Flying Solo

After West Company’s advice, I updated all of my social media and highlighted Mendocino and three days later I booked my first client from Yelp."


Blake Floyd Gardner flying his drone while standing in a Mendocino County redwood forest

When looking at photographer Blake Floyd Gardner’s work, you are quick to notice the mesmerizing way the photos capture the subject’s personality. You feel as if you know the person. You can imagine what it might be like to be with them, the sound of their laughter, and their introspective thoughts. This is what Gardner considers the measure of a successful portrait.

“To me, it’s more than just taking a pretty picture, it’s about revealing the authentic nature of the person and catching that moment when they are who they are, like when you’re with a friend and there are no cameras around,” says Gardner.

After working in Los Angeles as an actor and an improv comedian, Gardner eventually grew weary of working for other people in “dead-end jobs” and turned to his family trade. Gardner’s father was a professional portrait and wedding photographer, and over the years Gardner evolved his own style to also include real estate and food photography as well. Gardner says a large part of why his career really took off and went in the direction it did, was due to unexpected circumstances.

Gardner started his career as a professional portrait photographer in Los Angeles in 2003, where he predominantly shot celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Betty White, Robert Downey Jr. and Morgan Freeman.

“Although at the time I was an average photographer with a photography background from my father, I had a lot of connections with actors and that was helping me out,” explained Gardner, “I did a play with a writer and she eventually started writing for a trade publication. They started working with celebrities and one day their photographer bailed on a shoot with Jim Carrey. They called me and asked if I could do it. I said yes! The shoot fell through, but it got me in the door with the company and I started to photograph celebrities and then other actors wanted to work with me and from there it kind of took off.”

In 2015, Gardner decided to take time off and, selling his LA home, set off on a road trip. He ended up in Fort Bragg working at Living Light institute as a chef, where his photography skills came in handy teaching a food photography course to show students how to properly photograph their culinary creations.

After several months, he decided to start up his photography business again. He reached out to West Company, a local nonprofit that supports small business development, for some help. At first glance, he had already run a successful business, however, he found the West Company advising and insights were helpful to understand the local economy. It gave him insights to new ways to structure a thriving local business.

“It was really good on a weekly basis to have check ins, which kept me on my game. I can’t push off getting business cards. I can’t push off getting my business license. I can’t push this or that off anymore. West Company helped me be accountable” explained Gardner.

In addition, Gardner found their insights on establishing a business on the coast helpful. As a newer member of the community, West Company gave him advice on how to update his website and social media with his photography of Mendocino and its locals.

“Yelp was just coming around when I was starting my business in LA, but it wasn’t a way people found me. People mostly found me by word of mouth, I never really kept track of it. After West Company’s advice, I updated all of my social media and highlighted Mendocino and three days later I booked my first client from Yelp,” said Gardner.

Gardner believes knowing your market is a critical component to having a successful business, which he is working on expanding his clientele by getting his real estate photography business up and running. With a recently purchased drone, he has been experimenting to capture beautiful aerial videos that show amazing views of the homes and surrounding area.

“The next step of my marketing is taking my business cards to realtors, because the vacation home rentals market could use some fresh perspectives of properties through aerial drone photography,” said Gardner.

Already, Gardner has shot several houses on the coast, including a home on the headlands of Seaside Beach that he had been admiring since he moved to the area.

Gardner has fallen in love with the relaxed lifestyle, the coastline, the people, and the small community in Fort Bragg. He is excited about growing his business here and see great opportunities for future growth.

More information on Gardner can be found on his website at

Torrey Douglass