Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Vanessa Heins

I first met Vanessa Heins when a very hip and young couple hired her to photograph a wedding that I was DJ-ing. I was instantly intrigued with Vanessa. She was so cool and calm during that shoot and really brought out the best in her photograhpy subjects. We hit it off instantly and actually worked together at least half a dozen more times as we both seemed to attract the same type of fun clients.

Vanessa's career has really blossomed from those early days and she is a very successful young photographer with a real eye for portraits. We know you'll love her as much as we do! Meet Vanessa Heins our Hip + Urban Girl of the Week!

What made you want to choose a career in photography?

I always say that in part, my love for photography is hereditary. My father and grandfather were always taking photographs as I was growing up, so I think it is in the Heins gene pool. When I was in High School photography was offered as an elective so I decided to give it a try and immediately fell in love. I had an incredibly inspiring and supportive teacher that really made us feel like the sky was the limit and encouraged us in every way possible. I took my camera with me everywhere and subjected my friends to all my whims. 

Shoot with Dan Levy
Like most teenagers growing up - I had the friends that were in bands, friends that were budding actors, models, makeup artists etc - so it made it easy to play, practice and learn. I was ALWAYS taking photographs so the idea that something I loved so much and did all the time could be turned into a job was really a no-brainer. 

How did you start and build your career in editorial work?

When I started learning photography I was very eager to shoot portraits, so I jumped at any opportunity to have people sit for me. I would often reach out to people and extend my services in exchange for them to be able to use the photographs for whatever they wanted.

Growing up in Vancouver I was very submersed in the music scene and many of the people I reached out to were musicians or in bands. This was a great way for me to fill my portfolio with content I ultimately wanted to shoot, and start to build a name within that community. When I moved to Toronto to start school, I continued to contact people on my "would love to shoot list" and in turn people also started to contact me. After my first year in Toronto I was asked to shoot a few covers for Exclaim Magazine and things really started to snowball from there.

You shot Carly Rae's album cover! How did this come about?

Carly Rae is a perfect example of the above story - shooting something creative and it turning into a great working relationship. In 2010, I had seen a music video of Carly's posted on the internet and thought it would be fun to reach out to her and see if she wanted to do a shoot if she was ever in Toronto. Her response was very enthusiastic and we set up a casual shoot with a luggage full of whatever clothes she had with her on tour. We had such a wonderful time together and she was so pleased with the photographs that the following year she flew me out to Vancouver to photograph the cover of her album Curiosity. 

Of course after that album came out things really took off for Carly and with that came all the press which incorporated many of the pictures we had taken together so it was great exposure. Her and I have developed a really great relationship and she has asked me to shoot for her again which is of course such an honour to know she loves the images and trusts me for something so important.

What is your typical day like?

If there is anything typical in my day it usually involves being on the computer either reading/writing emails and editing photos. Other than that it really varies. I can be in meetings, planning shoots and if I am shooting I can be anywhere - on location or in the studio. Last month I was working in Montreal, Vancouver and Mexico all within the same two weeks. 

Tell us about some cool opportunities you've experienced because of your job!

I have had the opportunity to meet such a wide array of amazing people and photograph them. People that I have admired and respected for years have invited me into their lives to document it. I have heard some incredible stories, been present for some amazing events, and traveled to places I have always wanted to go - all for work. 

Having my photo on the cover of Billboard Magazine this past year was beyond exciting. Photographing Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez for the MMVA's was so much fun. A few years ago I was nominated for a Juno for City + Colour's album artwork...these are things that I never thought would happen and the fact that they are things that I am able to call my job is pretty wild.

What is a disadvantage of your job that maybe we don't think about?

Being freelance means that you are your own boss. It takes self-discipline to motivate yourself, work hard and keep a schedule. It also means that I am in charge of making sure that I have work coming in so that a paycheque follows. 
My schedule is all over the place so it can be hard to make plans or commit to things far in advance. I have to keep myself open and flexible as an opportunity can happen on a moments notice and then change on a dime. 

Another disadvantage is that there is no real Monday - Friday work week. My work often keeps me late at the studio, follows me home and crosses over into the weekend. I try to make sure I turn my computer and work brain off sometimes to make time for me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That being said, I LOVE my job so all these things are a pretty fair trade off.

Where did you go for college/university and what did you study?

I attended Ryerson University - School of Images Arts

Is there anything you would have done differently or advise others about?

I am not sure I can say I would have done much differently. I have learned a lot along the way, made mistakes and encountered challenges but that is all crucial to the process and brought me to where I am today. 

I have always had the mantra to listen to my gut and do things on my own terms, so that whether I succeeded or failed it was because of choices I made. This has given me the opportunity to learn so much about myself, my job and at times be really proud of what I have accomplished on my own. 

That being said, in a career where so much is on you alone, I think it is really important to look to your peers and maintain a really great support group. Many people are going through the same learning process as you be it any creative or business pursuit and it is great to have a group of people to bounce ideas off of, chat with and ask advice. I will often look to fellow photographers and artists that I know to hear about their journey, experiences or even just for a daily dose of inspiration. In a field where so much can be taught technically but the business aspect seems to be trial and error, it is great to have others to talk to. 
Where are your favourite places to hang out in Toronto? 

Too many to name I am sure. I am in love with this city. 

Fresh Restaurant - Is definitely a go to. Delicious vegan/vegetarian eats and treats. 

Golden Turtle - Makes the most delicious vegan pho. It is also super quick and cheap! 

Trinity Bellwoods Park - Somewhere I am daily. It is my dog's favourite place to run around with the ball.

Kensington Market - Such a great place to head to on the weekend to just wander around. I always grab a tea at Moonbean, a delicious bite at any of the local shops and do a little grocery shopping/people watching. 

St. Lawrence Antique Market - On Sundays I head down with an extra large coffee and wander through all the aisles of tables and look for gems..
Who inspires you?

My friends and peers are such a great source of inspiration. So many of them are doing such incredible things in their life and jobs while continuing to following their passion which makes my heart sing. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such talented people on the daily which is a great push.

What would you tell your 20 year-old self?

Don't worry about what everyone else is doing. It is easy to feel the pressure when you are starting to do something new and always compare yourself to others and their accomplishments. Focus on what you are doing and want to accomplish and then work really hard. Your time will come and your efforts will pay off. 
At a photo shoot
What life advice do you have for hip + urban girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?

For me, nothing is more gratifying than having a job that I love so if there is something you are passionate about, work hard to figure out how to translate that into a career. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. The worst that someone is really going to say to you is no but you would be surprised at how often they will say yes, so just go for it. As they say, the reward is often greater than the risk.

Twitter: @vanessaheins

Looking for more inspiration? Meet some of our past Hip + Urban Girls of the Week!

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