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Q&A with island photographer Denise McKee

By Staff | Sep 23, 2010

A wife and mother of three children all aged five and under, Sanibel resident Denise McKee spends what little time she has left capturing special moments on film with her business L3 Beach Photography (the L3 stands for live, laugh, love). Find out what keeps Denise living, laughing and loving — and why Madonna would probably top the list of her hypothetical dinner party invitation list.

Where are from originally?

Everywhere! I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico but lived in Miami, Fla.; St. Louis, Mo.; Houston, Texas and Salinas, Calif. for my elementary years. My “growing up” years of high school and college were in Salinas and San Luis Obispo, Calif.

A position as an opening team member with Don Pablo’s restaurants took me to Houston, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio and Indianapolis, Ind. My hotel career took me to Dallas, Texas and Jersey City, N.J. (we were there during Sept. 11).

My husband has moved me to Melbourne, Fla. and now to Sanibel!

What’s your family like?

Intense, loud, fun and vivacious! I’m the youngest of three strong women so family get-togethers are always LOUD!

My home-life consists of a fun, crazy husband who keeps me grounded, and three active non-stop children all under the age of five. I call them my “Monkeys” and they are my life! People ask me how I do “it” and I don’t know any different! I tell people I was a much better parent before kids and Mommyhood is two steps forward and ten steps back! We try to keep structure and routine in our home so that I don’t feel too out of control!

How would you describe your style as a photographer?

I think the actual definition would be “photojournalistic,” but I think the best definition would be “emotion-evoking images.” What that means is, I love when you look at a photo and you can almost hear the laughter of a child. Or feel the love between a father and son. I love to capture those intimate moments that are not posed or rehearsed — the moments that tell the story of your life.

Who or what inspires you?

Of course, God inspires me! I have a strong faith that I have relied on heavily throughout my life.

My parents (father deceased) and my in-laws also inspire me! I love and admire their strength, respect, honesty and unconditional love. They have instilled strong work ethics in my husband and me while also being awesome role-models.

My husband and kids also inspire me! They keep me going because I do want to be “Super-Mom” and “Super-Wife” for them while also being “Me”…they keep my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.

What was your most memorable photo shoot so far?

I’ve actually had two very memorable shoots. The first one was a young couple that I had the pleasure of doing their engagement photos first and then their wedding. They pulled up to the beach on their motorcycles, clad in leather and a “grunge look,” but they were willing to do everything I threw at them. We had the best time and their love really exuded in their images. And then we did their intimate wedding and of course that’s always a memorable day! But a week later, I received a call that the groom had unexpectedly passed away, so they needed images for the memorial service. That couple will always have a special place in my heart and it’s a perfect example as to why people should document special times in their lives.

My second most memorable shoot was not too long ago when I had the absolute honor to photograph my close friend’s daughter for her senior photos! Eight outfit changes, two days and almost 1,000 images! But to see this beautiful young lady whom I’d known since she was an awkward 10 year old with glasses and braces transform in front of me into a beautiful, strong, self-assured young lady — that was a very special shoot for me!

What advice would you give someone who wanted to make the transition from amateur to professional photographer?

Oh, that’s funny — because I’m still learning and hope I continue to learn for the rest of my life! But my advice for anyone is to follow your passion! If you love what you do, you will succeed! People want to work with people that enjoy what they do, so find that thing in your life that ignites a fire in your belly and run with it! Ask for the advice of those you trust and respect in all aspects of your life and they will help steer you in the right direction. And don’t be afraid to not only listen to but actually hear criticism — it will only make you better and stronger!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ha! What spare time? Didn’t I mention I have three young kids!?! Actually, in any spare time I enjoy reading. I love authors like James Patterson, Jonathan Kellerman and Lisa Gardner.

And I love my reality t.v. — watching those shows make me feel even better about my own crazy life!

Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.

I think people would be surprised to learn that I donated my kidney to my sister 10 years ago. But what’s even more surprising is that through the experience, I learned that I would do it again (if I could) for a complete stranger. It was such a small thing for me to do to actually help save someone’s life.

For a while, my sister and I were huge advocates and spokespeople for LifeGift (a Texas-based organ donation organization). We felt a duty to educate people on the myths surrounding organ and tissue donation.

If you could have a dinner party with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?

My dinner-dance party would consist of: Jada and Will Smith (They seem like a fun couple), Madonna (hey, she’s my 80’s icon!), Oprah (She’s provided many “A-Ha” moments for me), my in-laws (Very fun and interesting people), my sisters (They’re a lot of fun), my mom and dad (It would be awesome to see them together again. My father passed away about 18 years ago) and my husband (Of course! He’s my rock!).

What do you enjoy most about Sanibel and Captiva?

I love the fact that my outdoor studio (the islands) provides unlimited opportunities to capture images that speak for themselves and allow people to release their personalities and tell their story!

I also love that simply stepping outside my house allows me to walk into a live textbook and hands-on laboratory! Just a walk to the beach encourages us to learn more about all the living creatures around us. I love that not just my children but my husband and I are living in an environment that encourages us to learn more about our environment.

What’s next for Denise McKee and L3 Beach Photography?

Hmmm, good question! I’m pretty happy living in the moment right now. I would just love to continue working hard on the things that I am passionate about in my life — my family, my work and basically living, loving and laughing! You just never know what’s next with us!