the MINI session CAN be an absolute blast. I still actually offer them myself (only at certain times of the year), and get GREAT results every time. But the KEY is to remind yourself that this is, truly, a MINI session. You won't be able to get those 25 dream Pinterest poses or multiple locations or outfits in 20-30 minutes without giving yourself, your family (and the photographer) a heart attack in the process. Instead, pick out one MUST-HAVE photo idea, and leave room for plenty of candid moments. And start saving up for a bigger session to get the rest of those dream photos you crave.

Try this: If time and budget allows, book a FULL-LENGTH session instead of a MINI. It's toooootally worth it. But if you just can't swing it at the moment, start saving up for the future. And for now, pick out one or two MUST-HAVE photographic moments for the MINI, and save the rest for later.

Ready for even more SIMPLE TIPS on how to prep for the most stress-free family photo session EVER? Coolio. Just click here.  


Building TWEEN self esteem, one image at a time

preteen portraits by The Suitcase Studio - The WHO I AM Project

When people see you...

Like... REEEEALLY see YOU...

It can make ALL the difference in the world.

Because I know...


As much as you want to find your tribe + fit in someplace,

You also want to be appreciated as the individual you are.

Because you ARE unique, and a gift to the world.

And as much as YOU might be struggling with this...

Remember how much WORSE it was when you were 11,

And still trying to figure out who you even really were.


If you or someone you know are a parent of a tween (ages 10-12), please take a moment to check out my WHO I AM Project. I offer a free portrait session to tweens, to help build self confidence one image at a time.

I'm currently booking WHO I AM portrait sessions for these locations/dates:

And I'm open to suggestions for travel locations/dates for the last half of 2018, as well. CLICK HERE for info + to get started, and please share with those who could benefit from being a participant.

She didn't need PERFECTION. She just needed SOMETHING.

Sharing a piece of my heart as a lifestyle family photographer in Bend, Oregon // The Suitcase Studio

She came to us with a black trash bag of belongings. Mostly empty.

Just a few shirts, socks, underwear and pants. I don't even think she had a jacket. 

And unfortunately, this is all too common when someone enters the group home system. 

So when the rest of the girls in the house decided to throw a "fashion show" in the living room a few nights later, it was no surprise that the newcomer ran to her room, curled up in a tight little ball, and cried. 

Ashamed that she had nothing to wear. 

And since group homes have a STRICT policy about NOT sharing clothing or personal items (due to fights breaking out), the other girls couldn't even lend her anything.  

My heart was breaking for this little girl, and I just wanted to make things better. So I sat beside her while I waited for her sobs to subside and her breathing to slow, tears streaming silently down my own face. 

And I told her that, together, we'd MAKE something new to wear.

The thing was... besides knowing how to do one basic stitch by hand, I had NO idea how to actually sew. 

But it didn't matter.

Because she didn't need PERFECT. She just needed someone to do SOMETHING.

So I unlocked the cabinet where the sewing supplies were kept, and pulled out the meager scraps of fabric. My mind was racing a million miles a minute... I mean... these were SCRAPS of fabric. Random chunks of random patterns, some pieces long and skinny, others a shape without definition. But I smiled, assured her that we'd come up with something amazing, and hoped she couldn't see through my false bravado. 

I laid a few of the scraps together, showing her how they could make a one-of-a-kind wrap skirt that she could wear over her jeans (ooooooohhhh), and how these other pieces worked together nicely to create an accent scarf (aaaaaaahhhhh). And just like that, we had an ensemble figured out, and got to work.

She knotted the scarf together while I hand-stitched the skirt. Not gonna lie... it was nowhere NEAR pretty. Or anything that actually resembled a skirt. But she didn't care. 

Because one by one, the other girls came in to see what we were doing, and they wanted to create something, too. So we all sat around the long folding table together, tying knots and making up stitches. Talking, laughing, and pretending we knew what we were doing. 

And in the end, not just the newcomer, but ALL girls wore new creations for their fashion show... mismatched scarves, skirts, headwraps, and all kinds of multicolored creations. They strutted their stuff down the improvised "runway" we'd made (pushing the couch and armchair out of the way). And they cheered EVERYONE on, including the newcomer.

And with just a few scraps of discarded fabric, the new girl was transformed. Now, I'm NO fairy godmother, and she wasn't wearing some magical ballgown. 

But her newfound SMILE said it all. 

For once, she felt like she belonged. And sometimes, that's EVERYTHING.

So the next time I was there, she asked if she could get into the sewing closet again... because she had something she wanted to make for ME. So I unlocked the closet and handed her the materials. I wasn't allowed to peek at her progress, but I kept her company while she worked.

And about 30 minutes later, she shyly reached over and gently placed something in my hand.

I don't remember exactly what she said in that moment, but I knew that my life would be forever changed. 

Because she'd given me her heart. 

She'd sewn together this imperfect little puffy heart. For me. And it's been one of my prized possessions ever since. 

Because it's a REMINDER... of how UN-important it is to be PERFECT.

It's a reminder of how unnecessary it is to do or say the PERFECT thing. How people don't NEED "perfect," or know what PERFECT might even look like.  

It's a reminder of how important it is to do SOMETHING, no matter what that SOMETHING might be. 

And it's a reminder of just how MUCH IMPACT one tiny moment can actually have on the rest of your life. 

