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From photographing zoo animals to high fashion models

USF helped Gabby Santos secure an internship as a digital media intern at Lowry Park Zoo. It’s there that she cultivated her photography skills and eventually found her way to Kilgore Atelier where she now does high-fashion photography.

Gabby Santos, a USF graduate turned high fashion photographer, has finally decided what she wants out of life.

After years of coping with indecisiveness about where she wants her life to end up, Santos took a shot at Lowry Park Zoo as a digital media intern. There, she learned how to thrive as a studio manager at Kilgore Atelier, a Tampa-based fashion design studio, curated showroom and a photography studio.

Santos started her academic career undeclared but eventually decided on a communications major with a concentration in culture and media. It was in those years prior to deciding on a major that she struggled with her identity.

“In my first couple of years at USF, my GPA was very low and I was on the verge of academic probation. When I decided on communications and took Beginning Photography as an elective, that changed everything for me,” said Santos.

Her passion for photography led to a digital media internship at Lowry Park Zoo where she photographed the animals for social media promotion.

“This internship taught me how to have better control with my camera and be patient with the subjects that I’m photographing,” said Santos. “Patience was important since I can’t pose animals,” she joked.

She said the internship quickly became one of the best experiences of her college career. Santos urges students to look for out-of-classroom experiences to supplement their university education.

“Internships help you stay motivated. When you become a valuable addition to a team and do what you do in a workplace environment, you begin to feel more secure about your future,” said Santos.

Upon graduating in spring 2018 and completing her internship at Lowry Park Zoo, Santos said she began booking photography clients more consistently, which bolstered her confidence and prompted the realization that she could create a sustainable future as a photographer.

She found her place at Kilgore after a friend of hers and in-house photographer for the studio, Javi Ortiz, introduced her to Kyle Kilgore, the creative director of Kilgore.

“(Santos is) young and self-taught like myself,” said Kilgore. “My biggest problem when I started out was never having the opportunity to prove myself. I want to help people in ways I was never helped.”

Kilgore said that Santos’ position at Kilgore Atelier is about more than just photography. What she brings to the table exceeds merely taking pictures.

“Her willingness to learn, her personal goals, and her dedication to her vision are unmatched,” said Kilgore. “You can teach any idiot how to take a picture and send an email but you can’t teach someone passion and drive.”

At Kilgore Atelier, Santos manages hourly studio rentals, monthly subscription services, and hosts events like styled editorial shoots and photographer meet-ups.

“My position allows me to bring the photographer community (in Tampa) together to network and collaborate,” said Santos.

The skills she sharpened at Lowry Park Zoo have even helped her shoot high fashion models.

“Fashion shoots are challenging because you have to capture the model’s movements in the most candid and interesting way, just how I had to do with animals,” said Santos.

At the atelier, Santos said that she has been introduced to many exciting opportunities. She is currently planning a styled editorial shoot for photographers who want the opportunity to shoot professionally styled models and cultivate new content for their portfolios.

For this shoot, she’s secured professional models like Qui’yona Salmon, who has walked in Miami Swim Week, and Joah Carmody, who was recently featured in a film called Ghost in the Graveyard.

“USF led me to Lowry Park Zoo and eventually to Kilgore Atelier. It’s my experience at USF that became the foundation of everything I do,” said Santos.

Both Kilgore and Santos are eager to supply people with opportunities to practice their creativity. USF students who rent out the photography studio will receive a 15 percent discount. Along with access to the studio, renters can use the atelier’s professional photo equipment, including backdrops and lights.

“I’m definitely not where I want to be just yet, but since starting at Kilgore, I feel closer to achieving my goals than ever before,” said Santos.

“I know USF is home to many great photographers who are thirsty for opportunities to practice their skills. I want to help empower those people how Kilgore empowered me.”