I’m sure you’ve heard the story before, a foreigner comes to Australia for a year looking for a change, ends up loving it, and 4 years later is trying to become a resident. Welcome to my life!
My story starts in Westchester, NY, a county in the Hudson Valley just north of New York City. I grew up in the suburbs in a Greek household with my mom, dad, sister and brother.
My siblings and I had a good childhood, lots of friends, good education, sports after school, family nearby, and the greatest city in the world at our doorstep. When I tell people I’m from New York they say WOW that must be amazing!
To be honest, yes it was, having NYC so close to me offered a plethora of opportunities for us. The amount of art galleries, museums, skyscrapers, landmarks, restaurants; not to mention the amazing job opportunities that were available to us, it was only logical to think I would spend my life there.
My mom raised me to be independent and she instilled the wonder of travel in me from a young age. She sent me to California alone on a teen trip at 12 years old. When I was 16 she sent me to camp in Greece to learn about my heritage.
At 18 I went to Italy & Switzerland with my best friend. I didn’t know it at the time but all those trips she was sending me on grew my desire to see the world.
However I didn’t start traveling right away after I finished school. No, I did what most 17 year old American kids do, go to college.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a photographer, so I applied to all the best photography schools in the country. I did however try to get as far from home as possible.
I wanted to go to California, all the way on the other side of the country to live in the Golden State. There was something about Cali that was just calling my name.
When I told my very Greek family about my decision there was a lot of hesitation. I wish you could have seen my Grandparents faces, full of worry!
But my mom knew she had to let me make this decision on my own. She says sending me on that trip to California when I was 12 was her way of “letting the umbilical cord go”.
I guess it worked to an extent. I applied to college in California, but then she also found a college for me in upstate New York, a 6 hour drive away from home. Classic Greek!
Turns out that college she found for me was Rochester Institute of Technology, and not only is it one of the best photography schools in the country, but it was also in the same state!
When I started researching RIT more it was pretty obvious this was the best college for me. Luckily it was still far enough away from my hometown that I could have a fresh start.
Going to college was thrilling! I was living on my own, making new friends, enjoying my freedom. I could become whoever I wanted to be.
College was a time when I started coming out of my shell. I was 18 years old, thinking I was an adult and that I could do whatever I wanted!
I remember one of my first days in class I was in a large lecture hall with 300 of my classmates in the photography school.
Our teacher asked us who wanted to work for National Geographic after graduating. Well that had been my dream ever since I was a young girl.
I raised my hand slowly and a little embarrassed. Many people put up their hands as well. Then our teacher goes “1% of you will make it.”
Those words were like a stab to the heart. As a young 18 year old girl I had so much hope and confidence that I would be a NatGeo photographer.
But then you go to this school where you’re surrounded by hundreds of other people who have the exact same dream as you and you think I’m not going to make it.
The competition was fierce. I had no idea what I was doing. Some of these kids had WAY more experience taking photos than I did.
Majority of my class already knew how to take photos in manual mode. I didn’t even know what that was.
One of the most embarrassing projects I did my freshman year was a self portrait project. Our assignment was to take self portraits that showed who we were.
I didn’t realize that I needed to be taking the photos of myself on a tripod. Instead I got a friend to press the shutter for me.
I directed her and everything but because she was the one taking the photo it didn’t count. I remember feeling so embarrassed.
How could I have been so dumb? I had to redo the project but it taught me a lesson. At the same time though it slowly chipped away at my confidence.
I started the year as an advertising photography major. I imagined myself photographing big ad campaigns in New York City.
But by the end of the year I remember my teacher asking me if I still wanted to be an ad photo major. She suggested I might be better off studying visual media.
That was the cherry on top to my confidence level dropping to its lowest point. Visual Media was the study of photography and print.
I felt like I wasn’t good enough to become a photographer. Her words hurt and in turn I switched my major to visual media.
At that moment in my life I decided I didn’t want to become a photographer anymore. But switching to visual media did give me the opportunity to take a lot more elective classes.
My senior year I decided to take an elective course on underwater photography. I had no idea what it involved but I thought it would be a fun class!
When they told us we would be scuba diving I didn’t even know what that was. Growing up in New York we never did any ocean activities. I had never even been snorkeling and I was 21 years old!
First step was to get certified. We did our open water course in a quarry in cold Rochester, NY! It was basically a big hole in the ground they filled with water and sunk a car.
There were a few little fish but we were really there to learn to dive. Once we did that they introduced the cameras.
For our first project we got a hold of a bunch of broken instruments and brought them underwater. We did an underwater photoshoot with the musical instruments and we had a blast!
From there we went to do our Advanced diving course in Bonaire in the Caribbean. The whole class went down for a week and it was just magical!
That was the first time I had ever seen a coral reef and it was unlike anything I had ever seen! I remember doing my first night dives there and thinking how is this possible?!
Never in my life did I imagine I would be doing this. But this one class had such a big impact on my life.
After graduation my new goal was to become a photo editor and work my way up to becoming a photo director at a magazine. I put the diving behind me and got a “real” job in NYC.
It felt like the easy way out. My confidence as a photographer was still shattered, but doing the photo editing job felt like I was still in the photography industry. I was just managing other people’s photos for the publication instead of my own.
For a few years I thought that’s what I wanted. That I would end up living the NYC dream, big job, fancy clothes, walking the streets like I owned the city.
