Saturday in the Arts is a weekly feature covering a trend, subject, event or personality of local interest. It runs every Saturday morning on Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Lifeyour site for the best entertainment and arts coverage in the area, QuadCities.com!

Jessica Sheridan loves to share the light, capture the light, and be the light.

The bubbly, passionate 34-year-old Bettendorf native has a strong theatrical background and she’s consistently used her devotion to storytelling – on stage and off – to make a career as a professional photographer and theater artist.

Sheridan graduated in 2008 from St. Ambrose University with a degree in theater, and she taught and directed at Davenport Junior Theatre from 2010 to 2020. Her husband Daniel was the longtime DJT artistic director and remains the city of Davenport performing arts supervisor, busy with Junior Theatre.

As a photographer, Jess directs her clients like they’re on stage.

SAU theater professor “Cory Johnson showed me how to make a beautiful stage picture and guess what? That translates perfectly to real life and creating a beautiful picture to go in a frame,” Jess said. “Part of photography is having an eye, but Cory helped me to train my eye to see specifically ways to tell a story.”

Her clients are actors in a way, revealing emotion. Someone told her once, “Emotions are like currency; you should be careful where you

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Sheridan considers herself a storyteller and loves to share the love.

spend them.”

“I want my clients to feel comfortable being with me, spending some of their emotional currency,” Jess said. “Anyone can take a picture and put it on their fridge. What I’m interested in is telling the story of how they hold hands; how that 2-year-old boy giggles when you give him tickles. It’s so much more than just a photo, it’s a moment.”

Clients need to reveal their vulnerability to make a great photo, she said.

After earning her theater degree, she realized she could take headshots for her actor friends, and it turned into requests for family photos, which led her to start the business over eight years ago. It was first called Shared Light Photography, and specializing in couples, kids and families, mostly in warm, spontaneous outdoor portraits.

“I had no idea that starting out taking headshots would lead me here,” Sheridan said, considering herself a storyteller, in many mediums. Her website – now www.jessicasheridanphotography.com — says:

“I’ve made a profession out of storytelling. Be it on stage or behind the camera, it is my true calling…I’m connected to my emotions and don’t mind being vulnerable so you can get in touch with yours as well…I can’t believe I get to call this my job and I can’t wait to share my art with you.”

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Sheridan is a 34-year-old Bettendorf native and 2008 graduate of St. Ambrose.

Her time at with the Ambrose theater department and Junior Theatre prepared her for what she does in photography. Sheridan first called it “Shared Light” based on her theater background – since actors share the light on the stage.

“When I have my clients outside, we’re sharing the light of the sunset,” she said. “That name did great things for me for a really long time, but I’m to the point now when it was time for a name change. It was time for Jessica Sheridan Photography, to take pride in my name.”

She technically switched the business name on Jan. 1, 2021. If people search Shared Light Photography, it will automatically go to her new website.

Jess also has been a regular publicity photographer for DJT and QC Theatre Workshop – “places that are really important to me, where I feel I could give back.”

Her husband Daniel is “the most passionate person I’ve ever met when it comes to children’s theater and its importance,” Jess said. “Absolutely, he is inspiring to everyone around him because he is so passionate, his positivity just radiates. I definitely like working with him, I learned from him every time. As many shows I worked with him on, as a member of the production team, I still don’t feel like it’s enough.”

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Daniel is also an SAU theater alum, who got his master’s in acting from University of Connecticut, and they started dating in January 2009. They got engaged within six weeks, and married in June 2009.

“It was obviously the right choice,” Jess said of getting hitched, and they eloped to Lake Superior, at northern Minnesota’s Gooseberry Falls State Park, attended by immediate family. “I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Daniel Sheridan in the Junior Theatre lobby.

Sheridan has not photographed any eloped couples, but would love to. “It’s a lot of travel, a lot of being away from my family,” she said. “As much as I’d love to adventure with clients, right now it’s not what’s best for me and my family.”

Sheridan loves focusing her attention (and lens) on families, newborns, engagement sessions and couples.

