Monday, January 24, 2011

Sophie Elgort, New York City, Photographer

Sophie Elgort’s client list reads like a New York City fashion girl’s dream: Bloomingdale’s, Theory/Helmut Lang, Alice + Olivia, Women’s Wear Daily—and the list goes on. Her backstage and front-of-house work for lead designers at New York Fashion Week has helped her develop her personal style, which matches her low-key but composed voice. We chatted about what makes someone photogenic, the importance of letting the individual shine through, and why you’ll probably be wearing sparkly nail polish soon enough. In her own words:

On Being Photogenic
If somebody’s not comfortable—in person or in a photo—it’s pretty obvious. It’s a little awkward, and the feeling that’s going to come off in the photo is that this person is not comfortable with themselves, and I don’t think that’s ever an attractive quality.

Certain people are obviously more photogenic than others, and that helps me get a nice photo faster. I’ll be able to get 10 great shots of her in 10 minutes, whereas somebody else I might only be able to get one great shot in an hour. But the difference between somebody who’s photogenic and somebody who’s not is that people who aren’t photogenic are sometimes nervous in front of a camera. They make weird twitches, or they’ll sort of crane their neck or purse their lips or do something that’s obviously not them, because they’re nervous. A lot of times I’ll see photos and think, “Why is that person doing that? In person she never does that!” If you keep shooting, you can get them more into their natural element and you can get a good photo from people who say, “Oh, I’m not photogenic.” You’re not unphotogenic; it’s that you’re usually posing, putting on this ridiculous face that’s not you. How can you expect to look like your best self in a photo if you’re putting on a ridiculous face?

Certain people are always changing their expression, or they gesticulate a lot, and those people are hard to get a good photo of sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that not in a photo, they’re not stunning—they can be extremely charismatic and beautiful. That’s why I think video is interesting; it’s sort of like a photo but it has more movement to it, so you have more of a chance to see more sides of a person. I definitely think charisma can show in a photograph as well. But in a video, you wouldn’t have somebody just sitting there posed, and I think it should be the same thing for a photo. And there’s no way you can show your charisma if you’re not acting like yourself.

For vintage, custom, and DIY boutique ALIOMI.

This is a stylist and a friend of mine—she’s not a model. And this is what I mean in terms of capturing someone in the moment, actually showing their personality. Her boyfriend has asked me for that photo of her; he’s like, “I love this photo of her, she looks amazing.” And that’s because her personality is shining through; she wasn’t posed, she wasn’t pretending to laugh.

On Self-Portraiture
I started doing self-portraits recently—it’s an interesting project, and I think it would benefit a lot of people to do try it, if they have a camera with a self-timer. Because then they can start to realize what they’re not comfortable with when looking at the camera. Like, what am I doing that looks weird to me? What are my insecurities that are coming through in that photograph?

The first batch that I did, I was like, I look self-conscious in all of these photos. I was doing all these things that weren’t myself; I was putting my body in these weird positions. I was like, What? These are so not me! So I redid them—I went back in front of the camera, found an angle that made me look the best. I grew up in front of the camera—my dad’s a photographer—so I never thought twice about being in photos until I tried taking them of myself. It was just the tripod and camera aimed at me, but nobody was behind the camera so nobody was talking to me. I was really awkward because I was waiting for the timer to go off! It’s like if you’re in a room with someone and you’re sitting there and they’re staring at you and not talking, you’re going to fidget and look ridiculous. So my self-portraits came out awkward in the beginning because there’s no one on the other end to naturalize the process. I tried to do silly poses—I couldn’t just do natural, beautiful photographs straight-on without making funny faces, because I felt comfortable doing that even though I was by myself in my apartment. 

On Being Put-Together

If you can figure out your own unique style and how to put yourself together accordingly, it doesn’t matter how conventionally beautiful you are. I spent six months in Argentina, and before I went everyone told me, “The women in Argentina are so beautiful—they’re so gorgeous, they’re more gorgeous than any women anywhere.” And I went and was like...welllll, they’re really pretty, but just as pretty as a lot of other people. Then some of my guy friends who’d been saying this came to meet me at the end of my time there. I said, “I don’t really see that they’re that much more beautiful than other women of the world—what do you mean?” And they’d point out individual women, and I realized it was because they were totally put-together, flawlessly, each in her own way. Somebody who was very natural would have just black jeans, boots, t-shirt, perfectly straight hair, and a manicure. Somebody who was very done-up would have this dress and heels and styled hair—there wasn’t anybody who looked like she didn’t have her own sense of style. Each woman looked how she wanted to look. So my guy friends were all, “Most beautiful women in the world!” and I’m just like, “They just take a little extra time putting themselves together.” Or maybe they don’t take a little extra time but they know what they like and what they want to look like, so it’s easy for them.