Turns out that’s not what life had planned for me. My first job was working at a celebrity gossip website as a junior photo editor.
It was the only job I could get after graduating. Was it what I had imagined? Definitely not! I didn’t care about celebrities, in fact I knew nothing about that world.
But I knew I needed to work there for the experience. So I stayed with this company for 2.5 years working my way up. But when the time came for me to be promoted to the senior photo editor position, they didn’t give it to me.
Instead they hired a man from another company that had 1 year more experience than I did. I had to train this person who was making way more money than me and teach him the job. That was the cherry on top for me quitting.
From that moment on I made a vow to myself I would never let anyone take advantage of me like that again. I was lost at that point in my life and didn’t know what my next step should be.
I started researching solo traveling, I never realized that people would just go backpacking alone all over the world. After reading through several blogs I decided I wanted to do the same.
I told my parents I wanted to go backpacking in Asia. I bought myself a one way ticket to Malaysia. My dad freaked out!
He said I couldn’t go traveling alone in Asia. That I was a woman and it wasn’t safe. The typical protective Greek father stuff.
But at the end of the day he couldn’t stop me. He did however make me watch a video on sex trafficking before I left…
Backpacking In Asia
Getting on that flight to Kuala Lumpur was one of the scariest moments in my life. Leaving my family behind me in the airport was extremely hard,
But once that plane took off I knew I had made the right decision. I had no clue what I was doing. But your instincts naturally kick in and I figured it out.
I was making friends in the hostels and we were exploring different cities and countries together. It was honestly one of the most freeing and rewarding moments in my life.
2 months into my travels I ended up in Koh Tao, Thailand. I was in a part of the world known for diving! Since I was a certified diver I decided hey why not get into scuba diving again?
It had been 3 years since I last went scuba diving, I was nervous but it felt so good being underwater again. I thought I wouldn’t remember what to do but it was honestly like riding a bike. Diving came back naturally to me.
To pay for my accommodation in Koh Tao I offered my photography services to a hostel. I took photos of the hostel in exchange for free lodging.
One day the owner of the hostel invited me to dinner with his friends. One of the friends was a dive instructor.
We started talking about my photography and he asked me if I loved diving and photography so much why didn’t I do underwater photography?
That was like a lightbulb going off in my head. He started telling me how I could make a living taking photos of people underwater.
He used to live in Cairns, Australia and told me about the underwater photographers working on the dive boats there. I had no idea I could do that as a job!
From that moment on my life was changed forever. My new career goal was to become an underwater photographer.
After backpacking in Asia for 4 months I boarded a plane for Cairns, Australia. I wanted to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
I went to Cairns specifically to dive. I wanted to see the reef but I also wanted to see what the opportunities were like working as an underwater photographer.
Reef Encounter was the live aboard I ended up volunteering on for a week. The Great Barrier Reef was just as amazing as I had imagined!
The photographer on the boat was so nice and offered me a lot of advice. But the most important one was that I wouldn’t get a job unless I became a dive master or a dive instructor.
In turn I spent the rest of my 2 months traveling, I knew I would be back in Cairns. After my backpacking trip ended I went home to work and replenished my funds.
But my goal was to always get back to Australia. Once I had enough money saved I went to Honduras to do my rescue and divemaster course in Utila.
With that under my belt I applied for a work & holiday visa for Australia and landed in Cairns in August 2017.
Finding housing & a job was surprisingly easy. My first job was working for Calypso Productions in Cairns. They were a photography company renting underwater cameras and taking photos of people at the reef.
I wanted to work as an underwater photographer but at the time there wasn’t a job opening. So instead I worked in the shop and occasionally did the dry photography on the pontoon at the reef. Basically I was photographing people out of the water.
It wasn’t what I wanted to do or why I came to Australia. So I left that job and moved to Port Douglas where I was lucky to land a job with Calypso Reef Cruises.
At that time they didn’t do underwater photography but it was coming. I worked as a divemaster for Calypso instead.
I was so nervous, it was my first job as a divemaster and I had no clue what I was doing. But it was a great company to learn from.
A couple of months working as a dive master then turned into me doing the underwater photography for Calypso. I had finally gotten my dream job!
It felt amazing and scary all at the same time! I knew nothing about underwater photography so it was a big learning curve.
But the work environment I was in allowed me so much freedom to really learn and explore my craft. I’ll be forever grateful for them taking a risk on me.
4 years later I am still working for Calypso and living in Port Douglas. My 1 year in Australia turned into so much more than I could have imagined.
Australia became my home. I’ve made lifelong friends, found love and became my best self. It has been a wild journey getting here but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I struggled for so many years thinking I wasn’t good enough to become a photographer. I never felt like I fit the photographer mold.
But my years being in Australia have taught me that yes I am good enough! I will always tell people to follow their dreams, if you don’t, what are you really living for?
Never lose hope, my journey definitely had some roadblocks but in the end I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I’m really happy.
Now that you’ve read my story I hope you will take a look at my photography. I’ve started this business selling prints of my work. I love being able to bring joy into someone’s home with art that I’ve made.
You can also find me at Underwater Portraits by Angelina. I love photographing people underwater and this new aspect of my business will be doing just that.
Let me take you on this journey of mine, as a new business I’m sure I have a long road ahead of me and I would love to share this with you! Thank you so much for reading and I encourage you to follow your own dreams!
Remember, you can always make your dreams come true!