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Behind the lens: Melanie Moraga

November 30, 2016
By ASHLEY GOODMAN ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

When Melanie Moraga, the assistant director of the Bailey-Matthews National Museum, isn't at work, you can find her combing the beaches of Sanibel in search of that perfect sunset or shell picture.

Moraga's infatuation with photography began in 2008 when she was a stay-at-home mom.

"I picked up a camera and started taking pictures of flowers around my pool, that's really how it started. I really liked what I saw through the lens," Moraga said.

Article Photos

Melanie Moraga with Richard Johnson, owner of Bailey’s General Store.

Ashley Goodman

The very first award Moraga received for her photography was in the November 2012 issue of Florida Travel + Life magazine. She placed first in the sunset category. Her award-winning image "Sunset before the storm" shows her two daughters walking on Blind Pass Beach against an orange sky.

"I didn't photoshop it or have any photography experience or education. It was all what I saw and felt," she said. "I want people to see the images as I capture them."

Most recently, her sunset photos have been on display on Coastal Living's website. She has also won R.S. Walsh's monthly photography contest. Her images have also been used in by Sanibel CHR and the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Moraga notes that some of her favorite photographers are Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher and Elizabeth Gadd.

"I think Clyde Butcher is one of the most amazing photographers I've ever had the privilege of meeting. I met Clyde last March and it felt like I was meeting a super star," she said.

Moraga is originally from Connecticut. She made the move to South Beach in Miami in 1992 in her 20s. A few years later, she moved to Ft. Lauderdale with her family. After deciding that she didn't want to raise her children on the east coast, she and her family eventually landed in Estero. In 2014, she moved to Sanibel.

"Sanibel is such a special place to me. Every morning I wake up, walk outside and smile. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I'm here. I'm living on this island, I'm working on this island, I'm taking pictures on this island and I'm creating a legacy for my children which means more to me than you can imagine," she said.

For the last few years, Moraga has been selling her art at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the Island Inn and the Sanibel Shell Show, where, for last four years, her photos have been used as the cover for the program.

Most recently, Moraga was offered the opportunity to sell her work at Bailey's General Store.

"I admire how Richard and Mead Johnson for carrying on how Francis and Sam ran Bailey's General Store. The Johnson family has been wonderful," Moraga said. "I don't know of any other community I've lived in like Sanibel."

Right now, Moraga has five prints for sale at Bailey's; two sunsets and three shell photos. All the pictures were shot on Sanibel.

Moraga credits a handful of organizations that have helped her get where she is today. They include Zonta, the Sanibel-Captiva Optimist Club, Sanibel-Captiva Kiwanis Club, Friends Who Care, F.I.S.H. and Sanibel CHR.

She is especially grateful for Dorrie Hipschman, executive director of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, who, she says, has taught her everything.

"This community has helped me in every aspect. It's the most amazing feeling to know that I live in a place where everybody is so kind and authentic," Moraga said.

Moraga's work is available on



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