Turning my love for photography into a side hustle

Sometimes, all it takes is a leap of faith to pursue a hobby you’ve always wanted to do.

Noreen Shazreen

Probably the coolest cat lady you’ll ever meet.

Published: 23 September 2021, 12:10 PM

We all have that sweet escape or something to fall back onto when life gets tough and everything feels meaningless. In my case, photography is that escape – it allows me to connect with the world more deeply and helps me see things from a different perspective.

When I was younger, I enjoyed flipping through the National Geographic magazines, feeling intrigued by the beautifully written words and the tastefully displayed photographs on the pages. 

The process of taking photographs and assembling them into a magazine has always fascinated me.

However, I had no family members who were remotely interested in photography or other artistic pursuits. My first interaction with a camera was with my mother’s iPhone 5, which I believe was pretty standard for a family to have in those times.


I used to take photos with my mother’s iPhone, which was considered the best phone camera at the time. PHOTO CREDIT: LIZ WEDDON VIA UNSPLASH


Despite growing up as an artsy kid who participated in art clubs and joined writing competitions throughout my 10 years of education, I never had the opportunity to get my hands on a DSLR camera.

In the past, I thought about giving up the interest because owning a camera was too expensive and something I couldn’t afford as a teenager.

It was only in April 2019 that photography appeared in my life again.

Falling in love with photography

It is no secret that Japan is one of the most desirable places in the world when it comes to street photography. Before starting my first year at polytechnic, my family and I visited Japan as part of our two-week vacation.

The neon alleys of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are a haven for street photography, while the famous Shibuya crossing provides photographers with the opportunity to expand their creative capabilities.


The neon alleyways in Osaka rekindled my love for photography as I wanted to capture a moment I could revisit anytime. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


It was the first time in my life that I had been at a certain place with so many photographers. Everywhere I turned, there were at least three photographers holding their professional cameras and snapping shots of various architecture.

As I began exploring the realm of photography, I started snapping photos of the streets in Japan using my trusty iPhone XS Max (which was an upgrade from my previous device). Little did I know that that would be the start of my photography journey.


Although my photos in Japan were taken on my iPhone and weren’t the best attempt, they filled me with excitement. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


With every shot, photography gave me a greater sense of satisfaction. It was also this photo that made me realise pursuing photography more seriously might be something worth doing. 

Extending my knowledge of photography

With my hard-earned savings, I bought a Canon Rebel T3 – perhaps the most significant purchase of my life. I had been hesitating to buy a camera for many years because I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the investment.

Thankfully, that purchase reignited my passion for photography. I remember using it in the car while my mom was driving us home. Although it was my first and poorest attempt, it fills me with great joy to this day.


Out of sheer excitement, I snapped my first DSLR photo while I was on the way home. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


As a photography newbie who just bought her first DSLR camera, I began searching for various YouTube tutorials to learn more about the mechanics of the camera so that I could properly operate it to its full potential.

My favourite channels to watch were Jessica Kobeissi, Mango Street, and Harry Shaw, as their videos were concise yet easy to follow for beginner photographers like me.

Having binge-watched these videos, I knew that the best way to improve my photography skills and gain more experience would be to shoot with friends who share the same interest.

Whenever possible, I would clear my schedule on Saturdays to go out on shoots with my friends. Our go-to spots for taking photos were at Chinatown and the area encircling Marina Bay Sands.


The lights from the skyline, paired with the sunset, make it an ideal location for golden hour photos. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


Gradually, I started learning how to use my camera in ways I would never have imagined. To improve my street photography, I learnt how to achieve a bokeh effect and how to focus on moving subjects.

As my skills slowly improved, I began sharing the photos I had taken and edited on my social media platform to showcase my work. The simple act of sharing my photographs on Instagram was a spontaneous gesture that allowed me to express myself through my work.

Taking up photography as a hobby while freelancing

As an amateur photographer doing this as a hobby, I wasn’t expecting a reaction, nor for anyone to say that they would like to see more of my work. 

But as I began sharing more photographs on my Instagram account, I started receiving more and more direct messages from people telling me how much they enjoyed seeing my photographs. 

I was thrilled to receive the overwhelming amount of support that I never anticipated. My friends have also encouraged me to charge for my work as I put a significant amount of time and effort into taking and editing the photographs.

Initially, I was reluctant to charge people for my photos due to a lack of confidence in my skills. I felt that I was an amateur photographer unworthy of compensation. I was also doing photography for the past six months out of pure interest, without any profitable goals in mind. 

Despite these fears, I took the risk anyway.

I vividly remember one of the first photography gigs I did with a couple who stumbled upon my listing on Carousell. It was the first gig where I had to meet and converse with strangers since most of my previous clients had come from close contacts or mutual friends.


I felt honoured to be the photographer for my client’s pre-wedding shoot. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


Meeting my clients for the first time was also an anxiety-inducing experience I had to overcome. Each day leading up to the shoot date, I would stress about how the shoot would go, whether any problems may arise, or if interactions with my clients become awkward.

Having done more shoots, I’ve learnt that these fears are really just in my head as everything typically goes smoothly on the shoot day.


Having the opportunity to capture a special moment for my clients was one of the best experiences of my life. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


Besides improving my interpersonal skills and client interactions, I also learnt how to properly manage my finances and coordinate payments with my clients. Operating as a one-person business, it was my responsibility to keep track of deposits, remaining balances, and the needs of my clients.

My side hustle has taught me to be more assertive, as there were occasions where friends wanted to lowball or pay me less than the amount I charged.

Doing photography as a side hustle also provided me with some income as I had lost my part-time job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the extra income I received from this side hustle, I upgraded my equipment and purchased a prime lens which is ideal for portrait photography.


The prime lens makes portrait photography more beautiful by creating a shallow depth of field. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN


As I continue to explore my passion for photography, taking the leap of faith to pursue this hobby has been one of the best decisions of my life. The friendships I have made and the experiences I have gained are valuable and things I will never take for granted.

I bought my DSLR camera purely out of interest and to fulfil my childhood dream of learning more about the world of photography. Little did I know then that picking up this hobby would introduce me to a whole range of life skills while providing me with an outlet to express myself creatively.

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