Kara Hudgens is #MadeForKnoxville.

Two main passions have guided Kara’s career: a love for imagery and a love for the ocean. Though these two worlds didn’t necessarily overlap at once in Kara’s career, she has allowed her interests to shape her path forward and has found joy in the ever-evolving journey.

Kara began her career as a coastal resource manager, monitoring the impact of development on coastal land and communities in North Carolina. Her life and career focus shifted when she decided to take over her father’s tech company after his death; in so doing, she learned a lot about running a business, including “how to ‘science the sh**’ out of a spreadsheet.” In this move, Kara began to pursue creative interests that had intrigued her ever since she was a young girl, and eventually began to provide photography services as a side hustle. Today, as the owner of Kara Hudgens Photography Co., she takes a creative approach to capturing images that are a true expression of her client’s personality. Sometimes, that means using strobes with natural lighting or a prism to create the desired effect. No matter what the approach she takes, Kara partners with her clients to make sure their story is told in a way that is representative of who they are. 

“I love creating images for brands and entrepreneurs who want dynamic and vibrant custom photos that tell their unique story.”

In Their Own Words…

I’ve always had a fascination with images and photography. Every Christmas when I was a kid, my parents gave me a subscription to National Geographic magazine, and I was captivated by the glossy images of science, exotic places, people, and different cultures. I spent much more time “reading” the stories told by the magazine’s documentary pictures than I did the written words.

As a teenager, I devoured the editorial photography in Rolling Stone and Vogue, noticing the energy, emotion, composition, and clothing on each page. And about that time, my dad, whose hobby was photography, gave me his 1968 Minolta XD-11 film camera and several lenses so I could learn the ropes.  I was hooked on making my own little bit of magic in photographs.

And so I went to photography school, started freelancing and worked my way up from photo assistant to fashion and commercial photographer, capturing work for big brands like … Vrrrrrrrpp. (Record-scratch.)

Well, no, that beautifully linear career path is not my story. Like many entrepreneurs, my career pursuits took a few turns, propelled and directed by life changes and new interests. My passion for photography and creating compelling images never wavered, but it did take a back seat for a while.

Today, my photography is inspired by color, bold simplicity, unique beauty, and collaboration! With every project, I partner with my client to define their need, the audience, and the look and feel we are working to achieve in the images. In a photo shoot, I may use colored gels, prisms, strobes with natural light, and any number of indoor or outdoor environments to create unique and modern looks.

I love creating images for brands and entrepreneurs who want dynamic and vibrant custom photos that tell their unique story. From headshots, portraits, and product images, to social media content and model portfolios, I’m passionate about using innovative processes to make eye-catching photographs that help my clients express their inner beauty, true character, and singular value.

Instead of photography, my first career focused on another love: the vast and dynamic ocean coastlines. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina, and a Master’s degree in Marine Affairs from the University of Washington. Working for the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management (NCDCM), I researched ways to monitor the impacts of development projects on natural coastal resources. I enjoyed the challenge of standing in the gap between private land use and environmental protection of a constantly changing strip of land beloved by many with impassioned views of use or conservation. I learned to listen well and keep the big picture in mind.

My journey from coastal resource manager to professional photographer started in 2003 and manifested about 10 years later. More of a long on-ramp to entrepreneurship than a pivot, it started when I chose to leave my job at NCDCM and move to Mooresville, North Carolina to oversee my father’s tech business after his death. While I didn’t pick up any skills for industrial controls automation, I did start learning how to run a business and how to “science the sh**” out of a spreadsheet. Career-wise, I intended to refocus on general land resource management, planning, or education.

It soon became clear that with the move home geographically/physically, I was also gravitating back toward a more creative path. I worked as the graphic designer, communication, and marketing coordinator for a rapidly growing church, and started picking up photography jobs as a side hustle in 2006. To hone my craft, I took classes and attended workshops to experiment in different genres of photography and graphic art.

In 2009, I married my long-distance love and moved to Knoxville, prompting the final stage of the pivot. After several years of working remotely for the church, I realized that it was time to follow my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit. I had the skills, the passion, and was quickly learning how to run the business. I officially opened Kara Hudgens Photography Co. in December 2016. It was time to be all in serving the Knoxville community.

Life pursuits aren’t linear. You can start something, pause, and then pick it up again years later. 

Education is never wasted. Gain knowledge on a specific subject, and you’ll acquire valuable skills that will benefit your entire life’s journey.


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