Last year, we featured Dubai-based Pinay photographer and videographer Hyku Desesto in our roundup of 10 Filipinas with great careers abroad. At the time, her team had just shot Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy X Gigi Together Tour with Gigi Hadid in Dubai; their work had been published in magazines such as Grazia, Hello!, and Harper’s Bazaar Bride; and Hyku personally held brand ambassadorships for Timberland, Huawei Arabia, and Puma Lifestyle.
Fast forward to 2018, and the 30-year-old entrepreneur behind Hyku D Photography & Videography has added way more notches to her belt—including having a photo she shot for Dolce & Gabbana land on the cover of Grazia Middle East, which the Italian fashion house credits her for on their Instagram.
Here, Hyku keeps us up to speed on all the shooting and slaying she’s been doing since we last talked.
We first featured you back in January 2017. What have you been up to since then?
A lot has happened! I landed on Illustrado Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Filipinos in the Gulf for the second year in a row and also made it to their list of Top Entrepreneurs in the Gulf. I was part of a campaign by Emaar Ultimate Wifi—you can see me in the video! I also guested on the OSN TV network’s The ASLI Show and on Dance FM 97.8’s Beats & Bloggers show. I landed a brand ambassadorship with online shopping site Nisnass as part of their Nissnass Crew. I was part of Netflix Middle East’s Girlboss campaign featuring 30 girlbosses—a campaign my team filmed and shot as well. I made it to Women’s Health Middle East’s list of Game Changers, and was one of seven women featured in Tag Heuer’s campaign in Marie Claire Arabia.
Also, my team has shot for Vogue Arabia, Farfetch, Burberry, Kenzo, Tag Heuer, Asics, Cadillac, Puma, Tory Burch, Max Mara, Jo Malone, Shopbop, Clinique, Paco Rabanne, Frederic Malle, ASOS, Virgin Radio, Adidas, Reebok, Guess, and Dolce & Gabbana.
Celebrities such as Steve Aoki, Example, Ludacris, Diddy, Cassie, Olivia Palermo, Bob Sinclair, David Myers, Chef Morimoto, Saif Ali Khan, Christian Louboutin, Olivia Culpo, Lindsay Lohan, Eva Longoria, Julio Iglesias, Mariah Carey, and Tom Jones are just some of the many personalities we shot since we last spoke!
Tell us how your photo got on the cover of Grazia Middle East, and on the Instagram account of Dolce & Gabbana.
I was tasked to shoot the interiors of Dolce & Gabbana’s new store in Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue prior to their fashion show, as well as the show, backstage, and finale. It’s a global brand so the pressure was definitely on, but I treated it like how I would with all of our clients—to always give 110 percent. I was just as surprised as everyone was when I saw my photo was on the cover of Grazia Middle East, and more so when Dolce & Gabbana posted it on their Instagram and gave my team credit. In this side of the world, credit is not asked for, but more of given when due, so it definitely made my year!
What are your most memorable experiences on the job, particularly with the high-profile clients and personalities you’ve shot?
One of my most memorable experiences this year was shooting Diddy and Cassie up close. She also uploaded the photo on her Instagram page, which for me is confirmation that whooo, I nailed that shot! Shooting Richard Branson of the Virgin Group was another highlight of my year; to see someone so successful yet so simple and humble was very inspiring for me to experience. Another was my third time working closely with Christian Louboutin—he even remembered my hair color from when we first shot for his event a couple of years back! Kenzo posting our work on their page was also one of the highlights of the year.
Shooting for the launch of VICE Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was one of our coolest gigs and we’re excited to say we’re shooting for them again this year! We also went to New Delhi, India to film one of our coolest projects to date with Auster, a vape company based in New York. Lastly, if you go to the Japanese restaurant Morimoto here in Dubai, you would see some of our photos of Chef Morimoto and his team on their walls!
You have a son, Vitto. How are you able to juggle all your work responsibilities with being a mom?
It’s definitely not easy, but Vitto comes first. It also is very helpful that I now have an amazing team to whom I can delegate work. I really try my best to not to miss any school activity and to hang out with Vitto on my most available time. For me, quality time with kids doesn’t mean going out all the time; sometimes they value the simplest things like hanging out at home playing Playstation, painting together, watching funny panda videos on YouTube, and just cuddling and spending time together. I always try and make him understand why I work.
You grew up in Davao, where you briefly worked at a call center. Even back then, had you always dreamt of being a professional photographer?
I grew up with photography and film. My papa was a journalist. I could see him and his mates editing; sometimes he’d be gone for weeks filming! From high school where I was the photographer of the school’s newspaper, to university, up to me doing experimental films, my interest in the field didn’t stop when I was growing up. I started covering local gigs and events back in Davao, and also worked freelance for a film and TV studio in the same city. Then at some point, I stopped indulging that interest. I figured maybe it wasn’t for me, so I got a day job at a call center.
When I first moved to Dubai, I didn’t try to get a photography job. I even tried being a receptionist. But then I sent my CV randomly to a photo studio and got the job. I guess that was the universe’s way of telling me that this was my actual calling. From then on, I just accepted the fact that this was my career, but never had I planned to have my own company.
You’re enjoying loads of success now, but for sure it wasn’t easy getting to where you are. What struggles did you go through to get here?
I went through a lot of sleepless nights with my work—one time I even had seven stitches in my head from falling in the middle of a shoot and was back onsite shooting hours later—but nothing has ever stopped me from working harder and being better. From not being paid by clients on time to having creative mental block, it has all happened to me. But I’ve realized that you are always your own worst enemy, and I have now learned how to manage myself and to always bounce back better. I am thankful for all of those struggles because they made my skill set better, my business mindset sharper, and me as a person stronger.
What would you say are the personal qualities that have brought you to where you are now?
I am a hard worker and a perfectionist—it took lots of processes and life experiences for me to get there. I also have this mentality that we are only as good as our last transaction. Hence, if you did great this time, it’s no excuse to be complacent; the next time, you should be better. Also, I always try to be fair with people, may it be with clients or our employees, and not step on anyone’s toes.
What are your future career plans?
The team is expanding and we are launching another side of our company, Soultrap Studio, which is focused more on branding, social media, content creation, campaigns, and ads.
How does it feel to be a Filipina immigrant making it big in Dubai?
I don’t let the success get to my head and just view me being a photographer and videographer and leading my company as a job. I am very privileged that I am doing what I love the most, hence I have no excuse to not be at my best. Having a full-on company and employees is a big responsibility as there are other lives involved. So my main priority is doing whatever we can to get the job done.