I have had the pleasure of working closely with talented photographer Melissa Schollaert over the past months and I am so happy today to share with you an interview about this great gal and her beautiful work.
Melissa creates beautiful stories with her images and captures that ‘unseen world’ that us creatives work with in the most poetic way.
Thirteen years ago you became a photographer and eventually transitioned from working as an interior designer, how has this design background influenced the images you like to take or your photographic style?
I remember the very first week of my first year of design school, I was told by a professor that “I’d never look at the built environment the same again.” It was true. In order to design spaces and places, you must look at so many elements such as composition, scale, lighting, colors and textures. It’s all about how an occupant interacts with the space. I definitely carry those considerations into my photography, always looking for scenes to set my subjects in and evaluating the proportions, colors, textures and most importantly the lighting. Old, historic architecture and abandoned structures have always been my favorite and I always try to incorporate them into my work. About half of my time in Europe is always spent marveling at the architecture and all of the beautiful details, workmanship and history involved in the construction of the building and how they have lasted for centuries. A photography mentor also taught me how to fine-tune my composition by looking closely at the background and how to compose my subjects in a certain setting. You must always look at what is behind the subject and how it relates to them, considering proportions and busy patterns or obtrusive objects. You will often see that my portraits of people are couples are set in a wide landscape to not only show them but also the environment around them. The place is always important in telling their story, both in wedding & portrait photography as well as in brand imagery for businesses whose environment is weaved into their story and purpose.
What is it you are trying to capture when photographing your clients albeit creating beautiful branding images for their business or images of their wedding?
My main goal is to capture their story and tell that story through my imagery. I like to spend time prior to any shoot learning about my clients and their history. So for wedding clients it’s learning about their relationship, how they met, what is important to them, why they chose their wedding day location and what their vision for their day is. I mainly shoot destination weddings, so the place is often very special to my clients and is a part of their story that gets heavily incorporated into the images. For my business branding clients I do the same, learning about their history, who their ideal client is, how they started their business and why they do what they do. In both my brand photography and destination wedding work, I also strive to show authenticity through the creation of very natural portraits. I believe that to show real, and authentic emotions and character you must get your subject to relax as well as be vulnerable and show their true selves. In my brand photography I take that a step further to capture the behind the scenes of a business, with imagery of my clients working and creating in their offices, studios and restaurants. This shows their potential clients their value, passion and how hard they work at creating a high-quality product or service.
If I was a psychologist (which I believe most photographers become) by looking at your photos my guess is that you are a romantic at heart, you love nostalgia, travel and are very feminine. Your photos exude these beautiful themes over and over again. Tell us a little more about the photographer behind the photos.
Well you know me pretty well already Carla! Yes, I am definitely a romantic and just love a love story, poetry or anything that makes the heart melt. I do have an affinity for nostalgia and history and tend to be drawn to classic images, ones that draw you in and seem to be so real. To embody this in my work, my method is two-fold. First, I try to capture authenticity in my subjects and compositions. Showing clients true personalities creates a natural and classic looking image that will never go out of style. Second, I use photographic film and analog cameras to achieve a sense of nostalgia. Film just produces the very best color that can be found, along with creating a dreamy and romantic look. To combine this with my digital photography work, I use special editing techniques to achieve a similar look.
Sometimes to get inspired, I really love looking at old black and white photographs from the 1920s and 1930s of New York and other cities. I imagine what it would have been like to live there back then, seeing the old buildings, cars and signage that is so different from how things look now. I think this is why I love Europe so much. Unlike in the US, Europe has so many more old and historic buildings. Cue my love for traveling. Ever since I was a very young child, travel was simply thrilling! I remember my first time on an airplane. I can remember walking through the airport and feeling so free, such excitement! Still to this day, I get the biggest rush from just stepping foot in the airport and anticipating what adventures might be ahead, who I might meet and what I might learn; the unknown.
You have a line on your website about creating images of ‘journeys to unseen worlds’. Is this how you view the moments you are seeking, like something that already exists but is invisible?
