Dina Ley (E ‘23) fell in love with photography while immersed in the shadows of the dark room at age 12. Her best friend at the time had convinced her to take a film photography course at the Center for the Arts in Pittsburgh, Dina’s hometown, and her life hasn’t been the same since. 

At age 13, Dina received her first professional camera for her Bat Mitzvah. Her first photos were mostly of nature, namely the plants in her yard, and populated her Instagram account. As Dina grew older, her skillset grew with her. She soon swapped plants for people and became known for her ability to shoot beautiful portraits.

However, Dina’s photography career hasn’t been as fluid as one might expect. “I lost touch with it later in high school and stopped taking photos. Last year, my freshman year, was especially hard. I had my camera with me but for whatever reason I never used it,” she reflects. Dina rediscovered her love for photography over the summer. While she was quarantined, socially distant photoshoots were the only safe opportunity that she had to see her friends. Even after this, she had no intention of continuing once she arrived in Philly in August. 

However, this quickly changed.

Since being at Penn this semester, Dina has been shooting about 3 days a week, sometimes having more than one shoot in a day. She shares her work on the Instagram account @picsbydina, which is now composed nearly entirely of portraits. Though creative portraits remain Dina’s favorite photos to take, she hopes to be able to travel one day and venture into landscape photography. 

Photography is more than just a hobby to Dina—she describes it as a significant part of her identity and one that has drastically changed where she sees herself in the future. Dina is currently studying Networked and Social Systems Engineering but now plans to switch to the College of Arts and Sciences after this semester. In CAS, Dina hopes to study Cognitive Science with minors in Computer Science and Design or Consumer Psychology. 

“Photography has been the primary motivation for why I want to change. I never really loved computer science—I was just doing it because it was the path that I was on throughout high school. Photography has made me realize that I don’t want to be in the world of software engineering, and that I really need to be doing something more creative,” Dina says.

She explains that though she couldn’t be happier with the role photography has taken in her life at Penn, it has been difficult to balance the quantity of photoshoots she is doing each week with her classes and other obligations. “I could be doing a better job balancing it, but during this uncertain time I want to be doing something that I enjoy and that makes me happy, which is why I keep prioritizing photography. I keep taking on more shoots and letting everything else follow. I’ll get the work done, but the shoot isn’t going to shoot itself,” she explains.

Reflecting upon her hopes for the future, Dina admits that a career in photography would be her dream. However, the industry is not an easy one to navigate due to its saturation and emphasis on connections. Regardless, Dina wants photography to be something that she does every day for the rest of her life. Whether or not it becomes her main career, she still plans to pursue it as a side business. 

More than anything else, Dina is grateful for the role that photography has played in helping her discover her identity.

"It’s become such a big part of who I am. Last year at Penn, if someone asked ‘Who’s Dina?’ I don’t know what they would’ve said— even I didn’t understand who I was. But ever since I rediscovered photography, I’ve felt like a missing part of me has come back."