On Reality and Lack Thereof
I was shot years ago for Glamour, a mother-daughter story. We had amazing hair and makeup people—they brought in the best. They put fake eyelashes on me, but it looked really beautiful and natural—it wasn’t supposed to be overdone. It was funny, the time they spent actually prepping me to look natural.
I went out that night after the shoot and left the makeup on and hair as it had been done, and a friend of mine saw me and was like, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen you look so amazing.” I was sort of like, “Yay!” But in my head I was like, It’s because I was shot for Glamour and they did me up—of course I look better than ever! I had the best professionals in the world doing me up! People see this “norm” of models in magazines, and they’re like, “Wow, that model’s so beautiful.” And yes, she is. But you also have to realize that not only is it her job to be beautiful and perfect and amazing in photos, but that’s not what she’d look like if she were photographed before she was done up. It was interesting to have it done myself—there’s no way I could look like that all the time. Who has the time?

Backstage at the New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011 Alexander Berardi show.

The images you see in an editorial are supposed to be unrealistic. By the time you see the model on the page, she’s become a work of art, she’s unreal—people have worked on her as a surface. It’s like a painting. If you look at pictures of actresses who are on a lot of the covers and in the stories—not all actresses are tall, or model-skinny, or whatever. But I think it’s a response to criticisms about unrealistic images, because while they’re not normal people, they’re not working as a model. If you went to a black tie dinner and had the glamour hair and makeup, you’re also going to look amazing that night. But it’s a little different between actresses and models—actresses have to look like that all the time, they have to uphold their image. Whereas models, they don’t have to look like that when they’re not modeling. A model can be off-duty—they’re obviously still beautiful, but they’re not going to look like they do in front of a camera—they'll probably have their own sense of style and will be way less done up. Whereas I feel like with actresses, they’re so often done up even in their everyday life. And when I see normal people who say, “I need to be a size 0,” I’m like, “Really? Who’s paying you the money to be a size 0?”  

On Working With Models
I feel very short, and I’m not short—I’m 5’6”! And I also start to think of myself as plain. Someone who’s assisting me might take a backstage shot, and I’m like, “Don’t photograph me!” You start to feel a sort of warped perception, that the models are the ones who are supposed to be beautiful, and I’m just behind the scenes. You start to feel like a non-entity, like, I don’t exist as a woman right now. But then you go back to your normal life and go out at night with your girlfriends and you’re like, “Oh, we all look so pretty!”—someone will take a photo of you, and those are the photos that go on Facebook, and you’re a normal person again. Whereas at a shoot you’re more worried about how the model looks, like—You drank last night, I can tell, you’re all puffy.

I would probably doubt myself more in a regular situation than on a photo shoot, around normal people. Not that I usually do—I don’t have a complex about that. But if you’re out at a restaurant and you see this stunning “normal” girl who’s 5’4” and really well-dressed, you’re like, Oh my God, she looks amazing! I’ve gotta step it up! She’s, like, a banker—she’s not being paid to look great, but she looks great. Then I just have to think about what I’m insecure about: Do I want to make a change? A lot of time for me it’ll be a weight thing—if I’m upset with my body image I want to figure out what I would rather have my body image be, and then maybe I’ll go to the gym or make a conscious effort to eat healthier for a few weeks. I think of it pretty practically rather than getting upset about it; I’ll think of a reasonable plan. Faces are things you can’t really change. And faces look different, so you’re not going to be like, “Oh, that girl’s face is so much prettier than my face.” Because it doesn’t make sense. You could be like, “Oh, she has such nice lips,” but if those lips were on my face I’d look really weird!
On Trends
Sometimes I’ll wear something and my friends will be like [wince] “Ew!” I’m like, “Trust me, they were just on all the runways—you'll probably like them in six months once all the new collections and trends hit the stores!" I’ll see them months later and they’ll be wearing that—I’ll point it out and they’ll say, “No, I never said that!” They actually have forgotten. Sparkly nail polish is coming back; for a while it was all matte. I said to my friend the other day, “You’re going to like it in a few months.” She said, “I hate it! And I don’t look at fashion like that.” I’m like, “Look, you do.” You might not think that you do, but even if you don’t read fashion magazines, you see it in Us magazine or on the street, and sooner or later you’re going to think, “Oh, she looks so pretty—what nail polish is she wearing?” Fashion has that underlying trend-setting tone that’s almost subconscious. It’s like the first time you hear a song, maybe you don’t love it. But then you hear it again and again and soon you’re like, “Wow, I love this song!” People don’t realize that that’s somehow how they’re forming their perception of beauty—but we are.


  1. I'd like to subscribe to your blog but how? it's great. love your voice.

  2. Wow, thank you! That's so great to hear.

    If you find your way back here: There's now a "subscribe" button on the page for you to subscribe through Google or another RSS feed. If you don't use an RSS feed, you can drop me a line at autumnpaz at and I can put you on my mailing list; I'll be sending out newsletters every month, so you can be reminded to pop in!

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