Laughter and Light: Insights from Visionary Photographer Jessica McKnight

FLocal Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down to interview acclaimed photographer, Jessica McKnight.
Please tell our readers about yourself and your work, where you’re from, and where we can find your studio and your photographs online.
I grew up in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland and moved to the Washington D.C. Metro area in my early 20s. I currently reside in Clearwater where I live with my husband, Michael, my 22-year old daughter, Zoey, 19-year old son, Zane, and our three dogs. I spend a lot of time traveling around greater Tampa Bay for on-location shoots, but over the past 10 years I’d say the majority of my photography style emerged from the immense culture, style and sophistication of Washington, D.C.
This month I am pleased to announce the opening of my new studio located at 1433 South Fort Harrison Avenue {Suite C} in Clearwater on August 27. The space will consist of two studio rooms, a wide variety of backdrops and props including some wardrobe options, and a full hair and make-up bar. My studio will offer professional head-shots, company branding, fashion, family, bridal and even boudoir sessions.
I still do work in Bethesda, Maryland and the DC Metro area, so that I can continue to support my long-time customers and families that helped me get my start. It’s also wonderful to capture seasonal photos, since the Florida winters are so mild. You can read my blog and see my portfolio at www.jessicamcknight.com.
Browsing through your portfolio of work, your style ranges from traditional portrait photography to cutting-edge fashion editorial. One consistent factor is your attention to light and contrast. Where does your inspiration come from?
I come from a long line of creatives in Maryland. I grew up with parents, aunts and uncles who inspired me with their songwriting, musical performance, painting and ability to connect with their audience. Creativity is in my DNA. Both of my parents were entertainers. My dad plays seven instruments and my mother was a bluegrass and country-western singer and artist. As a young girl, my siblings and I traveled everywhere with them and even performed at times. I played the fiddle and got to meet so many talented musicians. These experiences taught me the power of connection and how to bring out the best in others. But the life of an entertainer was not for me.
When I was twelve years old, I took my first photography class at school and happened to snap a photo of myself in a long black dress on a park bench. The sun cast a shadow that reminded me of a weeping woman and I titled it “Shadows of Sorrow.” My teacher encouraged me to submit my photo to a nationwide photography competition, and to my delight, I was awarded first place. From my very first photo, I understood the importance of light and shadows and the ways in which these elements emphasize emotion and can create impact. Just as my parents would draw in the audience and entertain, I learned to captivate with my images — whether a family portrait, landscape or high-fashion location shoot.
What are some of your favorite photos? Any locations you particularly enjoyed?
I’ve had the pleasure of working in so many amazing places… Budapest, Reykjavik, London, Amsterdam and Oahu to name a few. This has been a fantastic year for me so far. I had the pleasure of shooting on-location in several areas of Alaska. In particular, I loved taking a helicopter to a remote glacier for a shoot. It was exceptionally beautiful. Despite being pretty slick and difficult to walk on, I was able to get it done and my subjects were just phenomenal. I always try to incorporate laughter when I am shooting; it makes everything so much better. With my subjects’ sense of humor, ability to relax and willingness to take risks with me, it resulted in compelling imagery. I’m really pleased with how that session turned out; it made me very proud of my work and gave me a great sense of accomplishment.
Another location close to home that I recommend is the Ca’d’Zan, the Ringling State Art Museum of Florida. Located in Sarasota and brimming with elegance, it is home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States. The sprawling estate, with its botanical gardens, Italian-inspired architecture and Venetian gothic gateways literally transport you back in time. My subjects were thrilled with their photos. There is nothing more beautiful than a mother and young daughter shoot. I am passionate about capturing those tender memories for my families. It brings me so much joy and I love to see them year after year.
What kind of advice you could give to beginner photographers who may want to pursue photography as a career?
Well, don’t quit your day job until you’ve generated a steady income stream. Be prepared to work non-stop! Turning a hobby into a career takes determination, willpower and marketing yourself every day. Start by establishing a diverse portfolio, connecting with professionals in your community, and consistently promoting yourself on social media. If your work is good and your passion is there, people will notice.
Learn everything you can about the latest trends in the industry and develop a solid business plan with defined goals. Start out simple and stick to your budget. Photography equipment is expensive and even though you may want every lens and accessory, you need to master the basics. Read other photography blogs for new ideas and perspectives. Even though it can be challenging at times, always stay positive. I always solicit feedback from my clients, friends and even strangers to hone my skills and to keep my photos fresh and relevant. Photography is a journey- enjoy every milestone and don’t forget to fine-tune your editing skills.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m glad you asked, because I have been working on my long-term business plan and there are so many opportunities I’d like to pursue. I plan to continue shooing corporate photography, families and definitely fashion, always growing my client base and expanding my business. In five years, I expect to have a full-time staff and plan to work multiple locations in Tampa Bay and Bethesda, Maryland. As new technologies emerge, I will be one of the early adopters who brings the newest innovations to my clients. I couldn’t be more excited about the next five years; it’s extraordinary what can happen when you turn your dreams into reality! I’m so glad I followed my heart
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