Grace Torres’ photography business is more than a passion project that turned into a career. To the 23-year-old, it represents financial freedom.
After falling in love with photography at age 13, Torres spent years documenting Sweet 16 parties in New Jersey for little pay and working at Chick-Fil-A to afford a $500 set of camera equipment. While attending Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, she earned some clients and cash – but wasn’t confident that photography could pay the bills after college.
Then, she learned that successful freelance photographers often start by investing in high-quality equipment. So, after graduating college in December 2020, Torres invested in new cameras and lenses, and gradually took her photography side-hustle full time.
All told, Torres says she’s spent roughly $45,000 getting her business off the ground. It’s paying off: In 2021, she made $177,000 in revenue — and today, she grosses more than $10,000 per month, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
Torres says she’s sometimes underestimated as a young entrepreneur, but doing what she loves is worth it: “Being a 23-year-old female Asian American entrepreneur with a six-figure business … definitely comes with its highs and lows.”
Jonathan Cortizo for CNBC Make It
“I always worked multiple jobs throughout college, and so being able to just have one job that is my own setting, my own hours, making my own schedule has been such a blessing for me,” Torres tells CNBC Make It. “I wake up every morning so excited to work with the clients that I work with and to do what I love.”
Here’s how Torres turned a hobby into a side hustle, and then into a six-figure full-time business.
From hobby to side hustle
Torres bought herself her first camera – a Canon Rebel T3 – in 2012, ahead of 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 from behind the lens.
“Even as a 13-year-old, I saw it as an investment,” Torres says. “I bought [it] with the money I had saved up from birthdays and Christmases.”
Torres fell in love with photography at age 13 on a family road trip. Last year, her photography business brought in $177,000 in revenue.
Courtesy of Grace Torres
Initially, her plan was to pursue science in life after college. So in high school, she geared her focus toward academics, carving out time to photograph portraits and birthday parties for fun – occasionally earning $100 for four hours of work.
Then, in college, her side hustle gained traction: In 2019, at age 20, she made roughly $2,000 through freelance photography and graphic design. She started to consider what a full-time photography gig would look like.
Investing in a passion
At first, Torres says, the outlook seemed bleak: She already worked two to three other jobs throughout college, largely to help her afford her camera equipment. But after following other photographers on Instagram, she realized that if she balanced her equipment costs with more shoots, she had a chance of making a full-time living at it.
She increased her availability, and started booking gigs every other week instead of every other month. Roughly a year later, she graduated from Southeastern University and took a paid, part-time internship with a nonprofit to help supplement her finances until she could get her bearings as a full-time freelance photographer.
This year, …….