Grace Torres’ photography business is more than a passion project that turned into a career. For the 23-year-old, it represents financial freedom.
After falling in love with photography at the age of 13, Torres spent years documenting Sweet 16 parties in New Jersey for low pay and working at Chick-Fil-A to afford a set of $500 cameras. While attending Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, she won a few clients and money, but wasn’t convinced photography could pay the bills after college.
Then she learned that successful freelance photographers often start by investing in high-quality gear. So after graduating from college in December 2020, Torres invested in new cameras and lenses, and gradually took up photography full time.
In total, Torres says she spent about $45,000 to get her business started. It’s paying off: In 2021, she made $177,000 in revenue — and today, she brings in more than $10,000 a month, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
“I’ve always worked multiple jobs throughout college, and so being able to only have one job which is my own setting, my own hours, making my own schedule has been such a blessing to me. “Torres told CNBC Make It. “I wake up every morning so excited to work with the clients I work with and do what I love.”
Here’s how Torres turned a hobby into a side hustle and then into a full-time, six-figure business.
From hobby to side hustle
Torres bought her first camera – a Canon Rebel T3 – in 2012, before a family road trip from New Jersey to Colorado. Along the way, the family stopped at several national parks, and Torres fell in love with capturing nature behind the lens.
“Even at 13, I saw it as an investment,” says Torres. “I bought [it] with the money I had saved for birthdays and Christmases.”
Initially, her plan was to pursue a science education in life after college. So in high school, she focused on academics, taking time to shoot portraits and birthday parties for fun—sometimes earning $100 for four hours of work.
Then, in college, her side hustle picked up steam: in 2019, at age 20, she was earning around $2,000 from freelance photography and graphic design. She started thinking about what a full-time photography gig would look like.
Invest in a passion
At first, Torres says, the outlook looked bleak: She’s already held two or three other jobs throughout college, largely to help afford her camera gear. But after following other photographers on Instagram, she realized that if she balanced her equipment costs with more shots, she had a shot at making a full-time living.
She increased her availability and started booking gigs every two weeks instead of every two months. About a year later, she graduated from Southeastern University and completed a part-time paid internship at a nonprofit to help supplement her finances until she could transition into a career. as a full-time freelance photographer.
“I’m not a big risk taker, especially when it comes to finances,” Torres says. “Having this part-time job really gave me the stability and confidence I needed to dedicate more time to photography.”
Torres spent a few months researching sustainable business practices and working on customer acquisition through social media. In May 2021, five months after graduating from college, she took up her photography business full-time.
Over the past year and a half, Torres has delegated some of his responsibilities. She’s invested in a legal department to help her with contracts, hired a CPA to teach her how to file taxes for her fledgling business, and has a contractor helping her with photo editing.
Most of the time, she says, she feels like she’s living a dream. Other days, however, remind him of the challenges of being a young entrepreneur.
Last year was a banner year for weddings, following the nationwide Covid-19 restrictions of 2020 – and Torres certainly says he felt the pressure. She photographed 46 weddings in one year, including 10 in a single month.
To combat burnout, she’s learned to plan fewer weddings, even if it means sacrificing income. This year, it has committed to 34. It plans to limit next year’s number to around 27. It has also begun to outsource some of its services from its home office in Lakeland, Florida, paying subcontractors to edit their photos and manage the accounts.
The more work-life balance she can build, Torres says, the better.
“I want to continue to build my business, to grow and evolve, so that I have more opportunities to work with more couples that I really connect with and to travel to places I’ve always wanted to go,” she says.
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