UT student replaces swimming with photography

Catherine Cahn, Life & Arts Reporter

At age 16, Natalie Hoang was on track to become a Division I collegiate swimmer. Hoang spent her high school state championship talking to recruiting coaches and looking forward to a future in the sport. Then, everything changed.

During a cross-training session, Hoang blew her back out while deadlifting. In one fell swoop, Hoang said she destroyed all of her DI aspirations.

“I had to give up swimming for good,” finance sophomore Hoang said. “Losing that identity and part of myself, I had to fill it up with something else.”

To brighten his sister’s spirits, Hoang’s older brother gifted her a camera, hopeful that photography could one day develop into an interest Hoang could enjoy as much competition swimming.

Instead of allowing grief to swallow her, Hoang said she took advantage of the gift and spent the summer before her first year of college developing her photography portfolio through more than 50 donation-based shoots. When she arrived at UT in fall 2020, Hoang said she endeavored to make herself anew. Instead of a grieving athlete, Hoang became a strong business woman and a positive photographer, showcasing her work on Instagram @nataliehoangphoto and her website at nataliehoang.com.

After arriving on UT’s campus, Hoang said she benefited from the opportunities the community offered her growing photography business. As word of mouth spread within her sorority, Delta Gamma, and from one student club to the next, Hoang utilized her newfound love for portrait photography by taking senior photos, headshots for club members and photos for other campus organizations. Hoang’s headshots start at $50, senior photo shoots at $85 and graduation shoots at $200.

When looking for a photographer to take her senior portraits, fall 2021 alumna Amie Nguyen said she came across Hoang’s business on social media and felt immediately drawn to her portraits.

“It was important for me to find a UT student, because I just want to support my fellow students,” Nguyen said.

While Hoang found passion and purpose in photography, she said her journey as a photographer has not been entirely smooth sailing. Being entirely self-taught, Hoang said she faced technical challenges from the start.

“The hardest job was actually teaching myself the camera without having to take any classes,” Hoang said. “(It was) watching everything on YouTube, trial and error.”

Sometimes things go wrong with the camera in the middle of photoshoots, but — just like with her swimming career — Hoang said she learns to adapt and overcome, making up for what she lacks technically with proficient editing.

Regardless of what she makes from her shoots, Hoang’s photography growth and development is best measured by those around her.

“I’m happy to see her blossom and get better at (photography) everyday,” David Hoang said. “It seems like she’s making a lot of friends with it and good connections as well.”

Although photography began as a distraction from the loss of swimming, it has since developed into a new joy for Hoang.

“Even if we’re camera shy, there’s a little part of us that is always so happy when we look good in a picture,” Hoang said. “My favorite part is just capturing those moments and people just being their authentic, happy (selves) in front of the camera.”