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San Clemente Journal

Katelyn Gardner, Photographer Inspired by the Sea.

Sep 21, 2023 10:37AM ● By Rebecca Parsons

San Clemente Dory Boat at Sunset.

By Rebecca Parsons

Born and raised in San Clemente, Katelyn Gardner’s life was shaped by her upbringing in the seaside town. In college, Gardner did a stint in San Francisco, and it was there that she first discovered photography. She started shooting the new sights and cityscapes and when she returned home to San Clemente, she began avidly taking photos of the coast. Today, Gardner’s work is featured at local events and art markets and can be found in shops and restaurants around town. Here, Gardner shares how she first got her start in photography, what she loves about taking photos, and her career highlights along the way. 

Katelyn Gardner at San O’. Photo by Jana Benjoya


What did you shoot when you were first getting started? 
Even when I lived in San Francisco, I went to the beach/ocean a lot even though it’s colder and windier than in San Clemente. I was shooting a mixture of beachscapes and cityscapes. I also took a trip to Italy during that time and took an overwhelming number of photos of everything I saw: architecture, produce, street scenes, and landscapes. I feel like taking that trip early in my photography journey kind of cemented the addiction. Since then, my technical ability and editing knowledge have improved and it has made the quality of my photos better. I do feel like composition and knowing what I want to shoot came very naturally to me and those areas haven’t changed all that much.

What do you typically shoot nowadays? 
Since I moved back to San Clemente in 2017, I almost exclusively shoot beachy stuff. Any local beaches, especially in SC, are my favorite places to shoot. It never gets old because even if I’m shooting the same spot for the hundredth time, it’s always changing and there’s always a new moment, sunset, surfer, or something to capture. I’m a sucker for plants in front of the ocean, which luckily San Clemente has an abundance of. I have a soft spot for VW busses and other vintage beach mobiles—I’ve loved them as long as I can remember and until I can afford, one I’ll be snapping pictures of them!

What do you love about taking photos?
For me, taking photos is a form of escape. When it’s just me and my camera down at the beach, I feel very in the moment and observant of what’s around me. As an overthinker with anxiety, it pulls me out of my head and calms me down. It’s also one of the ways I enjoy the beach. I love noticing all the little details that make where we live so special and trying to capture that essence.


Do you have any photos that stand out as favorites? 
There is one I call “San Onofre VW Bus” of a greenish bus and longboard in front of a bamboo patch at Old Mans and it has kind of become my calling card. People recognize it from the taproom at Lost Winds Brewing Company and now it’s on my business card. There’s also the dory boat that says San Clemente on it that people gravitate towards. One of my personal favorites I call “Livin’ the Dream” and it has a surfer walking through the T Street bridge with the pier in the background and birds of paradise in the foreground. It just screams San Clemente to me and I love it.

What have been some career highlights for you?
Hanging my photos in Lost Winds Brewing Company is the best thing that ever happened to me. I had never printed anything before, but they believed in me and I wouldn’t be where I am without them supporting me! That was really what started everything.

Shortly after, as I was aiming to turn my photography into a business, I was displaying at Zebra House Coffee. When my time was up there, I was going to look into doing markets. Before I even finished my display at Zebra House, a local event reached out to me and said they would love to have me there. It felt like the universe was cheering me on and pushing me forward. The event was a success for me and I just remember feeling so encouraged that I was doing what I was supposed to do.

Also, last year I got the opportunity to do all the wall art for the new corporate headquarters of CALI Floors. They gave me the creative freedom to choose most of the photos we printed for their walls and it was the biggest order I’ve had by leaps and bounds. 

Are you currently working on any exciting projects?
I have been working on a photo book for a while on and off, featuring all my favorite photos of San Clemente! It’s basically a visual love letter to this little beach town of ours. I’m just waiting for the right time and way to print it. Stay tuned.

What are your plans and goals looking forward?
Printing my book is one of my major goals right now. I would also love to get my prints in a hotel, partner with the city on a project, and ultimately have my own gallery one day. For now, I am just doing as many shows as I can and getting the word out there more about my work! b

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