“My heart lies with families and newborns, because that’s the stage of life where I am,” she said, cherishing her ability to stop time.

“I want to shoot the little, intimate, tender moments – the little hands, the little toes,” Sheridan said. “Everybody tells you it goes fast, when you’re in the thick of it. Really, time does not slow

down and seems like it’s always accelerating.”

In the past year, Covid has affected everything for her – professionally and personally.

“2020 was really hard. It mostly impacted by wedding clients; I ended up having several postpone or reschedule altogether,” she said, noting this year will be especially busy for weddings.

She usually tries to limit wedding clients to like 25 percent of her photography, since the weekend assignments takes her away from family time. Jess and Daniel have two cute boys – Charlie is 4 ½ and Elliot will be 3 in May.

“I love weddings because I love my marriage,” Jess said. “I wish we had better photos of our wedding day, so that’s why I started to do wedding photography, because I wanted to be sure other people didn’t miss out on what I did – which is really good photos.”

Balancing kids, Covid and clients

How does she balance a busy family and work life?

“I’m a firm believer it does not take one or two people to raise kids,” Sheridan said. “It takes an entire village – we have family in town, sitters. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Daniel and Jessica Sheridan, with their boys Charlie and Elliot.

Compared to Charlie (an agonizing 36 hours labor), Elliot’s labor and delivery was a breeze.

Jess had never felt such excruciating pain as she experienced before her Charlie was born Aug. 6, 2016.

Before that birth, “I cried tears of exhaustion, defeat, sadness and anger,” Sheridan wrote in February 2017 on her blog. During labor, Daniel gave her a silver ring, inscribed with Charlie’s name, which he had planned to reveal after the birth.

He got on one knee, as if he were proposing, and his wife was confused. “He told me how much he loved me and how much he believed in me and that he knew I could do it,” she wrote. “I now wear it above my solitaire and wedding band. He has always supported me, encouraged me and pushed me to push myself, and this was no different.”

Jess’ experiences with Charlie provided inspiration for her photo business, which focuses on pictures of kids and families. “I always knew it was special to capture family moments before Charlie — but now, it feels so much better to be able to talk to kids and their parents,” Sheridan said in May 2017. “It’s like a new weight of responsibility, and it feels really good to be able to do it.”

Sheridan usually shoots some family photos with her iPhone, and feels if she uses her main cameras, she’s working. Her kids also really aren’t into getting their pictures taken. “It’s not everyone’s thing,” she said. “I respect that about them.”

“When I’m home, I generally put it away,” Sheridan said of her camera.

With her son Charlie, he also was colicky and she couldn’t get newborn photos of him. “I don’t want other people to miss out on newborn photos,” she said. In the past year, Sheridan has always worn a face mask, since she normally likes to get physically close and engaged with clients.

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Jessica Sheridan first named her business Shared Light Photography after actors sharing the light on stage.

“I cannot wait to get my vaccine so I can do it free of worry,” Sheridan said. Nine times out of 10, she shoots outside in a field, and feels comfortable. She actually got Covid from a wedding she shot last fall, while wearing a mask, and many attendees were unmasked.

“I want to make sure my clients are taken care of; I keep my distance,” she said. “I check in with them before and after. If anyone in their family is feeling sick, let’s reschedule.”

Sheridan had severe symptoms after getting Covid; her taste was gone for a while, she hasn’t entirely restored her sense of smell, and is more sensitive to odors. She said she feels lucky, since many others have had a much worse time with the virus (she was never hospitalized).

It hasn’t impacted her shooting in recent months, since photos are not busy during the winter, and Sheridan will pick up more starting at the end of the month.

“I will always take any precautions I can – washing my hands, wearing a mask, things like that,” she said. One of her kids also got Covid and they ended up quarantining for 23 days. “It was a long, long month, that’s for sure,” Sheridan said.

“My clients were very understanding,” she said. “No one has ever been upset with me for having Covid and having to reschedule.”

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In winter, she mostly focuses on indoor newborn photos, and updating her contracts and website, planning out the year to come. Sheridan noted her total number of clients actually stayed stable in 2020 compared to 2019.

