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Photographer makes islands her studio

By Staff | Aug 26, 2010

Denise McKee, owner of L3 Beach Photography, snaps a few photos of five-year-old son Jackson. Jackson started kindergarten at the Sanibel School on Monday.

Three months ago, Denise McKee moved to Sanibel from Melbourne, Fla. when her husband, Jason, took on the position of Director of Sales with South Seas Island Resort.

She arrived with her three children — ages five, four and three — and her relatively new business, L3 Beach Photography.

But while the business is new, the art of taking photographs is something McKee is very familiar with.

“Photography has always been a passion of mine. I was always the one at the birthday parties taking pictures and my friends would always ask me to photograph their events,” McKee said.

About a year ago, McKee’s brother-in-law, who also happens to be a professional photographer, took a look at her work and immediately saw that she had a knack for the craft — especially when it came to capturing children and families on film.

Denise and Jackson McKee.

“I started taking to other moms, and they all agreed that we’re never in the picture — we’re always the ones taking the pictures. That’s how I got started,” McKee said. “I’ve been able to make my passion my business.”

McKee conducts all of her photo sessions for L3 Beach Photography (the “L3” stands for the McKee family motto, “Live, Laugh, Love”) in natural settings around Captiva and Sanibel — and that’s when the L3 magic begins.

“Something happens when you get to beach. There are no cell phones ringing, it’s hard to yell at your kids, everybody’s inhibitions go. Dads get silly, the kids’ personalities come out — and that’s when you capture those special moments,” McKee said. “You’re not confined to a studio and you don’t need props when you’re at the beach. I like to shoot at dusk and every sunset is different, the water is different, the shells are different. I really like to utilize what the islands have to offer. “

McKee’s photo sessions can range anywhere from an hour to three hours. “Though, last weekend I did a two-day session with seven different outfits for a girl’s senior pictures. We did everything from a pink polka dot bikini on a bicycle to a jean skirt and cowboy hat at the Chapel By-the-Sea, and even a long silky dress in the water at South Seas. She looked like a mermaid. It was gorgeous,” McKee said.

And McKee isn’t afraid of letting her subjects — or herself — get sandy or wet during a photo session. For her, encouraging silliness or playfulness is all part of what makes a great picture.

McKee conducted a two-day senior portrait session with Samantha G. from Kennedale, Texas. This image was part of Samantha’s “Trash the Prom Dress” shoot at the T-Dock at South Seas Island Resort.

“Some people want the matching white shirts and khaki pants portraits — I can do them, but it’s not my style. When I talk to clients, I ask them what kinds of things they like to do and what represents their personality and that’s when my creativity starts going.”

Because every moment is special and worthy of preservation to McKee, she said she likes to keep her prices reasonable because so that families can come to her several times a year, rather than once every several years.

McKee also makes it easy for families to view their proofs once the session is over.

“Everything is done online through e-mail. Whether you live in Australia or down the street, you don’t have to come back to the studio to look at the pictures. So at 2 o’clock in the morning when the kids are finally asleep and the dishes are done, you can sit down and go through the pictures at your own pace,” McKee said, noting that the digital method has definitely made things easier for many of her clients.

“I had one mom, pregnant with her fourth child, who I’d done belly pictures for and she went into the hospital to give birth. She was able to take her lap top and look at the pictures in the hospital,” McKee said. “We did another photo shoot of two girls whose dad was serving in Afghanistan, and because I do everything online, their dad was able to look at the photos through e-mail from overseas.”

The Watkins family from Ohio watches the sun set at South Seas Island Resort.

As McKee continues scouting out new island locations for future photo shoots — with her children/test models in tow — she’s also thinking up ways to give back to the community that she’s fallen in love with.

“In Melbourne, I liked to do fundraisers through my son Jackson’s school and my church, where a portion of the money from the photoshoot would go back to the school or the church. It was a unique way for me to market and give back to the community and to the family that participated in the photo session. It was awesome to be able to do that. We’re always trying to think out of the box,” McKee said.

And if you’re wondering why McKee keeps saying “we,” it’s because L3 is as much a family business as it is hers.

“It really is a family business. The kids model for me and Jason goes to weddings with me. It’s interesting because he has a male perspective — I focus on the emotional aspects and he focuses more on the architecture of the picture.”

Right now, McKee is focusing on updating the L3 website and expanding her already successful business. And because she works from home, she can do all those things and focus on her most important job — being a mom.

McKee likes to encourage her subjects to have fun and express themselves during photo shoots — not just sit still and look at the camera.

“I feel so blessed.”

You can learn more about L3 Beach Photography by visiting www.L3BeachPhoto.com or e-mailing Denise@L3BeachPhoto.com.