Penn students’ social media accounts are filled with photos of their refined artistic performances, lively parties, and demanding sports competitions. In light of our peers' impressive achievements and activities, it’s easy to focus on the people in the photos and forget about the person taking those photos. A lot of work and creativity goes into capturing these picture–perfect moments. Two of Penn’s best photographers share their experiences capturing moments from behind the camera, shedding light on the lessons we can learn from the ordinary act of snapping a quick camera–shot. 

Silas Ruth (C ‘25), student photographer and a runner for Penn’s track and field and cross country teams, discovered his creative side in high school through photography and videography. What drew him to this medium is that “videography and photography is a really beautiful way of storytelling,” Silas says. 

When he came to Penn, Silas transformed his passion for photography into a “side hustle,” realizing that camera equipment and photography services were valuable to student clubs, sports teams, fraternities, and sororities, making it a great opportunity for him to make money on the weekends. Silas partnered with another avid photographer and soon began picking up gigs in the performing arts space, primarily photographing acapella shows and dance shows. In terms of the business itself and acquiring new clients, Silas says, “We really haven't launched crazily into any kind of extravagant marketing plan. It's really word of mouth.” Once Silas and his partner became known as quality photographers for one performing arts group, they started to be referred to photograph for other groups’ performances. 

Silas has been successful in the photography space at Penn because he understands that his photographs capture invaluable moments for the people who hired him. “Every student at Penn has this big moment in their life where they get the opportunity to show off all their hard work,” Silas says. 

For Silas as a track star, that moment is a race, and for the students he photographs, it’s a concert or a dance performance. His understanding of the importance of his work motivates his own artistic process. At a gig, Silas takes anywhere from three hundred to seven hundred photos, ensuring he captures each and every part of these events. Through his photography, Silas provides students a tangible medium to remember and cherish their special moments. “It's very gratifying to be able to immortalize these student’s achievements and celebrations,” Silas says. 

Though Silas appears to remain behind the scenes at these events, he “really [is] participating in the artistic process.” He explains that a production involves far more than just the lead actors. Indeed, the stage crew, costume production, and the photographers and videographers are just as important to the success of that production. 

“It's really fun to be able to be part of the production, but also be the person in the shadows that goes a little bit unnoticed. Usually, I try to be pretty subtle, stay out of their way, and let them do their thing,” Silas says. During shoots, Silas aims to capture the performers from the audience’s viewpoint, offering them a glimpse of how they are being perceived on stage.

Penn has provided Silas the opportunity to embody both an athlete and an artist, as well as explore his entrepreneurial interests. He says, “I'm so lucky to have a friend group of creatives that are really excited about these opportunities—both to explore their creative interests, but also to run businesses and make money.” 

Priya Bhavikatti (C’ 26) also relishes the opportunities that Penn provides to run her thriving business while still pursuing her passion and hobby. Priya fell in love with photography in middle school. She became fascinated with taking pictures first on her low–grade iPhone camera when she would go for walks. As she took more pictures, she started to learn different skills and techniques. Her passion solidified when she took a photography class in high school and fell in love with the therapeutic aspect of editing and snapping different photos. Indeed, photography became an important outlet for her throughout her teen years. 

After arriving at Penn, Priya realized that she could combine her hobby with academics and business. She decided to major in Economics and Visual Studies while minoring in neuroscience. While Econ has taught Priya some foundations in business, the Visual Studies major has provided her with a creative outlet and the opportunity to do unique studio work and practice her art. Priya shares that with the visual studies major, she feels she has “a very strong community that wants to help.” 

In fact, through this major, Priya has found numerous opportunities to turn her hobby into an impressive, flourishing business, falling in love with this aspect of photography as well, combining both her passion and hobby with a practical and successful business here at Penn. Her business photographs different events for classes and clubs she is a part of. While she has been able to support this somewhat expensive hobby with this business, she has also met “new people through it and learned about others and why they need these photos.” 

Her current client base mostly stems from Penn students that she has met through clubs or classes that need a photographer for an event they are hosting. Priya will travel whenever she needs to in order to take photos, often journeying to different parties or club events that she would typically not have been able to experience had it not been for her business. For example, she recently got to photograph a Lunar New Year party, learning about the holiday through taking photos for the event.

Priya also offers insight into how Penn students can treat the people behind the camera. According to her, there are two sides to how people treat her at these events. There are the ones who simply see a student taking pictures versus the ones who see a professional behind the camera. For example, certain communities haven’t respected her talents to the appropriate standard, often underpaying her and just believing that she is a student and not a professional with a business to uphold. That being said, there are many students who value her work, and those are the “communities [she] values a lot” and for whom she loves working. Priya has learned to navigate this balance more as her business has grown, now opting more for events in which she knows people will treat her like the true professional she is. 

While behind the camera, Priya loves having a purpose and a role at these events. She reflects on the fact that the camera, while possibly making her an outsider at times, “lends [her] an outlet” to be her and practice what she loves at these events. She loves observing through this job and rarely feels left out as a result of this. Priya has also learned that while photography can be isolating at times as it separates the photographer from the partygoers, she “loves the sense of purpose it provides” and the perspective she gains from behind the scenes. 

Silas and Priya tell their own stores from behind the camera. These student photographers/business owners prove the possibility of combining passion with practicality and stand as impressive leaders in the Penn community, always seeking to observe and learn more about their surrounding community. Both Priya and Silas can always help you see the real beauty behind the camera and help students remember the dedication of those behind the scenes.