“Family pictures are so important every year, especially when you have little kids – they’re growing and changing so fast,” she said. “The clients I had in 2020 trusted me; I trusted them. We took precautions. We were in it together, to give them a great experience and amazing photos.”

In 2020, Sheridan did photos for many smaller wedding ceremonies than couples originally planned – including that of Q-C theater couple Adam and Bethany Sanders. Another wedding was to be large in a backyard and was scaled back.

“It was absolutely beautiful,” she said, noting it featured local vintage clothing. “Not only did this bride decide to make everything small, but she was able to go forward with everything local. There was Lopiez Pizza, Bent River Brewing, which is I think, it kind of epitomizes the generosity of people over the past months – wanting to support more local artists, wanting to keep things more local.”

“I’ve been really grateful to my clients who are staying small and staying local,” Sheridan said. “I’m so so grateful to my returning clients, who book me year after year. I’m so blown away by how many clients come back and back and back.”

One very satisfied family

One such returning client for Jess is Anika Martin of Moline, her husband Greg, and their two kids Aria, 3 ½, and Dylan, 10.

“Jessica has captured all the major moments for my family in the last six years: engagement photos, our wedding, our newborn photo session with our daughter, and an outdoor family session in 2020,” Anika said recently.

“My family is comprised of several different personalities. From outgoing to shy to uncomfortable in front of the camera,” she said. “Jessica is

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Jess took portraits of the Martin family (parents Greg and Anika and kids Dylan and Aria) in fall 2020.

wonderful relating and bringing out the best in every personality type. She is so personable and easygoing and makes the process fun and comfortable for everyone.”

“My entire family room wall is filled with family photos taken by Jess,” Anika said. “I love everything about her shooting style and the completed photo product. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her.”

They began with her 2015 engagement photos at Scott County Park (her son is from a prior marriage), and Sheridan shot their church wedding in 2016, plus reception at Watch Tower Lodge at Black Hawk State Park in Rock Island, with some photos along the Rock River.

“I think her style is still the same, where she’s really good at capturing personality,” Anika said. “But it’s kinda cool, too, to see how she’s evolved and grown over the years two. And now, I mean, I love her. She has a very distinct style, and I really like it.”

Jess and Anika noted they’re definitely not fans of posed, stiff family portraits.

“Everyone in my family all has very different personalities. You know, I have one child who’s very outgoing, and I have one child who’s shy, but she can capture their personalities and take great pictures of both of them,” Anika said.

Last October, she posted one of Sheridan’s photos of her family on Facebook, saying, “Can I just have Shared Light Photography follow us around and capture moments like this ALL THE TIME??”

Anika set up newborn photos for Aria while she was pregnant.

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Jess took portraits of the Martin family (parents Greg and Anika and kids Dylan and Aria) in fall 2020.

“I was really excited. This was a little different because all of our other photos we’ve ever had with her have been — we’re very outdoorsy people, and all the photos are outdoors, which is her style, too,” Anika said. “But she came and did an in-house here at our home. And I mean, that was really nice, too. And I think she was nine days old at the time.

“That was wonderful. And she was so patient because, you know, they’re not really gonna do what they’re told,” she said of Jess. “She was so patient and it was a definite different feel than any of the other sessions we had done. But it was so wonderful. She did such a great job with that too.”

“Her style is exactly what I wanted. Because I’m way more a fan of her style rather than very posed photos,” Anika said. “She was capturing moments, and that’s what I have up — all of my living room wall is a wall full of moments that she has of my family.”

Martin (who’s community relations director at the Two Rivers YMCA) takes her own photos on her smartphone.

“I have such respect for the art form of photography. And I mean, I take a lot of pictures, don’t get me wrong, but they are not up to that caliber,” she said.

“I just feel like she has the ability to really just read people and figure out how to make them feel comfortable,” Anika said. “My husband and I have very different personalities as well, and she’s just so great at reading what people need. And just making them feel able to relax and, you know, not feel posed for anything.”

Capturing light and personality

Sheridan agrees she has a definite visual style and vibe.

