Natalie Hua is just in her second year of college and already has a production company called Photolab Media—here’s how she did it.
At 17 years old, Natalie Hua was already mounting a photo shoot for OWN Academy as an intern in 2020. It was the kind of real-world experience she craved at a time when she didn’t know how to channel her energies and ambitions. The internship gave her a sense of direction and the confidence to create a purpose-driven career.
Eventually, she moved from Hong Kong to Australia to study at the University of Sydney. In a completely new country, she managed to go to college and start her photo and video production company, Photolab Media, at the same time.
Here, Natalie dives deep into her story and how the dots connect in her creative journey.
How did you get into photography?
My dad would always capture our family moments, so I would subconsciously observe him as a kid. I was 12 when I had my first photography introduction class in secondary school. At 15, I discovered the kind of photography that I loved, which was working with people and bringing a vision to life.
What are some of your favorite projects?
There are so many, but what’s top of mind are the projects that pushed me outside my comfort zone. In 2021, I shot eight models in eight hours. We only had one week to plan and execute the shoot for a brand that designed skirts for all, including men.
At a corporate shoot, which meant shooting executives instead of models, I photographed 16 people in four hours. It was interesting to work in a different environment with a tight timeline.
Another is a project that I planned and oversaw from Sydney, and another photographer executed in Hong Kong. It taught me a lot about collaborating with artists to create something special.
What drives your storytelling in photography?
I love working with people and telling their story in a genuine way. Through photography, I realized how we are all connected and how vulnerability is the key to authentic collaboration.
How did photography lead you to start your own production company?
I started freelancing in Hong Kong in 2020. My mom introduced me to a customer at her cafe who had a granola business and needed content to promote it. It just so happened that my friend, Charlie Stewart (also a former intern at OWN Academy), and I were collaborating on brand projects at the time.
Eventually I moved to Australia, where I’m now entering my second year at the University of Sydney, studying innovation and entrepreneurship and visual arts. In 2022, I properly started my photo and video production company, Photolab Media, and signed up for a business name as a sole trader. It’s quite the learning curve because it’s a completely new environment and I didn’t know anyone prior to moving.
What were some challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?
You have to manage a lot of moving parts like your content strategy, marketing numbers, expenses, client pitches, and so on. As you grow, there’s more to juggle which is challenging but also fun.
Most of all, it’s challenging to find new clients in a new country. I’ve been going to networking events and growing my LinkedIn because a lot of our prospective clients are there. I’m also creating content on social media to build credibility. In the process, you learn a lot about who you are as a person and as an entrepreneur.
I’m still exploring Photolab Media’s full potential. In 2023, I want to focus on creating content, developing skills, and building a creative network. I believe we can attract more clients through these efforts.
What’s your leadership style?
One thing I learned from Nat (Natalie Chan, CEO of OWN Academy) is to give your team ownership. It empowers everyone to take action and create something amazing together.
I believe the best leaders in the world are those who show and not just tell. I strive to be the kind of leader who shows what we do but also educates and helps those around them.
Looking back at your OWN Academy internship, how has it impacted you?
Honestly, OWN Academy is such a big part of my life. It helped me find what I love to do. Nat saw our potential and gave us opportunities that no one else would trust young people with. I was able to work in a high production commercial as assistant director, with Charlie as director. It truly gave us real-world experience.
How would you advise young students who want to become photographers and leaders like you?
Stay curious—that’s the biggest thing. Keep honing your skills and meeting people. You can learn so much in different industries, not just in the creative world. Learn the fundamentals of communication and psychology, so you can better understand and collaborate with people.
Want to start building your dream career too? Sign up for the OWN Degree, the world’s first real-world experience degree! The OWN Degree represents the culmination of solving real-world problems with the guidance of industry professionals. Through a framework of Context, Problem, and Solution, it empowers and equips learners like you to pursue fulfilling, meaningful careers.