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Meet Mallory Kessel of Mallory Kay Photography in Bankers Hill

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mallory Kessel.

Mallory, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My high school offered a photography introduction course for sophomores and older and that was the first class I signed up for as soon as I was able. The instructor began by teaching us the most basic functionality of a camera by having us construct a pinhole camera made from a tin can and electrical tape. From there, we moved onto 35mm film cameras. I learned how to develop my own film and enlarge my own images in the darkroom. I loved the process so much that I shot exclusively with film until 2016. At this time, I landed a job as a product photographer at Into the Wind, a well-known toy and kite store in Boulder, CO. It was a dream. I came and went as I pleased, played with toys, edited the images, and provided a copy for the website. It was my first paid photography job.

In 2018, I moved from Denver, CO to San Diego, CA. I saved some money and made the trip without a job, without a place to live, and without many contacts. I had always seen myself as a photography enthusiast at best. It wasn’t until I moved to San Diego that I began to believe in myself and think “This should be my profession.” I started posting ads on Craigslist for $50 photoshoots. I eventually was booking gigs, making contacts, and finding my niche. Now, I attend as many meetups as I can, from San Diego to Los Angeles, for practice and to meet models and other local creatives. These meetups have shaped me in more ways than one.

My greatest accomplishment has been shooting a wedding. I met a mother-daughter wedding planning duo who was referred to me through a client I had. They then referred me to a bride and groom who hired me to shoot their wedding of 173 guests. I practiced, enrolled in courses, upgraded my gear, and practiced some more. I shot the whole wedding by myself and realized that while photography is incredibly hard work, it is what I want to do.

Has it been a smooth road?
While my move from Denver to San Diego was the right choice, it was very challenging. I moved to a new place without contacts, income, or a home. I worked odd jobs to stay afloat, but still wasn’t making enough. I eventually found an apartment with a month-to-month lease in case I could no longer afford it. I considered renting a storage unit and living out of my car because that would be cheaper than rent and hey, it’s California – the land of carefree people surfing and living in vans. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I realized some people follow their dreams (cheesy, but true). People come here to make art and hopefully make a living from it. I wanted to be one of those people.

I am still working on growing my business and gaining name recognition. I work full-time as an escrow assistant and pursue my photography the other 128 hours per week. This alone has been a struggle, but a blessing. If I did not have this job, I may not live here still. It allows me the freedom to invest in my business and relieves some pressure. I have to work that much harder to balance both and sleep less, but it is worth it in my eyes.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Mallory Kay Photography – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Three keywords: adaptability, vulnerability, and authenticity. I specialize in portraits and event photography, capturing candid and lifestyle photographs to look back on and relive. I need to capture the genuine feelings behind an image. While I do enjoy styled shoots and working with models, I love capturing the little quirks that make a person special. Even when working on a styled shoot, I find that the images I look back on most are the ones where the model let their wall down a bit and giggled. As my dad says, “A pretty picture is a dime a dozen.” My work has a voice and is more than a facade. I work to pull the personality out from my subject and capture it. It is unscripted and relatable.

I am most proud of my story, where I came from, my devotion to photography, and my bravery. In the short time that I have been in this new city, I have accomplished more than I ever thought possible. If you asked me two years ago if I would ever shoot a wedding, I would have said NO WAY because 1. I didn’t think I wanted to and 2. I didn’t think the opportunity would ever present itself. If you set your mind to something, so much can change in very little time.

I take pictures because I love them. The sound of my shutter is the most beautiful in the world. I will always work with clients regarding price range, creative vision, nerves, ANYTHING. I aim to connect with people and create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable, totally themselves, and where everyone and every idea is valued.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I will try to keep this brief as I could talk about this extensively. First, I appreciate the people that this city attracts. I am sure the weather has a lot to do with this, but almost everyone you meet here is in a good mood. The people are friendly, approachable, welcoming, relaxed, ambitious dreamers.

Next, there are so many amazing activities available to us. So many hotspots around town to try and places to see. Every borough has a different vibe and style so it doesn’t take much effort to leave one world and enter another. There are so many welcoming communities in San Diego. There is a group of like-minded individuals for everyone. Photography, fitness, music, juggling, whatever you could think of. It is difficult to be here and not grow as a human being.

Unfortunately, with all the pros, there are some cons. San Diego is a very transient city. People come and go very quickly. You connect with someone and boom, they are gone on their next adventure. It can be difficult to find your footing in that way. However, this is also what makes San Diego amazing. You can meet so many people from different walks of life trying to enjoy every second as much as possible. San Diegans live in the moment.


  • Portraits starting at $80
  • Weddings starting at $1,300
  • Assistant services starting at $20 hourly
  • Commercial photography options available

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Portrait of Mallory credit: Sydney Prather

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