She always sends each client a questionnaire asking what kind of photos they want, what look they’re interested in, where they want to be taken – and many usually pick a favorite outdoor spot. “There are a plethora of awesome parks in the Quad-Cities that I definitely shoot at,” she said, noting Scott County Park is one of her faves.

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Jess and Daniel Sheridan eloped for their June 2009 wedding.

Through her settings and shoot times of day, Sheridan is always shooting for consistency of style – often photographing close to sunset or sunrise, with a lot of earth tones.

“Someone can go to my Instagram feed, see an image know that is what their gallery will look like consistently,” she said. “What I go for is a warm tone for my images. With my signature touch is that golden glow, I like things to look nice and creamy in my photos.”

Sheridan also sends her clients a wardrobe style guide, so they can dress for the look she envisions.

“There’s definitely a color palette that works best for my work and that’s what I try to encourage in my clients,” she said. An hour before sunset is known as “the golden hour,” when you get oranges, reds, pinks and purples, “which just adds a beautiful hue to the images,” Sheridan said.

“Having a harsh sun will wash you out, you’ll squint,” she said. “So either the hour before sunset or the hour after sunrise is when I like to shoot, because you get that softer feel from the sun. There is also blue hour, which is 30 to 45 minutes after the sun has set, where you get beautiful blue and purple tones in the sky.”

“A good photographer will really know how to work with that color from the sky to create really beautiful images,” Sheridan said. She does

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

A photo of a swaddled newborn, by Jessica Sheridan.

not do landscape photos of sunset or sunrise in nature without people.

“My clients are my inspiration,” she said. “For me, my inspiration comes from my families – the way they hold each other, the way they snuggle. I can enjoy a beautiful sunset but I’m not inspired to shoot it unless I have a client with me.”

Word of mouth and social media lead to most new clients, Sheridan said. For newborn shoots, they contact her 3-to-6 months before the birth.

“For me the newborn session is more than pictures of the baby; it’s how Mom and Dad are interacting with the baby,” she said. “How brother

and sister are holding the baby.”

Sometimes, newborn sessions can take two hours or more, Sheridan said. “Babies are just like humans – they have these emotions they can’t regulate, these feelings. And you can’t blame a baby or a little kiddo if they’re just not into it that day. It’s patience, giving it time, staying relaxed and calm in that situation.”

She doesn’t have any horror stories from clients, for which she feels lucky.

“I’ve been able to attract really wonderful people in my life, who are willing to pay me to make them art,” Sheridan said, noting she gets to share some of the best times of their lives.

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

A newborn photo by Jessica Sheridan

“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it – to be trusted with such an intimate moment,” she said. “To be trusted with that, it gives me goosebumps. It makes me feel so full and so honored that people trust me to do that for them. For me, photography is art – it’s more than a picture. It’s a memento that will last a lifetime.

“What is this newborn baby going to tell their grandchildren when they show this photo of them?” Sheridan said. “You realize photos do have that lasting impact, it’s really important. That desire, to capture a fleeting moment, it’s important.”

Her photos also seem so spontaneous, filled with love and joy.

“You tell them jokes, give them directions, like let’s have a dance party,” Sheridan said. “Who has the stinkiest toes? I am not too proud to admit that I do tell fart jokes occasionally, because every child will laugh at a fart joke. So keeping things light and funny at a session. There are definitely moments that are more tender, and things get softer.

“I find my clients leave my session feeling joyful, that they had a lot of fun,” she said. “If I can give my clients where they leave feeling that was fun, then I did my job. I want the experience to be great for them also.”

Exhibiting and theater highlights

One of her career theater highlights was acting in the 2013 premiere of “A Green River” at QCTW, written by SAU alum Aaron Randolph and directed by her husband.

“A Green River” centers on Erik (portrayed by Thomas Alan Taylor), a young Army veteran who has returned from overseas to a world he struggles to recognize. Told through a kaleidoscopic blend of present-day sequences, flashbacks, memories and dreams, the 90-minute

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Jessica Sheridan and Tom Taylor in the 2013 premiere of “A Green River.”

drama explores the harsh realities of being a soldier, husband, son, brother and an expectant father.

