Twenty-five year old Hugo Healy studied A-Level Photography in his hometown of Brighton before starting his Degree at Screen and Film School. Since graduating in 2018, he’s become a professional drone pilot, camera operator and photographer who travels the world capturing stunning imagery for a living.
Currently, Hugo’s award-winning work sees him living in Dubai, where he creates content for big brands, including Nike, Jeep, Dubai Tourism and even international DJ David Guetta. We touched base with Hugo to discover where his journey began, reflect on his student days and take stock on his incredible career so far.
Hi Hugo! Where did your interest in filmmaking begin?
I’ve always had a love for creating. But, I started to take photography seriously when I studied it at A-Level. After college, I took a gap year and travelled through New Zealand and southeast Asia, taking a GoPro 3 with me to document my travels and make little travel edits for my YouTube.
On my return, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I was going to apply for drama school and pursue that as a career. Then Screen and Film School came onto my radar. I fell in love with the filmmaking process, the Film School and the people there. I knew then that I would stay behind the camera.
Can you summarise your work life?
Currently, I’m working in Dubai. I got offered a job here as a drone pilot, flying all platforms of drones from FPV, to heavy lifters capable of flying ARRI and RED camera. It’s a great opportunity for me to develop my skills and break into the film industry (most my work was in TV before the pandemic).
I also work as a professional photographer and sell my prints in the fine art world. Previously, I had been in the TV industry for three years working my way up from a Receptionist, to Locations Assistant, to Shooting Location Assistant then to a Shooting Researcher/Second Cam Op and finally a Shooting Assistant Producer before I got my offer to work in Dubai.
Whilst studying, you balanced firefighting and photography. What was this like?
I joined the fire service in 2016, during my second year at the Film School. It took up a lot of my free time. But I was okay with that as it was extremely rewarding. I worked as an on call firefighter and gave at least eighty hours a week to the service. At any point I would have four minutes to rush to the station, jump into my kit and then onto the truck to deal with whatever emergency it was, from fires to road traffic collisions.
The lessons I learnt from the service are invaluable. I have experienced and seen things that others never will (good or bad) and have built a unique skill set that is also valuable to a TV and film career. It’s all about team-work, communication, dealing well with pressure and keeping a cool and clear head in extremely high stress situations, as well as all the leadership skills too.
At what point did you choose drones as an area of specialism?
I kind of fell into it. I decided to buy a drone during my second year of film school. Looking back, the decision worked wonders. Although I brought it for filmmaking, having a drone re-ignited my passion for photography. I was now able to see the world from a whole new angle, capturing unique patters and symmetry in the natural and man-made world.
Within the first few months, I had been all over the south coast and had captured enough film to make my first cinematic showreel, titled “Beautiful Sussex”.
I started posting to Instagram, (@hugohealy), and things slowly started to snowball.
But it wasn’t easy! I was studying, working two jobs and spent a lot of time working into the early hours of the morning editing my own passion projects.
Travel was also a large part of my life – it’s all I ever spend my money on. Literally, I wouldn’t even buy clothes or shoes so that I could save money for travel! In-between TV jobs, I would explore as much as possible, creating as much as I could. Wherever I travelled, I would always get up for every sunrise and shoot every sunset. I would miss dinner but I could never miss that great light in a beautiful location.
Can you tell us more about the awards you’ve won, and what projects they were for?
I started entering photography competitions and was able to win the Agora awards’ Drone photo of the year 2019 with the waterfall image (above), which was chosen from over 14,000 applicants. This image then went on to win a contest with Moment, which was an amazing opportunity with great cash prizes and the ability to travel around America for their photo festival.
I then came runner up at the British Photography Awards last year, and this year I’m in the final four with this image (see below). I will find out if I’ve won very soon, so fingers crossed!
In 2020, I worked on a music video as a camera and drone operator with H.E.R “I Can’t Breathe” – a song supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
We ended up winning an MTV Video music awards in the category “Videos For Good”. And later on it won a Europe Music Award. More recently, it has been nominated at the Grammys with the results coming out in March 2021.
Do you pre-visualise a shot before you’ve taken it, or do you just experiment whilst ‘in the air’?
Some of my shots have a lot of planning and research behind them and some of them are just found when in the air. Thats the beauty of a drone – I can literally position the camera wherever I want in a matter of minutes or seconds. It’s the same with my camera too, some are planned and some are just captured in the moment!
For aerial photography, Google Earth has provided an amazing way for me to scout locations before I go there. It allows me to find unique patterns, textures and hidden gems. I will literally scroll for hours before I go anywhere, and find interesting subjects or formations in the landscape. I pretty much ‘Google Earthed’ the whole of Iceland before I went, and it allowed me to find some truly stunning and unique locations! This is one of them:
You obviously have a strong work ethic. What motivates you to pursue your craft?
I think I kind of motivate myself. I just love creating the best work I can and always want to improve and push myself. It’s great because doing what I do allows me to see the world in new ways and it makes me get up for every sunrise and just experience the places I go in a deeper way.
How did you get involved with filming David Guetta’s recent DJ set on top of the Burj Al Arab building?
This job was through the film company I’m working for here in Dubai, Base Films. I was a remote head camera operator. Operating the Arri Alexa on a remote system using a joy-stick, focus wheel and foot pedals for the dolly track. It was certainly an experience I won’t forget.
You’re still relatively early in your career, yet it’s already taking off. Are there any other roles you aspire to in the industry?
It’s been a crazy couple of years for sure! In all honesty, I’m not too sure. I’m just riding the waves as they come. I feel like drones are my thing and that’s where I want to be. I’m now in the perfect situation to learn everything about aerials in the film industry as well as develop my camera operating skills.
We have some really exciting big projects and films coming up. Maybe one day I’ll set up my own high-end aerial business in the UK. I still want to travel and see more of the world too. I’m building my name as a high-end professional photographer. And I’m looking into building an online course to help people with photography and photo editing too, but I’ll save that for when I have a bit more spare time!
Are you inspired by Hugo’s story?