How This Girl Boss Worked With Popular Brands at Just 23 Years Old

The owner of Sunny East Side Photo Studio shares her journey as an entrepreneur and how she was able to build an extensive portfolio of clients at such a young age.

Many young people have barely figured out what they want to do with their lives in their 20s—let alone their careers. That’s not exactly the case with Thurees Obenza, who became a business owner of a product photography studio Sunny East Side Photo Studio at the very young age of 23.

That’s not all. Through her business, she has worked with numerous well-known brands like Happy Skin, Colourette Cosmetics, BonChon Chicken, and Don Henrico’s. And even then, her portfolio has been growing, as her clients have always been happy with her work.

What many may not know is that her road to success began even before Thurees graduated from college. Here’s her story. 

A goal-getter even at a young age, Thurees Obenza successfully started Sunny East Side in her early twenties and has amassed a portfolio of well-known brands in such a short span.

Being Her Own Boss

Thurees shares that she was already a freelancer—even before she could finish her studies. “I did freelance jobs throughout my college life just because I already knew back then that I had to work for the things that I wanted,” she says. “I already knew I wanted to be self-sufficient.” 

But at that time, she didn’t really know that she wanted to be an entrepreneur because freelancing was all she knew. Eventually, she found herself “stuck being unable to come to terms with the idea of working under anyone in the field I was interested in.” It was then that she decided that she preferred being her own boss.

Armed with the camera that her mother gifted her for her 18th birthday, Thurees turned the condo she lived in during her university days into a mini studio. She’d shoot her friends and create sets using things she found only in her room. For example, she used her desk lamp as well as a garden lamp to light her subjects. 

Given that Thurees started freelancing very early, she had the resources she needed to build her capital for her business. But eventually, she bought some beginner studio lights and props from thrift stores in Marikina. “My prop collection and studio equipment outgrew my bedroom and I realized it was time to have a proper place to use them,” Thurees shares.

“Investing in thrifted items ultimately created what my studio is now—a concept-focused product photography studio,” she adds. 

From a self-made setup at her condo, Thurees built her photography studio into what it is today by investing in thrifted equipment.

A Concept-Focused Product Photography Studio

When she started her product photography studio, Thurees was already aware that there was a lot of competition around. However, she took note of one thing. “When I started my studio, most photographers only did photography,” she points out. “My studio offers both photography and prop styling, which most businesses need.”

She also reveals that she got her start in product photography through prop styling for a cookbook. “I realized that beautiful photographs are not just made from having a good camera or the perfect lighting—rather, it is the story you create in that photograph that makes it beautiful and interesting,” Thurees explains.

“When I create sets for my photographs, it usually starts with a thesis statement. That’s what concept-focused means.”

Thurees believes that one of her strengths as a photographer is being able to style unique, one-of-a-kind sets for her clients’ products. “I taught myself a bit of carpentry, sculpting, and woodworking to create props so I’m able to bring to life the concepts I make with my clients,” the business owner proudly shares. 

In the age of social media, Thurees recognizes the importance of helping her clients market products online. “That is where I come in, being a one-stop shop helping businesses by producing photographs that stand out with my vision through the sets I create for them,” she says. 

Challenges Brought About by Changing Times and Trends

However, marketing products online these days is easier said than done. Thurees acknowledges that trends are changing faster than ever on social media, which causes businesses like hers to constantly adapt in order to stay relevant in the industry. 

“For example, the rise of Instagram reels and TikTok videos has challenged creators to make content beyond photographs, Thurees explains. “Suddenly I was needing to create videos that showed my behind-the-scenes, as well as tips and tricks.”

These changing trends have made her realize that keeping up with trends is now part of her job as a business owner, which means she has to constantly diversify her content to grow and reach potential customers. But this isn’t the only kind of change that challenged her during her career. 

Changing times have also had an effect on her career—particularly the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. “When the pandemic happened, my business was just celebrating its first anniversary,” Thurees reveals. 

Prior to the pandemic, her space was one that was rented out to other businesses and photographers. However, the pandemic forced her to close her doors. “Because of the lockdown, I was forced to go back to shooting in my bedroom at home with my bedside table as my shooting table,” she says. “It was a 12×15 inch table! Somehow, I made that work and a lot of my work ended up online and even in malls.”

Pivoting, adapting, and making the most with what she had. Given the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thurees went back to her temporary, at-home setup. That way, she could keep her business going and still produce professionally-taken photos while she was at it, too.

Despite the restrictions from the pandemic, Thurees made it work by working with what she had—a shooting setup in her bedroom.

“A Continuous Stream of Work” 

Despite the challenges that she has experienced, Thurees is grateful that she’s “had a continuous stream of work since starting the business.” After all, the pandemic gave rise to many online businesses that needed professionally-taken photos to showcase their products on their social media pages, menus, and even catalogues.

She adds, “I have always made it a point to post consistently good work online, and this has opened many doors for me to the point where I don’t have a week where I’m not shooting.” 

All her hard work has already resulted in success for Thurees. “One day, I realized that I had multiple international brands knocking on my door to work with me from seeing my work online,” the business owner narrates. “That’s when I told myself, one day, I will make this business global. That’s currently where I’m at in terms of my goals. That’s what I’d consider my big break.”

What’s more, one of the reasons why customers gravitate towards her and her work is her use of fun, vibrant colors in her sets. “My style is very distinct, and I am happiest when I get to work with clients who match my colorfulness and vibrance,” Thurees admits. “This is something I make sure all my clients expect from the work I produce.”

However, there have been instances where there are clients who want to work forever that prefer styles she does not usually create. Thurees says she makes it a point to be honest with them from the get go. “I explain to them what I do, I show them my portfolio, and I explain my style. I let them see if it’s something they can work with.”

“If not, I don’t hesitate to recommend other photographers who might be more suitable for them,” she says simply.

Whether or not a client ends up working with them, Thurees notes that entrepreneurs shouldn’t take things personally. “Business is business, and everyone just wants what’s best for them,” she advises fellow photographers who run their own businesses. “At the end of the day, our job is to satisfy the needs of our customers.”

Advice for Fellow Photographers

Thurees reminds her fellow photographers who are interested in turning their craft into a business that they can start small—particularly with what they have at home. “It doesn’t matter if you already have a camera or if you just have a phone. It doesn’t matter if you only have sunlight to light your photos. This is how I started out,” she says. “I started by shooting outdoors or by my window using illustration boards and the things that I found in my kitchen.”

However, once there is enough income, she also points out the importance of investing in better equipment and props. She notes that along the way, “the most important thing is to figure out your style and what sets you apart.” 

“It’s important to have a consistent and distinguishable look especially when your products are just one of many people scroll through on their phones,” Thurees adds. 

Lastly, the girl boss emphasizes that “the most important thing when you run a photography business is to market yourself.”

“There are so many photographers, and the ones who succeed keep going are the ones who are able to realize that marketing themselves keeps them on people’s radars,” she explains. “Staying on the radar means more work!” 

Beyond your works, Thurees emphasizes on the importance of marketing yourself in order to build connections, repeat customers, and a loyal clientele.