Balancing passion and hustle
I was first introduced to Kaja Balejko through her friend, who called her “the master of side hustles.” It turned out to be true – Kaja has tried almost everything in the book, with one hustle standing out through the years – wedding photography. With an adventurous spirit and a creative eye, she captures the emotions of countless couples on their special day.
Kaja Balejko, 38, the co-owner of Reykjavík Letterpress
I came to Iceland seven years ago when I was 31. I have a master’s degree in resocialisation and social therapy and have worked my entire life with children and teenagers who have experienced trauma. One day, I felt a deep need to surround myself with happiness. In search of balance, I started taking photos of couples on their wedding day. Soon after, I quit my job, sold my belongings and began travelling the world. Today, I am the co-owner of Reykjavík Letterpress and a photographer.
Hustling through life
Photography was my escape. So many couples are coming to Iceland to elope, so I seized the opportunity. For years, I worked towards the dream of being a full-time wedding photographer. I worked as a waitress in Hella, as a cleaning service supervisor in Reykjavík, and as a COO of four hotels and multiple Airbnb apartments. I was lucky to be able to adjust my schedule to the irregularity of the photo inquiries. It’s easy at first when you have 10 per year. It starts to be challenging when it’s 30, 40 or 70.
There have been days when I get only four hours of sleep, not to mention the lack of private life. But the real juggle started when I had a baby – sleepless nights, days with the newborn on my hands and deadlines were very difficult and draining. I paid a high price, my body started to protest and I had to rethink my priorities. I let go, first of my expectations of myself, then the full-time work.
I outsourced part of the tasks, so I can focus on what I love the most – connecting with couples. Along with my partner, Þórhallur, I have taken over a small design and printing studio, allowing me to work outside the home office and avoid bringing work home. My daughter has grown up, and we are the best partners in crime. Life has become more balanced. The last thing I wanted was a job that would force me to refuse wedding inquiries. My couples get married any day of the week, as they come from all over the world to elope, and locals often book weekends. Besides, there is me and my ADHD, which helps me more than it disrupts me!
Usual days are for printing and design, with breaks here and there to hop in my car and drive 12 hours through the interior to hustle for the perfect shots.
The yin and yang
The absolute best part of being a wedding and event photographer are the people I get to meet during their important moments. I am always laughing that I’m becoming part of their stories. The absolute worst part is the uncertainty of tomorrow and unlimited work time.
There was a January wedding the day after an extreme storm and, as we drove through Snæfellsnes, we passed by cars thrown off the roads with smashed windows. It was windy and cold – no one else was on the streets. Our first stop was to take photos, but the wind was pushing us on the icy roads so that we couldn’t let go of the car doors. The couple had come from Asia for just a few days, so rescheduling would have affected their travel plans. We decided to shoot while lying on the ground in deep, deep snow! It was truly epic!
But there was also a year when I had a newborn at home and photographed 70 weddings in 12 months. Some brides were so lovely and told me to bring my family to their party so I could breastfeed – they were my absolute best. I will be grateful for those people forever, but I must say – it wasn’t an easy time.
Don’t become a photographer, it’s a bottomless pit.
Want to share how you’re making ends meet? Email us at email@example.com with the subject line “Side Hustle.” We’ll happily keep your identity anonymous.
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