From Side-Hustle to Starting Over

From Side-Hustle to Starting Over

My name is Michelle Gibson and I set out to write a blog for Mamas & Co. about “how I got here”. The truth is, I am not sure if I have got here yet. I’ve come so far, and yet feel like I still have so many goals that I want to conquer.

New Love, Old Love

My photography business actually started as a “side hustle” as they say to my Human Resources career.  I had relocated with my husband at the time to Silicon Valley, California where I was working as an executive search researcher. I came to find that I was feeling incredibly unfulfilled, both in my career and my personal life.

I decided to take a class at a local college in photography as I always had an interest in the art form but had yet to take action. I immediately became addicted and I spent all my free time learning about my new craft – photography. I soon registered in full-time classes at City College in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, my personal life took a turn for the worse. My then husband was not supportive of my new endeavours and my marriage began to fall apart. It was a very trying time. I felt like I was having an identity crisis, but I was in the throes of really discovering my true self and I started having goals and visions of how I wanted my life to be, not what I previously thought it should look like. 

This new vision is what kept me going. 

Building My Dream

I joined a photo collective, Dandelionblack, a group of female photographers who all had aspirations of making photography a career. This group was such a supportive environment and it helped to keep me focused on learning about photography and showing my work. I kept focused on working towards portfolio development and also did a self-portrait series about my divorce and the changes that were happening in my life. 

This was my outlet for my creativity and all my emotions. After the divorce, I came back to Toronto to start a new life and a new career as an editorial photographer. 

I guess the biggest struggle that I faced coming back to Toronto was doing something that was so different from what everyone in my life (including myself) was expecting of me.  After all, I was now an artist, and art is a risky career. I grew up with a father who was an art appraiser and as a family, we struggled financially. I could hear his voice in my head saying “you can’t eat the paintings”. 

Let me just say that starting over was not easy.

On-the-Job Learning

That said, I was lucky to find a part-time recruiting/research role that helped support me while I built my business. I worked at my recruiting job 2-3 days a week and spent all my free time building my portfolio and working on marketing my “side hustle” photography business. 

I also started sending my files to stock photo agencies and got signed to 3 reputable agencies that promote and represent my work internationally today.

My first editorial jobs in photography came from a graphic design firm that specialized in both healthcare and education. They sent me out to photograph images for their various types of print media clients.

This was my training ground, where I learned how to overcome the many difficult situations that can arise during photo shoots.  For example, there were the technical aspects such as lighting that I had to figure out. Sometimes I had to shoot someone who was fairly shy and reluctant to be shot, which created some awkward moments for me to have to overcome.  

I learned how to always get the shot under pressure and in any type of situation. Those early years were both exciting and nerve-racking but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Dream Come True

It was in the few years that followed in 2008 that things really changed for the better. I was able to step away from my day job and focus on photography full time. My side hustle was now a fully-fledged business!

My personal life also blossomed, and I am pleased to say I also got remarried to a wonderful human being and we welcomed our little boy Brodie in 2011. 

In that time I have photographed for Forbes Magazine, Virtuoso Life Travel Magazine, University of Toronto, St. Michael’s Hospital, Habitat for Humanity and other international magazines to name a few.

Last year I had to step away from photography as I had a back injury, but have made progress with my healing and I’m back to doing what I love again.  My focus is to continue to get more editorial “dream clients” but to also work with smaller to mid-size businesses to help them with their visual branding. 


Michelle Gibson is a Toronto-based commercial photographer who specializes in narrative storytelling. Her style is genuine, intimate, and approachable and her work can be seen in magazines and in various print media campaigns for the educational and the healthcare sector.


Emma Rohmann

Thank you so much for sharing your journey Michelle! It sounds like you found your fateful path. I’m going to go drool over your portfolio now ;)

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