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Profile On: Vanessa Hughes, Lady Photographic

Vanessa Hughes of Lady Photographic has kindly answered some questions about her work as a freelance photographer and videographer.

How much of your day/week is related to horses?
This is hard to say. I’m a workaholic so I spend every waking hour shooting, editing, social media marketing, or dreaming up future projects related to horses. 50% photography/video 50% horses.

A Polo Shot by Vanessa Hughes of Lady Photographic

A Polo Shot by Vanessa Hughes of Lady Photographic

What is it exactly that you do?
I work as a freelance photographer and videographer. I do everything from show photography, covering events for magazines, promotional videos, with some graphic design and social media work thrown in.

In this field of work, is it possible to be a full time professional and earning a liveable income?
Sure, it is definitely possible, but it isn’t easy. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. You need to be understanding of your financial limitations.

You have to love it, because there will be days when you don’t know how you’re going to manage to pay rent. Task one is learning how to suck up your pride and take other less glamorous side jobs during lean times. Right now I work as freelance. In the future that will change once I pick up something permanent, but for now I am enjoying the freedom.

What are the general steps taken to be employed in such a role?
There are no general steps to getting into the business. Some of it is luck and who you know, the rest is dedication and being willing to put in a lot of long hours and hard work.

The most valuable pieces of advice I can give to someone trying to enter this field: Know your rights. NEVER let anyone tell you, you do not deserve to be paid. If you did the work and they profited from it, they are obligated to pay you.

Avoid people who shower you with compliments, but get quiet when you mention pay, or make non-committal empty promises. Contracts should not be avoided – love them, they are your best friend. The law only goes so far in protecting your rights. Watermarks are free, lawyers are not.

Eventing Photo by Vanessa Hughes of Lady Photographic

Eventing Photo by Vanessa Hughes of Lady Photographic

If you work for free don’t be surprised when they are not willing to pay you in the future. Network like your life depends on it. Try to avoid chimping, or constantly looking down at your camera after every shot, in that split second of distraction you can miss valuable shots. Take advantage of other photographers’ experience – watch what they do and when they move but find your own voice and vision.

Finally a word of caution for those looking to get into the business. You are not the first and most definitely will not be the last to be seen as an easy target. Young photographers seeking to make a name for themselves, willing to work for next to nothing, are unfortunately a dime a dozen. There’s absolutely no shame in being in that group. I was once among you. We all have to start somewhere.

The shame comes from those businesses, mainly magazines, who knowingly repeatedly take advantage. Many do so under the guise of “internships.” Most don’t realize those internships are actually illegal. If an intern produces video, images, writing or any media (often using their own equipment) and they are not overseen by a professional and given an education of equal or greater value they legally must be paid minimum wage. Essentially many of these businesses/magazines profit from the hard work of “interns” year after year by dangling the possibility of paid work that artificially doesn’t exist. While they are legally obligated to make those positions available to paid employees, they won’t. These businesses are the single biggest plague on the industry today and why so many can’t make a decent living when there is plenty of work to go around.

“The DOL has articulated six key factors that must be met in order to avoid having a “trainee” classified as employee. The factors are:

The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.”

Favorite horse memory?
I have two favorite horse memories I use to keep myself going. The first was from when I was twelve years old and rode for the very first time. I was given an hour lesson for my birthday. I rode a beautiful chestnut mare with a heart of gold and a whole lot of patience for my squirrely little self. I don’t remember much from that one ride but the impact of that day has kept with me since. I think that is the power of horses. You can spend just five minutes or your whole life with them but once they give you a piece of their heart you never forget it.

The second was my first time stepping onto a cross country course and witnessing eventing. At the time I never could have imagined such a sport existed. It was thrilling. I was more than a little nervous to walk out on the course the first time, worried I would do something stupid and get myself or someone else hurt. Eventually I grew accustomed to anticipating the horses and walking the course felt natural. Now a cross country course feels like a second home. I have gone to many events and various equine sports since but in my eyes none compares to eventing. It also doesn’t hurt that eventers tend to be my kind of crazy, I love the whole lot them.

Future goals?
I graduated from UCLA this past June so my first goal is trying to keep a steady flow of work. Right now I am also working with some of the biggest equestrian Instagram accounts here in California to band together to form a kind of collective for collaboration and content creation. I am excited to be working with some seriously amazing women in the coming weeks and looking forward to seeing where that goes. I also like to follow a lot of social media experts online and many of them are pointing towards video integration in social media growing by as much as 2/3s in the next two years so I am focusing more on motion graphics and video production work this year.

Best thing about your sport/profession?
There are so many possibilities. Everyday is a new day, a new challenge. Sure sometimes the pay could be better but in a way that’s part of the game and I love it.

I came into the field with what some consider a disadvantage. I knew absolutely nothing about horses. Growing up the money for horses and lessons, we just didn’t have it.  Back then I was too young for anyone to consider me as a working student. Like many kids facing that wall I gave up, thinking that dream was over for good. It wasn’t until college that fate intervened and one day a wayward hobbyist photographer stumbled upon a showjumping event that would change everything.

I do what I do for the pure joy of it because there are no free rides. Many times I have been told I don’t belong, but even if I don’t have the opportunity to ride(yet) I can still be part of the story. I belong here.



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