Jess Bernstein is Bending the Rules with her Raw and Animated Photography Skills

By: Edy Guy

Meet Jess — world-wide photographer and our dear friend. Her work has a vibrancy all of us can use to keep warm through the winter. We called her up to see if we could share her story with you and we’re so happy that we did.


Jess says her photography career began when her mom handed her a camera at five years old and told her to, “go play.” Her first subject was a garden in her backyard in Southern California where colorful and unique shapes made photos dynamic and beautiful. This was her first taste of what light could do. By the time she was ten, her mother, a wedding and landscape photographer, decided she was skilled enough to come along as her assistant on shoots. Getting to shadow her mother, doing the thing they both loved to do, was what solidified photography as a lifelong and undeniable passion for Jess. 

From that moment on, she never stopped experimenting. When she graduated from college, she bought herself a congratulations gift: a DSLR Canon. Her love for photography was still mostly a hobby at the time. It wasn’t until after attending Lightning in a Bottle, camera in hand, that she figured the festival might get some better use out of her photos. The festival used them as promotional collateral, which was the catalyst for other friends in the industry and other festivals recruiting her to make content for them too. When asked why she loves photographing festivals she says, “people save money all year to attend festivals and it’s invaluable that they have something to take away to remind them of what they felt while they were there,” she says, recounting peoples reactions to photos she’s taken at festivals. It’s also not too bad that she gets to dance, travel, and meet lots of fascinating people while she works.

As Jess has gotten more experience and exposure, she says that she’s shifted focus to other parts of photography that she finds equally as important. One being the relationship the photographer has with the subject. “Conversation, positive reactions, coaching, and making people laugh,” is her recipe for a relaxed and emotionally organic photo. She calls this relationship between subject and shooter “a dance.” She loves the vulnerability and relationship building element of the job. It’s the reason why her photographs speak so loudly. People are comfortable and willing to show themselves to her.

With the pause in programming for music festivals, Jess is grateful to turn inward and work on new subject matters. She’s working with yoga and retreat centers to make photos that are raw and empowering. In these settings she’s seeing, maybe more than ever, the power photography has to showcase a shift in perspective. “I see women moving through trauma, unlocking things that have been stuck inside of them for ages. I get to represent that raw moment,” she says. 

The thing that sets Jess apart from other photographers is her unwillingness to conform to what other people are doing. If you check out her Instagram you see a feed that’s carefully curated, bridging the typical confinements of how others showcase their work. People notice this rebellious and talented nature when interacting with her. Working with Jess is infectious. Her energy is palpable.

We’re grateful to know her as both an artist and a friend that inspires us to put our relationships with people first, trusting that the work that follows will always kick ass. Thanks for everything, Jess!