So when you're worried that you don't do enough... that maybe you're not making a difference, or having any impact, or that your life isn't as BIG as you wanted it to be... consider THIS your reminder: 

Something you say or do today will have a lasting impact on someone else. 

So smile kindly, be patient whenever you can be, offer assistance to others whenever possible, and remember... you might not ever KNOW the impact you have on another person's life. But big or small, know that you ARE making a difference. 


That "little girl" would be about 24 years old now. I often find myself thinking about her, wondering where she's at, and hoping she's okay. And wishing that she knew how much HER little gesture meant to me.  


So now I wanna know... what little things have others done that you will never forget? Ever have a moment where someone touched your heart or changed your life? Even if in a way that THEY will never even realize? I'd love to hear about it.      

Learn to use your DSLR Camera with this FREE 5-Day SHORTCUT Camera Course

Learn to use your DSLR Camera with this FREE 5-Day SHORTCUT Camera Course

Hi there... I'm Michelle.

I've been running The Suitcase Studio for almost TEN YEARS now (offering FUN lifestyle photo experiences to the adventurous, authentic + AWESOME). But it definitely has NOT been an easy path, especially at the beginning.  


I've always been an observer of people and a collector of stories. I've actually had a camera in my hand since age 9, following in my dad's footsteps to document our everyday lives. But it was all just for fun.

Taking pictures continued to be a hobby of mine as I grew up, got my degree in Psychology, and went on to work in children's group homes and art camps. (Pssst... I STILL use my psychology training and insight on each + every photo shoot as I calm the nerves of parents, maneuver kids out of meltdown mode, and help everyone connect in the most genuine of ways.)


But the funny thing was... I realized that the camera HAD always been there all along, in my hand, every step of the way. And I found my true calling. 

Sometimes you have to kiss a LOT of frogs before you find your prince. // Like, sometimes you have to try a LOT of things out before you find your true calling. Like photography was for me.&nbsp;


I was pretty cocky back then, and figured I could take better pictures than what I saw others charging for, so The Suitcase Studio was born. But the problem was THIS: while I knew I had a great creative eye, my TECHNICAL camera skills were seriously lacking. I shot in "creative auto" mode, and prayed that my clients wouldn't find out and think I was a fraud. Because I was waaaay deep in the "fake it till you make it" mode. 


So I quickly scrambled to figure it all out, and learn the technical side of photography. I scoured the internet for information, spending hours on different forums, blogs, and Pinterest. And I bought book after book on the subject. But it always ended up the same... me on the floor, head in hands, sitting in a puddle of my own tears. 


Because I just didn't GET it. It seriously felt like learning a new language at times. And I felt completely lost. 

Skip right to the parts you WANT to know in this SHORTCUT camera course


It was about that time that I put my big-girl panties on and started investing in the magic of in-person workshops and online courses. And I became addicted. Because they made me actually pick up my camera and PRACTICE. I got uncomfortable. I pushed past my limits. And I GREW.

Things started to CLICK (teehee) into place, when it wasn't all just technical jargon anymore... when I had  REASON for doing what I was doing. When I found my WHY. When I was given a clear-cut path on HOW to do something, from start to finish. And how to manipulate what I learned to adapt it to different scenarios. 


And you know what I learned?


learn how to use backlighting correctly in this free shortcut camera course


I know I'm tooootally going against the grain here. But that's okay. 

Because here's the thing. There's SOOOOO much info out there, teaching you all about the technical ins-and-outs of photography. But so much of it is stuff you really DON'T need to know, and only confuses matters more when you're never taught HOW to use the new knowledge. 


I learned the hard way, so that you don't have to. I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on in-person classes and online workshops, furthering my photography education more and more each year. I've learned all about studio set-ups, lighting, scrims and reflectors. I've learned all about in-depth posing techniques and subject interactions. And along the way, I learned what worked and what DIDN'T work for what I wanted to do. 

And now, I have a signature style that I'm known for...
A bright, vivid look, and a FUN photo experience. 

And I want to TEACH YOU THE EXACT METHODS I now use for shooting. My favorite settings, scenarios, and all the stuff you can SKIP (like the light meter and histogram). 

As a "self-taught" photographer, MOST of my A-HA moments have come during in-depth courses and by simply practicing with my camera. And since I'm all about community over competition, I want to pass along my favorite tips + tricks you simply won't find elsewhere, so that you can creatively + confidently document your everyday moments.


Because REAL LIFE doesn't have to be perfect to be BEAUTIFUL.

Real life is beautiful Learn to capture it better with the Shortcut Camera Course by The Suitcase Studio.

Sign up for the FREE
5-day "Shortcut" Camera Course 

This is the busy mom's guide to getting your camera OFF of auto-mode.  I'll be sharing some of my most sought-after tips + teachings to help you do just that. And after just FIVE DAYS, you'll be picking up your camera with confidence! 


What you'll learn:

  • how to set your camera up RIGHT, right from the start
  • what APERTURE is + why it's the key component to getting the look you crave
  • successfully switching from "auto" mode to APERTURE PRIORITY mode
  • how to get the "iPhone portrait mode" look with your DSLR
  • how to get ah-maaaaazingly beautiful pictures even when shooting in harsh sunlight
  • and more!

Sign Up HERE, or just click the image below. 


And keep me POSTED on your journey! I want to hear about your favorite A-HA moments along the way... just leave a comment below, or share your favorite pictures online using the hashtag #shortcutcameracourse.