Tucked just around the corner from Main Street Breckenridge on Jefferson Avenue is the E Studio Gallery, where Elizabeth Byers composes portraits for couples, families and high school seniors, among others.
The inside of the studio is an open space, where Byers sets up her scenes. Don't expect just an array of single-color backgrounds, however. Byers' scenes really are that - sets with artistically painted backgrounds and props that create an entire scene, in varying degrees of detail, for the subject to interact with.
One example is a winter scene, with rows of painted birch complemented by actual birch trunks reaching almost to the ceiling.
"I like to do realistic-looking pictures where I bring the outdoors inside," Byers said. While she often does take portraits outside of the studio, when she's inside she likes to bring in natural elements.
Byers can trace her photography career back 30 years, to when she started selling her services to friends for their high school senior photos. Originally from Kansas, she graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in film and theater.
She landed in Southern California, where she spent time in the TV and film industry, as well as started her first portrait studio business, which she ran for 13 years.
"My true passion has always been photography," Byers said.
Workshops led by experts continue to be her preferred way to perfect her craft, traveling around the country several times a year. Her next planned trip is to St. Louis in April.
"It's a great experience and you learn hands-on," she said, of what keeps her going.
Her favorite subject to photograph, Byers said, is people. She chose portrait photography because she loves connecting with people and telling their stories through her art.
"I have to have a subject," she said, explaining why she doesn't normally do landscapes or other nature photography. "I like to show the experience."
She likes working with high school seniors and capturing their personality through the lens. Often she shoots a couple's engagement and wedding photos, getting to know their background and what they want to emphasize about their special day. When scheduling portraits, she prefers to set up a consultation beforehand to introduce herself and her space to her future artistic subjects.
"I tell a story with my photography," she said.
Byers prides herself on the artistic quality of her work, which she says makes her stand out from other studios that plunk people down in a pose and snap a quick photo.
"I want people to know this is art for their walls, of their family," she said. "I'm an artist. Most of my stuff is classic. You'll never get tired of them. They'll be timeless portraits."
Byers pours much of her artistic efforts into setting up the scenes and backgrounds of her portraits. She has plans to set up a fishing scene, which would have children sitting on or around rocks, holding fishing props and dangling their feet into real water, which she will have on hand at the studio.
"They're going to put their feet in the water. It's the experience, it's not just the pictures," Byers explained.
Any natural element she can incorporate, the better. She's also considering live animals like ducks or rabbits.
Byers' biggest success with her scenes, she said, has been with her Santa scene, which she perfected over eight years in California and hopes to revive next winter. She prepares a scene with chair, toys and real trees, then has a fully outfitted complete-with-beard Santa Claus who the children interact with for up to 20 minutes, calming them down, overcoming shyness and even reading "The Night Before Christmas" together.
Why do all the work to set up and create these scenes?
"Because it's art," Byers replies matter-of-factly. "I just want people to know they can have an experience here."