Being part of that project, “it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life,” Jess said. “If I never perform again, I will always remember how important ‘Green River’ was to me, and the lives we impacted. It will always be very, very special in my heart.”

“The script he made and that performance really impacted people’s lives,” she said. “We had soldiers coming up to us and thanking us, showing what he couldn’t put words to.” One brought his mother back and showed her, this is what he felt, Jess said. “Not only will that piece of theater be important to me, but those people will always be among the more special people in my life.”

Though she doesn’t exhibit her portrait photos, Sheridan had a special Quad City Arts exhibit in December 2015, focusing on the theme of scars. In the stark exhibit of 20 black-and-white images, at Quad City Arts in downtown Rock Island, she rarely showed faces but focused instead on the less pretty.

In late 2013, she shot a series of 50-plus portraits documenting a variety of scars, exploring the relationships, battles and life-saving surgeries that have made marks on her 30 subjects (family, friends and strangers). Through the series, Sheridan aimed to help people take pride in where their bodies have been and show others that they will heal, too.

“I think that there is still that stigma of the societal standard of beauty, and that’s another thing I wanted to do is to help with body image,

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Davenport Junior Theatre is at 2822 Eastern Ave.

that no one’s perfect,” she said in 2015. “Everyone has those stories.”

After Sheridan put the word out calling for “models” for the project, she was surprised to have no trouble getting subjects who were willing to literally expose themselves.

“That was really humbling, to know that people were willing to trust you, sometimes telling deep, personal stories that haven’t been told,” she said, noting that was part of their healing process. “For some people, it was a matter of telling someone about this scar. Just to be able to talk and have that human connection, I think helps.”

This week, Sheridan added: “That project was very important to me, as well as the people who modeled for it.” She doesn’t exhibit her family portraits, but they’re always available on her Instagram and Facebook.

“Otherwise, they’re in my clients’ homes; they’re for personal use,” she said. “It makes me really happy my client can display the artwork in their home.”

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Sheridan taught at Davenport Junior Theatre for 10 years, until last September.

“I quit because I needed a break, but I really miss it,” she said. “I so miss theater and working with kids.”

“That place is a really special place,” Jess said. “It’s not just Daniel that makes it special – it’s him leading the team that really makes it an awesome place to be.”

“The Wizard of Oz” was her last directing gig, in February 2020, with 50 cast members, the largest in the company’s 70-year history.

“I love working with other heater professionals to bring a vision to life, and I love working with students, watching them learn and watching them take steps,” Jess said. “It’s who can be that confident on stage. Watching them step into that confidence and perform on stage, in front of hundreds of people. That’s like the coolest thing for sure.”

Planting new seeds

Sheridan recently started another business venture, The Daisy Lady, in the middle of the pandemic.

“Plants were so therapeutic for me – digging in the dirt and playing with plants, watering them, caring for them, was so therapeutic for me in

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

Jess started a new side business, The Daisy Lady, where she grows and sells house plants.

getting through the initial phase of lockdown,” she said. “I realized so many people felt that same way, but they killed their plants.”

She wanted to help other people not kill their plants, so The Daisy Lady is meant for new to beginner houseplant owners, looking for tips and tricks to take care of plants. Jess raises the wide variety of plants and sells them (“pre-loved”) in pots.

“Just helping people to learn to love their plants the way that I love mine,” Sheridan said. It’s not aimed for gardeners, but for house plants. She tends her own outdoor gardens at home.

“Once they realize that, they realize a garden isn’t that hard to care for,” she said of starting with indoor plants. “Maybe that will give them some excitement to start a vegetable garden or another garden.”

Sheridan sells the plants, not seeds, through www.thedaisylady.com. Of course, plants require light to thrive, so that’s another way she spreads light. “It all comes full circle,” she said.

And everyone she reaches is touched and warmed by her light. (To see samples of Jess’ photos, click HERE.)

Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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Davenport Photographer Loves Capturing All the Feels On Stage and Life

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