“Journeys to Unseen Worlds” is a bit of a mantra of how I approach my photography work, traveling and life in general. I’ve always tended to forge my own path, instead of being a follower. While most little kids played with Barbie’s, I was busy painting, sculpting and drawing – creating art. I never followed the crowd and gravitate in the complete opposite direction of popular society. I don’t own a tv so I’m not even familiar with the latest shows – If everyone is wearing “insert current popular clothing item here”, you can be sure I am wearing something else. Whatever the latest trend is, I am so completely drawn in the opposite direction. I don’t want to be anyone else, just me. It’s the same way when I travel. When I’m in Rome and see a huge mass of people walking one way, I turn around and go the complete opposite direction. I’m likely to find something more interesting, more authentic with more locals and with less crowds to obscure the view. That’s where you find the good stuff. It’s where you learn about the real culture in a place, how people live, how they shop, what they eat. When friends ask me where to go in Rome, I am likely to tell them some obscure street that’s just beautiful, or my favorite gelateria. Much of this view of journeying into the unknown, or little known, also infuses into my photography work. You’re correct in that it’s about the little, unseen moments; the behind the scenes. That’s one of my favorite things to capture at weddings, are all the moments that the guests never get to see. The bride getting ready or how her Mom looks at her before she walks down the aisle. But it’s also about going my own way, capturing the complete opposite of what most other photographers would choose to capture. I also push my clients to look beyond the obvious spaces and backgrounds for their photos, and to trust me with selecting a unique spot that they would have never thought of. These tend to be my favorite images.
You have made travel a part of your life by shooting destination weddings and photography for brands across the world. What is it that you love about travel and making it part of your life’s work?
Travel to me is like breathing. It is something that I must have in my life to feel alive. Something that allows me to learn, meet new people and experience other cultures. Travel is magic. It’s allowing yourself to be free and chasing down moments and sunsets and letting things be revealed to you in their own time. The feeling I have when I’m traveling is like nothing else I’ve experienced. It is pure delight and I’ll never stop exploring. Naturally, through my photography I’ve tried to capture places that I’ve visited to remember how I felt or what I experienced. Often, my souvenir’s are photographs of all these beautiful places. As I mentioned earlier, my artistry has driven me to capture places and incorporate them into my work. Many of my hospitality clients’ businesses are based around a certain area that is integral to their brand. Capturing their location, hotel, restaurant or city helps their potential clients imagine themselves there. It’s all about creating a feeling.
You have been published in many beautiful magazines such as Style Me Pretty, Food & Wine Magazine & Brides UK. What has been a career highlight for you?
I think the highlight was getting published in Food & Wine Magazine. They approached me because they were doing a story on Italy and the Amalfi Coast and had come across some images that I created of the area. They featured two of my images in the article, which discussed Mario Batali’s picks for the best places to eat on the Amalfi Coast. It was such a thrill and an honor! Besides having my work published, is that I’ve received the most satisfaction in creating meaningful work for my clients. I love hearing their feedback and how the images are special to them, or made a difference in their business.
What have been the greatest lessons you have learned working as a photographer? How has photography changed your life?
I’ve learned so many things working as a photographer. Among them, is to have patience – wait for the right moment. Don’t waste precious shots and resources on an image that isn’t going to make the final cut. Take your time, compose and wait for the right moment to occur. If it’s not occurring, don’t force it or change strategy. I’ve also learned to be more outgoing as a photographer. I was always really quiet and shy as a child and still identify as an introvert. But as a photographer, you need to communicate with your clients and not be afraid to direct them or insert yourself into certain situations in order to get the shot. Photography has changed my life by forcing me to be more outgoing, and encouraging me to meet new people all the time. In addition, I’ve also had the opportunity to travel all over the world and have had experiences I could have never dreamed of, had I not stepped out of my comfort zone into a new career. It really has been a wild ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I have just finished a huge project, which was creating a brand new website and online presence for my business. I’m really excited about the results and how the site shows who I am and more of my latest work. In the last few years I have begun shooting more and more Brand Photography, which never really had a home on my website. Now, that work is front and center and is a really good place for potential clients to see my photography. I’m also re-launching my Print Shop, where you can purchase prints of my travel photographs. Next, I’m really excited about traveling to Europe this month! I’m going to France, Andorra and Spain. I’m really excited because for the first time in nearly two decades, I get to be a guest at a wedding while I’m there. After that starts a busy fall with lots of Branding Shoots as well as Destination Weddings.
Do you have a motto or favourite quote?
“The unexpected is always possible.” It is perfect for life as well as travel because you never know what is going to happen. Often, it’s the things that you didn’t expect that seem to leave an impression on you forever and are always better than what you had originally planned in your mind.
All Images Copyright Melissa Schollaert
I hope you enjoyed this interview with this super talent..
Please check out Melissa’s work HERE
PS: If you are interested in refocusing your creative business and bringing it to the next level you can check out my packages HERE